By any measure, the 2012-13 school year has been exceedingly successful for William Carey University athletics.
The Crusaders qualified for NAIA national competition in men's and women's soccer, men's basketball, baseball, men's and women's tennis, and had (and continue to have) athletes who reached the nationals in cross country and track.
Still, it came as a surprise earlier this week when Carey athletic director Steve Knight was named AD of the Year by the Southern States Athletic Conference.
"I was really surprised," said Knight, who has served William Carey as athletic director since 1987. "There are so many good ADs and many good athletic programs in our conference.
"We were at the conference meetings, and the new commissioner was talking about the accomplishments of all the teams, and it's just amazing how many have competed in national tournament and played in Final Fours and competing for national championships."
Not only is the competition keen, but Carey has only been in the SSAC for three years now, so to have the Carey program recognized in this manner is gratifying and eye-opening.
"It caught me by surprise," said Knight.
Movin' on up
It took a big leap of faith for Knight and Carey to abandon the comfort and traditions of the old Gulf Coast Athletic Conference in favor of what is considered to be one of, if not the, toughest and most competitive conference in NAIA athletics.
But Carey has more than held its own with the schools it competes with, and the tangible benefits are beginning to pay off in myriad ways.
"It's been a good move for us," said Knight. "We've been able to play in more areas, geographically, away from Hattiesburg where our name can get out and people can see our program. It's good exposure not only for us, but for the school."
If you build it…
Knight and the Carey athletic program certainly are resting on their laurels, not by a long shot.
Last month, the school revealed plans for new construction that including building a new gymnasium that would replace venerable Clinton Gym, which has served as the home for Crusader basketball since the 1960s.
When completed, hopefully in time for the 2014-15 season, the 3,000-seat gym will be, in Knight's words, "the best in our league."
Knight said blueprints for the building are nearly complete, the school is close to the bid process and groundbreaking should take place in late summer or early fall.
"We're not really sure of the exact location yet," said Knight. "The school has bought land beyond the outfield at the baseball field, a section of which we've earmarked for future development. But the gym will be in that general area."
Once the new gym is built, Knight said the school will almost certainly add volleyball as a varsity sport to get the athletic program up to 15 sports. Currently, volleyball at Carey isn't practical because of the low ceiling at Clinton Gym.
After that, it will be a matter of sustaining and maintaining the existing programs and making sure Carey stays in its current position as a highly-competitive program in a variety of sports.
Long term, Knight said the school may look at the possibility of adding sports such as bowling and lacrosse, but that day is still a long way off.
Knight will enter his 32nd season as the men's basketball coach at Carey, in addition to his duties as athletic director, and even at 57, he's still going strong.
"I told myself I'd do this until I was 60," said Knight. "That's three years away."