June 28, 2017 at 2:48 AM CDT - Updated August 10 at 10:55 AM
RUSSELLVILLE, Arkansas - Harding University secured the 2016-17 Great American Conference All-Sports Trophy after completing an academic calendar that saw three teams finish their seasons ranked in the top 10. It was Harding's first GAC All-Sports Trophy, its seventh in program history and first since winning the men's all-sports trophy in the Gulf South Conference in 2011.
Harding also won NAIA Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference all-sports awards in 1976, 1981 and 1990-93.
Harding finished the 2016-17 athletic year with 85 points, 7.5 points ahead of Arkansas Tech, the five-time all-sports champion. The Lady Bisons added a regular-season title in softball to the program's yearlong haul of trophies that included championships in football, volleyball and women's basketball. In addition the men's and women's soccer teams added GAC Tournament titles and the men's golf team earned a trip to the NCAA Regionals for the first time in program history.
"It was just one of those exceptional years where everything fell into place," Harding athletic director Greg Harnden said. "We had great leadership from our coaches and outstanding performances from our student-athletes."
Arkansas Tech closed in the spring with top-three finishes in all five counting sports - women's tennis, men's and women's golf, baseball and softball - to move up from seventh in the fall and third after the winter to take second place. The women's golf team won their third-straight GAC Championship crown and claimed the NCAA Division II Women's Golf Central Super Regional title. The men also made it to nationals where they rallied to qualify for match play where they took out the tournament's top seed, Barry, before they fell in the national semifinals.
Southern Arkansas made a major move up the All-Sports standings as it finished in third after sitting in eighth after the winter season, a half-point ahead of Henderson State and one point clear of Southwestern Oklahoma State. The Muleriders won their fourth regular-season title in baseball and took second in softball. Both programs went on to NCAA Regional play.
Henderson State made a similar jump, climbing to fourth from ninth. The Reddies won their fourth-straight championship in men's golf and took second in women's golf. Both qualified for regionals and the women advanced to nationals for the first time in program history.
SWOSU took fifth in the final standings. Both golf teams finished third at the GAC Championships and both earned at-large bids to the NCAA Regionals. For the second-straight year, Southern Nazarene moved up two places. The Crimson Storm finished in sixth place with 51.5 points, 1.5 points ahead of East Central and two points more than Arkansas-Monticello. UAM repeated as GAC Baseball Tournament champions.
Southeastern Oklahoma State and Ouachita tied for ninth, followed by Northwestern Oklahoma State. The Savage Storm won their first outright regular-season title in women's tennis. They went on to claim the GAC Tournament championship and earn a trip to NCAA Regionals. After two regional wins, they advanced to the National Championships for the first time where the defeated New York Institute of Tech before bowing out in the national quarterfinals.