PEMBROKE — With summer classes in full swing on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, coaches and athletes are already making preparations for the 2018-19 academic year. Before summer workouts get into full swing, it’s time to look back on the best UNCP sports stories from this past year.
From championship victories to emotional celebrations, the Braves experienced many triumphs since students arrived on campus in August. Here are 10 stories that carried the most significance for the athletic department and school as a whole.
Women’s soccer wins first PBC tournament title
A penalty kick goal by Christina Rolfes helped the Lady Braves defeat Columbus State 1-0 in the Peach Belt Conference tournament championship game, earning the program its first conference title and third appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Braves thrived off their signature hashtag, #18in17, which represented the 18 players head coach Lars Andersson had on his roster. With first team all-conference selections Gina Ryan and Jasmine Senecal-Guzman anchoring the team defensively, UNCP finished the season 15-5-1, including an 8-1-1 mark at the newly renovated Lumbee River EMC Stadium.
Men’s basketball repeats as conference champions
After topping Flagler on senior day to claim its second consecutive regular season PBC championship, the men’s basketball team rolled past Georgia Southwestern, Francis Marion and Clayton State to become back-to-back conference tournament champions.
Led by a group of seniors that included PBC Tournament MVP Nigel Grant and guard Brandon Watts, the Braves advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Southeast Regional after beating Francis Marion again in the quarterfinals.
UNCP’s 27 victories matched a program record that was set by the 1990-91 team.
Wrestling wins league title, sends four to nationals
The UNCP wrestling team capped off a successful season by sending four wrestlers to the NCAA Division II National Championships after the program captured its first Eastern College Athletic Conference title.
Tyler Makosy, Nick Daggett, Eric Milks and Rodney Shepard advanced to nationals for the Braves. Shepard finished fifth in the 165-pound division, Daggett finished eighth at 125 pounds and Milk also logged an eighth place finish in the 157-pound class.
Kipkoech claims individual conference championship
In his first season with the UNCP cross country team, Silus Kipkoech registered victories in three consecutive races, before making it four with a win at the Peach Belt Conference championships. His winning time of 24:20 in the 8K race was the second-fastest mark in school history. Kipkoech was joined by teammates Matthew Martin and Logan Ward on the all-conference team after all three logged top-15 finishes, helping the braves take second place.
Kipkoech continued to excel on a bigger stage, taking first place at the NCAA Southeast Region championships and becoming the second UNCP runner in the Division II era to compete at the NCAA Division II national championships, where he finished in 60th place out of 249 runners.
Dan Kenney announces retirement
Dan Kenney announced his retirement after decades of serving UNCP in various administrative roles. Kenney logged 124 victories as the head coach of the men’s basketball team from 1985-92 and preceded Dick Christy as director of athletics from 1998 to 2013. He was named NCAA Division II Athletic Director of the Year in 2006.
Kenney was honored at the athletic department’s annual Cash Bash, with this year’s installment being titled “A Toast to Dan Kenney.”
Cash Bash brings in funds for scholarships
The tribute to Kenney paid dividends for UNCP as 445 Cash Bash attendees raised more than $105,000 that went toward toward the Braves Club general scholarship fund.
“A Toast to Dan Kenney” marked the sixth installment of the Cash Bash. The event, which has raised more than $420,000 for student-athlete scholarships, included silent and live auctions this year that included tickets and VIP passes for local college and professional sports.
Epperson celebrates 16 years cancer-free
Haleigh Epperson, a senior on the UNCP softball team, wrapped up her career with the Lady Braves after being told she had a 7 percent chance to live through high school 16 years ago.
Epperson was diagnosed with stage-three malignant muscle cancer known as rhabdo. She underwent 57 weeks of chemotherapy and ultimately had her entire lift triceps and several lymph nodes removed in order to get rid of the cancer.
The Lady Braves’ March 24 home doubleheader against Flagler was cancer awarness day and Epperson caught the first pitch thrown by the doctor that saved her life, Dr. William Ward. She graduated in May with a degree in mass communications.
Mother and daughter graduate together
Soccer player Alexis Hurd graduated in May alongside her mother, Princesa. Alexis earned a degree in criminal justice and sociology, while Princesa walked away with a degree in sociology and a minor in criminal justice.
Princesa was unable to attend college directly after high school because of her husband’s military obligations and their three children. When Alexis decided to play soccer at UNCP, Princesa chose to take advantage of the opportunity to attend classes on campus.
Her daughter was supportive of the idea, and the two were able to connect over their studies while Alexis juggled school with sports.
Miller becomes winningest basketball coach
Ben Miller achieved a major milestone in his 10th season as head coach of the UNCP men’s basketball team, passing Lacey Gane atop the program’s all-time wins list with his 170th victory.
The achievement came almost a decade after the Braves went 6-21 in Miller’s first season with the team. The Braves have been to the NCAA Tournament five times under Miller’s guidance.
One of Lacey’s five children, Jim Gane was in attendance as Miller earned the record-breaking win against Young Harris in February.
UNCP’s academic achievements recognized with award
As the academic year wrapped up, UNCP took home a share of the Peach Belt Conference Presidents’ Academic Award at the league’s annual awards dinner on May 29.
The award, which the Braves shared with Georgia Southwestern, is given to schools that demonstrate high academic achievement among all student-athletes. The average GPA for the undergraduate student body at each of the conference’s 12 members are combined with the average GPA for student athletes to establish a ratio for each team. Schools that had student-athletes performing better than the student body achieved better scores.
Reach Brandon tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.