The 1990s was a decade of dominance by several teams at Hastings College. The Bronco baseball team finished the decade with six conference titles after a 15-year absence from the diamond. The Lady Bronco volleyball team put together several nationally ranked teams and won several league titles of their own. The Bronco football team saw three new head coaches over the decade, and still tallied seven trips to the NAIA national playoffs, never finished worse than second in the conference. I sat down with three coaches of the respective teams—Patty Sitorius, former women’s volleyball coach, Jim Boeve, current head baseball coach, and Pat McCauley, associate football coach—to piece together the puzzles of the three Hastings College sports during some of their most successful times.
In the spring of the ’89-90 school year, Hastings College ushered in the new decade with the official reinstatement of the Bronco baseball team under new head coach Jim Boeve. Coming into the season, Coach Boeve had a solid core of guys to build a team around. Despite a losing record on the year, the Bronco baseball team made important strides toward contention in the league.
The volleyball and football teams started the decade in the fall of the following academic school year. The Bronco football team likewise entered the decade under new leadership, as Dan Kratzer stepped in to replace former head coach Wendell Maupin. The team lost its first 6 games, but finished the season with three straight victories and the second place spot in the conference standings.
Meanwhile, the Lady Broncos accumulated a 26-14 record, over a season highlighted by a league title, and ranking of thirteenth nationally.
Not only was 1990 was a season preceded by high expectations, and but it was made increasingly difficult due to an ineligibility on the roster that caused them to forfeit their first 5 victories and start 0-7. The Lady Bronco capped the season with upset victories over nationally ranked Doane, as well as two other nationally ranked opponents including NCAA-Division II second-ranked Central Missouri.
The 1991 season for the Lady Broncos, as well, was another year surrounded by great expectations. The team, however, was not nearly as experienced as they had been the season before. Unlike Coach Boeve’s team of returning freshmen and junior college transfers, Coach Sitorius ran with several unfamiliar faces. However, she had confidence in her squad all the same.
In just their second year back, the Bronco baseball team played a ’91 season that would start the ball rolling for a string of dominant seasons to come during the decade. A school record 24 wins and a 13-7 record in the conference propelled the team into 2nd place in the conference, a surprisingly good finish considering their 4th place finish the season before. The Broncos defeated then #6 Belleview in the postseason after losing to them four times in the regular season. After a loss to Midland in the next round, the Broncos would have to attempt to steal another win away from the Belleview Bruins.
Part of the Broncos success that year and for years to come can be attributed to sophomore standout Gary Freeman. In ’91, Freeman was given All-Conference and All-District Honors for the second straight year. At the time, Freeman was one of the several two sport athletes at HC, doubling as the school’s starting cornerback when not behind the plate calling pitches.
Coming into the 1991 season, the Broncos football team was still riding a high from their late-season success the year before, and had no intentions of coming down.
After finishing just 3-6 the season before, the Broncos qualified for the NAIA playoffs for the first time in school history. The team made their way into the national spotlight after a 42-7 massacre of 10th ranked Doane College in the conference-opener.
Coming into her last season as the head coach at Hastings College, Coach Sitorius’ Lady Broncos were ranked 11th nationally. Coach Sitorius talks about what it’s like to face the expectations that come along with such a high preseason ranking. Three wins over Doane College that season helped propel the Lady Broncos to a 27-10 record as well as their second straight district title.
At one point during the season, the Lady Broncos were riding a 10-match win streak heading into a critical league matchup against Northwestern. In some situations, that can be used as motivation and momentum to drive a team to continued success. In others, however, the pressures of a win streak can cause a team to fold. According to Coach Sitorius, it’s all about how you approach it as a coach.
On the other end of the spectrum was the Bronco baseball team in spring of ’92, as they started the season with virtually no expectations of greatness from anyone outside of the organization. However, the members of the inaugural recruiting class were back as upperclassmen, and getting more and more talented each year. While the fall sports were preparing for their ’92 season, the baseball team was busy putting together a solid year, and, thirty wins later, found themselves in a tie with Nebraska Wesleyan for the conference title.
The Broncos rode their success through the playoffs, coming back from a first-round loss to Peru State to eventually record a victory over Midland Lutheran and avenge themselves versus Peru State. However, the season would come to an end at the hands of Belleview University, once again.
The Broncos football team headed into fall training camp in 1992 with a pre-season number nine national ranking, with the pressures of conference championship predictions looming.
The Broncos’ season was ended by a disappointing loss to the Benedictine College Ravens in the first-round of the national playoffs. In the 17-15 loss, halfback Gordon Whitten had two touchdown receptions from quarterback Roger Bingman.
After seven seasons as the head coach of the Lady Broncos, Coach Sitorius stepped down from her position in order to pursue a head coaching position at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. The Lady Broncos, under new head coach Rick Squires, picked up right where Coach Sitorius left them, and took the momentum from their preseason ranking of 24th in the nation and turned it in to a 13-0 record to start the season.
However, a first-round loss to Doane after capturing the number one seed in the district playoffs ended their season.
The 1993 campaign for the members of the Bronco football team saw the squad narrowly miss its third consecutive conference title at the hands of Doane College. The Broncos started the season with a pre-season ranking of 13th, and proved themselves worthy of it, winning their first three contests by a combined score of 108-12. With a return trip to the playoffs on the line, the season came down to a non-conference game against NCAA Division III opponent Colorado College. The Broncos won the game in comeback fashion, 22-21.
In the spring of the previous school year, Coach Boeve’s Broncos were back stronger than ever in what would eventually become their second straight 30-win season. The Bronco Baseball team had their sights set on another conference title as well in their ’93 season, and not even wet, rainy conditions could deter them from their goal. Rainy delays early in conference play forced a hectic late-season schedule on the Broncos who played six games in three days to finish up their conference schedule.
Victories over Doane College in each game of a Monday night doubleheader, and an 11th-inning loss in the first game of a Tuesday night doubleheader set the stage for a fourth game with a story book ending for the Broncos due to some late game heroics.
In 1994, the Bronco football team barely missed being able to compete in the NAIA playoffs for the fourth straight season. A painful loss to Northwestern in a game that, had they won, would have given them a share of the conference title and an automatic birth cut the season short.
The ’93 season marked the end of several notable players for the Broncos including Bob Smith, Gary Freeman, and others. The ’94 season, then paved the way for new faces to grab the reigns and continue the success of the program. The new wave of Bronco studs included Junior Pitcher Derek Splitt and First baseman Jeff Chmelka.
Despite a 28-28 record, the Broncos won a third consecutive conference title in the spring of 1994.
Coming into the ’94 season, the Lady Broncos were not given a preseason-ranking—or even a single vote—for the first time since the turn of the decade.
Coach Squires was able to build off of the frame work set by Coach Sitorious as well as the success of the team the year before and return them to the national tournament.
Based on their overall record, the ’95 Broncos were not the most successful baseball team of the ‘90s. However, according to Coach Boeve, there are few teams better. Derek Splitt concluded his Hall of Fame –worthy career at Hastings College with a 6-2 record his senior year, as well as a 2.81 earned run average and school-records in shutouts, appearances, and strikeouts. Splitt was definitely the type of talent that is hard to replace, but lucky for Coach Boeve, freshman Matt Jurgena arrived on campus that fall, and by the springtime was already preparing himself to fill some big shoes.
In the fall of ’95, the Lady Broncos headed into the regional tournament with a 33-8 record, primed to take it all. However, a very competitive region knocked Hastings down to a third place finish.
The Lady Broncos ended the year with a 37-10 record, but unfortunately failed to make noise on a national level.
1995 saw the inception of Coach Barry Cotton, a former Nebraska Cornhusker and five-year NFL offensive lineman. Coach Cotton stepped in and saw immediate success with the re-energized Broncos.
Nicknamed the “Crimson Crush,” the Broncos defense averaged four turnovers per game at one point in the season.
In 1996, the expectations for greatness regarding the Bronco football team were there again. However, the execution was not. Though they finished 6-4, and second in the conference, the season was comparatively less successful than its predecessors. Despite the ultimate failure on a team level as far a not making the playoffs goes, several players were named to the All-NIAC first team for the Broncos, including Corey Bumgardner, Justin Widek, and linebacker Marcus Aldridge.
Coming off an off-putting finish to the previous season, an electric ’96 volleyball team for Hastings went back to work and produced an incredible 42 wins. Part of their school-record win count was an impressive conference record of 11-1 that led the Lady Broncos to another league title. The Lady Broncos took their took their momentum from the league title into the national tournament for the second time in three years under Coach Squires.
Conversely, a baseball team coming off a hot year was cooled down in the fall of ’96 due to a lack of offense. However, Matt Jurgena threw the first no-hitter since the rebirth of the team on his way to solidifying himself as the ace and proving himself a worthy replacement of Derek Splitt.
The 1997 season marked the beginning of the Ross Els era for the Bronco football team, the team’s third head coach of the decade after the departure of Wendell Maupin after the ’89 campaign.
Setbacks and distractions forced a sub-standard beginning to the season, but the Broncos banded together and turned it around.
The fall of 1997 saw one of the largest recruiting classes of the decade arrive on campus for the Bronco football team, as 52 freshman reported to training camp.
Among those 52 freshman arriving in ’97 was quarterback Josh Miller, who would eventually go on to become one of the most successful signal callers in the school’s history.
After a down year in 1996, the Bronco baseball squad returned in the Spring of ’97 with renewed focus and began building another successful season. Coach Boeve’s Broncos got off to a sizzling start as they came out of the gates with a 14-6 record. Conference rival Midland, however, started off their season 14-0, which created an extremely competitive environment in the division.
Though the ’97 team was different than a lot of the other successful teams of the decade, they were able to adapt to each situation in which they found themselves and take advantage of the opportunities they were given to accomplish big things.
Rod Hartman was All-Conference Shortstop for the Broncos for all four years he was on-campus, as well as a two-time Conference Player of the Year as a junior and senior. Inducted into the Hastings College HOF in 2009, Rod is the conference leader in career hits and holds conference and school-records for games played and hits in a season.
In his senior season, Matt Jurgena took over the Hastings College career strikeout record from Derek Splitt. Another superstar pitcher immerged as well, as Shawn Kaskie set the HC and NIAC records for saves in a single season.
For the Bronco volleyball team, reliance on senior Stacey Lang carried the team back to the National tournament for the second consecutive season. Lang was named ALL-NIAC Player of the Year and was given All-American second team honors.
The Lady Broncos ended the ’97 campaign with a perfect record in the conference at 12-0, and an impressive 6-4 stint in post-season.
A Hastings College baseball team that had previously been defined by the stellar arms it placed on the mound saw its pitching staff significantly lessened with the graduation of Matt Jurgena and Shawn Kaskie.
In talking about the previous season, Coach Boeve mentioned that he believed the regular-season winner to be the best team in the conference. However, the conference tournament helped the ’98 Broncos exceed expectations and return to the postseason.
The Lady Broncos continued the winning tradition at Hastings College in the fall of 1998, clinching its third NIAC title. Making the title that much sweeter, an outstanding end to the season allowed Hastings to win the title over long-time rival, Doane College. Coach Rick Squires resorted to some unorthodox motivational tactics that fall, promising to dance for the crowd and the team if they won the league title.
A season defined by team success was supplemented with numerous individual honors. Shannon McQuillian was named NAIA Setter of the Week at one point during the season, and Becca Laurence was named the Fellowship of Christian Athletes regional College Athlete of the year. Laurence and McQuillian, along with sophomore Jennifer Collins, were named to the NIAC first team.
Like the volleyball team, a late season battle with Doane decided the conference title for the football team and, like the Lady Broncos, they were able to pull it out.
The conference title came down to the final regular-season game, a cold, rainy home game against Northwestern. Despite the conditions, quarterback Josh Miller threw two touchdown passes and led the team to a victory.
Miller was a fantastic quarterback. He also had a lot of help, however, by a receiver named Marc Boerigter, a Hastings High graduate who would eventually go on from Hastings to play in the National Football League for six seasons.
The Bronco football team closed out the decade with an undefeated regular-season. After an undefeated regular season, a conference title, and a first-round playoff victory, Hastings College traveled to California to play defending national champion Azusa Pacific in the quarterfinals. In a track meet, the Broncos suffered a disappointing 38-35 loss that ended their season.
1999 was no different than any other year for the members of the Hastings Broncos team in terms of dedication to success. Still relying on the same basic principles—solid pitching and consistent defense—the Broncos made a return trip to the post-season.
For the Lady Broncos, the 1999 season saw the entrance of the third volleyball coach of the decade. Crystal Bejarno brought many new philosophies and tactics to the team, and a successful, well-rounded team took them in stride.
The Bronco volleyball team, led by Senior Prairie Rickertson and Junior Jen Collins, wrapped up the regular-season with another conference title and a trip to the national tournament in California. Their third-place finish that year marks the best finish at a National in team history.
More often than not over the course of the decade, these three teams experienced success on the field, on the court, and the on the diamond. Spectacular coaching and unmatched drive and perseverance from hundreds of talented athletes made the 1990s one of Hastings College’s most successful eras for these three programs.
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