Photo | Spring Hill College
SHC had six runners place in the Top 10 during the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.

Spring Hill College’s journey to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II ranks was full of trials and tribulations. At one point the process was halted and it appeared the Badgers would be stranded in a sports limbo.

However, the NCAA finally approved SHC’s full membership for this school year, and the school’s opponents are regretting it.

In just their first year of eligibility, the Badgers have picked up three conference championships. Along with the trophies come berths in the national playoffs.

“We expected to be competitive,” Chad LeBlanc, who is serving as interim athletic director, told Lagniappe. “We always hope to be in a position for on-field or on-court success at the end of each season.

“We didn’t anticipate the amount of success we are experiencing this early, but we’re obviously excited and happy about it. I think this is a good testament to how our NCAA membership is providing a more enhanced experience for our student-athletes and Spring Hill College community.”

Women’s cross country

The title run began with the women’s cross country team. SHC had six runners place in the Top 10 during the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) championship.

Freshman Mary Shelton led her team with a 5-kilometer time of 20:24.03 to finish third in the individual standings. Meghan Sullivan (20:55.46), Kimberly Atkinson (21:00.06), Grace McCann (21:09.55) and Erika Nageleisen (21:19.43) finished fifth through eighth, respectively, while Caroline Weisinger (21:51.48) took 10th place.

All six were named all-conference. Just missing the honor was Meredith Tuttle in 12th place (22:08.68).

“They’re doing everything they need to do to get started in the [Division II] scene in the right way,” said Craig McVey, who was named the SIAC Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year. “We are really thrilled with the way it turned out today.

“They’ve put in a lot of hard work and to see it turn out this way is really cool. Being the first Spring Hill SIAC conference championship is a big deal. For that to be our women’s program is something we don’t take lightly and something we are proud of.”

By claiming the league title, Spring Hill qualifies for the NCAA Division II South Region Championship, to be held Nov. 17 at Holloway Park and Nature Preserve in Lakeland, Florida.

David Toups led the SHC men’s team to a fourth-place finish. He earned all-conference honors by finishing in eighth place with a personal best time (27:46.65) on the 8-kilometer course. The men’s team also qualified for Lakeland.

Men’s soccer

The SIAC does not offer men’s soccer, so Spring Hill competes in the Gulf South Conference. After a perfect run through the GSC regular season, the Badgers beat second-seeded University of West Florida, 3-2, to claim the tournament title.

The Badgers took a 2-0 lead in the second half, but it was a penalty kick in the 86th minute that proved the game-winner. Alex Lipinski converted the penalty kick for his 18th goal of the season and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“It’s a privilege to be part of such an amazing game that went down to the last kick,” said Coach Steve Wieczorek, whose team is ranked No. 12 nationally. “That being said, the guys deserved to be champions today. They proved it for 90 minutes, and over and over again during the season with one brilliant performance after another. We are delighted to add another first to this amazing season: The NCAA tournament.”

Spring Hill College (17-1) advances to the NCAA Division II National Tournament with the GSC’s automatic bid. The win was the Badgers’ 14th straight and 10th one-goal victory of the season.

Five Badgers received all-GSC honors. Lipinski was on the first-team roster. Forward Cyril Giraud was named GSC Freshman of the Year. Giraud was also named a second-team selection, along with senior midfielder Tidman Schober, senior defender Jack LaForge and freshman goalkeeper Alessandro Erdelyi.

Women’s volleyball

SHC women earned their first-ever berth in the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament after a 3-1 victory over Kentucky State in the SIAC tournament final. The three-time defending league champ took the first game to break the Badgers’ 27-game win streak before SHC rallied to hoist the trophy.

“I think the finals of the SIAC were exactly what you hope they would be: a hard-fought, every-point-matters battle between two good teams,” Spring Hill head coach Peggy Martin said. “For Kentucky State, their effort was awesome and we had to match them point-for-point and play-for-play.”

SHC middle blocker Kassandra Fairly was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. This follows her being named SIAC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

Cassidi Sterrett and Allison Weimer were voted to the All-Tournament Team. For SIAC regular-season honors, Sterrett was named Libero of the Year while Emmarose Neibert was Setter of the Year.

Martin collected the SIAC Coach of the Year award. During her years with the Badgers, SHC has a 245-60 overall record and a 124-9 record in regular-season conference games. Martin is one of only two collegiate volleyball coaches to reach 1,200 wins at any level of competition.

Final thoughts

Jim Hall was SHC athletic director when school officials made the decision to leave the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. At that time, SHC and Loyola of New Orleans were the only Jesuit colleges not in the NCAA.

“All of the SHC teams have been eagerly awaiting eligibility for postseason play,” Hall, who took over the athletic program at Carroll University in October, told Lagniappe. “The early success of Badger teams this fall is a testament to the quality programs the coaches have built and the outstanding student-athletes competing as Badgers.

“I am proud to have been part of getting the teams into position to compete at this level. It’s a great experience for the student-athletes and a tremendous reputation builder for the college. I look forward to watching from afar as SHC wins many more championships in the months and years to come.”