July 18, 2017

Western Kentucky has more trophies than Todd Stewart knows where to display.

It's a good problem for the athletic director to have. The Hilltoppers are fulling Stewart's vision of making big things happen when he became the AD in May 2012. Western Kentucky has captured 33 league titles in 12 sports between the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA, including 21 over the past three years in C-USA.

Couple that student-athletes' continued academic success over that period, and it explains why Stewart is setting loftier goals for his program over the next five years.

''What I want for us, as much as possible, is to do things that haven't been done before,'' Stewart told The Associated Press in a phone interview. ''That's happened in football, obviously in going to the FBS level and winning championships and bowl games and being ranked in the Top 25.

''I'd really like all of our sports to do that. Each step becomes harder, but if we really are going to continue to elevate this, the next step is postseason success.''

WKU's impressive run has included changes in conference affiliation as well as coaching personnel. Three of Stewart's nine hires in seven sports have come in football, as the `Toppers' success has led to opportunities elsewhere.

Former Notre Dame assistant Mike Sanford was hired last December to succeed Jeff Brohm, who left for Big Ten Conference member Purdue after going 30-10 over three years and guiding WKU to consecutive C-USA titles. The Hilltoppers, 11-3 last season, followed Brohm's departure by becoming one of just nine FBS programs to win a third straight bowl game.

Whether Sanford will continue the winning and stays long term in Bowling Green remains to be seen, but Stewart understands why Sanford's three predecessors are now coaching at Power Five schools. It says a lot about what WKU has established.

''I'd rather have that problem with a winning program than that problem with a losing program,'' he said.

Women's basketball continued its C-USA dominance with regular season and tournament titles under coach Michelle Clark-Heard, who has 130 wins the past five years. Volleyball claimed its third straight conference title as well with Alyssa Cavanaugh and Travis Hudson being named the top player and coach, respectively.

Men's basketball went 15-17 under first-year coach Rick Stansbury, whose top-10 incoming class includes AP Kentucky player of the year Taveion Hollingsworth along with graduate transfers Darius Thompson (Virginia) and Dwight Coleby (Kansas).

Academically, WKU's spring semester GPA of 3.10 and cumulative 3.06 were the highest in school history. Each sport also posted a multiyear Academic Progress Rate of at least 944.

When it comes to facilities, field-level tents for large groups and updated banners have been added to Houchens-Smith Stadium during Stewart's tenure as AD. But adding high-definition video screens to the stadium and adjacent E.A. Diddle Arena to enhance the in-person experience at games is one of Stewart's top priorities.

Success requires such upgrades to lure spectators, support and recruits. At the same time, those improvements couldn't be considered without prosperity that has given Stewart multiple boasting choices.

''When I was out talking to people, I got asked a lot about (whether) we'd be a football school, a basketball school, what we would be?'' Stewart said of his early days as AD. ''My answer was, `we'll be everything.' If we're going to keep score, then we want to win and we want to be good in every sport.

''We just feel really good that we've been able to sustain it.''

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Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter: twitter.com/GaryBGraves

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