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Men's Basketball Upset in Tourney After Winning 11 Straight

The NC Wesleyan men’s basketball team, the regular-season USA South conference champions, were not selected to participate in the NCAA Division III tournament. The team had hoped to receive an at-large bid after it was eliminated from the conference tournament in the second round.

The DIII tournament brackets show that rival LaGrange earned the at-large bid, while Covenant made the national playoffs as winner of the USA South tournament.

The snub brings Wesleyan’s strong season to an abrupt end. The Bishops (20-7 overall) cruised to a first-place finish in the conference on the strength of 10-game regular season win streak. At 12-2, the team finished two games ahead of Covenant.

After knocking out Averett, the 8th seed, in the first round of the conference tourney, the Bishops fell to LaGrange at home the following night.

Sophomore guard Adrian Moore called 2016 “a great season,” while praising his teammates for their unity. “We’re one,” he said.

In the semi-finals, the Bishops battled back from an early deficit to take 54-39 lead at half-time. But the momentum turned in favor of LaGrange (20-7), as the Panthers went on a 21-7 run and closed the lead to three, 67-64, with 12 minutes left in the game. Drew Vanderbrook (19 points) came off the bench and sparked the Panther comeback with five 3-pointers.

For the game, Wesleyan matched LaGrange from the field, making 47.1 percent of its shots to its opponent’s 46.9 percent. But the Bishops faltered at the foul line, missing 13 of 27 chances.

The previous night, Wesleyan beat Averett, 81-66. Following a tight first half, the home team outscored the Cougars, 42-29, to win by 15.

Moore credited the home crowd for helping to elevate his team’s game all year. “There’s nothing like hearing the crowd yell your name and chant ‘Go Wesleyan!’” he said.

Against Averett, Moore set a career high with 30 points on 11 of 23 shooting from the field and 6-7 from the foul line. He added 5 rebounds and 6 steals, while senior Brandon Brown chipped in 11 rebounds and 4 assists.

Wesleyan earned the first seed and home court advantage by virtue of a dominating performance in the regular season. After suffering a pair of 6-point home losses to Maryville and Covenant on back-to-back days, the Bishops ran off a 10-game winning streak that included a 114-98 road victory over LaGrange.

Characteristic of the team’s play, Wesleyan received balanced scoring during the streak. For the season, four players averaged at least 10 points per game, led by first-team All-Conference performers Moore (14.7 ppg) and Brown (13.6 ppg).

Earlier in the year, Coach John Thompson earned his 300th career victory. He was named conference Coach of the Year for the fourth time following the season.

 Coach John Thompson got his 300th career victory in a season that saw the Bishops claim the regular-season conference title, but lose in the second round of the tournament.  SI photo

Covenant, the 2nd seed, vanquished LaGrange, 101-92, in overtime to take the USA South title on Wesleyan’s home court, earning an automatic bid to the NCAAs. Covenant guard TJ Cox was named tournament MVP after he scored 21 points and 8 assists in the championship game.

Kre’Shaun Davis contributed reporting. 

 

For the second consecutive year, Wesleyan has seen a dramatic increase in its first-year class, as enrollment climbed in the traditional day program to just over 900 for the first time in the school’s history.

First-year students total 420, which includes freshmen and transfers. This represents an increase of 35 students over 2014, when enrollment rose to 385 from 275 the previous year. First-year student enrollment is up 191 from 2011, according to statistics provided by President Dewey Clark.

Freshmen Class Group Photo

The president attributed the enrollment increases to “basic marketing 101. We’re much more customer-focused. We’ve developed a process and procedure for everything that’s done” in admissions. He added that Wesleyan has stepped up its recruitment of students from small Christian high schools.

The president praised the efforts of Vice President Judy Rollins and her staff in Admissions. “She’s considered a marketing genius,” he said. “She’s put together a tremendous team and trained them well.”

As of September 1, total enrollment was 901 in the day program, one student over the stated goal of 900. President Clark said that the previous high mark, around 870 students, was recorded in both 1979 and 2004, the year Wesleyan introduced its football program. The college enrolled 650 students in fall 2013.

Here are some facts about the freshman class:

  • Average SAT score: 911, an increase over last year’s 901.
  • Number of international students: 45. This brings the total to about 90 students from 28 different countries. Twenty-three come from Nepal. Clark credited Donna Patterson, a staff member in the Admissions Office, for her efforts in recruiting internationals. “She’s very student-focused and does a tremendous job of follow-up,” the president said.
  • Number of new football players: around 100, about the same as last year. That brings the total number of student-athletes to 400, President Clark said, noting that the number is equal to last year’s figure when total enrollment was about 780.
  • Number of Heritage Scholarship recipients: 24, a decrease of 16 from last year.

The Admissions Office did not respond to requests for the following additional information: the average and median high school GPAs for freshmen, the median SAT scores, the gender breakdown, and the total number of student-athletes in the freshman class.

Expressing favorable reactions to the college’s recent growth spurt, many students said the higher enrollments have led to improved activities and a more vibrant and diverse campus community. Many, like junior John Jackowski and freshman Grace Lee, said that the growing student population has made it easier to make friends.

Junior Dana Baker said Wesleyan’s growth is a positive reflection on her hometown. “It’s a symbol of the overall success of Rocky Mount,” she said. “I love that Rocky Mount is growing and excelling.”

Not all student comments were positive. Many complained about parking in general, and their inability to find a spot close to the Braswell classroom building in particular. “I’m glad to have eight o’clock classes every day,” said junior Cable Beck. “I can get here early and just leave my car in the same spot all day.”

Junior Ayla Brewer agreed that parking is more limited, and Lee said that the cafeteria and other campus spaces have become too crowded at times. Sophomore Holly Long has detected a change in the size of her classes. “Just last year I remember having classes with 15 to 20 students,” she said. “Now all of my classes are pretty much full. It makes for a harder time learning and getting to know your professors.”

The NCWC administration has taken steps to accommodate the new students. This year marked the opening of Daniel Hall, which houses 40 students in single rooms. And like last year, the college has contracted with the Rocky Mount Inn, located on North Wesleyan Boulevard, three miles south of campus. According to Associate Dean Jessie Langley, 92 male upperclassmen now live there, compared to 73 last year at this time.

Dean of Students Ed Naylor said that a number of students requested rooms at the Inn, even though there were openings on campus. Capacity is about 700 for the residence halls, with 652 students living on campus in mid-September, college officials said. “I often hear comments from students who prefer the Rocky Mount Inn to the residence halls,” Dean Naylor said, listing as attractive features the Inn’s private bathrooms, larger beds, linen and cleaning services, and the overall size of the rooms.

Inn resident Curtis Cummings likes the private bathrooms and the overall freedom of life there. “If I want company, I don’t have to sign in my guests,” he said.

Dean Naylor said the college is eyeing a second new residence hall for the 2016-17 academic year. It’s considering either a fourth unit along the lines of Boddie, Centura, and Daniel halls, or a 100-occupancy facility near Petteway at the south end of campus.

Academic Affairs has moved into the new era by adding faculty and working to manage its classroom space while offering a variety of courses throughout the schedule, Provost Michael Brown said.

In the past two years, the college has established new positions in some of its most popular degree programs. That includes criminal justice (Professor Mary Jackson and Visiting Instructor Richard Allsbrook), exercise science (Assistant Professor Shannon Crowley) and psychology (Assistant Professor Gregory Preuss). For the second consecutive year, the biology department has hired a visiting instructor as a fifth full-time faculty member, with Dr. Joseph White filling the position for 2015-16. Assistant Professor Ian Boucher has joined the library staff as an Emerging Technologies and Outreach Librarian.

The provost hopes to hire additional faculty next year as well. He said that his “wish list” includes five or more new positions. Some hires will be made to fill vacancies in English and political science, as well as a long-standing opening in business. The provost is recommending that the college bring in a second political science professor and new faculty in English, marketing, religious studies, and theater and entertainment.

Some veteran faculty have expressed concern that the sudden growth in the day program would mean an over-reliance on adjunct, or part-time, instructors. The provost calculated that adjuncts are teaching about 30 percent of fall courses.

The Decree found that Humanities courses were among the most reliant on adjuncts, who staff 11 religious studies courses as well as 19 freshmen composition classes offered by the English Department.

The provost was asked if he was comfortable with the percentage of classes taught by adjuncts. “Our part-time faculty all contribute to the student learning experience here,” he said. In the coming years, “we’ll continue to add both full-time and part-time faculty members to keep up with our growth in the student body.”

The provost would like to raise the percentage of courses with full-time faculty by 10-15 percent. “I don’t know that there’s a commonly accepted ‘ideal’ mix of full-time to part-time faculty members,” he said, “although in the long run my goal would be to get the ratio up to 80 to 85 percent full-time faculty members teaching on campus.”

Dr. Brown noted that his staff coordinated with Admissions in planning the fall 2015 course offerings, which were set in early spring. He said that classroom utilization during the day is now about 80 percent, suggesting that there is room for the college to grow. He believes the current classroom space is sufficient to handle 1,100 students, though the college will soon face a shortage in faculty office space.

ASPIRE has witnessed a concomitant growth in its population of adult degree students. Total enrollment now stands at 1,179, just under the all-time high of 1,216, achieved in 1996, according to Dr. Evan Duff, Vice President of Adult Education and ASPIRE. The ASPIRE program’s fall 2013 enrollment was 976, he said.

Significant growth has come from two of Wesleyan’s 10 campuses. The Wilmington site’s enrollment has risen from 24 students in 2012, its first year, to the current level of 134, said Dr. Duff who highlighted the college’s successful partnership there with Cape Fear Community College.

Rocky Mount’s enrollment has jumped from 293 students in 2013 to 364. While attributing some of that growth to a new relationship with a local company, Cummins, Dr. Duff also pointed to the leadership of Site Director Michael Drew as well as efforts of staff member Doretha Chichester. “Michael and Doretha have done an amazing job of recruiting since 2012,” Dr. Duff said.

As far as 2016, President Clark would like to see a total enrollment of 1,000 in the day program. The college hopes to attract 100 more students each year until it reaches total enrollment of 2,000. “Saturation is a long way off for us in our current markets,” the president said. “Next year should be our best one yet.”