Last Word on Pro Basketball continues its series on new teams to Division I for 2020-21. Catch up on part one of the series about the Bellarmine Knights here. The Dixie State Trailblazers are the next program in the series. The Trailblazers, located in St. George, Utah, will be joining the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
Dixie State Trailblazers, Welcome to Division I
Dixie State University has existed in various forms since 1911, but the school’s NCAA membership began in 2006-07. That switch brought about the birth of the basketball program. It did not take long for the program to become successful at the Division II level, making their first D-II tournament appearance in 2010. In all, the Trailblazers made nine Division II tournament appearances, missing making the bracket just twice as an eligible team.
While Dixie State had been able to get to the tournament, their success beyond that was limited. The Trailblazers only advanced beyond the first round once, playing in the Sweet 16 in 2011. Still, the overall success of the basketball program in such a short amount of time cannot be overstated.
The Dixie State Trailblazers basketball program is similar to Bellarmine in that one coach has been there throughout its success. Jon Judkins has been there since day one, including three years prior to the school’s NCAA membership. He has compiled a 262-126 overall record and was a six-time winner of the Pacific West Coach of the Year award.
Dixie State spent all but two years in the Pacific West, playing in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference the past two seasons. Overall, the Trailblazers captured six Pacific West regular-season titles and two conference tournament titles. They also tied for the RMAC regular-season title this past year, finishing 23-7 in 2019-20. They were an at-large team for the Division II tournament this year, slotting as a three-seed in the South Central Region.
The Dixie State Trailblazers are 22-12 against current Division I programs, though most of those match-ups occurred at the D-II level against Cal Baptist and Grand Canyon. The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference has had 12 former members advance to Division I, including Colorado and Utah years ago. The Trailblazers hope to find similar success at the highest level of basketball.
The program loses only three seniors heading into 2020-21, meaning the biggest question is how the roster will adjust to Division I basketball. Joining the WAC will help, as other fairly new programs in Cal Baptist, Grand Canyon, and Seattle have been competitive. Furthermore, the league changed its rules to allow transitional teams to play in their conference tournament. Dixie State should step right in and play a factor as Cal Baptist has done, though the bar is still high with New Mexico State there. However, there is no reason why the Trailblazers cannot push into the top half of the league and play in the CIT or CBI during their four-year transition period.