Tag: OVC

Gamecock volleyball begins conference play

Sadie Appleton, Sports Correspondent

Jacksonville State’s volleyball team hosted two matches this past week that began their run of four straight Ohio Valley Conference matches. 

JSU left last weekend’s road tournament with heads held high as they concluded with two straight match sweeps against University of New Orleans and College of Charleston. Once the Gamecocks returned home, they looked to continue this drive in a pair of matches against Tennessee Tech and UT Martin. 

On Wednesday, Tennessee Tech was served its ninth season loss from Jacksonville State. JSU, on the other hand, continued their winning streak against the Golden Eagles, who have not defeated the Gamecocks since the 2015 season. 

The opening two sets were taken easily by the Gamecocks, with the initial score being 25-15 and the following 25-18. 

However, the third set would prove to be more of a challenge as Jacksonville State would trail 15-9 to TTU. After a timeout called by JSU, the Gamecocks charged back to even up the score at 18-18, before utilizing the momentum to close out the frame with a 25-18 victory – sealing the match with a 3-0 sweep.  

Lexie Libs, a junior, helped lead the commanding offense to a decisive sweep of TTU by posting 45 assists and 12 digs. Aiding in the win, Lena Kindermann would put down 14 kills followed closely by Kaylee Frear with 12. Three players also accomplished at least a .500 hitting percentage for the match: Kindermann, Sadie Anderson, and Taylor Pribyl. A true freshman, Pribyl also achieved a career high seven kills. Overall, the squad combined for an eyebrow-raising .398 hitting percentage on the night. 

Coming off a confidence-boosting win, JSU faced off against the Skyhawks of UT Martin the following Saturday to close out the week. Although Jax State had a three-game winning streak, the match up against the Skyhawks would see that streak fizzle out. 

In the first set, the two teams battled for the lead. Eventually, the Gamecocks were able to grasp on to a 21-9 lead, forcing a UT Martin timeout. A service error would give the Skyhawks momentum to begin a six-point scoring run that closed out the frame 25-21 in UTM’s favor. 

Looking to bounce back, Jacksonville State would wrap up the second set after taking off to a final score of 25-16. After seven ties and five lead changes, JSU was in position to seal another set victory at 24-21. The Sky hawks then responded with five unanswered points to take the third set, giving the Gamecocks an unwanted setback in the match.

Heading into the fourth set of the match, JSU trailed early at set score of 9-4, forcing a timeout for the Gamecocks. Following the break, JSU regathered to achieve a 5-1 scoring run. Kills from Kindermann and Pribyl then brought the score to 12-11 with the Gamecocks in the lead. UT Martin, however, would respond and take the set victory at 25-20, sealing the match at 3-1.

The Sky hawk win was their first in Jacksonville since 2011. Despite JSU’s loss, multiple players had valiant performances. Kindermann completed 20 kills and a league best hitting percentage of .341. Kindermann joined four other Gamecocks in putting away double-digit kills. The mark was reached by Kaylee Frear with 12, Sadie Anderson with 11 and Lexie Libs with 10, who also posted 44 assists. Libs and Kindermann would be selected as the OVC’s Setter and Offensive Player of the Week, respectfully.

The 7-7 Jacksonville State Gamecocks will continue OVC action at home in Pete Mathews Coliseum on Thursday, October 3, against Eastern Kentucky and on Sunday, October 6, against Morehead State. 

Gamecock football set to have strong season

Josie Howell, Sports Editor

Jacksonville, Ala. – The 2019 football season for the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks is expected to be one for the books. Last season, Grass had many freshmen and overall new players across the team, he now has a much more experienced team to take on the 2019 season.

Last year, the Gamecocks brought in their 5th consecutive OVC championship and ended with a 7-1 conference record and a 9-4 overall record. Not only have the Gamecocks been chosen as number six overall in the Football Championship Subdivision preseason polls following their 2018 season, but they were also picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference Championship for a sixth year in a row, which has never been done before in OVC history. Fans and players alike are not only excited about making OVC history, but also to have another shot at possibly bringing home a national title with a team that has already proven successful and talented.

Josh Pearson, wide receiver and pre-season All American, is one of the key players to be on the lookout for. Pearson is a talented wide receiver that, according his player profile stats on the JSU Gamecocks website, accounted for well over 1,000 yards for the 2018-2019 season and is expected to bring that same energy and talent in the 2019 season.
Another key player is starting quarterback and Clemson transfer and preseason All American Zerrick Cooper. Cooper brought in well over an incredible 3,000 yards for the 2018 season but after having actual game experience under his belt, he can be expected to have an even better season in 2019.

Safety Marlon Bridges, Defensive Back Yul Gowdy, Line-Backer Jalen Choice, and defensive back Traco Williams will all be key players when it comes to JSU’s defense. According to the player statistic on the JSU Gamecocks website, Gowdy was also named preseason All-American as a sophomore and made a total of 41 tackles for the season as well as 11 tackles for loss. Choice and Williams were both named 2nd Team All-OVC. Williams was able to bring in four interceptions, 66 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 10 passes defended. Choice was able to bring in a total of 88 tackles and 12 tackles for loss.

Newcomer Brandon Hudgins is another player to be on the lookout for. While Hudgins still has some in-game college experience to gain, he was named a three-star recruit by scout.com and received offers from multiple universities like Georgia Tech, UAB and South Alabama, just to name a few. Ultimately, Hudgins committed to playing as a linebacker for Jacksonville State. His senior year in high school, Hudgins was named one of the top 60 players of Alabama by Rivals.com and was ranked one of the top 40 Linebackers in the country.

Jacksonville State will be playing a total of seven home games this season, giving them many opportunities for home field advantage. This includes an exciting game against the University of North Alabama, which many fans are excited about given that UN was previously taken off of the gamecocks schedule.

The schedule for the 2019-2020 Gamecocks football schedule is as follows: August 29, Southeastern Louisiana, Hammond, LA. September 7, Chattanooga, at JSU. September 14, Eastern Washington, at JSU. September 21, North Alabama, at JSU. September 28, Austin Peay, Clarksville, TN. October 5, Tennessee State, at JSU. October 12, Eastern Illinois, Charleston, IL. October 19, Southeastern Missouri, at JSU. October 26, Murray State, at JSU. November 2, UT Martin, Martin TN. November 9, Tennessee Tech, Cookeville, TN. November 23, Eastern Kentucky, at JSU.

Photo courtesy of Matt Reynolds/JSU

Gamecocks welcome Morant, Murray State in Clash of OVC Titans

Dave Winder/MSU Athletics
Murray State sophomore star Ja Morant guards JSU’s Malcolm Drumwright in the Gamecocks’ 76-71 win over the Racers last January. Morant and the Racers return to Pete Mathews Coliseum Thursday night.

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief

Thursday night. Jacksonville State against Murray State. Sole possession of first place in the Ohio Valley Conference standings on the line.

That alone might be enough to make Thursday night’s clash of the OVC titans the most important, or at least most hyped, game on the floor of Pete Mathews Coliseum in Jacksonville State’s Division I history.

Now add a consensus projected top-5 NBA draft pick into the mix.

That makes for the type of game that usually is reserved for the power-5 leagues. The “basketball schools.”

Yet the heralded Temetrius Jamel “Ja” Morant will bring his Murray State Racers, who are fresh off a 38-point demolishing of Tennessee State, into Jacksonville, Alabama to take on the Gamecocks Thursday night at 7:15 p.m.

Even with all the excitement surrounding the matchup, the Gamecocks are not letting the noise make them lose focus.

“We’re excited for the game, but that’s because it’s the next game on the schedule,” senior guard Jamall Gregory says.

Morant comes into the game putting up almost-unheard of stats this season. Numbers that certainly warrant the troop of NBA scouts and front office personnel that show up to most of his games, including at least three teams that will have representatives in Jacksonville Thursday night.                                                        

The sophomore stud puts up 24.1 points per game, which is good enough for ninth in the nation and first in the OVC.

The scoring numbers are formidable on their own, but pair that with Morant’s NCAA-best 10.5 assists per contest, which is almost three more than the 7.8 average from second-ranked Kai Toews out of UNC Wilmington, and you get a combination of offensive statistics that are hard to come by.

According to Sports Reference College Basketball, the last player to average Morant’s mark of at least 10.5 assists for an entire season was current University of Alabama coach Avery Johnson, who averaged 13.3 assists during his senior season at Southern in 1988. Johnson, however, scored just 11.4 points to go along with those assists.

“He’s a top-5 pick, so you know he can do a lot of things,” JSU senior Jason Burnell says of Morant. “We just have to go at him on the offensive end. We have to make him guard, he’s not going to just sit there and not do anything.”

With all the hype heading into Morant and Murray State’s venture to Pete Mathews Coliseum, it’s hard to believe that this isn’t the star’s first game in the venue.

Morant had just nine points and five assists in 31 minutes last year when Jacksonville State beat Murray State 76-71 last January.

Last season, a freshman Morant played second-fiddle to senior Jonathan Stark, who took most of the ball-handling duties en route to winning last year’s OVC Player of the Year.

Morant still put up a more-than-respectable 12.7 points and 6.3 assists last season, but no one could have seen coming the meteoric rise that propelled him to the national stage and the NBA radar that this year has brought.

Burnell says last year’s matchups, in which the Gamecocks held the point guard to nine, five and 11 points respectively, can’t reveal much about Jacksonville State’s ability to limit Morant this season.

“I think what helped us was the fact that he was in the smaller role,” Burnell said. “He’s dangerous, but we’ve just got to stay on what we do. Last week was the two worst defensive games we’ve had all year. We’ve just got to get back to defending.”

Listening to Jacksonville State players discuss Morant, the message is clear: The Gamecocks respect the star, but they want to focus on what they do.

“Morant’s going to give us some trouble,” Burnell said. “He is a top-5 pick. At the end of the day, like coach Harper says, he’s going to hit some shots. We just can’t get frustrated, we’ve got to keep going at him and doing what we do. One thing about this team is we have a bunch of dogs. Nobody is scared of him or anything, so we’re just going to go at him.”

Despite two wins over Belmont already under their belt and a chance to take sole possession of first place in the league on Thursday, the Gamecocks seem happy flying under the radar.

“Belmont and Murray State get all the attention, but we beat Belmont twice,” Burnell says. “I think we do have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, but we’ve just got to stay within ourselves.”

“We’re staying humble,” Gregory says. “We know what we’re doing here in Jacksonville. It’ll all show when it’s time to hang banners.”

Brown: Gamecocks’ win over Bruins biggest of Harper’s tenure

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

In two quick years, Ray Harper has helped take the Jacksonville State men’s basketball program to heights unseen in over 20 years. So, it’s not crazy to say last Thursday’s 78-67 win over Belmont was the biggest of his short tenure, right?

Yes, the trio of wins against Southeast Missouri, Belmont and UT Martin in the 2017 Ohio Valley Conference tournament were remarkable, especially beating the Bruins and Skyhawks — the tournament’s top two seeds — on back-to-back nights, but people didn’t really expect the Gamecocks to win those games.

But back to last week’s victory. Think about all the extra storylines surrounding the game: dedicating the court to Bill Jones (who won the school’s only basketball national championship in 1985), celebrating a trio of seniors (Des Curry, Norbertas Giga and all-time great Malcolm Drumwright), staying in contention for a first-round bye in this week’s conference tournament and the pressure of playing conference powerhouse Belmont on national television.

With the celebration of Jones’ accomplishments came the attendance of former players under the three-time Gulf South Conference Coach of the Year. Those players may have been entertaining the idea of returning to Pete Mathews Coliseum for some time now but needed something to get them over the hump.

They needed an entertaining and signature win to feel the program was in good hands and trending upward.

They needed to see Giga hyping up the crowd during the second half.

They needed to see Drumwright sinking the dagger 3-point basket late in the game.

They needed to see this game.

Speaking of things people needed, who better to need the win than the players.

It had been 14 days since JSU beat Tennessee Tech 82-65 in Jacksonville. Within the two weeks, the Gamecocks dropped a home game against Tennessee State (47-65), at Murray State (60-68) and at Austin Peay (57-60). The players needed confidence heading into this past weekend’s regular-season finale in Cookeville, Tenn.

Boy, did they get that against the Bruins. Just look at the statistics.

Marlon Hunter, who played under Harper at Western Kentucky, followed his 21-point performance against Belmont with 14 against the Golden Eagles. Christian Cunningham finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds Saturday after having eight and seven Thursday night. Jason Burnell, after having 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Bruins, had 12 and four over the weekend. Oh, and that Drumwright kid, had eight points and four assists against TTU, which came after posting 11 and nine in the final home game of his JSU career.

Combining everyone’s performances resulted in JSU earning the No. 4 seed in the 2018 OVC Tournament with a 66-57 win at Tennessee Tech.

All far as having everyone’s attention, the Gamecocks are 5-4 in games played on ESPN3, ESPNU, SEC Network+, Fox Sports Midwest, CBS Sports Network, Pac-12 Network and NBC Sports Washington. (Those losses to Oregon State, Mississippi State, Buffalo and SIUE were by a combined 17 points.)

Only time will tell how much impact the Belmont and Tennessee Tech wins will factor into JSU’s postseason run this year, but if there are any clues, if the Gamecocks win the conference tournament, again, no one will be surprised.



Strain deserves credit for basketball expectations

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Leah Strain didn’t have to continue playing basketball following her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear during the summer before the 2015 season.  

Strain, one of the most prolific prep basketball players in Alabama history, could’ve hung up her shoes and ankle braces to focused all of her time on being a nurse or member of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. 

She could’ve said that’s it, I’m done. 

But she didn’t. She continued to fight. 

Strain fought out of the shadows of her older sister, Courtney, who owns the state mark for career points. 

Strain fought the expectations of being an incoming freshman after helping Woodland High to its second consecutive state championship. 

Strain fought the lengthy rehab that came with the torn knee ligament.

Strain fought to be see time of the floor for JSU head coach Rick Pietri. 

Strain fought to be Leah Strain. She wasn’t going to give up and let people define her legacy. She took it upon herself to do that. 

When Strain throws on the red-and-white No. 2 Jacksonville State uniform over her 5-foot-4 frame Wednesday night against Belmont, it’ll be the 82nd game of her Gamecock career. It was a collegiate career that saw her score her first points during Jacksonville State’s upset win against SEC foe Alabama on Nov. 18, 2014. 

During the 2014-15 season, Strain set a career high in points with a 14-point outing against Mercer. Against the Bears, she went 5 of 10 from the field, including three 3-point baskets, and dished out six assists. For her performance, Strain was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Week. 

Off the court, Strain earned 2014-15 OVC Medal of Honor and OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll status after finishing the academic year with a 4.0 grade point average.

After redshirting during the 2015-16 season to rehab her ACL injury, Strain returned for the 2016-17 year. 

She scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting against Brewton-Parker, before turning in a season-high 11 points in 18 minutes against Nicholls State. She also scored nine points in 10 minutes in the final game of the season. 

As a redshirt-junior this season, Strain has played 373 minutes and scored at least one point in 22 of 27 games heading into JSU’s home finale against the Bruins. 

Strain will be remembered more for her resiliency than scoring while at JSU.