Calendar year 2013 has just barely gotten started, but the Association of Collegiate Anglers Cabela’s School of the Year race is heating up in a hurry. With only a fraction of the season in the record books, some story lines are beginning to develop, but there are enough fishing days left ahead of us such that nothing is yet assured.

“We’ve developed what we think is the fairest and most exciting way to determine which team should wear the crown,” said ACA Program Director Danny Blandford. “Our system places substantial weight on quality finishes, while also rewarding participation and consistency. The ACA Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Series events count, as do major tournaments in both the Carhartt College B.A.S.S. series and the FLW collegiate trail.”

That’s good news for the anglers from Bethel College. Team members Zach Parker and Matthew Roberts recently dominated a B.A.S.S. tournament on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes, vaulting their team into second place overall in the School of the Year standings.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make our team successful, and they set the bar pretty high with the win,” said Bethel’s Cody Ross.

Fourth place team University of Louisiana Monroe has also developed a game plan based on heavy participation to maximize their chances of claiming the crown. “We’re fishing every tournament we can,” said the Warhawks’ Nick Ladart. “We came in second last year, so we sat down at the beginning of this year and tried to set it up so we can get a few teams at every tournament with significant points. Considering that we only started our team three years ago, we’re proud that we went from rock bottom to second to close to first.”

In order to take the trophy, Bethel and ULM will have to leapfrog Auburn University, the current leaders, while also holding other schools at bay. The first part of that equation will not be simple. Auburn has been on a tear lately, most notably due to the efforts of 2013 Bassmaster Classic qualifier Matt Lee and brother Jordan Lee, but the whole team has played a role in their rise to the top of the overall standings.

“The great thing about Auburn is that we have plenty of good fishermen who want to fish for us so we never have a down year,” said team member Will Bates. “Most importantly, we have a lot of unselfish anglers, so we’re out there as a team trying to help each other out.”

Despite their best efforts, last year Auburn was 10th in the final School of the Year standings, so they’re intent on doing everything they can to stay at the pinnacle of the team standings. “We’ll just try to keep on doing what we’ve been doing,” Bates said.

Behind Auburn and Bethel sits the University of Alabama, another powerhouse program. They too have developed a team approach that they hope bears fruit when the scales stop spinning.

“We really work hard on each individual tournament,” said Alabama’s Logan Johnson. “Our club is so big that we have individual qualifiers (for the bigger tournaments), which gives those fishermen plenty of time to go up to the lake and practice. It would really mean a lot to our whole program if we could win the 2013 Cabela’s School of the Year title. We’ve been around since 2006 and all along our priority has been winning. Last year was good, but this year we want to finish it out.”

The Alabama bass team wants to mirror their school’s recent football national championship and give the SEC supremacy in both sports. To do it, they won’t have to knock off Notre Dame, though – it’ll be perennial in-state SEC rival Auburn they’ll have to topple. While members of both teams would give just about anything to take home the title, their one-upsmanship is not marked by bitterness, but rather by camaraderie.

“There’s a lot of passion on both sides,” said Alabama’s Johnson, “But they’re all real good guys. It’s more of a brotherhood. If we’re all at the same lake and the same hotel, we’ll probably eat dinner together at least three or four nights out of the week.”

Auburn’s Bates agreed. “It’s always good to beat Alabama,” he said. “It’s a de facto rivalry, but we’re all good friends with the Alabama anglers.”

The Auburn team, looking to hold on to their grip on first place, looks forward to getting their revenge in the Boat US Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship on Pickwick. Last year multiple team members missed the cut by the slimmest of margins, an atypical shortcoming that left their team on the outside looking in. Several other teams, including Alabama and Bethel, also have substantial experience on the TVA impoundment, so that event, like most others, promises to be an out-and-out slugfest.

No one should count out last year’s School of the Year, Arkansas Tech, either. They’ve had a full year to bask in the glory of their title, but currently saddled in a tie for 17th place, they have a lot of ground to make up if they are to repeat. Again, though, there are a lot of fish left to weigh and a shakeup could be imminent.

“We’re pleased that this race is so tight and that the award is so highly coveted,” Blandford concluded. “The support from Cabela’s has enabled us to take the next step toward making the ACA the true unified voice of collegiate anglers throughout the country.”

Image courtesy Cabela's Collegiate Bass Fishing Series

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