As the UIL baseball playoffs wrapped up this weekend in Austin, the 2012-2013 athletic season came to a close. Before long, football will start up and the cycle will begin all over again.
Before that happens, though, let’s take a moment to reflect on one thing from this past season.
Nederland athletics are on a heck of a run.
Not just the football team, which reached the Region III finals this season. Not just the boys basketball team or the baseball team or the softball team, all of which went three rounds deep into the playoffs. The entire Bulldog athletic program has excelled this season.
That’s why the school received the SETX Coaches Association Beaumont Coca Cola All Sport Award this season, given annually to the program that does well across the entire athletic program. The Bulldogs finished second to Barbers Hill in last year’s competition, too, speaking to just how much of a run they’ve been on.
What’s causing all this success?
“There’s more than one reason for it,” said Nederland head football coach/athletic director Larry Neumann. “It transcends our program and gets back to the community and the interest they have in our school and our athletics. It’s about the parents supporting us. There’s not one key factor, but it all starts with the athletes themselves.”
Over the past five years, Nederland’s program has arguably been the best in the area. In a study of district championships and playoff victories over the past five seasons in volleyball, football, boys and girls soccer and basketball, baseball and softball, Nederland had more wins and district titles than any other team from the Golden Triangle.
Nederland athletics won 15 district titles over that stretch and 44 total playoff games, including 18 playoff victories in the past two seasons alone. That’s more playoff victories in the past two seasons than Bridge City, West Orange-Stark, Port Arthur Memorial and Beaumont West Brook have had in the entire five-year study.
Neumann gives plenty of credit to his student athletes, but he said the real key is that so many of the young men and women at Nederland choose to play multiple sports.
“We’ve had some exceptional athletes come through here and they’ve been exceptional in more than one sport,” Neumann said. “They bring that talent, but the other players around them, who might not be as gifted, tend to rise to their higher level. We’ve always encouraged our athletes to pursue more than one sport. Sometimes, it’s difficult to do, but our coaches are all great at supporting that and helping our crossover athletes.
“We discourage specialization. We want them to do all that they can do. That’s a key ingredient to our success. If our players weren’t competing in so many sports, if they were specialized more, I don’t know that we’d have as much success as we have had.”
Nederland’s 44 playoff victories over the past five school years are on par with schools with much larger athletic reputations in the state. Teams like Katy, a powerhouse in football, have a few more playoff victories over the five year stretch, but don’t stack up in wins over the past two seasons or in total district titles.
The same goes for North Shore, one of the best Class 5A schools in all sports year to year. Nederland has more playoff victories in the past five years and an equal number of district titles and wins in the past two seasons as the Mustangs.
To find schools that have more victories in the past five years, you have to look at schools that have won multiple state titles, like Austin Lake Travis or Brenham. Both of those schools doubled or nearly doubled Nederland’s win total, but the Bulldogs still topped each in one area. Nederland has more playoff wins in the past two years than Brenham (18 to 15) and has more district titles in the past five years than Lake Travis (15-14).
“Winning breeds winning,” Nederland head boys basketball coach Brian English said. “The whole program is doing well. I think we try to do it right. Of course, you have to have talent and we’ve been able to develop it. It wasn’t always like it when I was growing up. Our senior class that graduated (Friday) was tremendous. The boys and girls were all very competitive across the board.”
Coaching has been a big part of Nederland’s success, as Neumann has been the head football coach for two decades now. However, the Bulldogs have been able to still produce with coaching changes, like in the softball program.
First-year softball head coach Will Mallette had been very successful in other coaching stops, but still looked at Nederland’s program differently.
“As an outsider looking in , it looked like a factory, like Russia in the 80’s,” Mallette said. “You just saw the success in every area. It wasn’t just sports. In everything they did, they produced machines that were good at whatever they did. But, they’re not that. They’re just hard-working, motivated individuals who take pride in their community and in doing the best they can.”
English’s teams have been one of the bright spots over the past few years. The Bulldog boys have won a total of nine playoff games in the past four years, tied with the softball team for the most over that stretch. English, a Nederland graduate and former Bulldog player himself, gives a lot of credit to the community for strengthening the under-level programs that feed into Nederland’s athletic system.
“The community has done a great job,” English said. “They’ve done well with our youth programs in general and in the basketball programs specifically. It’s different at lower levels. We’ve had a lot of participation and are getting better and better from the ground up.”
The Bulldogs also stack up nicely when compared to two other Southeast Texas schools. Mid-County rival Port Neches-Groves has been just as successful at winning district crowns, taking 12 of its own over the past five years. However, the Indians trail Nederland with just 30 playoff wins over that stretch.
While Nederland has topped 10 playoff victories as a program twice in that stretch, the most PN-G has had came in the 2009-10 season, when it won nine games, headlined by a trip to the regional semifinals by the baseball team.
Similarly, last year’s All Sport Award winner Barbers Hill comes close to equaling Nederland’s run. The Eagles have more district championships (18-15) and more wins in the past two seasons (21-18), but have just 33 playoff wins in the past five seasons.
Even more impressively, the Nederland athletes continue to juggle athletics with success in the classroom.
“Our athletes, they have a heavy load to bear,” Neumann said. “It’s a lot of work to play all those sports and still excel in the classroom. We had our sports banquet recently and 100-120 of our student athletes achieved academic all-district recognition. They’re achieving in both places. That success goes hand in hand with the work they put in.”
The Nederland program took a hit through Friday’s graduation, losing a number of players who were key to deep playoff runs in many sports. That means the Bulldogs will once again be reloading this summer in an attempt to keep this great run of playoff success going next year.
“That bar is set pretty high now,” Neumann said. “But, I think our next crop of athletes is more than up to the challenge of clearing it.”
Total Playoff Victories Last 2 Years District Titles
Lake Travis 92 26 14
Brenham 82 15 18
Katy 56 16 10
Nederland 44 18 15
North Shore 38 18 15
Barbers Hill 33 21 17
PN-G 30 4 12
Silsbee 28 14 10
Ozen 24 12 3
Central 21 9 6
H-J 19 6 5
Bridge City 15 2 4
WO-S 13 7 5
PAM 13 7 4
West Brook 11 4 6