NC State's Yow aims to reach national top-25 goal in 2016-17

(Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow knows the work to build a national top-25 sports program is even tougher now with the Wolfpack hovering near the edge of that goal.

In fact, Yow said in an interview with The Associated Press, completing the final steps of that climb could be more difficult than it was to reach the school's current position.

"We're now into an area where there are very good coaches everywhere, programs that are well-resourced, facilities that are excellent," she said. "We have to overcome all of that. We've got to take someone's place. And yeah, that is our goal and I said that the day I was hired six years ago. And it still is."

N.C. State stood at 89th in the Directors Cup rankings of Division I sports programs when Yow arrived from Maryland in the summer of 2010. It finished at No. 32 in last week's final standings for the 2015-16 season after posting its best finish at No. 27 the year before.

The school has been ahead of the annual schedule laid out in a five-year strategic plan from 2012. The coming season is the target date to reach top-25 status.

"We put a stake in the ground. That's how you have to do this," Yow said. "You can't be afraid to put a stake in the ground and then go for it . or (you can't) say, 'I can't do that because we might not make it,' because that's a horrible way to live."

When Yow arrived, N.C. State was coming off a season in which one team finished in the top 25 of its national rankings, while the Wolfpack spent about $78,000 annually per student-athlete, according to the school's report to the U.S. Department of Education's gender equity database.

That number has grown to about $109,000 in the most recent numbers for 2014-15 to rank near the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And last year, nine programs earned top-25 finishes, with cross country, men's swimming and diving, and women's swimming and diving finishing in the top 10.

The highest-profile sports had mixed results. Football made a second straight bowl appearance but fell a win shy of the previous year's total. Both basketball programs missed the NCAA Tournament. Baseball was a regional host and a strike away from eliminating eventual College World Series champion Coastal Carolina.

Yow — a former women's basketball coach at Kentucky, Florida and Oral Roberts — is particularly optimistic about the season ahead for both basketball programs.