'All sports matter:' inside Ray Anderson's developing athletics culture

The culture that Ray Anderson has built revolves around strong student athletes and coaches

Since Ray Anderson took over as Vice President of University Athletics in 2014, he has hired seventeen new head coaches.

In an attempt to cultivate a winning culture comparable to that of all-around powerhouses like Stanford or UCLA, Anderson employs what he calls an “all sports matter” approach to athletics in both his hires and the universities investment in an Olympic Village.

The culture that Anderson has built revolves around strong student athletes and coaches who are passionate in their positions.

According to Anderson, the women's culture at ASU has always been a big priority for the athletic department. In the last 10 years, female Sun Devils have won five national championships between golf, softball and indoor track and field, compared to the men's sole title in indoor track and field. Anderson has been at the helm of ASU Athletics since January 2014, and strives to build the athletic department into national championship contenders in all sports.

“We have a culture of 'all sports matter,' in that they are critically important to the goals and aspirations for us to build leaders out of Sun Devils Athletics," Anderson said. “It's a combination of having some real fine student athletes and some very strong leadership in those departments.” 

The history of the men’s teams revolve around the 11 NCAA National Championships. The baseball team has won the most of the male teams with five followed by the golf team. The women have won 13 national championships and the women’s golf team have eight to their name.

The women’s golf team is led by former player and national champion, Missy Farr-Kaye, who said that the ASU athletic department has created strong programs to compete yearly.

“I think every team in the athletic department is driven to win and to get to the top of the podium for every sport," Farr-Kaye said.

The Sun Devils are ranked 24th in the country in all-time division one programs with a combined 24 National Championships. Of all the Pac-12 teams, the Sun Devils rank seventh in national championships – behind Stanford, UCLA, USC, Cal, Oregon and Colorado.

One of the longest tenured head coaches at ASU is Charli Turner Thorne, who has been the head coach of the women’s basketball team for 21 years. She said when you look at the women’s teams at ASU, it is hard to find a team that is not competing for a national championship yearly.

“There’s absolutely competitive excellence and culture of success,” Turner Thorne said. “It defines our athletic department, but if you are just looking at the women's side, its very rare when you have a women's team at ASU that isn't in the NCAA tournament.”

For Turner Thorne, her women's basketball teams have made the NCAA tournament 13 times and have only missed tournament play four years since she took over in 1996.

“With a lot of our programs, we aren't just in the NCAA tournament,” Turner Thorne said. “We are actually in it to win it.”

Since the last men’s national championship in 2008 for indoor track & field, the women’s teams have won five national championships. The women’s teams have proven themselves as they rank 12th all-time in national championships.

“It’s impressive and an honor to work amongst Missy Farr-Kaye (and) John Spini, and we have some great coaches over the years,” Turner Thorne said.

Director of track and field Greg Kraft has been coaching the team since 1996 and has won four national titles. For his teams, injuries and scholarships have played a big part in trying to compete for titles.

“On the women's side, we have been more consistent in our recruiting,” Kraft said. “When you look at a team and you look at consistency and recruiting, the women have 18 scholarships. So in a perfect world, you would have four scholarships in each class."

Having a balanced team has allowed the women’s track and field team to compete yearly for a top spot in the conference.

“Our women are a little bit better positioned to do that with the balance we have and opportunities we have,” Kraft said.

For incoming recruits, interest in the program is based around the number of scholarships, and in some cases the women's success can be rooted to the 18 scholarships its program receives over the 12 scholarships for the men's program.

“When you have the loss of some of the women we have had, you would still possibly have 14 scholarships in play, which might be 20 athletes or 22,” Kraft said. “For the men, if you go from 12 scholarships in play to seven or eight, it's just difficult when there's 21 events and (we have to) overcome that lack of depth.”

Trisha Ford joined the Sun Devils softball team in the summer of 2016, and her team has brought back the softball powerhouse that once graced ASU – winning the 2008 and 2011 Women's College World Series.

The Sun Devils are now No. 9 with a 35-9 record, and Ford said that wins and losses don't mean everything.

"We are all in this together, but really it starts from the top," Ford said. "Ray Anderson — he's got a vision, and he's huge on making sure these programs are stabilized. They have good culture, and you compete your butts off."

Cydeni Carter, Andrew Bell and Josh Zaklis all contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at sbemanue@asu.edu or follow @SebastianEman24 on Twitter. 

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