Two-thousand thirteen was another exciting year in Aggie Athletics. Football turned in another winning season and North Carolina A&T basketball entered the national stage for the first time in 18 years. Here’s a quick look back at the top 10 stories in Aggie Athletics for the year 2013.
10. The Returns. Two North Carolina A&T varsity sports returned to the postseason after extended layoffs. In March, the A&T bowling team led by head coach James Williams, qualified for the MEAC tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Eight months later in November, the Aggies volleyball team qualified for the MEAC tournament by finishing second in the MEAC’s southern division. It was the Aggies first appearance in the MEAC tournament since 2007. Both teams seem headed toward bigger and better prizes.
9. Erika Eisenman’s Prestigious Honor. On April 14, 2013, A&T swimmer Erika Eisenman was inducted into the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Phi Kappa Phi is the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective academic honor society. Membership to the A&T chapter is only given by invitation to the top 7.5 percent of second-semester juniors and the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students. Eisenman, a social work major, was inducted with a 3.55 cumulative grade point average.
8. A&T women’s basketball advances to the WNIT with a rookie head coach. National postseason appearances are starting to become a common occurrence for the North Carolina A&T women’s basketball program. The Aggies went 22-10 overall and 13-3 in the MEAC and earned a bid to the postseason WNIT against James Madison. It marked the fourth time in six seasons the Aggies played in a national postseason tournament. But it was the first time the Aggies did it with rookie head coach Tarrell Robinson. Robinson won more games than any other first-year head coach in school history and became the first first-year head coach to lead the Aggies to a postseason berth.
7. Football defeats Appalachian State. Yes, Aggies understand that Appalachian State (4-8) did not have its normal productive season in 2013. But the Mountaineers have not only been the standard-bearer for FCS football in the state of North Carolina but also in the nation. They have won seven of the last nine SoCon championships and three national championships in the last nine seasons. They’ve been so good; they are transitioning to Division I-FBS. So when the Aggies, recently coming off of nine straight losing seasons, came away from Kidd Brewer Stadium with a 24-21 win, it was perhaps the biggest regular-season win in school history. The Mountaineers had not lost at home to an in-state opponent since 1984.
6. The Rookies. It was a good year for A&T rookies. The MEAC hands out nine rookie of the year awards, A&T took home a third of those trophies in 2013. Eboni Ross (women’s basketball), Emily Strombeck (bowling) and Tarik Cohen (football) were all honored as the best rookie in their respective sports. Ross came to the forefront after a knee injury sidelined senior center Nikia Gorham. Ross made the most of her opportunity. She led the conference in field goal percentage (.528) and was fourth in the league in blocked shots (1.7). Strombeck was expected to be one of the Aggies’ stronger bowlers as a freshman and she lived up to expectations. She had an average score of better than 200 in three of the Aggies’ nine tournaments on the season and bowled a 242 at the MEAC championships. Like Ross, Cohen made the best of his opportunity. After an injury sidelined senior running back Dominique Drake, the 5-8 Cohen powered his way to national prominence. He finished ninth in the Jerry Rice Award voting for best FCS Rookie in the country. He was also a Boxtorow.com honorable mention All-American and the Boxtow.com Rookie of the Year.
5. MLB recognizes A&T Baseball. The Chicago Cubs selected A&T first baseman Kelvin Freeman with the 498th pick in the 17th round of the MLB Draft on June 8, 2013. Freeman was named the 2013 MEAC Player of the Year and earned third-team All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball. Freeman, a 6-4, 235-pound native of Wilmington, N.C., led the MEAC in home runs (16) and RBI (59), while batting .342 with a .663 slugging percentage and 14 stolen bases. In 40 games, Freeman hit .262 with 19 RBI for the Arizona League Cubs. In October, former A&T second baseman Marquis Riley saw his contract purchased by the Atlanta Braves. Riley was named the starting second baseman for the 2013 Frontier League All-Star team in his first professional season, finishing in the top 15 in hitting (.301) in the 14-team league. He also led the Slammers in games played (87), at-bats (332), runs (53), hits (100), triples (3) and was second in RBI (50) and doubles (14).
4. Football says goodbye to NCAA sanctions. The NCAA released its single-year and multiyear annual Academic Progress Rate report in June for each Division I school. The A&T football APR single-year score continued its positive trend in 2011-12 as the Aggies posted a single-year score of 944. The score brought A&T’s multiyear score to 874, taking the Aggies football program out of the NCAA’s sanction status. Over the past few years Aggies football saw its scholarships reduced and its countable practice hours limited, including elimination of spring practice in 2013, due to low APR scores. But the Aggies were able to compete for a MEAC title in 2013 and they will hold a full spring practice in 2014 for the first time in two years.
3. A&T adds a few sports. In August, Director of Athletics Earl Hilton announced A&T will phase in three new varsity sports – men’s and women’s golf and women’s soccer – over the next seven years. He also announced the reinstatement of men’s tennis for the 2014-15 season.
2. The A&T men win the MEAC tournament. And most everyone was caught off guard. The Aggies came into the MEAC tournament with a 15-16 record and were the seventh seed thanks to an 8-8 mark during the regular season. Plus, in recent history, the Aggies haven’t remained at the MEAC tournament very long. They had won just two games over the previous 10 tournaments. But 2013 was different. Under veteran coach Cy Alexander, the Aggies opened the tournament by beating 10th-seeded Florida A&M. They then knocked off archrival and No. 2 seed N.C. Central. With all four top seeds gone after their first games, the opportunity to win it all was there for the Aggies and they did not let it get away. The Aggies beat Delaware State in the semis and Morgan State in the finals to win their first conference tournament in 18 years.
1. The A&T men win their-first ever NCAA tournament game. As wonderful as it was to win the MEAC tournament, the Aggies have done it before. In fact, the Aggies have done it a conference-best 16 times. What makes winning an NCAA tournament game No. 1 is its uniqueness. After nine previous tries, the Aggies finally won in the NCAA tournament by beating Liberty 73-72 in the first round…aka the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. With the four schools at the First Four the only schools in action, the Aggies were able to win in front of a large national-television audience with analysis from national figures such as Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Greg Anthony, Ernie Johnson and Craig Sager. Therefore, the Aggies were the ones trending on Twitter. It was an experience the university and the young men on the team will likely never forget.