COVID, what? Mocs athletes score a 90% percent graduation rate and roll up wins too.
by Chuck Wasserstrom
WWhile UTC varsity athletic teams piled up wins in 2020-21, what is most notable is this school year was the first time in history that UTC athletics programs achieved an overall 90% Graduation Success Rate (GSR). The GSR plays a critical role in supporting the NCAA’s collegiate model of amateur college athletics. The NCAA annually releases a report with a defined cohort of students over a specified period, which measures students’ graduation success at each of its member institutions.
For the most recent cohort, the Mocs’ GSR climbed three points—the eighth consecutive year of growth. Since 2012, the UTC GSR has increased by 40 points from 50%. Leading the way were men’s cross country, women’s cross country/track and field, men’s golf, soccer, volleyball and both tennis teams with perfect 100% graduation rates. Football, softball and both basketball teams equaled or surpassed the national averages in their respective sports.
“Our No. 1 goal is to make sure our student-athletes have the support to graduate with a degree from UTC,” Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Mark Wharton says. “They put in a tremendous amount of work to be successful in the classroom and in competition, and our coaches and academic support staff continue to do outstanding work in support of these efforts.”
Despite the COVID-19 uncertainty, Mocs student-athletes continued their academic success during the fall 2020 semester, finishing the term with a 3.31 overall GPA. Women’s golf led the way by posting a 3.87 team GPA—the highest mark on record for any program at UTC. Head coach Colette Murray’s group also tied a program record with four student-athletes earning a 4.0 GPA. Overall, UTC tied a school record as 14 of its teams scored 3.0 GPA or higher.
Also because of scheduling delays due to COVID-19, beginning in February all UTC sports were in-season as the Southern Conference shifted fall 2020 sports’ regular-season competition and championships to spring 2021. Several of the traditional spring sports programs were still competing at press time. Following publication of this issue of UTC Magazine, up-to-date information for UTC spring sports teams can be found by visiting gomocs.com or the athletics department’s free Go Mocs app.
hall of famer Marisa Colston
Marisa Colston, head of the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is the 2021 inductee into the Tennessee Athletic Trainers Society (TATS) Hall of Fame. From the current TATS membership of 754 athletic trainers, Colston is one of only 30 recipients to receive this award since its inception in 1994.
“Those who receive the honor serve as an inspiration to their peers and as role models to the next generation of certified athletic trainers,” TATS President Peggy Bratt says.
Colston joined UTC as a faculty member in 1999 and became the professional level athletic training program director in 2001. “Starting a program from ground zero and having a successful accreditation—and seeing it through to another successful accreditation—has been so gratifying,” says Colston, who also is professor of athletic training for graduate students.
“Just watching what we’ve built and seeing the younger generations continue to build on the tradition that we’ve created, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
The UTC football team under Coach Rusty Wright played well and this year gained national recognition, going 3-1 in the spring and peaking at No. 9 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 following a 20-18 victory over #13 Furman on March 20. It was the Mocs’ highest ranking in the national FCS poll since the 2016 season. The football team had to wait to resume its COVID-19 delayed fall campaign until Feb. 27. They got back in action with a flourish as they won 24-13 over 11th-ranked Wofford.
Highlights from the abbreviated spring season included junior linebacker Christian Snyder earning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording 20 tackles on March 27 vs. Mercer, the highest total for a Mocs player since 2002. The previous Saturday at Furman, linebacker Ty Boeck had two takeaways and a game-high eight tackles in earning Stats Perform National Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The Mocs men’s basketball team completed its second consecutive outstanding season under Coach Lamont Paris as they finished 18-8 despite returning just one starter from last year’s 20-win team. Guards Malachi Smith (first team) and David Jean-Baptiste (second team) earned all-conference honors, becoming the first Mocs guard tandem to earn such accolades since Chad Copeland and Gary Robb in 1994. Smith averaged a team-best 16.9 points per game during the regular season, barely edging out Jean-Baptiste (16.5). Both guards finished in the SoCon Top 10 in scoring. Smith’s 8.8 rebounds per game ranked second.
The Mocs began the year going 9-0 in non-conference play. The nine straight wins to start the season established a school record, while a seven-game road winning streak tied a school mark set in 1992.
Paris was a finalist for two different national coaching awards, the Skip Prosser Man of the Year—a distinction that honors those who not only achieve success on the basketball court but display moral integrity off the floor—and the Ben Jobe Award, given to the nation’s top minority head coach.
The women’s basketball team also produced a winning season, going 14-10 overall, including a 9-5 mark during Southern Conference regular-season play. Junior forwards Eboni Williams and Abbey Cornelius were named to the all-conference second team and the league’s all-defensive team by a panel of SoCon coaches. Williams averaged a team-high 12.7 points per game during the regular season while averaging 7.9 rebounds. Cornelius scored 10.3 points per game with a team-best 8.5 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Dena Jarrells was successful on 41.2 percent of her 3-point shots (28-of-68), the second-best ratio in the conference.
The UTC beach volleyball team opened its home facility in historic fashion, picking up the program’s first-ever win with a sweep March 24 against Carson-Newman inside the UTC Sports Complex. A member of the Ohio Valley Conference, Mocs beach volleyball had 13 regular-season matches on its 2021 spring slate leading up to the conference tournament April 29-May 1 in Martin, Tennessee.
Cross Country/Track and Field
The UTC women’s track and field team opened the outdoor season on March 21 by winning the Clark Atlanta University Panther Invitational. The Mocs had four first-place finishes: senior Nicole Buehrle in the 800-meter and 1500-meter events, sophomore McKenzie Williamson in the 200-meter dash and freshman Mikah Charley in the triple jump. The Southern Conference outdoor championships were scheduled for May 1-2 in Cullowhee, North Carolina.
Ashtyn Hagood and Emmy Davis were named to the conference’s all-freshman team following the Mocs’ seventh-place finish at the SoCon indoor track and field championships Feb. 27-28 at the VMI Corps Physical Training Facility in Lexington, Virginia. Hagood was sixth in the women’s mile, setting a personal record with a time of 5:12.28. Davis was eighth in the 800-meter final with a time of 2:22.62.
One unusual highlight of cross country during last winter was competing on a snow-covered, but sunny, 31-degree day at the Golden Eagle Cross Country Invitational Feb. 19 in Cookeville, Tennessee. The UTC men’s team finished sixth.
The men’s team participated in five tournaments on the spring slate leading up to the Southern Conference Championships April 19-20 at Oconee Course in Greensboro, Georgia. The team had a pair of third-place finishes in March, placing third out of 16 teams March 4-6 at the Sea Island Invitational in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and third of 17 squads March 26-28 at the Furman Intercollegiate in Greenville, South Carolina.
The golf team was paced by redshirt junior A.J. Lintunen, who was an all-state golfer while attending Chattanooga’s Baylor High School. Lintunen, a native of Espoo, Finland, finished first at the Sea Island Invitational. He became just the fourth Moc to win multiple titles in one campaign, as he had won the J.T. Poston Invitational in the fall.
The Mocs women’s golf team had the earliest spring semester opening day in program history, beginning the season Feb. 1 at the Trinity Forest Invitational in Dallas, Texas. The eight-tournament spring slate continued through the SoCon Championships April 19-20. The team went on to tie for second at the Chattanooga Classic March 29-30 at Black Creek Club. Sophomore Esme Hamilton, who hails from Nottingham, England, placed second overall at 2-under-214. It was her second Top 3 finish of the month, as she tied for third at the University of North Florida Collegiate Invitational March 8-9.
Freshman Beatriz Barrios won SoCon Golfer of the Week honors after finishing second at the Pinetree Intercollegiate March 22-23. The previous weekend at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate March 14-16, the Seville, Spain, native placed third.
The UTC soccer team placed third in the Southern Conference regular-season standings, its best-ever finish in program history, with a 6-2-1 league mark (7-2-1 overall). The Mocs were one of four teams to advance to the SoCon postseason. Five of its conference victories were decided by one goal, including a trio of 1-0 wins and a pair of 2-1 affairs.
In 10 regular-season games, goalkeepers Ashton Shields and Abbey Sadler combined to record six shutouts while surrendering only five goals. Senior forward Chloe Arnold, who ranks among the school’s all-time leaders in goals (23 through the end of the regular season) and points (53), fittingly scored the game-winning goal on Senior Day (March 28) in a 1-0 victory over Mercer. Her goals total ranks fourth in UTC annals.
Junior defender Maggie Shaw was selected to the preseason all-conference squad by league coaches. In 2019, Shaw and the Mocs’ defense set school records for shutouts (9), goals-against average (0.75) and fewest goals allowed (15). Five of the Mocs shutouts came against league foes.
Junior infielder Emily Coltharp was selected as the 2021 conference preseason Player of the Year by vote by league coaches. Heading into the season, her .452 career on-base percentage ranked third in program history, while her .368 batting average tied for fifth.
True freshman Courtney Ball was named the SoCon Player of the Week following her first week of collegiate play. A graduate of Tattnall Square Academy in Macon, Georgia, Ball went 8-for-13 with two doubles, a homer and five RBI in her first four games for the Mocs. The infielder became just the second UTC freshman since 2008 to earn the conference’s Player of the Week award.
Four-time national champion and preseason No. 6 Oklahoma will visit Frost Stadium April 30-May 1 for a three-game series with UTC. It could potentially mark the highest-ranked opponent to visit Frost since No. 11 Notre Dame in 2011.
After going 0-5 to start the season following the COVID-19-induced shutdown in which the program was out of commission for more than three weeks, the men’s tennis team rebounded in March—finishing the month with an overall 6-8 record. The Mocs returned a core of four starters: senior Turner Voges, sophomores Tomas Rodriguez and Kerim Hyatt and freshman Jeffrey Dewald. The NCAA granted blanket participation waivers for all spring sports, so each letter winner returned to the same class he was in for the 2019-2020 season.
UTC went 7-1 to open the spring season. Junior Emma Van Hee won her first eight singles matches of 2021, extending her overall win streak to 10. Sophomore Caroline Gibbens was victorious in her first seven singles matches of 2021, dropping just one set. All six starters—and eight letter winners in total—returned from the 2020 team, keeping their year of eligibility thanks to the blanket NCAA COVID-19 waiver for spring sports.
The Mocs’ volleyball team went 6-12 overall with one of their youngest squads in recent memory. UTC started three true first-year students, one redshirt freshman, a sophomore and two juniors. In the first four matches of the 2020-2021 season, seven team members made their collegiate debuts. Paige Gallentine, a true freshman from Fenton, Michigan, won conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the week ending Feb. 22. By recording 49 digs at a 7.0-per-set average, she became the first Moc to win that defensive honor in four years.
One month later, junior libero (middle blocker) Brenna Everingham was named the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts against Samford March 21-22, averaging 6.44 digs per set on the weekend and a career-high 34 digs overall. UTC won its first four matches to begin the season, marking just the fourth time in program history that the team recorded a 4-0 or better start.
Andrew Nicholson was named the SoCon tournament’s most outstanding wrestler after winning the 165-pound title, earning an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Nicholson was the 22nd Moc to take home SoCon Tournament MVP honors since UTC joined the conference in 1978. Matthew Waddell finished runner-up at 184 pounds, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA’s for the second year in a row. Fabian Gutierrez (125 pounds) and Logan Andrew (197) were at-large selections to the NCAA tourney. It was the second time in the last three years that the Mocs sent four to the NCAA Tournament.
UTC men’s basketball coach Lamont Paris and Ken Jones, the University’s assistant athletic director for compliance, were named to the SoCon’s 15-member Racial Equity and Justice Task Force, a conference-wide panel comprised of a racially diverse group of student-athletes, coaches, campus administrators and athletics staff members.
Chris Smith, chief health affairs officer and director of the School of Nursing, and Endia Butler, student employment coordinator in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, were named to the All-Southern Conference team of distinguished faculty and staff.
UTC and the athletics department lost two great friends of the University in Frank Kinser and Jim Frost. Kinser, who passed away Dec. 4, 2020, was a longtime supporter of UTC athletics and a former UT Board of Trustees member. He established the annual Porky’s Open Golf Tournament, raising more than $1 million for the UTC athletics scholarship fund over the last 20 years.
Frost, a businessman and philanthropist, was heavily involved in the sport of softball and in youth sports. He established one of the top softball facilities in the country by building Jim Frost Stadium, home of the Mocs softball team. He passed away Jan. 7, 2021.