July 30, 2012
Beyond Box Scores: Fall 2011 In Review
By Rob Daniels
Linh Nguyen isn’t a boastful fellow by nature, but when
his UNCG men’s cross country team won the Southern Conference
championship last October, he had a pretty good vibe as he walked
to the spot where the women’s team was warming up.
"Neither team wanted to be the one that didn't perform on a given
day," coach Nguyen said. "And going into the conference meet, I was
confident about the women and nervous about the men. After the men
dominated in such a strong way, I knew the women were going to win
it and win it big. I walked over to them as they were getting
ready, and a couple of them looked at me and said, 'Well, we have
no choice now; we have to win.' "
Simply put, the Spartans delivered the best season in their
21-year Division I history and the most impressive showing by any
group of UNCG athletes across the board in the fall of 2011.
They provided an appropriate entrée for a season
review of all competitors.
Southern Conference champions;
8th place of 32 in the NCAA Southeast Regional.
Paul Chelimo: All-American, SoCon champion, SoCon
Runner of the Year, All-SoCon; NCAA Championship participant
Joey Thompson: All-SoCon, NCAA Championship participant
Paul Katam: All-SoCon
Abraham Kemboi: All-SoCon
Mike Koech, All-SoCon (second team)
champions; 7th place out of 35 in the NCAA
Ashley Schnell: SoCon champion, SoCon Runner of
the Year, All-SoCon, NCAA Championship participant
Chelsea Sumney: All-SoCon
Kerry Hartman: All-SoCon
Shaina Sumney: All-SoCon
The men's and women's teams won the Southern Conference
championship for the first time and nearly swept individual
league-wide awards. Coach Linh Nguyen and athletes Paul Chelimo and
Ashley Schnell were named the SoCon's best for 2011, and Paul Katam
was named Freshman of the Year on the men's side.
The Spartan men dominated their competition by claiming five of
the first 11 spots at the SoCon meet. Chelimo won the race,
becoming the first Spartan to do so, and was followed in short
order by Joey Thompson (third), Katam (fourth) and Abraham Kemboi
(seventh). It added up to a team score of 26, the lowest (and
therefore best) by any team in the event in 13 years. The Spartans'
margin of victory of 47 points was the largest by any squad in 20
The team proceeded to earn its best NCAA regional finish in UNCG
history, an eighth-place standing in the 32-team Southeast meet. In
so doing, they bested three ACC programs and Chelimo earned a spot
in the NCAA Championships by taking second overall. His time of
29:52.6 in the 10-kilometer race obliterated the existing UNCG
record by 88 seconds.
A day later, Thompson joined him as an at-large selection and they
became the first Spartan men to qualify for the biggest day in
college cross country.
Chelimo's 13th-place overall finish in Terre Haute, Ind., made him
the first All-America honor in the school's Division I membership
Thompson earned NCAA recognition for having the highest
grade-point average of any competitor in the field.
The UNCG women didn't settle for anything less than their Spartan
Schnell, one of the most acclaimed student-athletes in the
university's history, defended her individual championship from
2010 and led her team to an easy triumph. The Spartans' total score
of 35 was the best by any program in seven years and the margin of
victory of 45 points represented a radical departure from form in
the SoCon meet, the previous eight of which had been decided by a
total of 42 points.
Schnell's teammates followed when Chelsea Sumney took fifth,
Kerry Hartman was sixth and Shaina Sumney placed
UNCG's sweep of the team and individual titles in the meet was
only the second of its kind in the 27-year history of men's and
women's SoCon competition. Chattanooga was the last team to
accomplish the feat in 2004.
The Spartan women, again led by Schnell, finished seventh in the
regionals. Schnell became the first UNCG athlete to qualify for the
NCAA Women's Championship race.
“To be able to do it as convincingly as we did and have both
teams win (the SoCon) on the same day, you don’t have a
better outcome than that,” Nguyen said.
“Everybody’s happy. Nobody’s walking away from
that saying, ‘I’m happy for my teammates.’ To an
individual, everyone was excited.”
Record: 10-8-2 (5-1-1 SoCon)
Regular-season SoCon champion; conference tournament finalist.
All-Southern Conference: F Hakan Ilhan (first
team); D Kris Byrd (first team); M Austin Miller (second team): GK
Peyton Ford (second team); M David Reittinger (all-freshman team);
M Austin Miller (all-freshman team)
Although it didn't conclude with another NCAA Tournament
appearance, the 2011 season still enhanced UNCG's reputation as an
exemplary program in the Southern Conference. The Spartans, behind
a defense that pitched five consecutive shutouts down the stretch,
secured the regular-season title with a 1-0 win at Elon on Oct. 29.
That gave the program a piece of SoCon supremacy -- whether
regular-season or tournament -- for the sixth time in eight
"We've won quite a few titles in our time as both coaches and
players," coach Justin Maullin said after that Elon win. "But for
me, this is the best of them all. We overcame a lot of adversity
and injuries, and players have stepped up and stepped
Two weeks later, the teams hooked up again and the Phoenix
appeared headed for a surprisingly comfortable victory in the
tournament championship game. But down 3-0, the Spartans rallied
and got two goals from Brian Graham in a one-minute stretch and
were within one with seven minutes to play.
The rally ended there, but the season again validated the team's
depth, which compensated for injury-related attrition that took
hold in September and kept testing the Spartans.
Record: 8-10-1 (7-3-1 SoCon).
Earned the No. 2 seed in the conference
All-Southern Conference: F Kristin Player (first team), Karin
Sendel (second team), Stephanie Partenheimer (second team), GK
Kelsey Kearney (second team).
Change was the theme of the year in 2011 with the hiring of
Georgia assistant Steve Nugent as the Spartans' new coach. Nugent
was left with several spots to fill and with an exceptionally
ambitious schedule that had been made by his predecessor, Eddie
Still, UNCG won seven or more SoCon games for the ninth straight
year and went into late October on a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Dreams of another league title dissipated though with a 2-1 loss to
Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals of the SoCon
While directing his first team, Nugent kept remarkably busy on the
recruiting trail, signing a 16-member recruiting class that will
put an unmistakable imprint on the program.
"All of these young women will make a tremendous impact on the
UNCG community," Nugent said in announcing their signings in
February. "I have seen first-hand how competitive they are and
believe they are ready to embrace the standards that have made the
UNCG women's soccer program competitive over the years."
Goalkeeper Kelsey Kearney set the school record for shutouts in a
career and was named the outstanding female student-athlete at the
university in May.
Record: 15-17 (7-9 SoCon)
SoCon Libero of the Year: Kellie Orewiler
The Spartans volleyball team was in the running for a spot in
the 2011 Southern Conference Tournament until late in the season,
but fell short after a three-match losing streak to end the year.
There were several encouraging signs in 2011, suggesting the team
will be participating in the event in 2012 in head coach Patrick
Nicholas’ fourth season at the helm of the program.
Sophomore Kellie Orewiler was named Libero of the Year by the
league's coaches after placing second in digs and fourth in aces in
the SoCon. The performance backed up her distinction as the only
underclassman that was named a team captain prior to the
As for the future, the Spartans expect to be bolstered by the
return of Olivia Humphries, the team's leader in hitting percentage
in 2010. Humphries missed 2011 with a torn labrum but is on
schedule to return.
She will be joined by, among others, Katherine Santiago, who
recently led her team to the Puerto Rican junior national
championship, and by Julie Westerbur, a transfer from