Lions complete conference championship sweep

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

Things are a little icy this December at the University of North Alabama, but not because of the weather.

Members of the volleyball, football and soccer teams will receive championship rings this year. For the first time in school history, the UNA Lions won the Gulf South Conference in its three main fall sports all in the same year.

“I think it shows we are fairly balanced and competitive in our conference,” said UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder. “When you do something for the first time in school history, especially with our storied history, our coaches and student athletes should feel good about the accomplishment.”

The most recent conference championship was in volleyball; the team defeated West Florida Nov. 22, securing the GSC tournament victory and the UNA fall conference sweep.

“For all three teams to be able to win conference is huge and exciting,” said head coach Stephanie Radecki. “After the game, when people started to tweet about it, that made us feel that much better.”

The volleyball team is the only squad still in action, as its first playoff game takes place Dec. 3 against Florida Southern in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“We’ve been preparing throughout the thanksgiving holiday,” Radecki said. “Our players have done a good job of staying focused. We obviously have to play our best volleyball in order to make a run, and we look forward to the opportunity.”

The volleyball team finished its regular season with a 26-7 record, including a 13-1 record in Flowers Hall. The team avenged its only home loss, West Florida, by defeating the Argonauts in the GSC Championship.

The football team shared its third straight conference championship this season, finishing with a 9-3 record. The Lions share with West Georgia, despite losing to the Wolves 31-10.

The football season ended for UNA with a 35-31 loss to Tuskegee Nov. 28.

Winning the conference is not an easy feat, as the GSC accounts for 10 national championships and 106 postseason all-time wins. UNA’s football program owns 12 GSC titles, which is the most in conference history

“We earned this one,” said sophomore wide receiver Dre Hall. “It feels really good to win three straight.”

UNA’s soccer team won its second conference championship in the program’s history, as the first came in 2011. The Lions defeated Lee on penalty kicks Nov. 8 to secure the GSC championship a home playoff berth.

“(Winning the conference in all three sports) is fantastic, especially for recruiting” said head coach Chris Walker. “The more publicity UNA gets, the more kids that are interested in playing here. Hopefully, we can keep building and get stronger each year.”

The Lions’ season ended in heartbreaking fashion, as Tampa’s last-second goal knocked off UNA in the second round of the playoffs. The team finished 15-3-2 on the year, including a 9-1-1 record on its home turf.

Walker said his favorite part of coaching at UNA is seeing players from other sports support the soccer team and his players returning the favor for other sports.

“I love seeing the kids support each other,” he said. “Our girls went to the football and volleyball games, and their players were at our games as well. It’s a great environment to play in and coach in.”

Junior defender Alyssa Bova said it was rewarding to display the athletic program’s strength as a whole.

“I thought UNA deserved to win conference in all three sports,” Bova said. “It was truly an unforgettable feeling to win conference for soccer alone, but to attend a school that had a clean sweep for conference titles in the fall is awesome.”

With the success of the fall sports, the pressure falls on the spring sports to continue the streak.