Small College Sports

Kirkwood Eagles are flying high - again

Ogden column: Across the board, programs are among the best

Todd Rima, shouting instructions to his Cedar Rapids Prairie baseball team, also is the head coach at Kirkwood and has his team on the brink of a national tournament berth. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Todd Rima, shouting instructions to his Cedar Rapids Prairie baseball team, also is the head coach at Kirkwood and has his team on the brink of a national tournament berth. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Kirkwood Community College doesn’t offer a lot of sports, but what it does offer is pretty darn good.

Make that excellent.

All six programs advanced to at least the regional semifinals this school year — two wins away from a berth in a national tournament — and two made NJCAA appearances. The baseball team will try to make that three this weekend when it hosts Southeast Community College in a best-of-three North Plains district final. Games 1 and 2 are Friday, starting at 1 p.m., and, if necessary, a third game will be played Sunday at 1.

These Eagles are soaring.

“It’s a good place,” athletics director Doug Wagemester understated earlier this week.

Honestly, though, this is nothing all that unusual. Kirkwood has been a national powerhouse across the board for many years.

Kim Muhl is one of the greatest women’s basketball coaches in NJCAA history. He has been at Kirkwood since 1989 and has taken 26 teams to the regional finals with 18 national tournament appearances and seven titles. He has a career record of 894-154 after last season’s team finished 34-4 and lost in the second round of the NJCAA tournament.

That’s beyond impressive.

The men’s basketball team completed a 24-6 campaign in March, ending its season in the regional semifinals. Bryan Petersen just completed his fifth season and has a career record of 126-34. His 2015-16 team won the national title.

Volleyball coach Jill Williams completed her 13th season in the fall and has directed the Eagles to four national tournaments. This year’s team went 25-17 and lost in the regional finals.

Joe Yegge’s softball team just wrapped up a 49-13 campaign at the national tournament, losing twice Thursday after an opening-day win. Yegge just finished his 11th season and has a 537-112 career record.

Todd Rima’s baseball team is 40-14-1 heading into this weekend’s district final. Oddly, the Eagles haven’t advanced to the national tournament in nearly 20 years, Wagemester said.

And let’s not forget the men’s golf team. It may be the most impressive of all — and the most overlooked.

Darin Pint entered his 22nd season with 1,172 wins against just 309 losses. His Eagles won their fourth straight regional title on June 6 — and 13th in the last 15 years — and begin play in the NJCAA Championships on Monday at Glen Oaks Golf Club in Foley, Ala.

“He’s hungry. He stays hungry,” Wagemester said.

And think about this. Kirkwood gets these players for two years — at the most. Every year is a rebuilding year or, for these Eagles, a reloading year.

“There’s not much you can do about it, so you just plan on it,” said Wagemester, who guided the men’s basketball team to nine NJCAA appearances in 15 seasons before shifting to full-time AD. “That’s the mindset across the department.”

The whole idea behind junior college athletics is to “prepare them for the next move, the next step,” Wagemester said. That means even freshmen could move on to a Division I program after one year.

“That can get a little dicey,” he said. “You can’t always prepare for that.”

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Still Wagemester thinks he’s one of the luckiest guys around. He has coaches who not only can coach, but are entrenched in their programs. Rima and Petersen are the “youngsters” with five-year tenures.

“I’m probably the most spoiled athletics director in the state,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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