If records, achievements and awards were the only thing shown for the basketball teams, it wouldn’t seem like it was their second year competing in Division II. The Gulf South Conference is one of the most competitive conferences in the nation, and Union didn’t drop off from the competition.
Head Coach Mark Campbell hasn’t missed a beat moving up a division as he was named the South Region Coach of the Year for the second straight season. He was also a finalist for National Coach of the Year. This past year he became the Union’s all-time leader in coaching wins, reaching 510 wins for his career. Along with beating the school record, Campbell became the fastest women’s coach in history to win 500 games in just 569 games.
The Lady Bulldogs were anxious to start the 2015-2016 season after losing five seniors the previous year, four of them being starters. With only four returning players, Campbell added four freshmen and four transfers. Still with such a new team, the Lady Bulldogs were selected in the preseason by Gulf South Conference coaches to win the 2015-2016 Conference Championship.
Though Campbell’s team was young and partially inexperienced with college play, they dominated the Gulf South Conference(GSC). Every starter for Campbell received multiple honors in addition to personal honors, the team set a new school and GSC record for 3-point shots made in a game, draining 24 against Lane College.
Union finished the season 28-4 overall witch a GSC record of 20-2. The 20 conference wins set a new GSC record as Campbell broke his own record of 19 GSC wins last year. Union won their second straight GSC regular season title but finished runner-up in the GSC Tournament. They hosted and advanced to the first round of the NCAA DII National Championships as a No. 1 seed in the South Region.
“I was pleased that even though I don’t think we dominated in any way,” Campbell said. “I feel like we won a lot of close games with people who have never played with each other before. The things I wish had been better is us becoming a team. You have to know each other for a period of time to really form some cohesiveness.”
There will always be room for improvement in any team sport, but Campbell formed a good foundation this past year with senior exercise science major Kelsey Risner.
“I was grateful for the foundation that Kelsey leaves us with. As far as her being aware of how to teach people culture and how to compete,” Campbell said.
Risner set the bar high for new players arriving at Union. She surpassed the 1,000-point mark and ranked second in the GSC in rebounding, second in 3-point field goal percentage and first in 3-pointers made. She had more than 800 rebounds in her career at Union and finished her senior year with 313. Risner was named to the 2016 Gulf South Conference second team all-conference at the end of her career to add to her impressive list of accolades.
Though Risner was not happy with the way the season ended, she was proud of how far her team came from the beginning of the season.
“I think we came along way from the start of the season with eight new players. The ending was not what we wanted, but we still were able to host the region tournament for the second year in a row,” Risner said.
For the first time ever, women’s basketball was led by two freshmen guards, Jada Smith and Jada Perkins, both undecided majors. They each received the Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Week honor three different times. Smith was also nominated for the Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year.
Campbell knew he presented the two freshmen with a huge challenge as they competed in every game, but he was proud of how much they grew during the year.
“Ultimately we established groundwork that will be fruitful next year. From the two freshmen that started to Tiffany Rechis coming off the bench, three of our top seven were freshmen,” Campbell said. “And our whole post game was all new people as well.”
The new post game revolved around junior Tiara Caldwell, transfer from University of Tennessee at Martin. Caldwell started almost every game and contributed 15.1 points and seven rebounds per game. She shot a team best 57 percent from the field and had 10 blocks, 12 steals and 18 assists on the year. Such stats awarded Caldwell the honor of Women’s Basketball Player of the Week from the Tennessee Sports Writers Association in the beginning of the season.By the end of the season Caldwell was named a 2016 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division II All-America honorable mention.
Though the team set new records and were awarded many honors on the floor, they also dominated in the classroom. Risner was named to the GSC Women’s Basketball All-Academic team for the second straight season. Following her lead, teammates Kayla Bise, Chelsea Bodiford, Jordan Johnson, Bethany Lytle, Fredi Nielsen and Tiffany Rechis made the honor roll list.
“I’m excited for the future,” Campbell said. “I never judge teams by the awards they get, because a lot of awards are given just because of records. They have nothing to do with any depth. The thing I take away from the year was there was a ton of growth individually.”
The men’s team also had a standout year. Not only did Union’s team win their first NCAA Tournament game, individually they had three players, Marterrace Brock, Ashanti Day and Roy Bullock reach 1,000 points. The Bulldogs finished the year 21-11 with a 13-9 conference record placing them third in the league.
The team advanced to the semifinals in both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and the NCAA D2 South Region Tournament. This was Union’s second time appearing in both tournaments since moving up to Division II.
“This is a very successful season,” said Assistant Coach Trevor Lydic. “Going from NAIA to Division II was a difficult transition but now that we have gone to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, it made the process worthwhile.”
Leading the Bulldogs was senior sports management major Marterrace Brock with 20.3 points per game, shooting 45 percent from the field. He averaged 4.5 rebounds per game, was second on the team with 58 assists, led with 43 steals and had 18 blocks.
“Brock was a key part to our success this season,” Lydic said.
Teammate sophomore business major KC Goodwin agrees with Lydic.
“He was a very special player,” Goodwin said. “The team fed off him. Everyone followed him, he was very hard to defend and he was a great defender.”
Brock received multiple honors for his performance on the court as he was named to the Gulf South Conference first team All-GSC and second team All-Region. Brock was also named to the 2016 National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II All-District second team for the South District.He was also honored as the Gulf South Conference Men’s Basketball and the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Player of the Week for the week ending November 29, 2015.
Along with Brock, senior political science major Jordan Montgomery was named a second team all-conference performer to the 2016 Gulf South Conference All-Conference team.
The Bulldogs also achieved well in the classroom as graduate student Serigne Mboup was named to the GSC Men’s Basketball All-Academic team. Three of his teammates, Quin Beasley, Aleksandar Cosic, and Felipe Rocha also ended up on the honor roll list.
“I’m excited about next year,” Goodwin said. “Towards the end of the year we all really started playing as a team. Now we know each others strengths and weaknesses and will play even better together. We are losing a lot of key players, but I know people will step up.”