Seven weeks earlier, we boasted a 9-5 overall record and a 3-2 mark in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play. We had overcome losing seven seniors to graduation from the previous season, four of whom signed professional basketball contracts. We overcame losing our only returning starter to an Achilles tendon rupture in the preseason, and we proved we could still compete and win games.
Things changed quickly.
Against Missouri Western, our best player and perhaps the best overall athlete in the MIAA, junior Brenden Van Dyke, took an awkward fall after being hit while attacking the rim in transition. As he lay on the floor in agonizing pain, I went over and crouched down beside him as he screamed. I knew. Brenden knew. We all knew.
The MRI came back to confirm a torn ACL.
Two weeks later, junior Dallas Bailey broke his foot on the first play of the game at Central Missouri. Five freshmen started multiple games the last 14 games of the season, sometimes four on the same night. This is not a recipe for winning games in Division II, especially in the MIAA.
With three upperclassmen enduring season-ending surgeries, after graduating a big class of seniors, this was what we had to do.
We lost 13 of our last 14 games, finishing with a 10-18 record.
It could only get better from here, right?
Then a global pandemic struck.
I was raised on a farm 40 miles south of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I grew up attending games and camps at South Dakota, South Dakota State and Augustana (South Dakota). I loved Division II basketball. When I decided my career path would be in coaching, my goal was to become a Division II head coach.
I reached that goal April 27, 2018. My staff and I took over a program at Emporia State that finished tied for last in the 14-team MIAA conference the year before. We also had just coached three national championship teams in the previous five seasons. So there was a lot of work to be done, but we were ready for this opportunity.
Emporia, as we’ve found out, is an incredible college town.
With 25,000 people, it is the perfect sized community for a Division II program. People live and breathe Emporia State athletics. Every game is followed closely. You cannot walk into Walmart or Applebee’s without getting praised for a win or grilled about a loss.
After knocking off No. 20 Southwest Minnesota State to open our first season, the No. 1 question we got was, “How long are you going to stay before you leave us for the next level?”
While year one went back and forth, the progress was evident, and that same question was posed to me from everyone from my banker before signing a mortgage to the seamstress who tailors my suits.
Midway through year two, we had the program rolling. We were ahead of schedule, and life was good.
Then the injuries and the subsequent losses started to mount. The outward question of, “How long will Coach Doty be here before he moves up?” changed to people wondering why the program was back to its old ways of struggling through the unforgiving second- semester MIAA schedule.