The athletics of Our Lady of the Lake continues to expand despite the pandemic year



While many sports programs across the country focused on survival over the past year, Our Lady of the Lake’s sports director Shane Hurley remained keen to expand.

The Saints increased their athlete population by about 30 percent and initiated a number of facility improvements. The gym received a new floor and a new video board, the softball field expanded its lawn, grandstands and shelters and the soccer field received a new fence, a scoreboard, a sound system and grandstand seating.

Hurley became a full-time sporting director after also coaching soccer for the past two years, which gave him more time to devote to projects like the Halo Club – an athletic fundraising program due to start this summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic had forced some belting on day-to-day operations, Hurley said, but the OLLU program was still making progress.

“We’re in a really strong position to keep growing,” said Hurley. “We managed to grow at a time when most people were seeing their numbers decline or decrease, and we could actually get away with significant, positive growth.”

The Saints enrolled 326 student athletes in the 2020-21 period, Hurley said, up from about 250 the previous year. The total fell short of Hurley’s target, but still surpassed the university’s history, where enrollments were down about 6 percent last fall year over year.

The sports department‘s fundraising has also increased year over year, Hurley said, including a six-figure donation that resulted in the installation of an 8 by 14 foot video board in the gym.

The contributions helped drive capital projects forward, even though the teams’ sports budgets were cut by 10 percent to 20 percent – a deficit that was made up by reduced schedules and changed travel arrangements.

“We had to go through a budget cut, like all areas of the university,” said Hurley. “We need to thank our coaches for their ability to tighten their belts and work effectively within those budgets so that we can use savings to fund some of these projects.”

Hurley said the biggest challenge in the spring was finding time to keep an eye on each of OLLU’s teams as the men’s soccer program trained for a 10-game season.

Hurley had been at the top of OLLU football since he was appointed the track and field department’s first coach in 2006, but this year he found juggling responsibilities left little time for planning.

“I always felt myself being pulled one way or another,” Hurley said. “I felt like I needed more time doing some things with my boys, or I needed more time doing things that were collectively beneficial to our department. So I’m looking forward to the new role and will really take it on in the future and try to improve things here as much as possible. “

The pandemic increased the stress on every employee in the department, with Hurley and the other trainers on the program sometimes doing COVID-19 screenings for host opponents and checking to see if everyone had been tested the previous week.

OLLU announced its plans in March 2020 to launch competitive cheer and dance programs and reintroduce women’s golf and tennis for 2020-21, but the pandemic created recruitment hurdles that slowed the process by a year.

Women’s golf was the only one of the four to compete that year, posting a list of three players to compete in events as individual players. Hurley said the team is expected to have a full cast by the fall and the other three programs are expected to start competing in 2021-22.

The Saints men’s and women’s basketball teams only played a handful of games in 2020-21 as the program struggled to find opponents willing to commit to weekly COVID-19 testing. But OLLU’s outdoor and distance sports kept most of the dates in their new calendars, starting the game in late January or early February.

“It was just messy,” said Hurley. “Everyone had to be on board”

Hurley said he expected OLLU athletic enrollment to pick up again in 2021-22, potentially reaching 400 athletes, but more likely around 350. It could be challenging to provide that many students, Hurley said, especially given the anticipated budget cuts.

Still, Hurley hopes to make further progress in upgrading the facilities, including new grandstands for the gym and tennis courts, and initial planning for an athletics complex.

OLLU is also encouraging athletes to get vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, Hurley said, adding that most of the program’s coaches have completed the process.

Hurley hopes a high vaccination rate will allow OLLU to overturn COVID-19 protocols as the Red River Athletic Conference likely reverts to a more typical planning model for 2021-22.

“It’s enormous,” said Hurley. “After our last meeting with all of our sporting directors, it seems like everyone is on board for a regular season.”

Twitter: @GregLuca


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