The Lions have exploded into Division I play as action got into full swing over Labor Day weekend and continued through this past weekend in a run that has included wins and accolades for football, soccer, cross country, and volleyball.
How could we ask for more? This administration and staff have prepped the program so well for transition and jumped into DI with a vision for excellence. The coaches and players have also put the work needed to make a splash this first season.
But, with any new venture, there has been a learning curve to overcome already in some of the games, matches, and meets with more challenges on the horizon.
Running with the Wind
The cross country teams began the year with preseason accolades as two UNA runners won the fan-voted ASUN Preseason Runners of the Year with Emma Knight and Justin Watson taking first in the women’s and men’s votes via social media.
Each team started up action in the Belmont Opener over Labor Day and in Huntsville this past weekend. In Nashville, UNA teams placed 3th in the women’s event and 4th in the men’s event with top individual finishers were Kara Nix (13th) and Watson (4th).
At the UAH Chargers CC Open, Justin Watson was the winner of the men’s race while the men’s team placed 2nd overall. Nix and Knight finished in the top ten of the individual results as the women’s team ranked 3rd in the final standings
Progressing Toward Conference Action
The Lions volleyball team is having to come together quickly and it’s been a bumpy ride so far. Although, there was celebration over the Labor Day weekend as the Lions picked up their first and second wins as a DI program with victories over Tennessee State (3-2) and UNC-Asheville (3-0).
Those victories set up their first championship match in a matchup with host Chattanooga. The Lions fought hard but were defeated by the Mocs, 3-2, in a very close one. UNA was winless this past weekend in matches against Tennessee Tech, Louisiana Monroe, and Memphis.
The team has completed non-conference tournament action and will have the week off continued team-building and preparation for ASUN action. Their record stands at 2-7.
A Rising Pitch
The UNA women’s soccer team rolled into the Labor Day holiday 4-0 and earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Jacksonville State to start that weekend. It was the first victory over our in-state rivals as a DI program. That win set up a matchup of undefeated teams with SEC member Vanderbilt up in Nashville. The increase in the level of play was apparent from the start as the Lions took their first loss, 4-0, from the Commodores. UNA returned home this past Friday with their first home loss coming at the hands of Abilene Christian, 2-0.
The Lions hosted UAB on Sunday in a rainy match that they led most of the way. However, the Blazers scored two penalty kicks in the closing minutes to steal the victory. UNA’s record is 5-3 after losing three straight matches. The Lions will close out non-conference play next weekend against Chattanooga and Troy.
Roaring Into FCS
The football team got off to a great start out at Southern Utah opening weekend by defeating the reigning Big Sky Champs and playoff team at their place, 34-30. For their effort, the Lions were named STATS FCS Team of the Week in their first week in the division. The media outlet also named two Honorable Mentions for individual player awards as quarterback Christian Lopez was listed for National Offensive Player of the Week while wide receiver Dexter Boykin was among those mentioned for National Freshman Player of the Week.
Our Lions traveled to Huntsville this past weekend to face the Alabama A&M for the first time since 1997. Being the closest college football team in proximity to UNA, this was a good rivalry to renew as the program moves into DI play. It was a back and forth contest but ultimately the Lions earned the win 25-20 in hostile territory. Lopez missed some of the first half injured but returned to the game to pass for 146 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jakobi Byrd. The offense also had good performances from running backs Damon Cox and Terrence Humphrey, who combined for 146 yards on the ground. Christon Tayor led the defense with 9 total tackles while KJ Smith contributed 7 total tackles and had a 48-yard pick six right before the half.
Speaking of hostile territory, UNA travels to face who Coach Willis referred to in his A&M post-game comments as the “Alabama of FCS” next weekend as they get ready to fly into Fargo, North Dakota and take on the NDSU Bison. North Dakota State has won 6 of the last 7 FCS titles and is the reigning champion. The top-ranked Bison are coming off a bye week after winning their first game 49-3 over Cal Poly.
It will be a tall task for the Lions but it’s an important game. Our program will see how the best of FCS play and learn what the level of play expectations are for the immediate future (and hopefully postseasons starting in 2022). The Bison are 65-6 at the Fargodome since 2010. The last and only meeting between the two schools was a 35-7 NDSU win in the 1985 D2 title game.
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