Gearing up for victory

Student-athletes equipped for success in sports, academics and life after graduation

by Seth Rainey '19

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Athlete or not, the actions are familiar. 

Early hours. Showing up day after day. Balancing repetition and innovation. Training and working with a team toward a unifying goal. Finding motivation internally and in fellow team members. 

Whether practiced in the formality of the workplace, the academic rigor of the university classroom or under the bright lights of the athletic field, the steps and responsibilities that determine success are endlessly transferable. 

These parallels make establishing productive behaviors and habits vital to successes both current and hoped for. This is particularly true at the critical stage of learning that college represents. 

At Howard Payne University, the development of these skills is shaped by the institution’s unique community and culture. Faith affects all parts of the university, including athletics. The mission statement of HPU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, included in email signatures of department staff, displayed throughout athletic facilities and represented in the work of coaches, staff and athletes, reflects the values of the whole of HPU while spelling out the priorities that guide the department: 

“The Howard Payne University Athletic Department aspires to equip Christian leaders for society using sports at HPU as a platform for success in competition, in the classroom, in the community and in all future endeavors.” 

To Hunter Sims, director of athletics, the statement’s implications for HPU athletics are clear. 

“At HPU, we’re trying to produce Christian leaders who will benefit society – that’s really the bottom line,” said Sims. “We feel like great leaders are agents of change, so we are always looking to use the platform of sports to raise up great leaders who will our impact our society.” 

This clarity of vision carried on amid the obstacles of 2020-2021. As the world faced the COVID-19 pandemic, HPU was faced with maintaining the safety of student-athletes through adherence to NCAA protocols and policies. 

Despite these challenges, a commitment to the department’s mission remained as coaches and staff sought to do more than just get through the difficult times. Sims, coaches and other staff redoubled their commitment to the department’s mission statement as a “new normal” became reality. 

“We made the decision to be dealers of hope,” Sims said. “We felt that it was our primary job to provide hope for students when there wasn’t a lot of hope. This time taught us to always be thankful for what we have. When we are dealing hope to our student-athletes, personnel, fans and community, we feel like everyone has the best opportunity to be successful.” 

True to the ideal of serving students in whatever capacity possible, the focus of HPU athletics is to equip the entire student-athlete so that, when students complete their athletic career, they are equipped with characteristics and qualities that will contribute to their continued success. Coaches and other staff know this growth is about more than just bringing HPU success on the playing field. It’s about helping students succeed in academics and in extracurriculars – even in helping the community grow through consistent investment. 

Sims says the lessons taught through opportunities at HPU represent a launch point for future growth, successes and service extending through the course of each student-athlete’s life. 

“When it comes to thinking about our graduates, we talk about the ‘four-year, 40-year’ experience,” he said. “We’re asking them to make a four-year commitment to us with the return being the next 40 years of their lives working, in marriages, being parents, serving others and more, all influenced by their time at Howard Payne.” 

This goal – to grow student-athletes who will impact the world after their time on HPU’s campus – is more than just altruism. Rather, it is guided by the Christ-centered principles that influence the larger campus culture of HPU. 

“We want our students to have great memories of HPU, to reach their full potential spiritually and be prepared academically,” said Abram Choate ’98, M.Ed. ’17, assistant director of athletics for athletic communications. “It’s about achieving success in whatever they do, while caring for people along the way. There’s nothing worse than a dog-eat-dog world – just pushing everybody aside so that you can get ahead. That’s not how Christ wants us to function. When we do great work in our field and love others, Christ is glorified.” 

“We are always looking to use the platform of sports to raise up great leaders who will our impact our society.” – Hunter Sims, director of athletics

Serving students holistically takes on many forms. A recent priority in ensuring a positive student experience has been providing students with options for proper mental health support. HPU’s athletic department has partnered with Believe Perform, a leading mental health resource in sports, to help address the needs of students in this area.

“Believe Perform is helping us work toward new ways to instill leadership qualities and work through issues in society that we really need to focus on – mental health, workload, life balance for the student,” said Sims.

This emphasis on mental health extends to team culture as well. Students and coaches alike are encouraged to watch for problems that their teammates and players may be experiencing and help point them toward support options provided at the university. This often starts with strong camaraderie between student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff.

As part of this team-oriented atmosphere, players and coaches often show up to athletic events in support of other student-athletes – a demonstration of the community that exists among HPU teams.

“It’s important to create opportunities for our sports to connect with each other and encourage students to support each other,” said Choate. “Our coaches bring their teams together to cheer on other sports throughout the season. This sends the message, ‘We’re going to go cheer them on, because we know they’re cheering us on. We’re going to give that back.’”

Community exists beyond the team. HPU’s athletic department engages in partnerships that pair each team with a different local organization or charity. Through these partnerships, student-athletes give back to the community and forge valuable connections.

“These opportunities show students that service is needed in our society and is also rewarding for the people who are serving and making a difference,” said Sims. “We also think it’s important for those community organizations to know that Howard Payne athletics, our student-athletes, coaches and staff, are willing to step up and volunteer in our community.”

These areas of emphasis are ongoing on an annual and semester-to-semester basis. Just as vital as establishing these recurring priorities has been the department’s enthusiastic embrace of change.

In the past year, HPU athletics has undergone exciting changes, including the hiring of three new head coaches. Jason Bachtel ’03, head football coach, and Nadir Dalleh ’00, head men’s basketball coach, are alumni and former student-athletes. Rachel Janzen, head women’s basketball coach, is another promising addition to the coaching staff.

Bachtel’s family has been represented in HPU athletics for decades, both as athletes and coaches. Bachtel himself was a three-year letterman as quarterback. Dalleh was a key member of the men’s basketball team, which went to three straight conference championships and made three NAIA national tournament appearances in his time as a player.

The coaches’ connections to HPU make them well positioned to lead their respective programs.

“We’re really blessed and happy to have Coach Bachtel and Coach Dalleh, two highly successful alumni coaches, come back and lead programs here,” said Choate.

Janzen joins the university as the new head women’s basketball coach after a coaching career with college-level teams in Kansas and Oklahoma.

“We are thrilled to have Coach Janzen leading the women’s basketball program,” said Sims. “She is very committed to her faith and committed to competitive excellence.”

Additional causes for optimism are recent demonstrations of support that have helped carry HPU athletics through the COVID-19 pandemic. On Dec. 1, 2020, the university participated in GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that unites people, communities and organizations to celebrate generosity and raise support for non-profit organizations.

The athletic department ended the day with donations of more than $130,000 – a powerful source of encouragement.

“GivingTuesday showed us how much alumni and friends love HPU and believe in Christian higher education,” said Sims. “Even though things weren’t normal and seasons were cut short, through this success we were encouraged to keep progressing. It was a rejuvenating shot in the arm for us to have those resources to show our students how much they’re cared for and supported by people who love this university.”

In a significant shift, HPU athletics recently signed a contract with Nike and BSN Sports to provide new, rebranded apparel and equipment. The move comes as a boost to the teams and the whole department. The partnership will help provide upgrades to enhance to the student-athlete experience.

“Signing a contract with Nike and BSN allows us to get the things we need to progress the way we need to,” said Sims. “We want our students and alumni to be proud of the HPU brand. This is just one of the ways we are pushing the brand forward, providing connectivity externally with alumni and internally with our students, and providing our students with a voice so they know they are being given opportunities to grow as people in our athletic department.”

Through success, adversity, significant milestones and great changes, the future is bright.

“I love where we’re headed,” said Sims. “We’re going to be even better than we were at being thankful, being consistent, being dealers of hope and being able to define our own success. We want to compete at the highest level as we strive to provide the best student experience possible.”

Photo #1 (header): HPU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics – student-athletes, trainers, coaches, administrators and other staff – gathered for a photo at the start of the fall 2021 semester. 

Photos #2 and #3: Student-athletes and department personnel pose for the drone’s camera.

For all the latest schedules, results and more regarding HPU athletics, visit 

Current Head Coach: Jose Mata, M.Ed. ’14 (17th year)
Notes: Three players were named All-Conference … Ten players were named to the ASC Academic All- Conference list.
Current Head Coach: Stephen Lynn ’04, M.Ed. ’17 (16th year)
Notes: Xavier Haines was named 2nd Team All-Conference as a relief pitcher … 25 players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list … Baseball boasts the highest team GPA of any male sport at HPU.
Current Head Coach: Colleen Westfall ’08 (7th year)
Notes: Mya Ross was named 2nd Team All-Conference as an outside hitter … Ross was also named the 2020-21 Tami Pattillo Memorial Award winner … 10 players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list.
Current Head Coach Jason Bachtel ’03 (1st year)
Notes: First year for new head coach Jason Bachtel ’03 … Under Coach Bachtel, nine players received All-Conference honors … Freshman QB Landon McKinney led ASC in passing (1,310 yards, nine TDs); McKinney was named ASC Freshman of the Year … WR Jake Parker named All-American leading the nation in yards per game (150.8) and receptions (7.5) … Kyle Bell named 2nd Team All-Region leading the league in total tackles with 56 in five games … 19 players named to the ASC Academic All-Conference.
Women's Basketball
Current Head Coach: Rachel Janzen (1st year)
Notes: Under head coach Yannick Denson, five players received All-Conference honors … Amanda Turpin was named ASC Freshman of the Year … 12 players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list … In June 2021, Rachel Janzen was named the new head women’s basketball coach.
Men's Basketball
Current Head Coach: Nadir Dalleh ’00 (1st year)
Notes: Under head coach Troy Drummond, two players received All-Conference honors … Seven players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list … In April 2021, Nadir Dalleh was named the new head men’s basketball coach.
Men's Soccer
Current Head Coach: Trey McLaughlin (1st year)
Notes: First season for new head coach Trey McLaughlin … Under McLaughlin, two players received All-Conference honors … Nine players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list.
Women's Soccer
Current Head Coach: Brandon Badgeley ’09 (5th year)
Notes: Four players earned All-Conference honors … 20 players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list … Women’s soccer boasts the highest team GPA of any female sport at HPU.
Women's Tennis
Current Head Coach: Brandon Hettick (3rd year)
Notes: Zoe Sprayberry was named the ASC Women’s Tennis Sportsmanship Athlete of the Year … Three players were named to the ASC Academic All- Conference list.
Men's Tennis
Current Head Coach: Brandon Hettick (3rd year)
Notes: Landon Ferree was named the ASC Men’s Tennis Sportsmanship Athlete of the Year … Five players were named to the ASC Academic All- Conference list … Dominic DeNardo was named the Paul J. Cunningham Memorial Award winner.
Women's Golf
Current Head Coach: Troy Drummond (6th year)
Notes: Mallory Garcia earned All-Conference honors … Two players named to ASC’s Academic All-Conference list … Bailey Farmer was named National Associate Student- Athlete Advisory Committee Representative.
Men's Golf
Current Head Coach: Troy Drummond (6th year)
Notes: Two players received All-Conference honors … Team finished third at the ASC Championships … Kaleb Brown finishing third overall at ASC Championships became the first medalist for Howard Payne since HPU Sports Hall of Fame member Tim Pavlas medaled in 2000 … HPU shot a school-record low of 286 in round one of the Linda Lowery Invitational, besting the previous record of 287 … Two players were named to the ASC Academic All-Conference list.

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