Wake AD sees progress despite losing records in key sports

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest showed signs of improvement across its athletic department this past year. Athletic director Ron Wellman says it just didn't show up in the won-lost records of its highest-profile sports.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Wellman called 2015-16 ''a year of progress and improvement ... in the vast majority of our sports.''

Wake Forest finished at No. 68 in the final standings for the Director's Cup, awarded annually to the top overall athletic department. The Demon Deacons were just 13th in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

They insist they made strides in both football and men's basketball, even if their records didn't reflect it. The football team went 3-9 for a second straight year under coach Dave Clawson while Danny Manning's basketball team couldn't sustain the momentum of a promising start and finished under .500 for the fifth time in six years and for the second time in two years under him.

Those teams' subpar records threatened to overshadow the rest of the school's largely successful programs. The baseball team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. The women's basketball team reached the WNIT. Both golf programs and the men's soccer team also made it to postseason play.

And the school continued to plow through its ambitious list of facility upgrades.

''Overall we're moving in the right direction, and we've got the right coaches to move in the right direction,'' Wellman said. ''They are the reasons we're moving in the right direction. That, combined with the facility improvements ... puts us in a really good position for the future.''

The construction of a sustainable football program has been an exercise in patience for Clawson, who fielded arguably the youngest team in Division I last season with 27 players on the final depth chart in either their first or second year. Still, the Demon Deacons were largely more competitive, with four losses coming by eight or fewer points.

''When you think about (the youth) and being as improved as we were last year, there's reason to be enthused about the future,'' Wellman said.

The basketball team was in the NCAA Tournament conversation after beating Indiana, UCLA and finally LSU on Dec. 29. But they only won twice after that, and ended up with the program's first 20-loss season since 2011.

''That was certainly a growing experience and a learning experience for our players,'' Wellman said, ''and I think they learned from that, and we will see a different outcome this year.''

The school continued its building boom, finishing its $21 million, 80,000-square-foot indoor practice facility as the first phase of a $58 million sports performance center and opening a $4.5 million headquarters for the golf teams.

A project to renovate its baseball stadium and build additional training facilities there is underway, and Wellman says they're planning a new practice gym for the basketball programs and a renovation of the tennis complex because Wake Forest is hosting the men's and women's NCAA championships in that sport in 2018.

''Kids are making their (recruiting) decisions earlier, and they're basing their decisions much more on facilities than maybe what happened 10-15 years ago,'' Wellman said. ''It's important to be in the ball game, facility-wise, and we are more than in the ball game with our facilities today.''