Northern Illinois women’s basketball coach Lisa Carlsen has a habit on social media.
Whenever a different Huskie team announces on Twitter that it had earned a victory, Carlsen retweets the message with “#sharetheW” – a nod that a win for one team is a win for everybody.
That attitude was on display when the Mid-American Conference announced that NIU won the Jacoby Award, given to the school with the best overall women’s program in the conference, for the first time last week.
“It sure makes it a lot more fun,” Carlsen said of the camaraderie between sports when the teams are competitive. “There’s just a whole different level of excitement and support for each other when you’re going and watching other teams play and they’re having success in their arena. I think the positive vibe around the program and each other – and not just coaches, (but) student-athletes, administrators, everybody.
“It’s a lot more fun to go to a game with the excitement of the possibility of winning, as opposed to going to a game because you feel like you need to support somebody because it’s the right thing to do. It’s different. You want to go watch them, because it’s a great product on the floor and you follow things a lot more closely when you’re playing for something significant.”
The Jacoby Award – which was named after MAC Commissioner Fred Jacoby, who helped bring women’s athletics into the conference during his tenure from 1971-82 – is based on a system in which points are given based off each team’s finish and the overall total is divided by the number of sports the school sponsors.
The Huskies finished with 95 points between 10 sports, narrowly edging Kent State – which had 94.5 points across 10 sports.
On the men’s side, NIU was ninth place for the Reece Trophy, given to the top men’s program, with 38.75 points across seven points – for an average score of 5.535.
“Three years ago, our department came together and developed our strategic plan,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier said in a news release about winning the Jacoby Trophy. “This process was comprehensive, but also goal specific. One of the major desired outcomes of our plan is to be more competitive and to win championships in all our 17 sport programs. With this recognition, we have achieved a department first and a significant milestone.”
Before winning the top prize this year, the best finish the Huskies ever had in the Jacoby Trophy rankings was second in 1999. While Carlsen is just finishing up her second year, she heard from administrators, including chief of staff Debra Boughton, who came to NIU in 2009, that it was a different story back then.
“If you look at things historically, being here only two years, I talked to some of the administrators – Debra, in particular – and I’m like, ‘Okay, where has been NIU before? Have we been knocking on the door?’ And she said when she first got here, they were 12 out of 12,” Carlsen said.
While Frazier said the goal was to win conference championships, only volleyball won the MAC crown this past season under longtime coach Ray Gooden – taking both the regular season and MAC tournament championship. However, Carlsen’s women’s basketball team and women’s soccer under coach John Ross advanced to the MAC tournament championship game – with women’s soccer getting there as a No. 8 seed.
Carlsen helped turn around the basketball team, sending the Huskies to the postseason for the first time since 1995.
The women’s cross country team, under second-year coach Adrian Myers, had its best finish in school history when it was second at the MAC championships and women’s golf was second in the conference for the first time since 1999.
The Huskies gymnastics team narrowly missed out on a MAC regular season title and took fifth at the MAC championship, but recorded the highest team score in school history. The softball team went 33-21, winning 30-or more games under Christina Sutcliffe in back-to-back seasons, the first time the Huskies have done that since 1999-2000 and women’s tennis made the MAC tournament for the first time since 2012.
“I think if you look at the growth of women’s sports and what Ray’s done from a volleyball standpoint and setting the standard of excellence and being where we all want to be getting to compete for conference championships year after year,” Carlsen said. “I think the respect that everybody has for each other and what Ray’s been able to do, his longevity here and even what (Sutcliffe’s) been able to build over the past five or so years, I just think there’s some great people who have stayed and done it and done it the right way. That’s probably what’s most promising.”