HATTIESBURG, Miss. - As Southern Miss Athletics looks forward to another exciting year in 2017, it looks back at another successful year and celebrates its department’s Top 10 stories.
While the debate can be said what where the most important, here is a listing of our Top 10 in no particular order:
1 - 8-6-3-2: That was the scoring play that decided the 2016 Conference USA Baseball Championship in which Southern Miss defeated Rice 3-2 at Pete Taylor Park in late May. The league tournament title was the first for the school since 2010 and the program reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and the 13th time overall. Under coach Scott Berry, the Golden Eagles finished the year 41-20, collecting its first 40-win season since 2009.
2 - 100th Season, Another Bowl Game: The Golden Eagle football team opened its 100th playing season in fine style, rallying from a school-record 25 points down to come back and defeat SEC foe Kentucky, 44-35, and capturing a victory over a team from the league for the first time since 2000. The Golden Eagles then needed a victory in the season finale against C-USA West winner Louisiana Tech and beat the Bulldogs 39-24 on senior day to earn bowl eligibility. The team then registered its 69th winning season by defeating Louisiana-Lafayette, 28-21, at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. It was the school’s second-consecutive bowl appearance, the 12th in the last 15 seasons and the 24th overall.
3 - New Football Coach: After Todd Monken left to take a position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just a few days prior to signing day, the Golden Eagles hired Jay Hopson – who had been an assistant coach with the program from 2001-03 and 2005-07 – and he hit the ground running by producing a solid signing class and then got his team ready for the fall season. His seven wins in his first season ties him for third-best among Golden Eagle first-year football coaches for victories along with Reed Green (1937), Thad “Pie” Vann (1949) and Jim Carmody (1982).
4 - Tennis Returns to Form as both men’s and women’s squads improve: The Southern Miss men’s and women’s tennis teams finished the season ranked in the final Southern Regional Rankings. The men’s team earned a No. 8 ranking after posting a 16-9 record, marking back-to-back seasons with 15 or more wins during the season. Six Golden Eagles recorded 10 or more wins during the season. The women’s team was ranked No. 9. The team finished with a 17-4-1 record, the most wins since 2007. All seven Golden Eagles finished with 10 or more wins including four with 20 or more wins. Three members of the squad received all-conference accolades.
5 - 20 Wins Again for Volleyball: The Golden Eagles finished the 2016 campaign with a 23-8 record and the senior class became the winningest in program history (84 matches). Stephany Purdue closed her career as Southern Miss' all-time kills record-holder (1,631), while sophomore Sarah Bell finished No. 10 in the nation with 11.47 assists per set. Amanda Berkley was named the AVCA Southwest Region Coach of the Year, and a program-best five Golden Eagles were named All-Conference, with Catherine Repsher becoming the first C-USA Freshman of the Year in the program's history. Southern Miss earned the two-seed in the league tournament, its highest since 2009.
6 - Women’s Golf Continues Surge after Strong Finish Last Spring: After finishing the spring season with its highest ever showing in the C-USA Championship in third place after also placing a first and second in tournaments in the spring, the women’s golf squad continued their ascent during the first portion of this year in record setting fashion at the USA Intercollegiate. The team’s overall score of 877 broke the old 54-hole record by 17 strokes. The team also took home the Golden Eagle Jam title and tied the same score that was set at the USA Intercollegiate. Kelly Erasmus also collected C-USA Golfer of the Week honors after she finished in second at the Golden Eagle Jam. Under second-year coach Erika Brennan, the squad continues to improve under her leadership.
7 - Track and Field/Cross Country Enjoy Solid Campaign: The women’s cross country program enjoyed its highest regional ranking of No. 10 this past fall and won its second consecutive LSU Cross Country in September. The team tied for its highest finish in its history in the C-USA Meet (4th) and then finished 11th in the NCAA South Regional. Dana Dillistone, who finished first among teammates in every meet, also earned C-USA All-Academic Team honors during the year and recently admitted to medical school at UMMC in Jackson. Last spring, three track athletes earned spots in the NCAA National Championships with Emron Gibbs capturing the highest place, fourth, in the javelin. The other two individuals included Elbert Rogers in the men’s 400 meter race and Mariam Kromah in the women’s 400 meter race. Kromah also competed for her native Liberia in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
8 - Softball Wins the C-USA West: The Golden Eagles finished the season with a 30-28 overall record, including a 14-10 mark in Conference USA play as it was the most wins and most conference wins since the 2004 season. Picked to finish last in the preseason poll, Southern Miss tied for first place in the West Division and earned the No. 3 seed in the C-USA Championships. The 30 victories marked just the fifth time in program history that the team has amassed 30 or more wins, with the last time coming in 2004.
9 - Former Golden Eagles Make Marks: Four football players from the 2015 squad enjoyed life in the professional ranks as Mike Thomas (Los Angeles Rams) and Kalan Reed (Tennessee Titans) were each chosen in last April’s NFL Draft, while Jalen Richard (Oakland Athletics) and Rashod Hill (Minnesota Vikings) made active rosters after being picked up as undrafted free agents. The draft also carried three former baseball players to the pro ranks as Tim Lynch (New York Yankees) was taken in the ninth round, Jake Winston (Arizona Diamondbacks) in the 17th round and Chuckie Robinson (Houston Astros) in the 21st round of last summer’s MLB First Year Player Draft.
There was also stellar news for older Southern Miss graduates, such as Brett Favre, who became the second Golden Eagle to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former track standout Tori Bowie collected three medals – one gold, one silver, one bronze – in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and was honored with her own day during the final home football game of the year that included dedicating a monument in her honor at the track facility. Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier set an American League record for most home runs by a second baseman last summer.
10 - Duff Center Weight Room and Football Locker Room get renovated: A main ingredient in the preparation and success for each of the Southern Miss athletic programs involves a comfortable and efficient space to conduct its strength and conditioning workouts. The school spent two months project to upgrade the school’s main athletic weight room in the Duff Athletic Center, the Golden Eagles returned home to their improved space to conduct their daily workouts in preparations for their respective seasons. While the weight room in itself did not increase in square footage, a wall on the east side of the area was taken out to give the appearance of a much larger space. The entire weight room was repainted with the Southern Miss wordmark being placed on the front entrance to the room. A state of art flooring system, provided by PLAE, was installed to allow for great functionality and as well as a way to customize the look of the room with the new Golden Eagle logo added to the flooring. With the increase in interior weight lifting space has allowed the strength and conditioning staff the ability to train more student-athletes at the same time, while also improving the equipment to the highest quality available.
A football weight room also was renovated and features a bright, open design that accommodates 115 individual lockers located within six separate "spokes." Each spoke leads to 30-foot-wide hub that features the Golden Eagle logo woven into the carpeted floor as well as glaring down from the lighted ceiling. The sections are fronted by six panels documenting the program's history, character and essence.