On Jan. 14, the Western Athletic Conference announced that membership invitations issued by the conference’s Board of Directors to five universities have been accepted. Four of the colleges are based in Texas and are leaving the Southland Conference as of July 1.
The lone star schools include Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin and a trio of Sealy High School alum are also involved with the transition.
A pair of Sealy Tigers represent their alma mater on the track and field roster for the Sam Houston State Bearkats between Clayton Fritsch (pole vault) and Luke Thielemann (throws). In addition, Will Cerny plays baseball for the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
Thielemann still has all four years of eligibility left while Fritsch is considered a senior for the indoor season after qualifying for nationals last season even though it was ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, since he didn’t compete in the outdoor season, he has two years of spring eligibility left.
Similarly, Cerny played his freshman and sophomore seasons but was going to miss his junior season due to injury but received the extra year of eligibility from 2020 after that season was cut short as well. Now in 2021, he has two years left on the diamond.
Fritsch said he was excited to be joining a new conference and looked forward to competing against new faces while having some familiar opponents alongside them as well.
“I’m excited, it’s gonna be cool to see a little bit more of the country,” Fritsch said. “We’ll still have some of those guys that we competed with but now we’re gonna get to actually see a few more.”
Despite the new faces, the conversation amongst the team remains focused on a conference championship.
“Just after talking with everybody, we’re saying if we can a Southland Conference championship, I think we should be able to go in there and win a WAC Championship,” Fritsch said. “Everybody’s feeling really good about it, I think biggest plan is just getting into that bigger, a little bit better competition. We’re not quite in a power five conference yet, but possibly trying to move up to a power six and try to go up against bigger competition.”
Fritsch is no stranger to the big competitions, having competed at the NCAA championships. In addition, he set a meet record at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) U-23 Championships in Mexico representing his country.
The WAC will have 13 member schools competing for championships starting in the 2022-2023 school year with six Texas schools in the Southwest division and the other seven schools in the West division between three Utah schools and one school in each New Mexico, Arizona, California and Washington.
“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” said WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd in a Jan. 14 statement. “The end result could not have been accomplished without the collaboration and shared visions of the WAC’s Board of Directors and the Presidents of the incoming institutions. It not only stabilizes the conference for the future; it also positions it for significant growth and success.”