KANSAS CITY, Mo. — College sports fans across the country are familiar with Carroll College. The Fighting Saints won six NAIA football national championships (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010) cementing their status as one of the top college football programs in the nation.
There was the Sports Illustrated cover with Carroll linebacker Brandon Day in December 2007.
There was Mike Van Diest’s NAIA Hall of Fame induction in January.
Now there’s Kurt Paulson and the Fighting Saints men’s basketball program.
Paulson, a former Carroll College guard, has the Fighting Saints in the NAIA Division I national semifinals in his first year at the helm, 14 years after doing the same as a player in Carroll’s best finish at historic Municipal Auditorium Arena.
“It really is a unique story, but beneficially, as a first-year coach he can rely on that experience and go back to his days as a player and really reflect on that and implement what worked well then,” Carroll director of athletics Charlie Gross said of Paulson.
“We’re very proud of the Carroll brand,” Gross continued. “The football program had that, back from (2002-2011) where they were playing on a national stage. So when you get to a national stage, you just want to play well, you want to represent your institution well and you want to represent your conference well. So far the team has done that very well, and we know that they’ll do it in the semifinals.”
Monday night, Paulson and the Saints meet Frontier Conference rival Lewis-Clark State College in the NAIA Fab 4, with the winner advancing to the national championship game. Carroll tied a program record with its No. 2 ranking during the season, but in a year littered with significant injuries, overcoming the odds to return to the semifinals for only the second time in program history was no easy task.
“We’re so proud of the team, they’ve worked hard all season long. They’ve had some adversity and played well through it,” said Gross. “I think the two-week time period where they had off after the conference championship to the first round (of nationals) was very beneficial so they could rest a little bit, as well as practice and refine a couple things.
“Again, we’re just so proud of what they’ve done, how they represent Carroll, how they represent Helena, the Frontier Conference, and I’m very happy for Coach Paulson.”
Gross credits Paulson, his staff and the Saints for their incredible run to the semifinals, but is also quick to point out the droves of Carroll purple and gold taking over downtown Kansas City.
“We have a great, loyal following. We have the parents, we have some fans from Helena, we have some fans from Omaha and every little bit helps,” said Gross.