by Scott Goode, sports information director
The idea started out small. Drawing on an event held last season by the women's basketball team, women's volleyball coach Keith Giboney and graduate assistant Meredith Rosenbaum organized a fundraising effort for breast cancer awareness at one of their matches in October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Originally, they planned for the team to wear pink uniforms and to possibly pass around a basket for donations.
"It was going to be really simple," says Rosenbaum. "Then coach Giboney came up with the idea of giving the proceeds to Lori Griffin ('92) Newby." Newby, who is battling breast cancer, is a fourth-grade teacher at Searcy's McRae Elementary and the wife of Harding Academy coach Jon Newby ('94).
The event began to grow when Rosenbaum decided to involve women's soccer. "I know coach [Greg] Harris, so I asked him if his team wanted to join us. We also decided to see if the football team and cheerleaders wanted to be involved, and then we asked [Harding Academy head volleyball coach] Michal Giboney to help get the Academy involved."
As the project grew, Rosenbaum chose the title "Play for the Cure" and decided to sell pink T-shirts. Seeking help for the best way to promote the occasion, she enlisted Assistant Professor of Marketing Lori Sloan, who helped her find five volunteers from the American Marketing Association. Without the students, Rosenbaum says she could not have carried out the event.
Rosenbaum and her volunteers made their first appearance at the Oct. 4 football game against Southern Arkansas University. The next event was the Lady Bison soccer game Oct. 5 against University of West Florida, followed by the volleyball team's match against University of Arkansas-Monticello Oct. 7. Students were encouraged to "pink out" the stands at the Oct. 11 football game against Ouachita Baptist University. The effort also included a Harding Academy volleyball match and culminated at an Academy football game Oct. 17.
In addition to fans, the athletes showed their support as well. At the football game, the Bisons wore pink ribbon decals on their helmets, and the cheerleaders waved pink pompoms. The soccer and volleyball teams wore pink jerseys for their games. The volleyball team's jerseys were donated by Kirk ('87) and Diane Tepe, parents of senior setter Leah.
After the last game, "Play for the Cure" had sold almost 1,000 T-shirts and raised nearly $5,500.
"We gave a portion of the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the rest to the Newbys," says Rosenbaum. "Both were very grateful."
Photo: Dressed in pink, junior Sarah Phipps from Memphis, Tenn., returns the ball to help the Lady Bisons defeat University of Arkansas-Monticello in five sets. Even the opposition got in the spirit of "Play for the Cure," donning pink ribbons.
Lady Runners 20th at Nationals
Suffering from the effects of extreme cold and, for at least two members of the women's cross country team, their first-ever encounters with snow, the Lady Bisons placed 20th of 24 teams at the NCAA Division II National Meet Nov. 22 in Slippery Rock, Pa.
The top Lady Bison finisher was sophomore Rysper Sirma, who placed 90th in 23 minutes 38 seconds. Junior Esther Komen placed 102nd in 23:47, junior Katy Grant was 126th in 24:09, freshman Gladys Kimtai was 138th in 24:24, and junior Gosia Drazkowska placed 156th in 24:54.
The team won its fourth consecutive Gulf South Conference Women's Cross-Country Championship, claiming the top three individual spots for 22 total points. The Lady Bisons finished second at regionals in Searcy with 47 points. Sirma was the team's top runner and finished in fifth place in 22:38.
Football Offense Breaks Records
The 2008 football team struggled to a 2-9 record, dropping six games by eight points or less, but arguably had the best offense in the history of the program. The Bisons compiled 5,051 yards in 11 games, surpassing the 5,000-yard plateau for the first time. The majority of those yards, 4,187, came through the air.
Leading the offense was a trio of wide receivers. Junior Kurt Adams broke the team's single-season record with 1,122 receiving yards on 61 receptions. Adams, who had 11 receiving touchdowns, earned Second-Team All-GSC honors. Sophomore Jordan Watson was second with 808 receiving yards on 51 receptions, and junior Zac Ross led the team with 65 receptions for 523 yards. Quarterback David Knighton completed 57 percent of his passes for 3,834 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Senior left guard Ross Conn was also a key ingredient in the offense. Conn started all 42 games in his career and earned All-GSC honors three times.
Defensively, senior linebacker Sevohn Greer earned All-GSC honors after leading the team with 99 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. He also broke the Bison record with seven forced fumbles. Sophomore linebacker Jason Thomasson was second on the team with 89 tackles.
Special teams took two All-GSC awards. Junior Daniel Phipps was selected First-Team All-GSC, and senior Ryan Ferrell connected on a school-record 18 field goals, earning Second-Team honors.
Men's Soccer Returns to Tourney
The men's soccer team set a program record for Gulf South Conference wins and qualified for its second straight GSC Tournament in 2008. Under the direction of GSC Coach of the Year, Dr. Greg Harris, the Bisons went 3-3 in conference play with each of the losses coming by only one goal. The season concluded with a 3-1 loss to University of Montevallo in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
The team, which set a school record with 43 goals scored, had four players earn All-GSC honors. Scoring team-high 11 goals, freshman Phillip McCormick was a First-Team honoree and GSC Freshman of the Year. Senior Odie Guzman was also First Team and tied for the lead with five assists. Second-Team honorees included senior Carter Truax (6 goals, 5 assists) and junior Chad Marshall (2 goals, 2 assists).
With Marshall as its top defender, the defense tied a school record with five shutouts.
The 2008 women's soccer team played its season with only one senior, forward Lauren Stark, but the play of underclassmen showed that there are good things to come for the Lady Bisons. One of those highlights as freshman forward Chelsea Brandon who earned Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year after tying a school record with 17 goals, nearly half of the team's 39-goal tally for the season. Junior midfielder Minnie Guzman joined Brandon on the GSC's post-season honor roll. Guzman, who had two goals and six assists, earned Second-Team All-GSC. The Lady Bisons finished the season with a 7-9-1 overall record and a 2-5-1 record in the GSC.
Junior outside hitter Manuela Nesheva earned Gulf South Conference West Division Player of the Year honors and helped the Lady Bison volleyball team to a 24-9 overall record and a berth in the semifinals of the GSC Tournament.
The Lady Bisons had three players earn First-Team All-GSC — Nesheva, senior middle blocker Shellie Rummer, and senior setter Leah Tepe. Sophomore Emily Tate earned Second-Team honors.
The Lady Bisons ranked in the top 30 nationally in three statistical categories — 20th in kills per set, 22nd in assists per set, and 28th in hitting percentage. Nesheva ranked third nationally in kills per set (4.59), and Tepe was 15th in assists per set (11.04).