RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow knew it would not be easy to build the Wolfpack into one of the nation's best overall sports programs. She was neither surprised nor deterred then when the Wolfpack's steady climb hit a bump during the 2013-14 season.
N.C. State had risen in the Directors' Cup standings in each of her first three years to inch closer to her goal of top-25 status, but the school slid after a bumpy year that included a three-win football season as well as a baseball season that fell far short of the public goal to return to the College World Series.
"What people have to understand is taking a step back doesn't mean you aren't going to take two steps forward next year," Yow said in an interview with The Associated Press. "You have to stay focused on what your core goals are and what you need to do to meet those goals. And you cannot allow yourself to lose focus."
When Yow took over in 2010, N.C. State was coming off an 89th-place finish in the Directors' Cup, presented annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the nation's top overall athletic program. The school improved to 67th in her first year, 37th her second, then 34th last year to match the school's best finish since 2006.
But the Wolfpack slid slightly to 41st in 2013-14.
The football struggles under first-year coach Dave Doeren were the most glaring. Doeren, who left Northern Illinois to replace Tom O'Brien, took over a young team plagued by injuries — it lost the starting quarterback for two months to injury on the season's third series — and finished with the program's first winless ACC record since 1959.
"Some (fans) get it that the cupboard wasn't completely bare, but it was close," Yow said. "It would've been nice if Coach Doeren had Russell Wilson or Mike Glennon waiting in the wings to lead his first team, but that was not his situation."
In baseball, Elliott Avent's club was coming off its second College World Series appearance and had a pair of eventual top-15 draft picks in pitcher Carlos Rodon and infielder Trea Turner to go with a preseason No. 5 ranking from Baseball America. But it failed to make the NCAA tournament.
"As a former coach, I know you can have a glitch, and this was a significant glitch," Yow said. "But he's here, he's ours and he deserves all the support we can give him."
Men's and women's basketball, however, provided some positives. Coach Mark Gottfried's men's squad returned to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year and had the ACC player of the year in high-scoring forward T.J. Warren, while first-year women's coach Wes Moore was league coach of the year after guiding the program to 25 wins, a top-10 ranking and a return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
It was the first time that both programs reached the NCAAs since 2006.
Also this year, wrestling had a national champion in heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski, the women's golf team tied for 10th at the NCAA championship for its best finish, and the men's and women's swimming and diving teams each finished in the top 20 for the first time in the same year.
The school has broken ground on a $14 million indoor football practice facility to open in the spring, part of Yow's focus on keeping things moving forward.
"I think that's the hardest part, staying focused when you have disappointments," Yow said. "I really do. So my job is to send that message — remind (coaches) to stay focused, you're going to get there, you can't allow yourself to get distracted."
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