Toledo Blade Feature: Bass team's success puts Adrian on the college fishing map

Toledo Blade Feature: Bass team's success puts Adrian on the college fishing map

(Note: Reprinted courtesy of The Blade and outdoors editor Matt Markey) The Blade story link

ADRIAN, Mich. — The fastest growing sport on the campus of Adrian College — bass fishing. The bass team has more than tripled in size in just three years. 

"I still get masses of emails from kids all over the place, just wanting to come here and be part of the team," Adrian coach Seth Borton said.

One of just two Adrian College teams to achieve a No. 1 in the nation ranking — bass fishing. Less than a year after the program was launched, Adrian's bass fishing team was top-ranked in the poll.

"What's happened is incredible. I did not fathom this at all. We're now talking about taking it to the next level and competing for a national championship," Adrian athletic director Mike Duffy said.

What is the most-traveled team at Adrian — bass fishing. The Bulldog anglers have competed multiple times in Alabama, New York, Kentucky, Virginia, and Missouri as well as Tennessee and Arkansas.

"We go where the competition is definitely the toughest, and on a way larger scale. There's a lot of traveling involved, and we have to stay on top of the academic side of things through email with our professors. It's definitely a lot harder than a baseball or football trip," said Zach Graham, a sophomore from Gallipolis, Ohio, majoring in environmental studies and geology.

What sport draws students to Adrian like a powerful magnet — bass fishing.

"I absolutely would not be here if it wasn't for the bass fishing team. I didn't know what Adrian College was, and never knew a thing about it until I found out they had a varsity bass fishing team that was one of the best in the country," said Chase Erickson, a junior marketing and management major from White Lake, Mich.

And the buzz on campus and around this town of about 21,000 people that also serves as the seat of Lenawee County — a lot of it is about the bass fishing team.

"The students are really excited and behind us, and I can't tell you how many times I've been pulling one of our boats and stopped into a gas station and had people ask me about it. They think Adrian having a really good bass team is one of the coolest things ever around here," Graham said.

And what sport has put Adrian College, with an enrollment of around 1,600, on the national collegiate map — bass fishing.

"What it has done is it has brought a lot of notoriety to the college, in a different venue than the other sports. Bass fishing has put Adrian College on a different map," Duffy said.

There might have been a knit eyebrow or two and a few skeptical gazes when Duffy announced early in 2014 that varsity bass fishing would be the next sport introduced at the private, co-educational school of liberal arts and sciences, located about 30 miles northwest of Toledo. "We're doing this, and we are serious about it," Duffy said at the time.

Just this season, Adrian anglers have swept first place in consecutive events on the YETI Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) circuit, with Graham and senior Jarrett Martin teaming up to win the tournament on New York's Lake Chautauqua in July, and the duo of junior Chase Serafin and sophomore Cody Batterson winning the September tournament on Lake Erie, where Adrian placed four of its two-man teams in the top 10.

College bass fishing is a sport that operates outside of the ever-expanding tentacles of the NCAA, and it has been dominated by the southern schools that have the advantage of being on the water year-round, and having many of the major tournaments on home waters. But Adrian shot out of the gate like a fully-trimmed-out sleek bass boat pushed by 250 horses, and just 17 months after Adrian cast its line into the competitive bass fishing pool, the Bulldog bassers were ranked No. 1 in the nation.

"We have kids calling us from the south, wanting to be on our bass team," Duffy said. "The number of people that follow bass fishing is enormous, and I've been awakened to that fact. I did not know it was such a high priority on some young people's lives."

Adrian has three bass boats for its fishing team, but that fleet is supplemented by many of the team members bringing their own rigs to the tournaments. "We took 15 boats to that September tournament on Lake Erie," Duffy said. "Again, it's amazing the way the program is supported by these students, their families, the sponsors, and the community."

Since May, Adrian has won four tournaments, placed one of its teams in the top five on five additional occasions, and had eight top-10 finishes. The Bulldogs are fifth nationally in the latest Association of Collegiate Anglers (ACA)/Cabela's Collegiate Bass Fishing national rankings — the highest ranked program that sponsors NCAA Division III sports — and Adrian has qualified a record six of its two-man teams to the 2018 Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) College Fishing National Championship May 30-June 2 on the Red River in Shreveport, La.

"The competition is intense, but instead of trying to make the top 10 or top five in tournaments, we are now focused on winning these things," Borton said. "My perspective has never changed since the beginning — I'm crazy competitive. And I constantly preach about the importance of preparation, controlling the factors you can control, and maintaining a sharp focus throughout the event. This is tough stuff — the leisurely fisherman isn't going to have a lot of opportunities here."

Borton's network of connections from his tournament fishing days have helped keep the Adrian tackle boxes stocked, and Duffy said the team also receives support through a number of corporate sponsors and donations. But fully-tricked-out bass boats, big trucks to tow them, and traveling considerable distances runs up a big tab.

"It is expensive, no doubt about it," Duffy said. "You burn a lot of gas taking 15 boats to a tournament."

But Adrian is not averse to stepping well out of the comfortable box of traditional college sports. It also fields teams in equestrian, bowling, acrobatics and tumbling, and synchronized skating, and the school will roll out men's and women's rowing teams this year, housed in a new facility being built on nearby Devils Lake.

"The support we've received, across the board, has been phenomenal," Borton said. "I think the people at the school had some general idea what could take place and they've been great. And off the water we are going to shows and building relationships. Anybody that loves to fish seems to be taking an interest in our team, and I'm anxious to see how far we can take this."

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