LARAMIE — There’s always room for improvement. But overall, director of athletics Tom Burman can’t complain about the academic year that is coming to a close for Wyoming sports.
“We had a good year,” Burman said.
On a large scale, the revenue sports set the tone for an athletic department’s perception, and 2016-17 was certainly a strong year in that regard for Wyoming.
The Cowboys football team turned heads with a significant turnaround, winning eight games and hosting the conference championship one season removed from winning just two games.
“(Football) Had a great season,” Burman said. “Enthusiasm and attendance was really solid. There were a lot of positives.”
Before the season, Burman was confident in head coach Craig Bohl and his staff but fully aware that confidence needed to manifest in an improved record in 2016; Bohl’s first two Wyoming teams won a combined six games. The Cowboys did that and more. Now it’s a matter of making sure this past year was no fluke.
“Football, obviously, did better than I expected,” Burman said. “I don’t think anybody knew that (quarterback Josh Allen) was going to be as good as he was. Maybe they did, but I didn’t.
“Football, we’ve got to continue to build a program that expects winning, and I think our kids and our coaches expect to win and believe they’re going to win this year. That’s the baseline of any good program. So we’ve got to keep doing that. Obviously, we’d love to be in the Mountain West Conference championship again and win it.”
Burman believes that’s achievable, even though the Cowboys lost an outgoing class that included two NFL draftees (running back Brian Hill and offensive lineman Chase Roullier), three free agent signees and three players with NFL tryouts.
“I think getting two guys drafted and guys signing free-agent contracts, I think that probably would have been on the high side (in the past),” Burman said. “I’ve never gone back and looked. But we’ve had times in the past where we’ve had a couple guys get drafted, and we’ve had times in the past where we’ve had three or guys sign free agent contracts. So it’s not like we went from nowhere to here.
“The good news is we lost some really good seniors, but I feel like we have really good players in the program, and that’s going to become the norm.”
On the men’s basketball side, there was improvement, as the team went from 14 total wins and seven conference wins to 23 total wins and eight conference wins. The Cowboys, projected to finish 10th in the 11-team Mountain West, finished seventh in the conference in Allen Edwards’ first year as head coach and finished the year with a CBI championship over Coastal Carolina.
“I think men’s basketball will be better (in 2017-18)” Burman said. “We were happy with the finish of the year (in the CBI), but we weren’t happy with the seventh-place finish. We’ve got to make strides there.
“We’ve got a good senior class. We’ve got a lot of kids back. The majority of our scoring, rebounding and all of those statistics are returning, so I think we’ll be much improved.”
Burman also was confident before the 2016-17 year that Joe Legerski would get the Wyoming women’s basketball team back on track after a 13-16 campaign the year before left the Cowgirls in eighth place in the conference. Legerski turned things around more quickly than even he expected, as the Cowgirls finished second in the Mountain West and earned an invitation to the WNIT, despite losing leading scorer and rebounder Liv Roberts to an ACL injury at the end of the regular season.
“I think women’s basketball has a chance (to win a conference championship), if Liv can return to close to or as good as she was,” Burman said. “In my opinion, in the middle of the year, she was one of the best two or three players in the conference. If she can return to that level, we’re going to be fine.”
Championships are a large part of the next step he would like to see Wyoming athletics take.
“The other sports, I think we’ve just got to keep getting better,” Burman said. “We’ve got to win some championships, which we have no history of doing, in reality, at UW.”
Wyoming volleyball finished fourth in the conference, tennis was a perfect 5-0 at home this season and 17-3 overall, and wrestling’s Bryce Meredith took fourth place at the NCAA Championships. Soccer finished fifth in the Mountain West, going 6-4-1 in conference play for the second straight season.
Golf and tennis were also recognized for recording perfect multi-year APR scores.
And there’s more to come, too. The track and field team, which has already set two school records this season, begins competing at the Mountain West Championships on Wednesday. And golfer Ryan Wallen begins NCAA regional play Monday after an all-conference season.
“Volleyball, in all reality, competed for a championship,” Burman said. “Tennis competed for a championship. Women’s basketball competed for a championship. So we had a good year, I would say. Compared to historically, I’d say a very good year.”