News & Stories

July 6, 2021

Back in Action

perfect game by baseball pitcher Patrick O’Rourke, a sudden-death championship-winning goal in men’s soccer, a do-or-die two-point conversion in football and a men’s basketball title won in the friendly confines of the Cage Center were among the high points of a semester like no other in the history of Berry athletics.

Nearly a year after COVID-19 brought competition worldwide to a screeching halt in March 2020, intercollegiate athletics returned to Berry with a flourish. Shaking off the uncertainty of fall, when Berry paused along with the rest of the Southern Athletic Association, action resumed across all sports. This resulted in a program first, as all 23 teams were “in season” during the same semester.

“This year, more than ever, our rallying cry of ‘We all row!’ rang true,” said Director of Athletics Dr. Angel Mason, pointing to the efforts of support personnel in areas such as sports medicine who worked overtime to provide necessary care for competitors while also overseeing weekly COVID testing.

Testing protocols, along with limits on attendance and preventive measures such as masks and social distancing, helped preserve the health of participants. And while the venues looked a little different as a result, nothing could diminish the enthusiasm of student-athletes who were thrilled to be pursuing their championship dreams once again.

Berry football coach Tony Kunczewski gave voice to that spirit in a tweet shared after his team opened its much-delayed “2020” season with a come-from-behind victory over Birmingham-Southern on Feb. 13.

“Saturday was our first game in 447 days,” he remarked. “We showed a lot of physical, mental and emotional toughness! Thankful to our players, coaches, athletic trainers and staff. It was a monumental task just to be able to take the field let alone to leave it 1-0.”

The football team swept its four-game mini season – winning three by a combined five points – to claim their fifth straight SAA championship. On the same day they lifted their trophy in Little Rock, Ark., the men’s basketball team did the same back home, putting the wraps on a sparkling 13-1 season.

“To win the regular season and SAA Conference Tournament is a testament to the hard work and determination of our student-athletes,” said head coach Mitch Cole, who joined Kunczewski, Paul Flinchbaugh (men’s swimming and diving) and David Beasley (baseball) as 2021 SAA Coach of the Year honorees. “This was a complete group effort not only from our current team, but also from the players who laid a winning foundation over the last three years.”

That same type of effort was seen in sports such as volleyball and baseball, both of which claimed SAA regular-season championships, and men’s soccer, which won the SAA postseason crown thanks to Nathan Carlson’s double-overtime strike in the tournament final.

All-SAA honors, personal bests and other individual accomplishments too numerous to mention highlighted competition in all sports, fueling a tremendous sense of pride – and gratitude – for Mason and the Berry coaches.

“Not only did we do our part to stay together for the semester, stay active as a team and give ourselves the opportunity to compete – we excelled!” Mason exclaimed. “That is how we ‘Battle Berry.’”

HIGHLIGHTS

SAA Postseason Championships
Men’s basketball, football, men’s soccer

Top 25 National Rankings During ’20-21 Academic Year
Baseball, football, men’s basketball, softball, volleyball, women’s golf, women’s track and field, men’s soccer

NCAA Division III Player of the Week Recognition
Volleyball, women’s tennis, football, softball, baseball

Undefeated
Equestrian team in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association format competitions

SAA Coach of the Year Honors
Men’s swimming and diving, men’s basketball, football, baseball

Top-Four SAA Regular-Season Finishes
Men’s basketball (first), women’s basketball (fourth), football (first), women’s soccer (third), men’s soccer (second), volleyball (first), baseball (first), softball (second), men’s lacrosse (fourth), women’s tennis (third)

Top-Four SAA Postseason Performances
Men’s and women’s cross country (both third), men’s and women’s swimming and diving (second and fourth, respectively), men’s basketball (first), football (first), women’s soccer (second), men’s soccer (first), volleyball (second), baseball (second), softball (second), women’s golf (second), men’s golf (fourth), men’s and women’s track and field (both third), men’s lacrosse (fourth)
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