Rise and Roar: UNA Begins the DI Era

I started this site eight years ago because I knew UNA faithful were worthy of an online hub that brought us together as fans to celebrate what we all love…the University of North Alabama Lions.

Lions fans have witnessed a lot of success in these recent years and have eagerly anticipated this transition to Division I. Some of us (finger pointed at me) were huge proponents of D2, but we live in the now.

And the now is our inaugural season of DI. And, I’ll admit, it’s pretty dang exciting!

Rise and Roar

We all know the traditions and excellence our UNA Lions have had in D2. The university’s legacy will be part of the fabric of that division for a long while. I’m sure many of us will even adopt our favorite GSC team and cheer them on this fall. Living in Pensacola, mine wasn’t very far away.

As of July 1st, North Alabama entered into a new era. This was a date years in the making. Tons of hard work behind the scenes from the administration all the way down to facilities upgrade contractors have (and continue) to put their blood, sweat, and tears into moving UNA into NCAA’s Division I.

Kudos to them! The fans and alumni are appreciative. Maybe not always complimentary, but appreciate. We can be a very opinionated bunch. Yet, we love our Lions!

Great Campus Debut

After a bit of a learning curve in an exhibition matchup at UT-Martin, the entire program’s transition got off to a great start on-campus with three straight wins by the Lions soccer team. UNA Soccer had a great final season in D2 and have several starters back from last year. Coach Walker also brought in several talented players including some freshmen with international experience.

A great (possibly record) crowd turned out for the inaugural DI match on the 17th as the Lions defeated Alabama State 5-1, which preceded them taking down Alabama A&M in a closer match (2-1) last Sunday. This past Friday night, UNA hosted Jackson State for a blow-out win (7-1) and went up to Cookeville, TN on Sunday defeating Tennessee Tech 4-0 for their fourth consecutive victory. These girls are playing well and sit atop the ASUN standings for early season non-conference play.

Big Changes

A bit of the opposite has happened during the brief start of the UNA volleyball campaign. There have been big changes in the program as long-term Coach Stephanie Radeki moved on to Southern Miss and UNA pulled in a big name from D2, Bob White, to lead the Lions into DI action. Coach White had a stellar resume from his time down at Palm Beach Atlantic. He’s come in and managed a bit of the usual coaching change turnover by bringing in a slew of new faces. Players from three different countries have joined the Lions squad in just the past few months as only six players return from last year’s team.

The new DI Lions got off to an upbeat start by defeating UT-Martin in an exhibition match up in Tennessee but had a rougher go of it this past weekend over in Jacksonville. UNA traveled to JSU and lost a pretty tough match first thing in the morning on Friday to Little Rock before going on to lose a barnburner against the hosting Gamecocks that afternoon. It was 0-3 on the scoreboard but the last two sets were 24-26. They started out the match on Saturday against Mercer by winning two sets but dropped the last three to end the weekend 0-3 in the early season.

A Purple (and Gold) Makeover

Well, well, well. Lookin’ good, UNA! But, there’s still work to do, of course.

I noticed a new look on the website, recently. The gold in the UNA logo and accent colors on RoarLions.com has been changed to a darker sand gold color vs. a bright orangish-yellow some schools have gone to when using that color. I love the change and I know some alumni – for whom this is a pet peeve issue – will be very pleased, also. Mainly that the university seems to care about the color.

We heard this past week that there has been a delay in renovations at Flowers Hall. Last December, the board approved a $2.125 million dollar upgrade to our beloved, but aging, arena. Improvements include a new floor, which was installed in April, along with new seating, a hospitality room, and video board. AD Linder told the Times Daily that plans are for it to be done by November 1.

This makeover, along with several other facility upgrades, costs money. However, it seems the university is in good standing on this front including DI games with monetary guarantees totaling $420,000 for this inaugural season.

Go West

UNA Football is heading out west for its first game as a member NCAA Division I – Football Championship Series (FSC) where they will play Southern Utah on Saturday in Cedar City. The Thunderbirds were Big Sky Conference champions in 2017 and made it to the FCS playoffs, their third appearance in the past five years.

SUU is a former D2 school but they reclassified way back in 1992. Heck, I was enjoying my first season in the Pride of Dixie that year and quickly forming a bitter hated for our only real rival, the East Alabama Red Hens (aka JSU). These players weren’t even alive back then. But, I digress.

While all other UNA teams are competing in the Atlantic Sun Conference this season, the football team will play as an Independent with a hybrid schedule of FCS and D2 teams before becoming an affiliate member of the Big South Conference next year – playing a full slate of FCS opponents.

This year, our Lions will face a tough test right off the bat but there’s certainly room for cautious optimism here. First off, Southern Utah will have a new quarterback at the helm and our defense is the best squad we have to put forward at this point in the early campaign. Second, I’m just homer enough to feel that southern, D2, GSC football is just as good as many in the FCS – especially from out west. Where this difference usually shows is depth. I realize SUU fans would laugh at those statements as I’m sure they’re pretty talented. But, either way, I’m just eager to root for the team in their first DI game!

Have the Lions filled the gaps and added even more depth in the off-season? This game could tell us a lot about the answer to that question rather quickly. The team can travel with ten additional players in FCS with 70 (up from 60 in D2) and I’m pulling for these guys to go make a splash in their DI debut. The Lions will likely rely on that experienced defensive unit to set the tone of the content in the first half.

We all know where the big question marks are from last season and will hold our breath a bit on the first few series on offense. But, I’m hearing good things out of fall camp on that side of the ball, especially with new OC Ryan Aplin being added to the staff. The shakeup with Coach Campbell now serving as DC was a great switch up to wash some of the unpleasantness of that last D2 season off.

Join the Pride!

We need you! If you have any ounce of you with allegiance to UNA, the Pride needs you.

As we move into Division I, we will now be playing many of the schools that dominate the t-shirt racks at big box stores. I get it. I have followed Alabama my entire life but I attended UNA. It’s the brand I prefer to support with my fandom, time, and money. I will always love the Tide but I bleed purple (ugh, and gold, lol). Will you please take the time to share our website, message board, and social media information with anyone that loves the Lions and would enjoy our content.

UPCOMING: This weekend, all UNA teams are on the road for contests. Both cross country teams get into action with the Belmont Opener up in Nashville on Friday while volleyball travels to Chattanooga for three matches Friday and Saturday. As mentioned, football will play Saturday out in Utah while soccer travels to Jacksonville State on Friday and Vanderbilt on Sunday.

Roar Lions!

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About Andy Davis, Editor 145 Articles
Andy Davis is a freelance writer and owner of Singing River Media. A UNA graduate (Class of ’96), Andy has been a die-hard Lions fan since the 80’s and was a member of the Pride of Dixie Marching Band during the championship run of the early 90’s. He also covers the Gulf South Conference for D2Football.com and is the owner/editor of SECBeyond.com.


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