By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Four current Missouri Southern head coaches and two assistants also played part of their college careers for the Lions.
Men’s basketball coach Robert corn, baseball coach Bryce Darnell, soccer coach Alese Woolard and women’s cross country and track and field coach Patty Vavra all played for the Lions.
In addition, basketball assistant Ronnie Ressel and baseball assistant Nick Tuck played for their current bosses.
Those six coaches have combined for a total of 69 years as Lion coaches, and they have collected 16 MIAA championships.
Corn, after beginning his college basketball career at Memphis State, came to Missouri Southern, and as a senior, he was a starter on the 1978 team that went 27-9 and reached the quarterfinals of the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City.
That team was the most successful in school history until Corn’s 1999-2000 squad went 30-3 and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky.
Corn became the Lions’ coach when the school moved to the NCAA Division II ranks in 1989.
The Lions have won 388 games in 24 seasons under Corn and claimed four MIAA championships — two in the regular season and two in the postseason tournament.
After graduating for Missouri Southern, Corn spent one year at Mountain Grove High School as head coach in boys basketball and assistant in football and track and field. He left to become an assistant at UAB under Gene Bartow, his first college coach.
After one season at the University of Minnesota, Darnell transferred to Missouri Southern and was the catcher for three seasons (1994-96) for Warren Turner’s Lions.
Darnell batted .436 — sixth best in school history — in his first year with the Lions, and his .366 career average ranks No. 10 in school history.
He earned all-MIAA honors all three years, and he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 40th round after his junior year and by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 58th round after his senior year. He played one season in the Diamondbacks’ organization before becoming a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Webb City High School.
He later became the Cardinals’ head coach and won two state championships during his eight-year tenure.
He succeeded Turner as the Lions’ coach, and the Lions have won 172 games in Darnell’s six seasons. This season the Lions captured the MIAA Postseason Tournament title in dramatic fashion — a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning — and they tied the school record for longest game in the first round of the Central Regional when they dropped a 1-0, 14-inning decision to eventual national runner-up Minnesota State.
Ressel, who has been Corn’s assistant coach for the past 11 years, was promoted to associate head coach in 2010. He also was Corn’s first point guard at Missouri Southern, transferring from East Central College in Union, Mo., and averaging 6.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game for two seasons. He earned the Don Gross Leadership Award after his senior year.
Speaking of assists, Ressel still holds Cape Girardeau Notre Dame High School records for assists in a game (19), season (358) and career (743). He played from 1984-87, and he was an all-stater his last two years when Cape Notre Dame compiled a 57-8 record won back-to-back Class 2A state championships.
Ressel returned to MSSU after 10 years at Rend Lake (Ill.) College, the first three as men’s assistant coach and the last seven as women’s head coach.
Tuck witnessed the changing of the guard in Missouri Southern baseball, playing for Turner for three seasons from 2004-07 and then he was on Darnell’s first team in 2008. He earned a letter all four years as a relief pitcher.
He is a graduate of Lamar High School where he played baseball for former Lion Tim Casper.
Vavra came to Missouri Southern on a basketball scholarship in 1976, and she told Lions coach Sallie Beard she would also like to be able to run track. So Vavra was one of four athletes on the Lions’ first women’s track team.
She earned all-Central States Intercollegiate Conference honors in basketball and ran the sprints and hurdles in track.
She coached girls track and boys and girls cross country for 14 years at Carthage High School before returning to MSSU 19 years ago.
Vavra’s teams have collected 11 MIAA championships — six in cross country and five in indoor and outdoor track. The Lions captured the Triple Crown in the 2007-08, winning league titles in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.
Woolard’s career with the Lions also spanned two sports.
She played softball for four years, and as a senior in 2005 she batted .351 with nine doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 37 runs batted in.
She played soccer for two seasons under former coach Trevor Wachsman. She recorded 77 saves and logged three shutouts as the Lions’ goalkeeper, and she did not allow a goal in the final 227 minutes of the 2004 season.
Woolard was an assistant for Wachsman from 2006-09, and when he left to accept a job at Utah State, she applied for the head coach position but it was given to another candidate.
Woolard accepted a job as a chemistry teacher at Neosho High School, but only a few days before preseason practice began, the new Missouri Southern soccer coach changed his mind and decided not to come to Joplin. MSSU officials called Woolard and offered her the job, and she accepted.