Softball Team Hits Home with Family Atmosphere

By Jeremy Acree

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (UTC/The Loop) – Upon first glance, it seems obvious why the Chattanooga softball team has been so successful in recent years. Jim Frost Field and the nearby indoor practice facility rival any Division I facility in the country, – they played host to the United States Olympic Team in 2000 – meaning UTC can show off one of the premier softball parks in the country to recruits from around the nation.

UTC softball coach Frank Reed stands up for his players inside the lines and out.

UTC softball coach Frank Reed stands up for his players inside the lines and out.

What isn’t so obvious is why the Lady Mocs are always up off their feet when one of their own is at bat or why they always have louder and more consistent chatter coming from the bench than their opponent. The secret to such team chemistry is Coach Frank Reed.

Reed’s family is currently close to 25 members deep. And 18 of them are girls that might fill up a cabinet or two with “No. 1 Dad” mugs for him if they weren’t economically challenged college students.

“He’s taken me in as one of his daughters,” Tara Tembey, an assistant coach and former player, said. “I’ve been a part of his family.”

Before a highly touted recruit sees the pristine ballpark, he preaches faith, family, academics and athletics, in that order.

“We sit them down and tell them that if you’re here to be a softball player 24/7, you’re in the wrong program,” Reed said.

After the initial shock of hearing about the family that is Chattanooga softball instead of the win-at-all-costs program that it’s not, most players – not to mention their parents – cannot wait to be a part of what Reed has to offer.

His method has proven to be successful, and not all of the results came with the Lady Mocs:

  • Junior College Coach of the Year in 2001 at Chattanooga State
  • 476-87 record in 10 years at Chattanooga State
  • Three-time SoCon Coach of the Year at UTC
  • Five-time SoCon Tournament Champion at UTC
  • Member of National Softball Association Hall of Fame

The Reed experience is exemplified by Tembey, who was drawn from her home in California five years ago, and still lives 3,000 miles from her parents because she loves the game and the new relatives that came along with it.

“It’s like a home away from home,” Tembey said. “[Reed] is all about faith, family, academics, and athletics, and he really stands by it.”

Tembey changed her mind at the last minute when she decided to come to UTC.

“I had originally told them no,” she said. “But I decided to give them a chance… and this has been the most solid place that I’ve been in a long time.”

She came on an official visit on her birthday weekend, and Reed – who coincidentally shares the same birthday – told her to call as soon as she made a decision.

“I think it’s because we cared about her,” Reed said. “She called me at three in the morning and said coach Reed we’re going to spend our birthdays together for the next four years.”

While another assistant coach, Brad Irwin, joked that Reed can be too nice at times, there is no doubting the results.

Reed took over the coaching job in 2002, and in eight years at UTC, he has claimed six Southern Conference titles and five trips to the NCAA regional tournament.

The Lady Mocs are on their way to yet another strong showing in the Southern Conference.

The Lady Mocs are on their way to yet another strong showing in the Southern Conference.

“The most important aspect [of coaching] is being able to relate to your players,” Reed said.

There has been some adjustment in his theories since he began coaching, and the family mentality has certainly grown.

“It used to be all about the sport,” Reed said. “I was probably a tougher coach to play for [early on]. “I’m probably still a tough coach, but I spend more time communicating with players.”

“You have to have discipline to keep respect,” said Tembey, who thought for a while but could not come up with a flaw of her former coach and now boss.

Reed doesn’t want the title of father added to his job description, but he thinks there is middle ground between disciplinarian and push-over father.

“Maybe father/authority figure,” he said. “They know how far I’m willing to bend, but at some point you just can’t bend anymore.”

Along with managing his own role, Reed has been able to find a mix between talent on the field and strong character off it. And it all starts with the atmosphere he has established.

“We found out the kids that we’ve recruited that come in and do the faith and the family are going do well academically and are going do well on the softball team,” he said. “Our kids understand that at the end of the day, softball is important, but softball is not the thing that runs the ship.”

Having Jim Frost Field to boast about doesn’t hurt either.

The Chattanooga area is stocked full of talented softball players, but Irwin and Reed both acknowledged that getting those players through the door can be more challenging than some from the west coast.

“It’s just plain ol’ UTC,” said Irwin. But after comparing the playing conditions at schools hours away, a new light is shed on the home-town team.

There are eight players on the current roster from Chattanooga and the surrounding area, proving that Reed’s coaching style – which doubles as a recruiting tool – is effective near or far.

The players who visit Chattanooga are impressed by the facilities then sucked in by the coach that makes a softball practice feel like sitting down at the dinner table for a home cooked meal.

“They tell me that I am [too nice],” Reed said. “But can you be too nice and still be somebody they respect? I’d hope to think I could be.”

Nurik Leads Lady Mocs as Freshman

By Jeremy Acree

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (UTC/The Loop) — Senior Chattanooga tennis player Kate Ksiezopolski walked up to the fence where teammate Jenna Nurik was playing and talked calmly to her, trying to get her to relax. Nurik is a freshman, and she had dropped the first set and was struggling to get into a rhythm against an opponent from UAB in a match at the UTC Tennis Courts.

Freshman Jenna Nurik has excelled in her first season as a Lady Moc.

Freshman Jenna Nurik has excelled in her first season as a Lady Moc.

Nurik had fallen 4-6 in the first set, but she went on to dominate the next two and get the win, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

These talks and reminders have become commonplace recently for Nurik, but they may be the difference between struggling through the first year of college tennis and being one of the top players in the Southern Conference.

It’s something to be expected in nearly all college sports. The freshmen get a little frustrated and need the calming senior leadership. But what was different about this situation was that Nurik was in the No. 1 singles spot, where she has been since she arrived at UTC less than a year ago.

To see the whole Lady Mocs’ roster, click here.

The Roswell, Ga., native was the third-ranked player coming out of the state in her 2009 class, but she came to Chattanooga with no expectations.

“My goal was to be .500 tops,” Nurik said. “And have fun and try to get through the semester. It never crossed my mind that I would play the one spot.”

In the fall, however, she earned the No. 1 placement and has not relinquished it since, compiling a 15-6 record over both the fall and spring seasons. Modest goals turned to carrying a team on her shoulders.

“I was just thinking I’m gonna come in as three or four and I’ll just work my way up and do what they need me to do,” Nurik said. “So when I got the one spot I was like, ‘I really need to step up.’”

A 15-7 doubles record to go along with her strong singles record shows she has been up to the challenge. But she has not done it without help.

When she talks about keys to her success, it isn’t a forehand or serve or backhand that gets mentioned first.

“Positive attitude is a huge one,” Nurik said. “[The team] can tell when I’m upset and they teach me how to be positive. Some of the critical losses we’ve had this season have hit me harder than it hit them. And they just told me to bounce back from it.”

Nurik’s talent was obvious to UTC coach Jeff Clark.

“She’s gotten a little better with each week and with each month,” said Clark. “She’s just gotten more well-rounded as a player and I’m not at all surprised by her success.

“I think she has the talent to be one of the top players in the Southern Conference every year.”

To see the rest of the UTC women’s tennis schedule, click here.

Nurik doesn’t often play like a freshman. But she is not shy about admitting there is still room to grow.

“I’m not as positive as everyone else,” Nurik said. “[When I drop a set] I’m thinking what changed, what did I do that didn’t work out as well.”

So when she is chasing down balls and out-working her opponents, there may be more behind it than talent and skill.

“[The team] is really like a family,” Nurik said. “Everyone is so supportive. It’s real easy when everyone is behind you.”

One Year Makes World of Difference for Mocs

By Jeremy Acree

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) — Just before Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman sat down for his postgame radio interview after a Senior Night win over Davidson, he spotted a few ex-players and his face lit up. They were some of the seniors from last year’s team that won the Southern Conference Tournament and went to the NCAA Tournament.

“You see this guy?” Shulman asked his wife as he laughed and pointed at Niccheaus Doaks, a forward who is now playing professionally overseas.

Keyron Sheard and the Mocs were on top of the world in 2009 after winning the SoCon Tournament.

Keyron Sheard and the Mocs were on top of the world in 2009 after winning the SoCon Tournament.

Shulman gave Doaks a big hug, rubbed the 6-foot-10 big man’s mini-afro and could barely contain his wide smile. Kevin Goffney – who has stayed at UTC to get his degree – also dropped by to say hello to Shulman, his wife and their kids. It was like a family reunion. The memories of cutting down the nets and earning an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show seemed to come flooding back for a moment.

Click here to see the 2008-09 team’s guest appearance.

How things have changed in such a short time.

Flip last year’s team upside down and it is an exact replica of the 2009-10 squad. Goffney and Doaks were two of six seniors on that team. This year, it was only Ty Patterson being honored before the Davidson game.

“It’s weird being the only senior,” Patterson said.

Guys like Zach Ferrell and Keyron Sheard were the glue that kept spirits high after a 4-12 start that included losing the first three conference games in 2008.

This season, Shulman has had to push and prod just to get Patterson to keep up.

“He has been up and down with our team,” Shulman said about Patterson. “I told him [before Senior Night] if he wanted to win that he would have to play with way more effort than he had been playing with.”

This year’s team has taken a much different path than last year’s. In that 4-12 start, the Mocs played at Tennessee, at Missouri, in Puerto Rico against Southern California and Memphis and started the Southern Conference at Davidson – which was, at the time, home to Stephen Curry.

This year the Mocs started with a blowout of Virginia Intermont and an emotional win over rival East Tennessee State. A tournament in South Padre Island and games against Georgia Tech and Missouri were added difficulty to the schedule, but the Mocs were very happy with their 8-6 record over the first 14 games.

The Mocs started off the 2009-10 season strong, but have since fallen in the SoCon rankings.

The Mocs started off the 2009-10 season strong, but have since fallen in the SoCon rankings.

“I am excited,” Shulman said after his team beat Eastern Kentucky in the final tune-up before full-fledged conference play began. “We are not a finished product. But we battled… so that is promising.”

See the Mocs’ full schedule and more statistics here.

Things haven’t been so smooth since that point. Going into the Davidson game, the Mocs had lost nine of their last 11.

It was at this point last year when the team was coming together and looking forward to making a run in the tournament.

The 2008-09 group won 11-of-14 heading into Senior Night. The starting lineup hardly ever changed, and every man knew his role.

Last year the emotion of six seniors’ final game in the McKenzie Arena was too much to overcome, and the Mocs lost to College of Charleston. Then they lost to Appalachian State and Western Carolina on the road to finish the season with three straight defeats. But they managed to clinch a first-round bye in the SoCon Tournament – no team has ever won without it – and took advantage of the support they received while playing the tournament in Chattanooga.

After six players graduated last year, Ty Patterson was the only senior night honoree in 2010.

After six players graduated last year, Ty Patterson was the only senior night honoree in 2010.

That may be the biggest obstacle for this year’s team.

The ticket to the Big Dance does not go through McKenzie Arena. This year the SoCon Tournament is in Charlotte, N.C., and the Mocs will not have the luxury of playing one less game.

That change of venue hasn’t dampened the Mocs’ self-belief, though. The brash confidence is another difference youth has brought in 2010.

“We expected everyone to doubt us and think that we’re out,” sophomore Keegan Bell said. “But we have a chance to do something special. We believe it. This year is not over at all.”

Keegan Bell thinks the Mocs can turn it around.

Entire Rhode Island High School Staff Fired

By Ray Henry

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The entire staff of teachers fired in a radical attempt to improve one of the worst performing high schools in Rhode Island will appeal their dismissals to school authorities, the head of the teachers union said Thursday.

The board of trustees overseeing the school system in Central Falls, one of the poorest communities in the state, voted Tuesday to fire 88 high school teachers, administrators and other staff by the end of the year.

Those teachers will appeal their dismissals to the school district’s board of trustees, said Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers’ Union. She plans to meet with union lawyers and other labor representatives in the coming days before deciding whether to take additional legal action.

Sessums said she still hopes negotiations will resume, although her union has not made any requests to school officials to continue talks.

“We need to get together, we need to talk about this, we need reach a resolution,” Sessums said.

The firings came after the state identified Central Falls High School as among the six worst in the state and ordered it to make improvements by selecting one of four reform plans outlined in federal law.

Just 7 percent of 11th graders tested in the fall were proficient in math. Only 33 percent were proficient in writing, and just 55 percent were proficient in reading. In 2009, just 48 percent of students graduated within four years.

Superintendent Frances Gallo said she initially hoped teachers would agree to a package of changes, including lengthening the school day, requiring teachers to offer more tutoring, get additional training and eat lunch with students once a week.

Gallo said she decided to fire her teaching staff after union officials said they were not getting paid enough for the additional work.

The school district offered to pay teachers extra for getting training over the summer and for other professional development time during the school year, Gallo said. But she did not have the money to raise salaries for extending the school day or for making teachers eat lunch with students once a week.

“They absolutely refused to work without pay,” Gallo said. “Eating with students, they considered it a duty, not as I had hoped a relationship-building opportunity.”

Gallo said she does not intend to resume negotiations over the firings, although she said there will be talks with the union over other aspects of the school’s turnaround plan. Gallo hopes to rehire some of the dismissed teachers, she said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Winter Weather Shuts Down Government Offices

By Jessica Gresko

Washington (AP) — If snow keeps 230,000 government employees home for the better part of a week, will anyone notice?

With at least another foot of snow headed for Washington, Philadelphia and New York, we’re about to find out. The federal government in the nation’s capital has largely been shut down since Friday afternoon, when a storm began dumping up to 3 feet of snow in some parts of the region. Offices could remain closed at least through Wednesday.

So far, the effects have been negligible. Many essential government services are performed at offices around the country, and about 85 percent of federal employees work outside the Washington region anyway. Others were working from home despite the snow. An IRS spokeswoman said tax returns should not be affected.

“Anything that is critical is going to get done,” said Linda Springer, a former director of the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal work force of nearly 2 million workers.

David Fiore, who works for the federal government’s Export-Import Bank of the U.S., stocked up on groceries Tuesday in Washington and said he planned to do some work from home, including a 2 p.m. conference call.

“They’re open in Turkey. I’m getting e-mails from Morocco,” he said. “The work goes on.”

Philadelphia and Washington needed just 9 more inches of snow each to log the snowiest winters since at least 1884, the first year records were kept.

Even before the storm arrived in the nation’s capital, the House announced it was scrapping the rest of its workweek. Several hearings and meetings were postponed, including one planned for Wednesday on Toyota’s massive recalls.

Agencies from the Federal Communications Commission to the Federal Trade Commission canceled hearings and planned announcements because of the looming snow. Shuttering the agencies for a day costs the government an estimated $100 million in lost productivity and related costs.

Down Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House decided to move up by a day a Black History Month concert featuring Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and Natalie Cole. It had been slated for Wednesday, but was instead moved to Tuesday night.

President Barack Obama held a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders ahead of the storm Tuesday and joked that it went so well that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had gone out to play in the snow.

“In fact, I understand that McConnell and Reid are out doing snow angels on the South Lawn together,” Obama joked as he made an unannounced stop in the White House briefing room.

Despite one of the snowiest winter's in Washington D.C.'s history, officials say the work must go on.

Despite one of the snowiest winters in Washington D.C.'s history, officials say the work must go on.

The snow started in the Midwest before moving into the Mid-Atlantic region, where utility workers struggled to restore power already knocked out by a weekend blizzard.

Schools were closed and commuters found slick, slushy roads from Minneapolis and Chicago to Louisville, Ky. Hundreds of flights were canceled in Chicago as the storm moved across Illinois, where up to 10 inches were forecast.

Powerful winds and snow were expected to hit Mid-Atlantic states by the afternoon, potentially dropping as much as 20 more inches on Washington and 18 inches near Philadelphia by Wednesday night.

New York City announced schools would have a rare snow day Wednesday, only the third in six years. Southwest Airlines and US Airways planned to halt flights out of Philadelphia at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and Washington’s airports expected flights to stop around 5 p.m.

Continental Airlines canceled all 400 of its Wednesday flights at Newark Liberty Airport, as well as several hundred more regional flights on affiliate airlines.

In Chicago, Southwest Airlines canceled all of its flights at Midway Airport through Wednesday morning.

James Allen, 25, of Northampton, England, arrived Sunday on the first flight to land at Baltimore’s airport after its runway reopened from the last storm. He was visiting friend Julia Tracey, 25, a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The two were at a downtown grocery store Tuesday searching in vain for fresh herbs for a recipe.

Allen had planned to stay in Baltimore for a few days, but “it’s probably going to turn into a few weeks now.”

The storm brought out the best in some. In Alexandria, Va., a family living at the bottom of a hill on an unplowed street needed to get their teenage daughter whose cancer is in remission to an important doctor’s appointment.

Neighbors quickly converged, shoveling the entire street before many had even had cleared their own driveways. Up the street, children tired of playing outside in the snow created craft items and had an impromptu sale to benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

In West Virginia, where 40 counties were under winter storm warnings, Gov. Joe Manchin urged people to make sure snow was cleared from roofs of public buildings to avoid a repeat of 1998, when roof collapses were blamed for at least three deaths.

In rural Maryland, a state police helicopter rescued a man stranded in a remote mountaintop home where he had been staying alone with no electricity since the storm this past weekend.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, power was still out for tens of thousands of homes and businesses, and utilities said deep snow was hindering some crews trying to fix damaged power lines before the next storm.

Michael Giambattista, 56, a truck driver from Elizabeth, Pa., had been without power since late Friday. He was staying at a Red Cross shelter near his home with his girlfriend and 13-year-old son.

“I’ve never been without power like this,” said Giambattista, who was trying to help keep spirits up among the more than 50 people at the shelter. “Mother Nature, you can’t battle her. She’s going to win.”


Associated Press writers Nafeesa Syeed, Laurie Kellman, Philip Elliott, Jennifer C. Kerr, Ken Thomas and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Dan Nephin in Elizabeth, Pa.; and Nancy Benac in Arlington, Va., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Statum Leads Mocs’ Wrestlers into Senior Night

By Jeremy Acree

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Chattanooga, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) — Chattanooga wrestler Josh Statum had pictured his senior night a little differently. He imagined when he was honored, just before the Feb. 6 match in the Maclellan Gymnasium, Cody Cleveland and Joey Knox would be there with him, in sweats and singlets, preparing for their final home match.

Cleveland and Knox will be there and honored as seniors, but they will be in street clothes, cheering from the bleachers.

On a team without designated captains, Statum, Cleveland and Knox had established themselves as leaders. Cleveland and Knox had each been to the NCAA Tournament in 2009, and Cleveland also went in 2008. Statum finished second in the Southern Conference in 2009, and after being beaten in the wrestle-offs at his normal 125 class by Bucky Johnson, agreed to move up a weight class at the start of this season to help out the team.

Click here to see the entire UTC wrestling roster.

Senior UTC wrestler, Josh Statum, takes on a UNC Greensboro wrestler at Maclellan Gymnasium.

Senior UTC wrestler, Josh Statum, takes on a UNC Greensboro wrestler at Maclellan Gymnasium.

Each got off to a good start in 2009-10, led by Cleveland, who was 8-0 and ranked No. 10 in the nation. Knox fared well at the Indiana Duels and Statum finished a strong eighth at the Hokie Open. That was November.

Since December, Statum has been the only one of the three to see any action. Knox and Cleveland were lost to shoulder and knee injuries, respectively, before Southern Conference action began.

That left Statum as the only senior consistently in the lineup. It also made him the unquestioned leader at practice, with Knox and Cleveland spending their time in the training room.

He was the one giving the pick-me-ups at grueling 6 a.m. workouts and giving the slap on the behind when cutting weight got tough.

“I was expecting me, Cody and Joey being in the lineup and making the NCAA [Tournament],” Statum said. “I was full-on expecting us three to be right there working together. It’s not too much of a burden, but yeah, you can feel [the pressure].”

First-year coach Heath Eslinger is proud of the way Statum has handled the situation.

“Josh Statum has emerged as a premier leader on our team,” Eslinger said. “He has done a great job of doing every single thing we need him to do in the way we need him to do it. Whether we ask him to come in on a Sunday at 3:30 with coach [Rocco] Mansueto to drill or an early-morning workout that you’re not really awake for, he’s gone in there with a great attitude.”

Statum has established himself as the leader for the Mocs after the team lost two of its best wrestlers to injury.

Statum has established himself as the leader for the Mocs after the team lost two of its best wrestlers to injury.

Because it is his first season, this is the first senior class Eslinger will let go. Knox and Cleveland are applying for medical redshirts in hopes of getting another year of eligibility, but Statum will not be back on the mat in the fall.

He hopes to get his teaching degree after a fifth year of school and return home to Homewood, Ala., to teach and coach. Eslinger hopes Statum will take away much more than wrestling skills when he leaves UTC.

“My focus isn’t wrestling,” Eslinger says. “My focus is life. I want guys who leave here to be good husbands and good fathers and good citizens who are doing the right things.

“Your job is to act like a man and a person of character. We literally talk about that on a daily basis.”

When Statum is honored before his last match at UTC, he will take away more than accomplishments he earned through athletics.

“As an individual, going through four years of wrestling, that has prepared me for life,” Statum said. “Wrestling’s taught me to be disciplined enough to just do what has got to be done.”

For now, his goals are still focused around wrestling. After taking on Northern Iowa and Appalachian State Saturday, the Mocs have trips to Oklahoma and VMI. Then comes the chance to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Southern Conference Tournament.

To see what’s next for Statum and the Mocs, click here to see their schedule.

“We put down goals on index cards at the beginning of the year,” Statum said. “Mine were win conference and do some damage in the NCAAs. I know we’ve got five more weeks left.

“The closer it gets, the more I get pumped about it.”

Statum may not have Cleveland or Knox by his side, but his goals—in wrestling and in life—are still very much within reach.

Mocs Rebuild in 2009-10, Hope for Bright Future

By Jeremy Acree

CHATTANOOGA, TENN. (UTC/The Loop) – After winning the Southern Conference Tournament and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament last year, the men’s basketball team is in the midst of a transition year. All five starters are gone from last year, including leading scorer Stephen McDowell and leading rebounder Nicchaeus Doaks – both of which were named to All-SoCon teams last year. The 2009-10 Mocs have only one senior, Ty Patterson, on the roster.

To add to the regular difficulties of regrouping from year to year, Patterson was suspended for the first eight games of the year and three other upper classmen went out due to injury before even an exhibition game was played. But the Mocs still managed to start the season strong.

Easy wins against Virginia Intermont and Tennessee Wesleyan padded the confidence, but a victory over long-time rival East Tennessee State really got Coach John Shulman excited.

“Before the game I had no idea,” Shulman said after the ETSU game. “I had nothing to go on. We have a brand new team with four guys out, but we grew up in the second half.”

Conference play was a different story, however. The Mocs were pummeled, 82-63, by Elon in their first SoCon matchup of the year and as of Jan. 25, were on a four-game losing streak after falling to Wofford, 73-68.

“It’s different,” sophomore Keegan Bell said after the Elon game. “This was a conference game so there was more intensity.”

Conference play takes adjustment, but there have been bright spots as well. A six game winning streak at the start of the year included double-digit wins over SoCon foes. With inexperience and young players, time is the greatest asset.

“To be a good team you have to go through some adversity,” Shulman said. “We are going to grow, learn, and get better.”

Southern Conference Surprises

By Pete Iacobelli

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — These days, several Southern Conference schools have pulled off attention getting upsets — crashing the party once hosted by Davidson and Stephen Curry.

The mid-major league has had its share of surprises wins this season: Western Carolina won at Louisville, Wofford has a pair victories over Southeastern Conference foes Georgia and South Carolina, and the College of Charleston knocked off No. 9 North Carolina earlier this month.

“I think the success that other teams in the conference have had against, whether its an SEC team or a Big East team, that gets everybody’s attention,” said Davidson coach Bob McKillop.

The SoCon’s success has raised the league’s profile, not to mention faint hopes of one day getting more than the league champion into the NCAA tournament.

Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino recently talked with two members of the tournament selection committee and both gave credit to the league and what it’s accomplished.

“These do give us a window of opportunity,” Iamarino said Tuesday. “Victories like the College of Charleston’s can only help.”

Davidson’s Curry had carried the conference on his slim shoulders the previous three seasons. The highlight was the Wildcats amazing run to the NCAA tournament’s final eight two seasons ago. Curry put on show for a national audience, leading Davidson to tournament wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin. They came within a basket of defeating eventual NCAA champion Kansas in the round of eight.

The success made Curry and Davidson a hot TV commodity and a singular, SoCon sensation.

College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins says it got so that he wouldn’t mention the Southern Conference, just that “we played in the that league with Davidson and Stephen Curry.”

What changed? Maybe, Iamarino says, the rest of the league’s desire to match the Wildcats.

“I don’t think any of the coaches, athletic directors or league presidents for that matter wanted to say, ‘OK, let’s let Davidson carry the banner,'” the commissioner said.

The first hint of a Southern Conference surge came with Wofford’s 60-57 win at Georgia before Thanksgiving.

The rise took steam in December when Western Carolina stunned a near-capacity crowd at storied Freedom Hall with its 91-83 win over the Cardinals. Wofford kept things rolling a week later with its second SEC victory, 68-61, over South Carolina.

Nothing, though, made more of a SoCon splash than College of Charleston’s comeback victory over the Tar Heels in Charleston on Jan. 4. The College of Charleston fell behind by 11 points with four minutes left, rallied to tie on Andrew Goudelock’s high, floating 3-pointer in the last seconds and pull away in overtime for the 82-79 victory.

The win was Charleston’s first against a ranked opponent since its stellar decade of the 1990s, when the Cougars made four NCAA tournament appearances and posted a Davidson-style upset against Maryland in the 1997 NCAAs.

Every day, Cougar guard Donavan Monroe passes reminders of that success — and endures questions about how soon the program will get back there.

“With a win like this, that puts us up there,” Monroe said. “It puts us at the top of College of Charleston basketball.”

Apparently so, since even the chair Cremins sat in during the upset is now up for auction to interested, rabid fans.

Cremins is hopeful his team can live up to that success during league play, although Southern Conference teams have demonstrated with their out-of-league play that each game will be well contested. So far, the Cougars

“With Davidson, we were a one-horse race,” Cremins said. “Now with Curry gone, I see a lot more balance.”

Wofford coach Mike Young thinks play throughout the league has risen for several years, enough that any of these wins should surprise anyone.

“We’re not going to try and convince you that this is the SEC or the ACC,” Young said. “But this is a terrific mid-level league.”

All that success might turn back around on Southern Conference coaches who expect future trouble luring teams from power conferences to their campuses.

“I can assure you that North Carolina is never, ever going to go to a Southern Conference opponent’s gym,” Davidson’s McKillop said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.