Lions look ahead to 2017-18

by Senior Writer Mike Eziekial

Football: After making a national championship appearance in 2016, the North Alabama football team seems hungry for similar success, but it did not come easy. The Lions lose a number of seniors, including quarterback and Harlon Hill trophy runner-up Jacob Tucker, All-American offensive Stephen Evans and All-Gulf South Conference defensive back Philbert Martial. First year head coach Chris Willis, who’s been with the program as an assistant for 15 seasons, will return All-GSC performers Dre Hall and Freddie Reed next season.

Volleyball: Coming off a 2016 Gulf South Conference tournament championship, the Lions hope to reciprocate last year’s success with a strong senior core returning. UNA returns a tandem of hitters in seniors Jessica Austin and Lexie Bradley. Bradley, an All-American honorable mention, was second on the team with 344 kills.

Soccer: The women’s soccer team lost six seniors in 2016, but will hope to find its way back into GSC prominence in 2017 after missing the conference tournament last season. Head coach Chris Walker added nine signees to join a veteran core led by All-South Region picks Margarida Sousa and Beatriz Fernandes, who will play the midfield with senior Kristen Sinden.

Cross Country/Track: Both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams will enter 2017 under new leadership, as former head coach Scott Trimble resigned after 14 years on the coaching staff. The men’s side returns four seniors including Braxton Linder, Justin Watson, Tate Carden and Ramon Quiroz. The women’s cross-country and track teams had no seniors last season and will return seniors Laura Bennett, Sarah Harper, Sabrina Hudgins, Shelley King and Alexandra Pidcock.

Golf: After achieving a number of accolades in the 2016-17 golf season, the UNA golf team hopes to maintain its spot among the top ten teams in the nation heading into the fall. Head coach Jason Vaughn loses four seniors in Will Bragwell, Patrick Twesme, Forrest Knight and Austin Sparks, but will return one upcoming senior in Paul Bloodworth.

Women’s Basketball: The women’s basketball team is coming off a season that produced a 14-win improvement from the previous season, the largest single-season turnaround in the program’s history. Former GSC Freshman of the Year Ivy Wallen anchors a young, but experienced team heading into 2017-18 at the point guard position, while sister Emma Wallen hopes to be a three-point threat after setting a single-season school record for made three-pointers with 76 in her freshman campaign.

Men’s Basketball: After narrowly making its 15 consecutive appearance in the GSC tournament, the Lions will hope to replace senior leaders Dimario Jackson, Austin Timms and DeAndre McKinnie heading into 2017. Fifth-year senior guard Jeff Hodge will bring veteran leadership to the Lions as a defensive specialist, while junior point guard Tavaras Tolliver will look to take over the starting spot with Jackson’s departure.

Baseball: The UNA baseball team is coming off a successful 2017 season that saw the loss of only five seniors. Anchoring the heart of the lineup in 2017 is seniors Kyle Hubbach, Logan Carter and Brandt Holland. The early favorite for the team’s ace is senior Tyler Joiner, who won ten games.

Softball: The 2017 season marked a possible “transition year” for the UNA softball team, fresh off its first national championship in program history in the previous season. batting order, the Lions return a core of seniors led by center fielder Bailey Nelson and shortstop Reagan Tittle, who will hope to be a four-year starters.

Men’s Tennis: The men’s tennis team comes into 2018 with momentum after winning all but two conference matches and finishing with a 14-5 overall record despite losing both Max Druppel and Benji Poire to graduation, the Lions return an upcoming core of seniors that include Miguel Garcia, Ray Donovan and Taylor Ausbon.

Women’s Tennis: With seniors Oli Ngouabeu and Morgan Jose graduating, the women’s tennis team enters the 2018 season with one senior in Donna Haycock and a host of juniors, including two seat Claudia Arroyo. Sophomore sensation Nina Linke also returns after a freshman campaign that saw three appearances as the top seat.