Another national title in hand, Cleary University looking forward

HOWELL — So, Cleary University, what’s next?

Plenty, as it turns out.

The day after the Cougars softball team won the USCAA national title, athletic director Ward Mullens was turning his attention to Wednesday.

That’s when school officials will try to make a case for joining the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference as a full member. Currently, Cleary is a member in men’s and women’s soccer.

Mullens was cautiously optimistic in a Friday conversation.

“They were waiting on our acceptance to the NAIA as a full member, which we got in April,” he said. “It’s all been positive. The support we’ve gotten from the athletic directors and from the (WHAC) commissioner has been outstanding. I think they want us there, we want to be there. It’s just what it takes to get there. We’ll find out next Wednesday.”

The athletic field that will house four sports (softball, baseball, lacrosse and soccer) is beginning to take shape. The light poles have been erected and the base of the playing field set.

Cleary softball captain Allie Newcombe, left, coach Tim Bailey, USCAA player of the year Riley Thompson and tournament most valuable player Kaitlin Dormire pose with the USCAA championship Friday at Cleary University (Photo by Tim Robinson)

There’s the designing of championship rings, which will be presented in a ceremony this fall at the new facility.

“We’ve got things that are brewing right now that could be big news this coming year,” Mullens said. “It’s extremely exciting. I’ve been in athletics pretty much my entire life, and this is the most fun and the most exciting I’ve ever had in any athletic organization.”

And, strange as it may sound, at least a couple of teams might take a shot at USCAA titles next season.

“On the way home, several (returning players) asked me how much the USCAA costs,” baseball coach Karl Kling said. “With the way we fund-raise, they know we can cover the cost. I talked to (softball coach Tim) Bailey, and he was in favor of it even if we had to pay for our membership.”

While several schools have membership in the USCAA and either the NCAA or NAIA, such an arrangement is possibly a long shot.

The idea was news to Mullens during Friday’s interview.

“If they were to raise (money for) the membership fee, I wouldn’t be against that,” he said. “But we are committed to being a full-fledged member of the NAIA. If there’s another discussion that needs to occur, we’ll have it. We want what’s best for our student-athletes.”

It’s been a swift rise for the Cleary program, which started with two sports five years ago and is up to 16 sports. The Cougars have earned four USCAA national titles, in golf ( 2015), women’s cross country (2016-17) and softball.

They’ve done it despite not having a true home in several sports, but with a can-do attitude and, Mullen says, a lot of support from the school’s administration.

“We couldn’t do half of what we’ve done without it,” he said, referring to school president Jayson Bowers and vice president Matthew Barnett. “We couldn’t have accomplished any of that without those two gentlemen leading the charge and doing everything they can. They care, and they have a passion for athletics and a passion for the institution, obviously, And they all go hand in hand.”

There’s plenty on the horizon, including the possibility of another game at Comerica Park next spring, dedication of the new sports facility and, university officials hope, more reasons to celebrate in 2018-19.

“It’s a lot of work,” Mullens said. “But it’s very exciting work and it’s very challenging work. Again, we’re not done.”

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