Then and Now: Old Dominion Shining Bright in Sun Belt Conference

Benjamin Draper, Sports Editor

This article first appeared in the fall 2022 Mace & Crown magazine issue. 

 

On July 1st of 2022, the Old Dominion Athletics program became an official member of the Sunbelt Conference after announcing earlier in the spring that it was leaving Conference USA in pursuit of new horizons. The move was made to increase its national exposure and reignite regional rivalries with familiar foes James Madison and Marshall, along with a stout East Division among schools like Appalachian State, and Coastal Carolina. What many ordinary folks outside of the Norfolk area don’t know is this isn’t the first time the Monarchs were in the Sun Belt. In May 1982, they announced they were joining the conference and remained a member from 1982 to 1991. 

 

When the Monarchs moved to the Sun Belt in 82’ they had quite the success on the basketball court for both men and women. On the men’s side, they won two Sun Belt regular-season titles and had three trips to the NCAA tournament as well as three NIT appearances in the nine years with the conference. The Monarchs basketball team earned their first NCAA tournament victory in 1986 after defeating West Virginia 72-64. The women’s team had championship success throughout the decade. They went on to win five Sun Belt titles and made it to eight NCAA Tournaments. In 1984-85, head coach Marianne Stanley led the Lady Monarchs to a national championship victory over Georgia 70-65, in Austin, TX.  

 

ODU’s success wasn’t limited to the court but extended to outdoor sports as well. The ODU men’s soccer team won three Sun Belt championships in 1985, 1987, and 1989. The ODU baseball team made the trip to the NCAA Tournament twice in the Sun Belt Conference. In 1985, head coach Mark Newman led the Monarchs to a Sun Belt championship after finishing the season 50-11. In 1986, the ODU baseball team was ranked seventh in the nation by Baseball America,  the highest ranking in program history. Field Hockey was a powerhouse for Old Dominion in the 80s; the team took national titles with victories over UCONN in 1982 and 1983, Iowa in 1984 and 1989, and North Carolina in 1990. The Lady Monarchs managed to three-peat and win back-to-back national titles throughout their first Sun Belt run. 

 

Fast forward to 2022, the Old Dominion Monarchs are once again shining bright in the Sun Belt. Athletic Administration has deemed the 2022 year as a “New Dawn, New Era”  in honor of its inaugural fall and spring seasons with the new conference. In the season opener against the Virginia Tech Hokies, shirts featuring the new slogan were given out. The ODU football team got the party started with a victory over the Hokies 20-17, which resulted in thousands of students storming the field in front of the nation as the game was broadcast on an ESPN network. 

 

ODU’s football team also earned their first conference victory in their Sun Belt opener against Arkansas State. Although they had a rough non-conference schedule, the Monarchs are on the right track in conference play. ODU Football is going to have a lot of fun in their new conference, but it won’t be easy. The Sun Belt Conference is considered the best group of 5 schools outside of the Power 5 conferences. The Sun Belt and ESPN have an agreement to air games on their networks for the next several years, putting a national spotlight on the Monarchs, who are always fun to watch.

Elena Harris

The ODU Field Hockey Program is still respected among Division I schools, even though they have not won a national championship since 2000. After the 1990 title victory, the program racked up four more championships with victories in 1991, 1992, 1998, and 2000. From 1990-93, the program won 66 straight games that lead to another three-peat. Since then, the program has endured two new conferences with the Colonial Athletic Association and Big East. The Lady Monarchs won eight conference titles in the CAA and won one title in 2013 when the program transitioned to the new conference. The program’s last NCAA appearance was in 2013. It has been almost a decade since the Lady Monarchs reigned their way into the postseason, but as of 2022 they are 7-2 (2-1 Big East) and are ranked in the top 15 in the nation. 

Old Dominion Baseball has had great success in recent years and hopes their first year in the new conference will be a good one as they eye another conference title and NCAA tournament appearance. The baseball program is also rumored to be in the planning stages of a much-needed renovation to Bud Metheny Baseball Stadium. As the years have gone by, the school itself has expanded and has slowly risen to a solid mid-major Division I school. The athletics department has done a lot in regard to renovations for their athletic facilities with the upgrades at S.B. Ballard in 2019 and the ODU Volleyball Center that was completed in 2020. The L.R. Hill Sports Complex was also built and debuted in 2008, which is the home for the ODU field hockey and lacrosse team. Another thing to note is that Old Dominion did not have Chartway Arena in the 80s Sun Belt era because it wasn’t built until 2002, and it has been the home for the Monarchs basketball teams since.  

I believe everyone can agree that the decision for Old Dominion to depart from C-USA for the Sun Belt was the best choice for the athletics program. Looking back to their first run in the Sun Belt, ODU is definitely in a better position in regards to the new facilities and the fact that the school has risen among smaller Division I schools. Although there were national championships won back then and not many have been won in recent years, ODU is in the process of building its programs toward championship success. It’s impressive how far Old Dominion has come since 1982, and ODU athletics will only improve from here. It is an exciting new era for Old Dominion athletics and their future in the Sun Belt Conference is bright.