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Feature: 2009 was "The Year of the Hawk"

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Harold the Hawk was quite busy in 2009, cheering on the many championship teams and athletes featured on the Hill

Harold the Hawk was quite busy in 2009, cheering on the many championship teams and athletes featured on the Hill

Dec. 29, 2009

Rome, Ga. – Most collegiate athletic departments tend to measure their success by accomplishments of their athletic teams solely on the playing surface.

For Shorter College in 2009, success was achieved not only between the lines, but outside of them as well.

While countless Hawk and Lady Hawk athletes continued to excel and produce champions and championship seasons, in turn making Shorter College one of the top NAIA programs in the nation, several off-field undertakings during the year lifted the College’s athletic department to an even higher level, strengthening the College’s ability to provide for its student-athletes and the Rome community.

Perhaps two of the biggest news stories surrounding the Shorter athletic program involved additions that are helping Hawk athletics continue to establish its own, unique identity: the construction of a state-of-the-art facility and the formation of three new varsity programs.

Midway through the fall, Shorter announced the completion of Ben Brady Field, the first artificial sports playing surface in Rome, located on the College’s campus behind the Robert H. Ledbetter Baseball Complex and adjacent to the Bass Village student residences.

The multi-purpose facility will be used throughout the year.

“Brady Field is such a great place for all of our athletes,” Shorter Director of Athletics Bill Peterson said about the facility that opened in October thanks to some generous contributions from the Benjamin F. Brady Charitable Foundation. “It shows where our program is headed.”

The addition of Brady Field gives two of Shorter’s programs – football and soccer – a place to call home and ends what had been a daily off-campus trip for the teams, with the Hawks’ football squad having to travel to Garden Lakes Park for practices and the men’s and women’s soccer teams making the trip to Darlington School for their workouts and matches.

“Knowing what [the football and soccer teams] had to do [leaving the campus to practice], it’s a tribute to the great work they did,” Peterson said.

In addition to serving as an on-campus practice facility, Brady Field will host home soccer matches starting in the fall of 2011 and will be the home to one of Shorter’s newest sports, lacrosse.

Lacrosse, of which Shorter will field both a men’s and women’s team, is one of two new sports that the College has decided to add to its already long list of competitive teams.

Wrestling is also slated to begin competition next year, giving Shorter the state’s only four-year intercollegiate varsity wrestling program while increasing Shorter’s sport total to 20.

“Those sports push our program forward,” Peterson said.

Yet while the arrival of three new teams to the Shorter athletic menu has emphasized the College’s desire to create more opportunities for young men and women, Peterson points out that Shorter’s current teams and athletes have once again exceeded expectations.

The fall portion of the 2009-10 athletic campaign saw several teams enjoy their most successful seasons in program history, while a wealth of individual athletes achieved record-setting personal accolades.

“There are so many accolades our program had in 2009,” said Peterson. “There’s been improvement in each of our sports and that goes back to the head coaches and the athletes. Anyone who is competitive in nature wants to become better. The coaches and the kids are doing well within their own sports, but it makes our overall program better.”

The Hawk football program, while falling just short of a second consecutive Mid-South West Division crown and berth in the NAIA Football Championship Series, continued to produce high-caliber athletes who once again dominated the post season awards.

The Hawks turned in their fourth consecutive winning season while seniors A.J. Cooley and Logan Lollis repeated as the Mid-South West Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively.

Cooley became the school’s first-ever American Football Coaches’ Association (AFCA) NAIA All-American after topping the 4,000-yard mark and 50 TD plateau for his career with 1,429 yards and 20 total touchdowns in 2009. He earned NAIA National Offensive Player of the Week honors after his 255-yard, four-touchdown effort against Belhaven – a performance that ranks as the best in school history.

With Cooley bowing out as the program’s all-time leader in every major rushing category, Lollis nearly pulled the same feat on the defensive side of the football, departing Shorter as its all-time leader in tackles (328) and sacks. Lollis posted his second straight season of triple digit stops and his 9.5 tackles per game mark ranked fourth in the Mid-South.

Shorter placed 10 players on the Mid-South All-Conference teams and another 20 on the Mid-South All-Academic roster – the most of any Mid-South representative. Shorter also had four players earn the distinction of NAIA Scholar-Athlete.

The Lady Hawks’ volleyball team came just points away from its first Southern States Athletic Conference championship since 2007, falling to Lee University in a marathon five-set thriller in the championship match on Lee’s own campus.

Led by head coach Jon Moseley, Shorter set a school record for wins with 27 and placed five players on the All-Conference teams, including freshman Jordan Corder, who earned SSAC Setter of the Year accolades.

Senior middle blocker Kasi Runion established herself as arguably the best player in Shorter volleyball history, becoming the school’s first-ever American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Region honoree along with being named to the Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball All-America Team.

The Ringgold, Ga., native closed her career as the program’s all-time leader in kills (1,416). A four-time All-SSAC performer, Runion led the SSAC in hitting percentage (.333) by .035 percentage points, ranked eighth in the conference in kills per set and seventh in the league with 331 kills, all while playing on a team that featured five players with at least 225 kills.

Runion also dominated on the defensive side of the net, finishing her career second on the Lady Hawks’ all-time blocks list after ranking second in the league and 33rd in the country in that category with 143 on the year.

Shorter’s men’s soccer team delivered one of its best campaigns in program history, tying a record for wins with its 12-6-2 final mark.

The Hawks, who featured the SSAC Defensive Player of the Year in junior Sebastian Stihler, advanced to the SSAC semifinals while boasting the conference’s top offense by scoring a school record 55 goals.

Stihler, who scored a career-high 10 goals and handed out three assists, was named a second team NAIA All-American – just the program’s second All-America honoree – as well as being one of four Hawks to earn Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete accolades. Seniors Anthony O’Garro and Kyle Timberlake joined junior Elliott Livesey and Stihler as Scholar-Athletes.

Overall, the men’s and women’s soccer teams established themselves as one of the top academic teams on the Hill, as Shorter was one of only 100 schools to have both its men’s and women’s soccer teams named as National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Team Academic Award Winners.

The teams combined to place 17 athletes on the SSAC All-Academic teams and had four players each named NAIA Scholar-Athletes.

One of the most interesting story lines of the fall went under the radar for much of the season, but nevertheless, contributed another first to the Shorter athletic department.

“This fall we had both our men’s and women’s cross country teams advance to the NAIA national meet for the first time,” Peterson said.

Leading the way for the Hawk and Lady Hawk harriers was sophomore Justyna Mudy, who claimed her second individual national championship by winning the NAIA Women’s Cross Country crown by an impressive 21 seconds. This latest title came on the heels of her record-setting national championship performance in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Meet last May in St. Louis, Mo.

As a team, the Lady Hawks showed well in their first-ever trip to the NAIA Cross Country National Championships, finishing 19th out of a 32-team field. The men, making their third consecutive trip to the title meet, placed 18th and were led by freshman Eliud Ng’etich’s 32nd-place finish. Of course, 2009 extended further back than simply the fall months.

Dating back to January 2009, Hawk and Lady Hawk athletic programs excelled on the field and off, making for an unmatched excitement about 2010. Here are some other highlights from the 2009 year:

• In its first-ever season of competition, the Shorter cheerleading squad gave the College its first team national championship when, under the direction of head coach Rachel Magness, it won the NCA/NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship All-Girl II Intermediate national title. In addition, the team’s co-ed group finished as the runner-up in the nation in the Cheer Division II.

• The first-time theme at Shorter was underlined May by Mudy, who emerged as the most dominant athlete at the 2009 NAIA National Track Championships when she posted a record time in winning the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. Mudy took home the meet’s Most Outstanding Women’s Performance award and was the only athlete, male or female, to set a new NAIA record time at the national event.

• Team-wise, Shorter found itself in the NAIA’s Top 25 national polls throughout the year with football, men’s and women’s cross-country, softball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and men’s basketball teams all being ranked.

• Shorter’s track program continued its rapid rise as one of the best in the country. At the NAIA National Indoor Meet, the Hawks claimed a ninth-place finish by setting 14 school records and claiming 11 All-Americans, while Mudy led the women to a 21st-place showing. In the spring, after sweeping the Mid-South Conference titles, the Hawks posted a fifth-place finish at the NAIA National Outdoor Track Meet while the Lady Hawks raced to a seventh-place showing. All told, the two teams combined for 17 All-Americans.

• On the softball diamond, Shorter successfully captured its third straight Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament championship and trip to the NAIA National Softball Championships. Lady Hawks Becca Thomas and Libby Munson topped the team’s long list of individual awards with Thomas adding the 2009 SSAC Female Honor Student-Athlete of the Year award to her All-Conference resumè and Munson being named an All-American for the second year in a row on top of being selected the SSAC Player of the Year.

• On the hardwood, Shorter’s men’s and women’s basketball teams reached new heights. Head women’s basketball coach Vic Mitchell scored his 300th career victory at Shorter with a win over Reinhardt College in February. So far during the 2009-10 season, the Lady Hawks have established themselves as one of the nation’s best defensive units and are receiving votes in the NAIA Top 25 Poll despite losing a pair of All-Americans and its top-two scorer’s to graduation. Men’s head coach Chad Warner has his charges off to the best start in the program’s 52-year history. The Hawks opened the year winning nine straight and are currently ranked No. 21 in the country – the team’s highest ranking in a decade – with a 10-1 record.

All-Americans and All-Conference accolades were plentiful in every sport, but what makes Peterson most proud is the success Shorter’s athletes continue to have in the classroom, something that has resulted in numerous All-Academic honors.

“We had twice as many All-Academic athletes as we did All-Conference award winners, and we had a lot of All-Conference athletes,” Peterson said. “They’re all headed toward degrees. It’s about going pro in the work place at this level.

“We’re all pulling for each other and in the process elevating the entire athletic program.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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