Commentary: VSU Coaches Bring Athletic Success
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 31, 2014, 08:51
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
ETTRICK — Over the past year, there have been two changes in the athletic programs at Virginia State University with the hirings of men's basketball coach Lonnie Blow Jr. and football coach Latrell Scott.
Blow Jr. and Scott are big-name coaches in their own right and brought with them an added element of expectation to the Trojans' program. Both coaches had experienced success in previous coaching tenures, even at the Division I level, and had an aura surrounding them.
It's why it's no surprise that each coach has brought sustained success to Virginia State University and when combined with the seven seasons of excellence women's basketball coach James Hill has had, Trojans athletics are at a high point.
While Virginia State's football season ended with a black cloud hovering over the program after an incident which suspended the CIAA title game against Fayetteville State, what Scott was able to accomplish is something one could not ignore. Scott inherited a team which had gone just 9-11 over the previous two seasons.
However, that did not deter Scott from demanding greatness from his players and as far back as August, two weeks before the season was set to begin, players talked about vying for a CIAA Title.
Players such as Sean Smith also spoke of Scott implementing a Division I attitude to the team and it showed in their play all season long. The Trojans overcame deficits with late-game heroics and captured the CIAA Northern Division championship with a 9-1, 7-0 mark as running back Jordan Anderson eclipsed the single-season rushing record set in 2008 with 1,142 yards.
It all added up to Scott earning the CIAA and HBCU Division II Coach of the Year awards.
Then, Blow Jr. entered the scene.
As an assistant at Old Dominion University, Blow Jr. helped the Monarchs become one of the best defensive teams in the 2010-11 season. That year, the Monarchs were the third-ranked defensive team in the nation, capturing the Colonial Athletic Association title and earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The success was no surprise after Blow Jr. compiled a 46-15 record at St. Augustine's University in two years, including a 27-5 mark in the 2009-10 season as he was named Division II Coach of the Year by Heritage Sports Radio and CIAA Coach of the Year.
Take a look at the Trojans' progress and you begin to see a tale of a team just getting sorted together under his system. After losing six-straight, Virginia State captured four-consecutive wins before falling to Bowie State Wednesday night. Blow Jr.'s squad is playing better defensively, and staying within themselves offensively, providing hope for the final stretch.
"As time has gone on, we've kind of understood what we are trying to do," Blow Jr. said of his team's progress. "For the most part we are doing a better job of executing the system, but we just have to do the little things better."
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
But it would be hard for Hill's Lady Trojans to play much better than they have been this season.
Virginia State currently sports the program's highest national ranking ever at No. 14 and have remained unblemished at home with a 9-0 record. The Lady Trojans' one hiccup came in a five-point loss at Shaw University — the former coaching spot for Hill prior to making the transition to Virginia State.
Under his guidance, the women's basketball program has been elevated to new heights as they were picked to win the CIAA Northern Division for three consecutive seasons for the first time in history. Hill also guided the Lady Trojans to back-to-back 20-win seasons, becoming only the third coach to do so in history.
Hill is also the first head coach in program history to surpass the 100-win barrier, holding a 129-88 mark while having the Lady Trojans poised to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time under his watch.
"This is something I always told them could happen when I took the job here," Hill said. "I came from a program where we were used to winning, so I came here to win ... I told this group here that until they get to the 20s, my 2009-10 squad is still the king of the castle. But we are trying to be bigger than the conference. We want to be an NCAA Team."
The same can be said for the athletics programs as a whole with each rising toward the top of the standings with coaching staffs that know how to win. Their success is certainly no fluke and will continue to be built upon as the coaches bring in players built for their systems, setting Virginia State on a trajectory to reach new heights.