magazine-category: Athletics

Reaching Higher Ground

Bulldog Nation

GWU Athletics Achieving Championships Throughout the Fields of Life

With its team championship wins in 2022-23, Gardner-Webb University became the only Division I university in North Carolina to earn titles in football, women’s basketball and men’s basketball since 2019. On their way to the championships, the programs and student-athletes set records as well.

GWU also earned a men’s tennis Big South co-championship for the regular season, and individual championships in Southern Conference wrestling, and Big South track and field.

“Intercollegiate athletics has seen more change in the past three years than in the last 30,” shared Dr. Andrew T. Goodrich, vice president and director of GWU Athletics. “As a result of these changes, the success of the most watched and visible collegiate sports of football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball is more important now than it has ever been in our past, which is why our results, which are unmatched by any other D-I university in the state of North Carolina, should be celebrated and known throughout our community and across the nation.”  

The Dance to Remember

The first history-making win came on March 10, 2019, when the buzzer ended the Big South Conference Championship game. On that day, a celebration began as the Runnin’ Bulldogs Men’s Basketball Team realized, “We’re going dancin.’” The victory advanced Gardner-Webb to the NCAA Men’s Tournament for the first time in program history. The team’s win continued a rich basketball tradition at GWU—the Runnin’ Bulldogs previously made national tournament appearances at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and NCAA Division II levels. The historical season also inspired the award-winning documentary “The Dancin’ Bulldogs: A 16 Seed’s Journey to the NCAA Tournament” and the CBS documentary short “Four Sides of the Story: March Madness Begins.”

Gridiron Victories Offer NCAA Playoff Upset and Team Honors

Then, on Nov. 19, 2022, in Spangler Stadium, the Runnin’ Bulldogs football team topped off a historic season by winning its first Big South conference title since 2003. In that game, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran for 240 yards and used a 21-point second quarter to roll to a 38-17 win over North Carolina A&T. The victory sent the team to its first-ever NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs, where they won a first-round game on the road against Eastern Kentucky University, 52-41.

During the playoffs, home teams were 20-2, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs were one of only two road squads to earn a win. Additionally, Gardner-Webb dominated the Big South honors for 2022. Quarterback Bailey Fisher was Offensive Player of the Year, defensive lineman Ty French was named Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Ty Anderson was the Defensive Freshman of the Year, linebacker William McRainey was voted the Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year by the league, and GW head coach Tre Lamb was selected Coach of the Year. The conference win in 2022 marked the Runnin’ Bulldogs third overall Big South football title.

Women’s Basketball Brings History Home

The Gardner-Webb Women’s Basketball team took its place in the history books on March 5, 2023, by winning both the Big South Tournament and the Big South regular season. At the championship game, the women claimed their 21st consecutive victory to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. They also finished 21-0 against Big South Competition, the best mark in the history of the league. And in that final game, forward Jhessyka Williams scored a season high 33 points, tying a championship game mark for most points scored by an individual.

Gardner-Webb Women’s Basketball earned four spots on the All-Big South Conference team and secured three of the league’s major awards.

Williams (Augusta, Ga.) was unanimously named Big South Player of the Year, forward Alasia Smith (Johnson City, Tenn.) was named Big South Defensive Player of the Year and head coach Alex Simmons was named Big South Coach of the Year.

Guards Lauren Bevis (High Point, N.C.) and Ki’Ari Cain (Sumter, S.C.) joined Williams and Smith on the All-Big South Conference team, with Bevis earning first-team honors and Cain earning an honorable mention selection. Bevis was also runner up for Big South Player of the Year.

Guard L’Mia Littlejohn (Shelby, N.C.) earned a spot on the Big South Conference All-Academic Team. Littlejohn
is an exercise science major who carries a 3.75 cumulative GPA. She plans to pursue a career in physical therapy upon graduation. A top reserve, Littlejohn played in 28 games during the regular season and knocked down 40.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

Williams was the first Gardner-Webb standout to be named Player of the Year since Margaret Roundtree in 2010. The team finished the season with a 29-5 record.

Wrestlers Earned Individual Spots in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships

Oklahoma City native R.J. Mosley became a three-time NCAA qualifier at 165 pounds and the first Gardner-Webb wrestler to ever win back-to-back Southern Conference titles. Mosley went 24-5 during his final regular season and was 7-1 in Southern Conference action.

Jha’Quan Anderson made his second appearance in the national championships after earning an at-large bid. The Conyers, Ga., native advanced all the way to the SoCon finals at 184 pounds before dropping a decision in the finals. Anderson went 22-13 overall and was 7-1 against SoCon foes during the 2022-23 regular season.

Gardner-Webb has now seen 33 wrestlers advance to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships since 2000.

Gardner-Webb Tennis Earns Regular Season Title and Individual Honors

GWU Head Tennis Coach Mike Griffith was named the Coach of the Year while Victor Putter was honored as Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the Big South, as the team earned a regular season co-championship as well.

Griffith was selected as the coach of the year for the Big South for the second time in his career. The first came in 2019, which was the only other time in school history that GWU has won the conference title. He guided the team to a 15-6 mark in the regular season and 4-1 record against league opponents. The 15 wins marked the most in a single season since the team joined the Big South Conference.

Putter became the first in GWU history to earn the title of Scholar-Athlete of the Year in Men’s Tennis. He has compiled a 4.0 GPA in his four years at GWU while pursuing a degree in mathematics.

*Check out the companion story on Putter later in this section

Track and Field Athletes Chase Titles

The Big South Outdoor Championship events were highlighted by Gardner-Webb’s Cameron Donoghue and Amy Prugh’s record-breaking finishes.

Donoghue, a Yarmouth Port, Mass., native, earned a first-place finish in the decathlon while also setting a GWU record and personal best for the event.

Prugh was named to the women’s All-Academic Team, and her season was also highlighted by a first-place honor for the 3000m Steeplechase at the Big South Outdoor Championship. Prugh also set a new Gardner-Webb school record with the finish. Prugh posted a 3.94 GPA in economics/finance to earn the academic honors.

Gardner-Webb Pitcher Selected for Top Big South Honor

Gardner-Webb University hurler Bobby Alcock, from Lynn, Mass., was voted the 2023 Big South Baseball Pitcher of the Year. Alcock is the first-ever Runnin’ Bulldog to be voted Big South Pitcher of the Year.  He concluded the regular season as the Big South leader in strikeouts (99), ERA (2.20) and batting average allowed (.170).  Alcock went 7-2 overall with three combined shutouts in 81.2 innings pitched, and permitted just seven extra base hits all season (five doubles, two home runs among 48 allowed) in his 13 appearances.  Named to the College Baseball Foundation Pitcher of the Year Watch List, Alcock was a three-time Big South Pitcher of the Week honoree in 2023, and fanned at least 10 batters four times—including 12 in a 1-0 win over Longwood on March 18. In league games this season, he was tops in ERA (1.79), strikeouts per game (10.89), strikeouts (73), innings (60.1) and batting average against (.155) while going 5-2.

Alcock was also named to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division I All-America Second Team and the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) NCAA Division I All-Region Second Team in the Atlantic Region.

With all of these championships and individual honors, Gardner-Webb Athletics has built a culture of competitive excellence. Our past, present, and future students will be inspired to become champions in competition, in the classroom and in our community.

Dr. Andrew T. Goodrich, vice president and director of Athletics

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