A quick look back at Fall sports

By on December 4, 2012

It was the summer of 1977 when the powers that be decided it was time to break the ties that bound UAB to the University of Alabama’s athletic department in an effort to begin UAB’s first athletic program and create the Blazer identity.

This was the summer legendary Coach Gene Bartow, who passed away earlier this year after a two year battle with stomach cancer, was hired as the first athletic director and head men’s Basketball coach ushering in an era that would not be soon forgotten.

A few years later the athletic department would swell to include Women’s Basketball, Baseball, Men and Women’s Golf, as well as Men and Women’s Soccer. The history of UAB’s athletic department is a story of both growth and determination.

As with any new program there were a number of disappointments and setbacks in the beginning, but after 35 years and a number of additional sports teams being added to the arsenal, the Blazers now compete at the country’s highest level in almost every sport.

So far the Blazers athletic department has had an incredible start to the 2012-2013 year, and as we near the end of the term, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from this season.
The UAB’s Men’s Baseball teams 2012 season was one of the most prolific since the teams inception and culminated with the Blazers being crowned Conference USA Champions for the very first time. The Blazers having been ranked seventh seed overall made Conference USA history this year as it was the first time that a seventh seed team walked away with the title. After securing the Conference USA Championship, the Blazers were consequently invited to the NCAA Regional Tournament, a feat not achieved since 1991.

UAB has had several student athletes who were chosen for the Conference USA all star team in the past but this season there were more invitations extended to Green and Gold players than all the other seasons combined. Michael Busby, Keith DePew, John Frost, Chase Mallard, Ryan Nance and Jeff Schalk were all invited to play on the all-star team. Busby, who was named team MVP, was also responsible for pitching a complete shut out game against Houston back in April. This was the first time a UAB pitcher had pitched a shut out game since Jeff Brown did it back in 2004. While Busby’s feat was certainly impressive, the display of athletic ability Dillon Napoleon exhibited against No. 16 Clemson in the 2012-2013 season opener was not only the stuff of legend but it also earned Napoleon a Conference USA player of the week commendation. In addition to Busby and Napoleon the Blazers are also fortunate to have Ben Bullard on the squad. Bullard, who made UAB and Conference USA history this year, struck out 15 Michigan players at the Coastal Carolina Classic. As a result of his stellar performance during that game Bullard was recognized as one of only six players selected from across the country as a Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

UAB’s Baseball team is not the only squad to have a good season this year, the Green and Gold’s Men’s Soccer team ended their season with an overall record of 10-7-1 earning them an at-large bid to the NCAA College Cup tournament. The Blazers would fall to long time rival Charlotte in the first round of the playoffs, suffering almost the same fate as last year when they were bested by Charlotte in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The UAB men’s soccer team bids farewell to several seniors who have been instrumental in the Blazers success over the last four seasons. Kofi Gyawu, Reed Mattie, Mladen Lemez and Milan Milinkovic are all moving on to the next chapter in their lives leaving behind them a legacy for the new team to cultivate.

UAB’s Women’s soccer team was not as fortunate as the Men’s this season. The Lady Blazers finished their season with an overall record of 2-8. For head coach Harold Warrens second season things did not go nearly as well as one would like but that is expected when you have a team of nearly all freshmen, playing more than half your games on the road, back to back. The UAB Women soccer team will have a lot of work to do in order to be prepared for next season but one thing that is exciting is the energy that surrounds the team. These ladies do not mind getting dirty and with a little more finesse and practice the Women’s soccer team will be a force to be reckoned with.

As the semester winds down there are still several sports being played namely Men and Women’s basketball who are both off to decent starts. Earlier this year the Blazers selected a new head coach for the Men’s basketball team. They were looking for someone to revive the program and restore it to the glory days of Gene Bartow and many think they have found that in Jerrod Hasse. Hasse played for Roy Williams at Kentucky and has spent the past 13 years with Williams working on his staff with the Jayhawks and moving with him to North Carolina. 2012-2013 marks coach Hasse first season with the Blazers and they have already shown signs that this is a very different team. The Blazers are currently 5-4 on the season and with plenty of ball left to be played the Green and Gold has a good shot at making a memorable run this year.

While the Men’s Basketball team is rebuilding, the UAB Women’s basketball team is clicking on all cylinders as head coach Audra Smith leads her team in one of the best starts in program history. The Lady Blazers currently have an overall record of 9-2. There are a lot of new faces on this year’s squad but what has helped UAB more than anything else has been their defensive effort, speed and depth. The Blazers have been able to clamp down defensively and hold their opponents to an average of 50 points per game this semester. As the season continues we will see whether the Lady Blazers are able to continue this trend and if so we may be looking at a record setting year.

Another new addition to the Blazer athletic department this year was Garrick McGee who replaced Neil Callaway as UAB’s head football coach in December 2011. McGee joins the Blazers from Arkansas and has promised that in the coming seasons we will see a different team than we have presently. Coach McGee gave a heartfelt speech at the Riverchase Galleria just before the season began admonishing everyone one in the city to play their part and rally behind UAB’s athletic department and together we would be victorious.

While that flame is still being fanned the Blazers had a sub par performance this year finishing the season 3-9. However all was not lost on the season, there were several players who stood out and were recognized by Conference USA officials most notably RB Darrin Reaves who was named Conference USA Offensive Player-of-the week following his 184 yard/2 touchdown performance against Marshall about a month ago. WR Jackie Williams who has had at least one reception in each game he has played in as a Blazer was also highlighted as the leagues Special Teams player-of-the week after he returned a punt 79 yards for the score in the same game as the Blazers blew past the Thundering Heard.

Off the field it was UAB long snapper Taylor Klein who was named as one of 14 Conference USA players chosen for the 2012 All-Academic team. The all-academic team consists of student-athletes who have earned a minimum 3.2 cumulative GPA or better and are a starter or key reserve on their team. Klein, who has a 3.57 grade point average, hails from Lexington, KY and has made the Conference USA Honor Roll for the past four years.

UAB was able to retain seven of its offensive starters as well as four from the defensive side of the line from last year but the Blazers are still considered one of the nation’s youngest teams with a total of 47 starts this year among true and redshirt freshman. The Blazers are now concentrating on next seasons recruiting efforts as well as getting everyone healthy. If all goes according to McGee’s plan and we each play our part, we should be in for a tremendous 2013-2014 winning season.

Many students and alumni may not realize that UAB also has a Men’s and Women’s Golf team. These lucky students get to travel around the country playing Golf at various country clubs and PGA style courses. While this may sound fun there is a lot of hard work that comes with the territory but the Blazers made it simple easy this semester. UAB’s Men’s Golf team recently wrapped up the Warrior Wave Intercollegiate Tournament held in Princeville Hawaii, to close out the fall season. Several of UABS student-athletes performed extremely well but most notably Sophomore Paul Dunne who led the way for the Blazers in the tournament, carding a team low 65 (-7) in the third round to jump up from a tie for 21st place to finish in a three-way tie for fifth with a final total of five-under 211. Just a few weeks before UAB’s Men’s Golf team competed in the Warrior Wave Intercollegiate the Women’s Golf team showed their opponents what UAB was all about at the Fall Beach Blast in Gulf shores, Al where the Lady Blazers finished third overall to wrap up their season. Both the Men’s and Women’s Golf teams finished with average records this fall, and both teams were able to lay the proper foundation to build upon and improve in order to be ready for the spring. The spring season for Men’s golf kicks off February 9-10 at the Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Fl while the Ladies will begin a few weeks later with the USA Women’s Invitational which will be held in Mobile, AL.

The history of UAB’s athletic department is remarkable and many cannot believe that the Blazers have come as far as they have in such a short period of time. If each student, player, alumni, staff and community member does his or her part UAB’s athletic department may soon be able to not only be able to compete at the highest level of College Sports but win BIG as well.

Chase Cole
Staff Writer

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