Top-five teams prepared for move into the Sun Belt

Graphic: Matt Veal

Hayden Boudreaux

As the spring sports begin their final seasons of play in the Southern Conference it is time to look ahead to the future of Georgia Southern University sports.

Moving into the Sun Belt Conference will bump GSU into an entirely new level of competition with new expansion and opportunities to not only sports teams, but the university as a whole. Halfway through the spring semester, we have had a chance to see each of our sports and gauge how prepared they are for next season. After looking at the competition in the Sun Belt, the success of each team individually, and returning starters for next season I have compiled a top-five list of the teams that are most prepared for the new conference.

5. Football

After an exciting season, GSU football fans have a lot to look forward to next season. With a new coach, a new offense, the Paulson Stadium expansion and a new football operations center there is reason for excitement. Last season, the football team managed a record of 7-4, one of those wins being against the University of Florida.

However, there was reason for concern, which placed football at number five on the list. Their four losses coupled with an almost entirely new coaching staff and the awaiting news regarding the suspension of soon-to-be senior fullback Dominic Swope gives fans a reason to be hesitant.

The team will look for redshirt junior running back Tray Butler and redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison to anchor the new offense.  Both combined for over 1,100 rushing yards last season and they will each have ample opportunity next season to display their talent. Junior linebacker Edwin Jackson will be one of the leaders on defense alongside sophomore safety Matt Dobson.

4. Swimming & Diving

The CCSA Championships ended two weeks ago with the swimming & diving team placing third out of the 13 competitors. This season the team has gone 9-3 and shattered countless school records, including 11 records at the CCSA Championship. Most recently they were awarded the CSCAA Scholar All American Team with a team GPA of 3.35.

With five seniors graduating the team will be wounded but with a solid lineup of swimmers behind them and plenty of time to prepare, the team’s future looks bright in the Sun Belt. Among the returning swimmers is sophomore Kylee Parsons. Parsons currently holds three individual team records along with two relay records.

The disadvantage of the swim team is the caliber of competition in the Sun Belt. The best times from this year would have placed GSU around third or fourth in their new conference. They will have to put some extra hours in the pool to assure themselves a place on the podium next year.

3. Volleyball

Last season the volleyball team won the SoCon championship and displayed their dominance in the SoCon with a conference record of 13-3 and an overall record of 28-6. They were able to schedule four future Sun Belt opponents where they had similar success, winning five out of six games with three wins coming in matches against rival Appalachian State.

The volleyball team will return next fall with a full starting lineup from this season as well as several experienced back-ups. Junior Alexandra Beecher will be the defensive wall for the team and set up returning hitters senior Jamie DeRatt and junior Katie Bange.  Deratt and Bange totaled over 650 kills by the end of last season.

The only question that arises around the volleyball team will be whether they can keep their composure if they lose some games coming out of the gate. With a lower level of competition in the Sun Belt they were able to rotate in many younger players and the starters had less stress. The key for them will be keeping healthy and composed throughout the tougher schedule.

2. Softball

With two straight SoCon championships and possibly a third on the way, the softball team has established a solid tradition of winning. This season they are 16-7 and have showed their capability of playing in big games in two matchups with No. 2 University of Tennessee. This big-play ability and their tendency of finding a way to win will be their reason for success in the Sun Belt.

So far senior pitcher Sarah Purvis has anchored this season for the softball team. She has already thrown a no-hitter as well as her third perfect game in her career. The team will have to show they can move past the loss of Purvis as well as some solid batters.

Returning position players include freshman Morgan Robinson and junior Breanna McLendon who both have over.270 batting average this season in 20 at bats. Junior pitcher Brooke Red will be tasked with filling the shoes of Purvis. Red has been given plenty of experience so far this year with a record of 6-3 and a 1.58 ERA. These young players will have to step up next season to win a Sun Belt title.

1. Baseball

Even though it’s early in the season the baseball team has established itself at the national level. In the most recent NCAA poll Georgia Southern received votes to be ranked in the Top 25 teams in the country with a record of 14-2. The baseball team was able to topple the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech to open their season.

Players who will play a huge role next season include junior pitcher Sam Howard who has a 3-1 record and a 1.08 ERA. Freshman infielder Garret Chapman has made a name for himself, boasting a .397 average and a home run in 63 at bats. Junior outfielder Aaron Mizell leads the team in home runs this season with six and is also expected to stand at the plate for the baseball team next season.

Last season, the baseball team ended with a losing record of 27-32. With a host of young talent, the baseball team will be able to transfer their success to the Sun Belt. The only question for the team is to be sure their recent success is not an abnormality.