Furman has never had a season like 2015. Neither has any other team in the Southern Conference.
The Paladins became the first school to complete a sweep of all five fall league tournament championships last Monday night in Cullowhee, N.C., when the volleyball team upset top-seeded Chattanooga to give Furman first-place trophies in men’s cross country, women’s cross country, women’s soccer, men’s soccer and volleyball, establishing a level of athletic dominance unprecedented in the SoCon’s 95 seasons of competition.
“There’s nothing like these coaches coming out and making me look really good … I’m just thrilled,” said recently hired Furman Athletic Director Mike Buddie, who took over on July 29, said.
Volleyball, which was seeded second, improved to 21-8 with a convincing sweep of the Mocs (26-6) behind the power of conference player of the year Annie Bierman ’17 to advance to the program’s second NCAA tournament. The Paladins also won the SoCon in 2008. Coach Michelle Young, in her 16th season, has also led Furman to three regular-season league championships, including last year, and Bierman, a 5-10 outside hitter, became the Paladins’ second straight SoCon Player of the Year.
Guided by Coach Robert Gary, the cross country squads got the winning started when the men and women each won their third straight Southern Conference meets Oct. 31 in Greenville. The men went on to finish fourth at the Southeast Regional to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA championships held Nov. 21 in Louisville, Ky., where the Paladins finished 13th out of 31 teams.
Furman has now been to two straight men’s NCAA cross country championships. The program also advanced in 1965 and 1970.
The women didn’t finish high enough at the regional meet in Charlottesville, Va., to make it to Louisville, but Allie Buchalski ’17, the two-time SoCon champion, qualified as an individual and turned in one of the most impressive performances of any Paladin athlete ever when she finished seventh out of 254 runners to become Furman’s first All-American in the sport.
Buchalski also advanced to nationals last year and joins Cate Pinchon ’93 as the only Furman women to ever run in the meet. Pinchon finished 40th. Aaron Templeton ’18 crossed the line 51st for the highest male finish in school history.
In women’s soccer, Stephanie DeVita ’16 scored the deciding goal in the 105th minute to lift Furman to a dramatic 1-0, double-overtime triumph over defending champion Mercer on Nov. 8 at Stone Stadium to net the Paladins, coached by Andrew Burr ’91, their seventh SoCon tournament championship and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA. Furman finished 17-5-1 after losing 3-0 to seventh-ranked Clemson in the first round.
DeVita has made a strong case to be called the best player to ever don a Furman uniform. A native of nearby Simpsonville, she scored all six Paladin goals over three tournament matches, a remarkable feat that gave her 18 on the season, which leads the league, and 68 in her career, which is the most in Furman and Southern Conference history.
In the semifinals, DeVita beat UNC-Greensboro by slipping a shot under the crossbar with five seconds left in regulation to give Furman a stunning 2-1 victory. Unsurprisingly, the reigning league Player of the Year was named the tournament’s most outstanding player for the second time. Goalkeeper Maggie Grisell ’16, out of Greenville High, stopped six shots to notch her conference-leading 10th shutout of the season. She was named the SoCon player of the month for October.
The men captured their 13th conference tournament championship and second straight a week later in Johnson City, Tenn., when they knocked off East Tennessee State 1-0 to advance the program’s 13th NCAA Tournament. The Paladins fell at No. 21 South Carolina in the first round, 2-1 on penalty kicks to end the year with an 8-6-5 record in coach Doug Allison’s 21st season. Goalkeeper Sven Lissek ’16, of Sexau, Germany, was named the league tournament Most Oustanding Player after not allowing a goal in two matches, giving him 28 career shutouts, which is second-most in SoCon history.
“What I love about both soccers and volleyball is none of them were the No. 1 seed going into the tournament, so they all had to kind of bear down and dig deep and find a way to win some tough games,” Buddie said.
The success didn’t stop there. The women’s golf team, the defending conference champion, closed out its fall season on Oct. 27 with a win at the Palmetto Intercollegiate at Turtle Point in Kiawah Island, S.C., marking Paladins’ second straight victory after they also took the Yale Intercollegiate. Haylee Harford ’19 tied for third a 1-over to pace Furman, which opens in spring season on Feb. 12 at the Florida State Match Up in Tallahassee. The Paladins tied a school record by winning four tournaments last year.
“What I enjoy watching is our head coaches supporting one another, because (making it to the NCAAs) is a huge deal … Those coaches are for the most part former athletes themselves, and they’re competitive and they want to match the level that’s been set and continue to raise the bar,” Buddie said. “It’s great they’re thriving off the energy of everyone’s efforts. People like to be associated with a winner, and we’re hopefully rolling into the winter here with some pretty good momentum in both men’s and women’s basketball.”
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