By Lee Noles
WINGATE – After a slow start to the season, the Wingate Bulldogs (9-4) reeled off seven straight wins to reach the NCAA playoffs for the first time in back-to-back seasons.
Wingate upset 10th-ranked West Georgia, 41-31, before falling to 17th-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne, 21-17, in the second round. It marked the second time in program history the Bulldogs made it past the first round.
Former Butler High running back Nijere Peoples finished first in the South Atlantic Conference this season in touchdowns (14) and yards (1,143 yards) to earn league freshman of the year honors.
Peoples’ best performance came against league foe Limestone when he rushed for 239 yards on 25 carries and scored five touchdowns. The yardage was the second most by a Bulldog all-time and his five TDs ties for the most in a single game.
Peoples has added to a prolific offense which finished second in the league at 33.8 points per game and averaged nearly 400 yards a contest.
Quarterback Shaw Crocker, a redshirt freshman, threw for more than 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns.
J.T. Stokes was one of Crocker’s favorite targets as the senior receiver finished third in the league by hauling in nine touchdowns.
SAC Defensive Player Of The Year Cardell Rawlings paced the Bulldogs by leading the conference with 17.5 sacks, which was also good enough for third in Division II football. He also added 82 tackles.
Volleyball searching for national title
This has certainly been another productive season for the Wingate University volleyball program as conference and regional championships found their way into an already overflowing trophy case.
Wingate’s season came to an end in the quarterfinals of NCAA Division II Women’s Volleyball Tournament national quarterfinals when they lost to Washburn University on Nov. 29. Washburn defeated the Bulldogs 3-0, 25-21, 25-20 and 25-17. Wingate ends the season with a 32-2 record.
“As we close out this season after this match tonight, our team has some strong mixed emotions. In one sense, we are disappointed that we could not close out some of these sets after having a lead, but in another sense, we are really proud of our effort as well, as we played at times on a big stage tonight,” said Wingate head coach Shelton Collier. “Washburn is obviously a very good team and had recently beaten several top 10 teams, so we knew it would take an exceptional performance by us to win this match.”
The Bulldogs swept their first two matches in the league tournament before dispatching Lincoln Memorial, 3-1, in the championship. It marked the 10th time in the program’s history where Wingate won both the SAC regular season and tournament titles in the same year.
Rachel Alles earned the SAC conference and Southeast Regional player of the year as the junior setter finished second in the league with 1,046 assists. Alles contributed 308 digs, 89 kills and 23 aces to a Wingate’s offense, which ended the season ranked fourth nationally in kills per set (14.89) and assists per set (14.05).
Senior hitter Phoebe Havenaar joins Alles on the all-conference list after finishing third in the league with 354 kills this season.
Hannah Givens, Anna Holmquist and Taylor Williams each had over 200 kills.