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by Jason Blocker
While most students and faculty were given the privilege to go home and stuff their faces with turkey, the student athletes of Radford University were hard at work throughout Thanksgiving break. The men’s soccer team, men’s and women’s basketball teams, along with the volleyball team all saw action through the holiday week.
Nov. 17 saw the end of Radford’s previously ranked men’s soccer team’s season. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Radford met former Big South foe Coastal Carolina. Determined to produce a different result than last time the two teams met—Radford lost by a score of 2-1 in the regular season—the Highlanders hoped that a boost in confidence and performance would lead to a victory. Unfortunately, two perfect first-half strikes from Coastal proved too much to overcome for Radford. Highlander junior defenseman Fraser Colmer used a free-kick in the 50th minute to bring Radford within one in the second half. A missed flurry of opportunities after the Colmer goal helped Coastal hang on, giving the Chanticleers déjà vu with a 2-1 victory over Radford, ending the men’s soccer season.
The women’s volleyball team saw their season end during the break as well, competing in the Big South tournament. After earning a first round bye, the Highlanders met division foe Campbell in the semi-finals on Nov. 19. Similar to their regular season meeting, Radford dominated Campbell from the very beginning. A combination of aggressive offensive play, along with consistent defensive dominance gave the highlanders a 3-1 victory over the Camels. Junior Maddie Palmer recorded 26 kills for her 18th double-double of the season.
It wasn’t until the next day, when Radford met High Point in the finals, that the Highlanders met their match. High Point had just upset the second-seeded Flames of Liberty University to propel them into the championship. Once again, High Point added on to their Cinderella story with a dominant 3-1 victory over top-seeded Radford. The Panthers hit the ball at a .279% rate, making this performance one of the toughest Radford had seen all year. Haley Kleespies led Radford with 56 assists while tallying 16 digs in the contest, while Palmer recorded 22 kills.
The women’s basketball represented the university well over break, recording three convincing wins in seven days. The first contest was a road game against D-1 foe Davidson. The 44-40 victory was just as narrowly decided as the score would show. Even spectacular performances by guard Destinee Walker and forward Jayda Worthy weren’t enough to widen the gap against a scrappy Davidson team. After a deep three-pointer from Davidson cut the lead to two with less than a minute left, freshman Highlander Khiana Johnson iced the game with two clutch free throws to lift Radford to a four-point victory.
The women’s basketball team capped off their home opener on Nov. 23 with a statement-making 79-46 win over Tennessee Tech. After Tennessee Tech led Radford 9-8 in the first quarter, the Highlanders would use a 12-0 run to ensure Tennessee Tech never took back their lead. Walker and Janayla White both racked up game highs of 16 points. Radford also used outstanding play from their bench—outscoring Tennessee Tech’s bench 36-13—to put the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Golden Eagles.
Their next contest, however, was far more competitive. Just four days after decimating Tennessee Tech, Radford had the tough task of defeating Davis & Elkins in the Dedmon Center. Looking defeat in the eyes in the fourth quarter, Radford knew it needed an offensive flurry to escape with a win. Walker scored nine of the Highlanders final 16 points, helping Radford close the game with a 16-0 run, defeating Davis & Elkins 67-57. Aside from leading the Highlanders in points, Walker also led the team in rebounds and assists. Lydia Rivers also had a notable performance, shooting a perfect six for six from the field with 12 points. This victory gives the women’s basketball team a 3-1 record, their best start to a season since 2012-2013.
The men’s basketball may have had the largest workload, traveling to four different away games during break. On Nov. 20, the team traveled to Ohio to take on the Zips of Akron. A hostile environment got into the Highlanders heads early on. Radford didn’t get its first points until six minutes and 22 seconds into the first half. The early deficit was too much for the Highlanders to overcome, leading to a miserable 88-41 drubbing. The 41 points scored by Radford were the least scored in a game since 1998, when the team scored 38 in a loss to Clemson. Leading Radford in scoring were Caleb Tanner and Christian Bradford, both with 8 points. Devonnte Holland continued his impressive season, going 3-4 from the field with seven points and six rebounds.
Another loss would be in Radford’s near future, as they traveled to Pennsylvania to take on a talented Mercer team. The contest began with promise for the Highlanders. Darius Bolstad was making his season debut and put up a monster performance in the first half. With 10 points and eight rebounds in the first half, Radford felt that the combination of Bolstad and Holland would give them an advantage with their big men. In a game that will be better remembered as Bolstad’s season debut, Radford needed a late barrage of three-pointers from Tanner to keep this game competitive. After Tanner’s fourth three-pointer of the second half, turnovers began to haunt the Highlanders, helping Mercer hang on to a 58-47 victory over Radford. As if the loss wasn’t detrimental enough to the team, starting point guard Devin Cooper was lost for the season with an apparent knee injury.
Radford had a three-day break following the loss to Mercer to regroup at the Savannah Invitational. Unlike other contests this year, Radford was able to complete their second half comeback in their first game of the invitational against Stetson University. Radford used an offensive barrage in the second half to come back from being down by 13 and force the game into overtime. Once the Highlanders got into overtime, they wouldn’t let Stetson leave with a win. Radford snapped in overtime, outscoring Stetson 17-3 in the extra period. 10 of Radford’s overtime points were at the hands of Ed Polite Jr., while five of Donald Hicks’ 14 points added to the overtime score. Polite recorded a monster game with 21 points, career-high 16 rebounds, all while going a perfect eight for eight from the charity stripe.
The second game of the invitation proved to be the most exciting game of the year for Radford. In a match against Georgia Southern, the two teams exchanged 14 lead changes, along with six different ties. While the 65-64 result didn’t skew their way, the back-and-forth flow of the game left nothing for Radford to be upset about. Up by one point with 55 seconds left, Radford’s defense knew it needed a stop to seal the victory. Unfortunately, 2015 Sunbelt Conference Freshman of the Year Tookie Brown nailed a contested driving layup to give Georgia southern the lead that would not be relinquished. Christian Bradford had his best game of the year, racking up 15 points while going four for five from beyond the arc. Center Randy Phillips played well down low with 12 points, while Tanner contributed from deep with three three-pointers.