Thunderbirds Reflect on Memorable Season of SUU Athletics


BY SUU Strategic Communications

 

CEDAR CITY, UTAH – Southern Utah University athletics has concluded another year full of pride points, success, and reaching new heights both on and off the playing field.

 

“This year was filled with successful accomplishments both on and off the fields of play.  Academically, student-athletes achieved in the classroom better than the student body at large and set the bar for continued high expectations. Athletically, we witnessed improvement in many of our sports and celebrated with athletes as they reached team and personal goals,” interim athletic director Debbie Corum said. “I am so proud to be a part of this group of student-athletes, and I hope you will join me in celebrating their achievements.”

SUU Gymnastics ended its 2017 season with a success in classroom and on the floor | Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics

Big Sky Conference awards over the 2016-17 season included 39 Thunderbirds being named Player/Athlete of the Week and MRGC Gymnast of the week. Additionally, an impressive 160 Thunderbird student-athletes were named to Big Sky Conference All-Academic teams.

For the 13th time in the history of the program, the Thunderbird gymnastics team claimed the Academic National Championship as the team finished the year with a 3.8867 team GPA. All 18 members of the 2017 gymnastics team earned the title of Scholastic All-Americans.

The Thunderbird track and field program added yet another All-American title to their growing list, as Jayson Kovar competed at the NCAA National Championships in the discus for the second-straight season. Kovar’s stellar career as a T-Bird concluded with him earning the title of Honorable Mention All-American, after earning Second Team All-American status in 2016.

 

Southern Utah University’s spring graduation ceremony saw 40 student-athletes receive their degrees, along with an additional 11 who graduated in fall of 2016. The 51 graduates were spread across 18 majors. Included in the Thunderbirds’ graduating class was standout soccer player Logan Harker, who finished her college career valedictorian with a cumulative 4.0.

 

45 graduates finished with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and 25 of those graduated with a 3.5 GPA or higher, which accounts for more than half of Thunderbird student-athlete graduates.

 

Over the course of the fall and spring semesters, the Thunderbirds combined for a total of 101 4.0s.

 

At the conclusion of the 2016-17 academic year, the overall Thunderbird student-athlete population averaged a 3.2027 spring GPA. The Thunderbirds currently hold a 3.3157 cumulative GPA average across all 370 student-athletes.

 

Along with the success over the course of the last year, a handful of Thunderbirds have been presented with opportunities to continue their playing days.

 

The Thunderbird football program saw two players sign as free agents following the 2017 NFL Draft as Steve Wroblewski signed with the Arizona Cardinals and Josh Thornton signed with the Detroit Lions, where he will be joining former-Thunderbird Miles Killebrew. Additionally, Raysean Pringle has signed with the Green Bay Packers.

 

Along with football standouts, Thunderbird women’s basketball star Jessica Richardson has taken her talents to the professional level after signing with La Liga Femenina de Básquetbol, a professional women’s basketball league in Argentina.

 

In the community, Southern Utah student-athletes went above and beyond this year, setting new records for community service outreach. In total, the Thunderbirds racked up more than 7,000 service hours. Service activities were highlighted by the local Shop with a Cop campaign and an SUU Athletics Community Service Day where over 100 student-athletes spent a Saturday giving back to the community.

 

Gymnastics

The gymnastics program averaged the 11th highest attendance in NCAA gymnastics last season, according to information provided by RoadToNationals.com.

The Flippin’ Birds averaged 3,222 fans in the Centrum Arena over their five home meets to finish 11th in the nation. This put SUU ahead of programs like Oregon State (12th), Denver (13th) and Michigan (14th).

The Thunderbirds also finished 10th in the NCAA in total attendance, with 16,110 people attendance meets during the season.

Utah, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, UCLA, Florida, Kentucky, Auburn, Arkansas and Oklahoma made up the top 10 in that order, with SUU in the spot right behind.

“I think it is really a testament to our administration and where they have allowed us to take this program over the last few years. They have given us everything we need to be one of the top 18 teams going into regionals, right around the top 10 for average attendance, and the number one team in the country academically,” head coach Scotty Bauman said. “I also want to tip my hat to our marketing department and what they have been able to do for us. I think it is amazing that such a small school can bring in such great crowds for the gymnastics program.”

As a group, the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference had the fourth highest attendance in conference rankings, beating out the Big Ten Conference.

Women’s Golf

The 111th Utah Women’s State Amateur began on Tuesday morning, with four current Thunderbirds in the field along with a member of the coaching staff.

T-Birds Nicole Jones, Kyla Smith and Lindsay Wood were all part of the field, along with incoming Thunderbird Launa Wilson.

Assistant coach and former Thunderbird athlete Sadie Palmer is in the field as well.

Palmer had the best showing from the group, finishing the day with a two-over 73. Jones had the top scores for the current players on Tuesday, finishing the day with a 77.

The event is being played at Davis Park Golf Course in Kaysville, Utah.

Round two will be played on Wednesday, with the Round of 16 and Quarterfinal set for Thursday. The Semifinal and Final will be played on Friday.

Men’s Golf

The men’s golf program and head coach Richard Church have announced their schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season.

The Thunderbirds will open the season on Sept. 8, when they will compete in the 2017 Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational hosted by the Air Force Academy. In total the Thunderbirds will play four Fall competitions.

The T-Birds will kick off their Spring competitions by hosting the 2018 Pizza Hut-Pat Hicks Invitational at Sunbrook Golf Club in St. George.

The Thunderbirds will play five Spring competitions, leading up to the 2018 Big Sky Conference Championship tournament that will be held at Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City, Nevada.

One of those contests will be the 2018 Bandon Dunes Championship hosted by Gonzaga, which will be played at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. This event will feature one of the toughest fields the Thunderbirds have ever competed against on a world-famous golf course.

NCAA Regional Competition will take place from May 7-9 in 2018, and the National Championship in Muscle Shoals, Alabama will be played from May 21-25.

“We’re excited about the level of challenge this schedule will provide the team,” coach Church said. “We’ve added some new events that will be good for us and we’re anxious to see how the year goes once we get started.”

Stay current on all things SUU Golf by following @SUUGolf on Twitter and Instagram, and by liking the Southern Utah Golf page on Facebook.

2017-18 Southern Utah Men’s Golf Schedule

Date Event, Course, Location Host
September 8-10 2017 Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational

Eisenhower Golf Course; USAF Academy, Colorado

Air Force
September 25-26 2017 Mark Simpson Colorado Invitational

Colorado National Golf Club; Erie, Colorado

Colorado State
October

16-17

2017 Bill Cullum Invitational

Wood Ranch Golf Club; Simi Valley, California

CSU Northridge
October

20-22

2017 Price’s “Give Em 5” Invitational

Butterfield Trail Golf Club; El Paso, Texas

UTEP
February

12-13

2018 Pizza Hut-Pat Hicks Invitational

Sunbrook Golf Club; St. George, Utah

Southern Utah
February 16-18 University of Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate

Classic Club; Palm Desert, California

Wyoming
March

5-6

2018 Sacramento State Invitational

Valley Hi Country Club; Elk Grove, California

Sacramento State
March

11-13

2018 Bandon Dunes Championship

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort; Bandon, Oregon

Gonzaga
April

9-10

2018 University of Wyoming Cowboy Classic

Whirlwind Golf Club; Phoenix, Arizona

Wyoming
April

27-29

2018 Big Sky Conference Championship

Boulder Creek Golf Club; Boulder City, Nevada

May

7-9

NCAA Regional Championship

TBD

TBD
May

21-25

NCAA National Championship

RTJ-Fighting Joe; Muscle Shoals, Alabama

North Alabama

 

Football

Last season Southern Utah wide receiver Mike Sharp caught 75 passes for 898 yards and 12 touchdowns, which led the team in each category and put him all over the Thunderbird record book.

Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, he’s all out of eligibility.

“Mike’s situation is entirely bittersweet,” SUU wide receiver coach Jared Ursua said. “The sweetness was last season, and the bitterness is knowing he’s not coming back. Last year he took a great deal of the targets, but he earned it. We knew we could count on Mike, that kid made plays for us.”

The spotlight is now on a number of players that will have the responsibility of making up that production, and Ursua said there’s plenty of guys up for the challenge.

“This is the beauty of it,” Ursua said. “Finding the next Mike Sharp. Finding the next Tysson Poots. This university has always had great production out of that position.”

As far as returners go, senior Cameron Chambers, sophomore Isaiah Diego-Williams and junior Ty Rutledge had the biggest numbers for the T-Birds from the wide receiver position.

Chambers had 17 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, Diego-Williams had 15 catches for 137 yards and one touchdown and Rutledge had 13 catches for 155 yards and one touchdown.

In total, the receiver core is 16 deep.

“We’re going to do this by committee this year,” Ursua said. “There’s not a single guy that gets 124 targets, there’s going to be a plethora of guys that go out and make plays for the T-Birds.”

From the tight end position, Logan Parker had a very solid campaign for the Thunderbirds and will look to do it again as he enters his junior season. He caught 14 balls for 143 yards and three touchdowns last season.

“He’s a very tough player,” SUU tight ends coach Teag Whiting said. “He’s not afraid to hit, he’s very physical and we love that about him. We want him to be a dominant blocker, but also someone that can catch the ball over the middle and run over defensive backs.”

After spending last season as a quarterback, McCoy Hill has transitioned to tight end for the 2017 campaign. This is a transition that Whiting said Hill has handled flawlessly.

“He loves it,” he said. “He’s really excited and just wants to help the team.”

 

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