Friday, May 23, 2014

Baseball Looks to Join the A-Sun's Memorable 2013-14 Season

Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once shared his thoughts on experiencing success as, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” 

As the 2013-14 Baseball Championship punctuates this year’s A-Sun Championship season, fans can certainly reflect on how the exceptional institutions that comprise the A-Sun helped fashion this season into one of the conference’s most prolific in recent history.

Why has this season been particularly memorable? For starters, four sports – men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s golf and softball –equaled or established records for postseason participation.

Men’s basketball saw a high mark of four teams advance into postseason play, highlighted by the 78-71 Mercer victory against Duke in the second round of the NCAA Championship. The win also gave the A-Sun its second straight second-round victory of March Madness. ETSU joined Mercer with a postseason victory, as the Bucs topped Chattanooga in first-round action of the CIT. FGCU (NIT) and USC Upstate (CIT) also joined the Bears and the Bucs in postseason play.

Four A-Sun women’s teams also advanced to postseason play for the second consecutive season. A-Sun Champ FGCU advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last three years, while Northern Kentucky and Stetson picked up first-round wins in the WBI and WNIT, respectively. USC Upstate also joined the Norse in WBI action.

Four men’s golf teams – Mercer, Kennesaw State, North Florida and ETSU – ranked among the nation’s best all season and advanced to NCAA Regional play to double the A-Sun’s previous best of two in NCAA play. Kennesaw State advanced to the NCAA Championship, giving the A-Sun at least one team in the NCAA final for the last five years. 

For many it has been a long time coming, but this was also the year for A-Sun softball. Three teams – Stetson, USC Upstate and Lipscomb – advanced to NCAA Regional play, with each picking up wins to prove that the A-Sun has deservedly arrived on the national stage. 

Along with record numbers of teams in postseason, success was achieved conference-wide as each of the A-Sun’s nine institutions eligible for postseason participation sent at least one team or individual to NCAA tournaments.

Lipscomb set the pace at the first two A-Sun championships of the year, sweeping the men’s and women’s cross country events and leading a pack of six men’s and women’s teams into the NCAA Regional Championships. 

Jacksonville women’s soccer followed and became the first of five Dolphins’ teams to achieve their goals of A-Sun championship titles. Indoor and outdoor track and field recorded their historic ninth conference title each, and volleyball also returned to the NCAAs for the second time in program history. Women’s lacrosse concluded the run by claiming its second straight A-Sun Championship title. 

Along with basketball and men’s golf, the Bucs also made A-Sun history with their eighth straight men’s tennis title. Women’s tennis also claimed their third trip to postseason in the last five years. The A-Sun Player of the Year, Jordi Vives appeared in the NCAA Singles Tournament and landed FGCU's first-ever win for tennis with a decisive two-set victory before falling in the Round of 32, while North Florida's tandem of Jack Findel-Hawkins and Norbert Nemcsek ousted the nation's No. 1-ranked doubles team in the opening round of the NCAA Men's Tennis Doubles Championship. 

Speaking of repeats, Kennesaw State men’s track and field continued its string of successes, winning its third straight indoor and second straight outdoor titles as well in 2013-2014. Also for the third straight season, the Owls’ Andre Dorsey earned Most Valuable Player honors in the victory. 

Stetson and Mercer completed the A-Sun’s team representation in NCAA postseason, both knocking off back-to-back champs in the process. Hatters’ sand volleyball advanced to the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship, knocking off two-time defending champ North Florida in dramatic fashion in the A-Sun Championship.

The Bears also made history with their first trip to the men’s golf NCAA Regionals, claiming the program’s first A-Sun Championship and Individual Medalist honor with Trey Rule. 

Basketball great Michael Jordan once echoed Lombardi’s sentiments, simply saying that he’d always believed that ‘if you put in the work, the results will come.” 

Thanks to the “work” put in by everyone associated with the A-Sun and its membership, the results – firsts, records, postseason victories, unparalleled success – did come and only serve to brighten the A-Sun’s rising star.

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