Mercer football took on the Virginia Military Institution Keydets Saturday, falling by a score of 45-7 in a disappointing blowout loss in Five Star Stadium.
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The Bears left Macon on Saturday and took the drive up to Cullowhee, North Carolina for a showdown against the Western Carolina University Catamounts. Mercer would win the game by a score of 34-24.
Volleyball opened conference play at home with games against The Citadel on Friday and Wofford on Saturday. The Bears defeated The Citadel 3-0 but lost to Wofford 1-3.
Football head coach Drew Cronic will join host Rick Cameron for the second season of The Drew Cronic Coach's Show. The show will air Monday, Aug. 30 at 5 p.m. before airing once a week every Thursday at 7 p.m. The weekly talk show offers viewers game previews, special guests including players and university dignitaries, and a #AskCoachCronic section for viewers to enjoy. Football began their Drew Cronic Show last year with the first installment airing Oct. 8, 2020. The show ran consistently through the 2020-2021 season and returns now as the 2021-2022 season gets underway. Athletic Director Jim Cole and women's lacrosse Head Coach Samantha Eustace are examples of the many guests that appeared on last year's series. Each episode lasts about an hour and is posted on Mercer Football’s Facebook page. The show is filmed live at the Wild Wing Café in The Shoppes at River Crossing, and fans can watch old episodes on Facebook. Fans have been fairly reactive to the Drew Cronic Show with each episode receiving a few comments, around a dozen likes and a question or two. The upcoming special episode includes prizes such as free “Mercer Swag,” free appetizers for Mercer students, a 55-inch TV and more. Mercer students and fans alike can attend Monday's episode and future Thursday episodes in-person at 5080 Riverside Dr. Suite 100 or online on Mercer Football’s Facebook page.
Mercer football game days feature many activities, but it can be overwhelming if you’re not sure where to go. Here’s a look at how a typical game day unfolds and what events to look for. Gameday for Mercer usually involves tailgates on the Black Field next to the football stadium and fun activities for students on Cruz Plaza. These events will all be present when the Bears open their season at home Sept. 2 against the Point University Skyhawks. The game will also include Mercer’s “478 Day” promotion. This event is designed to highlight local businesses and communities in Middle Georgia, according to Mercer Athletics. A key feature of “478 Day” involves changing the cost of general admission tickets to $4.78, but a ticket package is also available. The ticket package costs $20 and also includes a 478 hat. While Mercer students get tickets to games for free, they can still purchase the ticket package to get a hat. Local entrepreneurs will be allowed to showcase their businesses, which means food and games for students and fans alike during the pre-game tailgate on Black Field. The tailgate begins with Toby Town at 12 p.m which gives fans a chance to take photos with Toby the Bear. Kids aged 12 years and younger can enjoy the bounce house and other inflatables. Another part of game days at Mercer is the Ford Concert Series. The Ford Series is a set of concerts organized by Mercer Athletics that runs throughout the season. Multiple concerts will take place Sept. 2 for the first game, including Ethan Payne at 3 p.m., Floco Torres at 4 p.m. and Molly Stevens at 5 p.m. Fans can purchase tickets online or at the University Center ticket window. Students can attend games for free.
Volleyball is returning to action Friday in a home opener against Stetson University. The game against Stetson is part of the Mercer Bears Classic tournament, a three-game homestand where Mercer will play Steston, the University of New Hampshire and Murray State University. Mercer’s volleyball team closed out last season with a Southern Conference Championship game loss to Samford University, but the Bears looked better than ever despite the loss. Merer received their first-ever share of the regular-season title last season, and expectations are high as the SoCon coaching poll projected Mercer to place second in the SoCon. This preseason saw middle hitter Jaida Howell and outside hitter Annie Karle receive Preseason All-SoCon nods. Karle led the Bears in kills with 285 while Howell led the team in blocks with 90 last season and seem primed to have great seasons for Mercer. Volleyball added outside hitter Morgan Verheyen who transferred from the University of Buffalo. Verheyen did not play last season due to COVID-19 but recorded eight spikes, four digs and three kills for Buffalo in 2019. Middle hitter Rayanne de Oliveira is returning after averaging .36 service aces per set, sixth-best in the SoCon, along with libero Megan Smith who was also sixth in the SoCon averaging 4.17 digs per set. After the Mercer Bears Classic, volleyball will have three more tournaments before entering conference play: the Denver Tournament, the Elon Tournament and the Georgia Southern Tournament. The full volleyball schedule can be found at mercerbears.com.
Intramural and club sports are once again available for students this year. Intramurals are recreational sports where students sign up, make teams, and play in leagues created by the Department of Recreational Sports and Wellness. These sports include typical activities like soccer and basketball as well as more unique options like pickleball or dodgeball. Registration is fairly informal and students can form teams with friends, Greek organizations, clubs and more. Club sports offer a more traditional sports experience at a recreational level where students compete against other clubs from other colleges and universities. These require a tryout and feature basketball, football and other sports. Teams will also travel to other schools throughout the semester. Mercer offers a plethora of options for students looking to play sports in either category. This fall semester, the Department of Recreational Sports and Wellness is offering eleven intramural sports staggered throughout the semester. Registration for all intramural sports begins on Aug. 23. Dodgeball and ultimate frisbee are the first two sports to start play this semester. Both begin on Sept. 7 and end on Sept. 16. Intramural sports are inclusive for all students with both male, female, and co-gender sports. Transgender students should be aware that only males may participate in a men’s league and no male may participate in a women’s league, according to the Department of Recreational Sports and Wellness’s Article 3 section 2. Open leagues are defined as same sexgender sports. The department also stated that “transgendered participants will be handled on a case-by-case basis.” Policies for transgender individuals may vary in club sports based on the discretion of the team president or the club league in which the team participates. All club sports can be found on Mercer University's website. Students can register for intramural sports on imleagues.com.
After a disappointing but expected 20-47 campaign last season, the Atlanta Hawks have already begun to perform better in the 2020-21 season. The last NBA season was cut short by COVID-19 and the Hawks were not close enough to the Eastern Conference eighth seed to be invited to the NBA bubble, but the results may differ this year depending on how injuries and personnel shake out for the Hawks. The offseason The Hawks retooled in the offseason by signing former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danillo Gallinari, Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo and Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanović. They also signed former Detroit Pistons forward Tony Snell, former Miami Heat forward Solomon Hill and former Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn. As for the NBA Draft, Atlanta selected forward/center Onyeka Okongwu from University of South Carolina and guard Skylar Mays from Louisiana State University with the sixth and 50th picks respectively. Along with the new acquisitions, Hawks center Clint Capela recovered from an injury sustained last season in time to return for the current season. The season so far Under third year Head Coach Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks stormed out to a 4-1 start to the season before dropping five games in a row. The Hawks hung around .500 with a 10-10 record despite the injuries that began to plague them. Guard Kris Dunn still has not played a game for the Hawks due to injury. Rajon Rondo has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, and Bogdon Bogdanović missed 25 straight games with a knee injury. Now forward Deandre Hunter has missed 18 games and counting with his own knee issues, adding to the list of injury woes for the Hawks. Amid the swirl of injuries, the Hawks elected to fire Pierce in favor of Assistant Coach Nate McMillian after the 34th game of the season. With all of the player and coaching changes — along with injuries — the Hawks have a 16-20 record going into the all-star break. The Hawks are undefeated after firing Pierce, but with only two games played under McMillian there isn’t much data about the difference in the teams play. Atlanta looked like a stronger team early in the season, but the lack of health among players has drastically changed the lineup. Surprises and disappointments Second-year forward Deandre Hunter took a fantastic leap from last season. Hunter increased his point per game statistics from 12.3 to 17.2 and increased his field goal percentage from 41% to 51%. Unlike Hunter, fellow second-year forward Cam Reddish hasn’t shown the development that Hawks fans have been hoping for. Reddish is shooting a worse percentage from behind the 3-point line — down to 26% from 33% — and his points per game have hardly changed going from 10 to 11 points. Both Hunter and Reddish have been excellent on the defensive end but Clint Capela has eclipsed both of them. Capela is averaging 2.2 blocks per game to pair with his 14.6 rebounds per game. He’s also chipping in on the scoring end, notching 14.7 points per game on average this year. Injuries have led to many of the players signed for depth getting more playing time than fans may have expected. Among those players, Tony Snell and Solmon Hill have been more solid than anyone could’ve expected. Snell is shooting 56% from the 3-point line in 62 attempts which is by far the most in his career. He also has the highest field-goal-percentage of his career at 48%. Hill hasn’t been nearly as efficient, but he has filled time for other missing forwards by being a solid veteran presence. John Collins, another solid player for the Hawks, has seen his own numbers drop slightly. His points per game and rebounds have both decreased noticeably. The drop off could be attributed to the increase in other ball handlers and scores along with Capela’s rebounding ability. Trae Young was not an all-star this season, despite averaging 26 points per game with 9.4 assists and playing more efficiently than he did in the previous season. Other than averaging 4.4 turnovers per game, a stat that may have contributed to Young not making the All-Star Game, he has been an incredible presence for Atlanta. Looking Forward The Hawks were expected to be one of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference according to many preseason predictions, and they still have a chance to make good on those predictions. The Hawks are the 11th seed right now, but they’re only eight games back from the first seed. If they go on a good run out of the All-Star Break, the Hawks have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs and redeem themselves for last season’s lackluster performance.
Mercer Men’s Basketball is now 5-6 in SoCon after their last four games against Wofford College, East Tennessee State University and Samford University. Mercer came into their last four games at 3-4 in the Southern Conference with a chance to go over .500 and take a higher seed. The Bears couldn’t make good on that chance after dropping two of their last four games. Wofford Terriers The Wofford Terriers are the leader of the SoCon at 9 wins and 3 losses, and they proved their standing is no fluke in a Jan. 30 game against Mercer. The Bears only led the game once with a score of 2-0. From there, the Terriers stormed out to an early lead. Down by a score of 22-6 just 10 minutes into the game, the Bears couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with their layups or jump shots. The Bears hardly narrowed the gap by the half and ended up down 39-27 at the break. Mercer managed to get something going behind Ross Cummings’s shooting, Leon Ayers III’s rebounding and Neftali Alvarez’s passing, reaching within 2 points of the Wofford lead in the second half. Wofford kept the Bears’ late surge at a distance, though. The Terriers closed Mercer out with 2 consecutive trips to the free throw line where guard Ryan Larson sunk all 4 of his shots from the charity stripe. The Bears managed to find and generate both defensive stops and offensive firepower in this game, but it was too little too late. Despite finishing with 18 points, Ross Cummings took only 5 shots in the first half, which was far too little for Mercer’s leading scorer to help narrow the gap. The Mercer bench was also fairly unproductive besides the scoring of Leon Ayers III, who notched 9 points on 4-9 shooting. Starting Guard Neftali Alvarez was the Bears’ second leading scorer with 16 points, but shooting 6-16 and missing all 3 of his 3-point shots — along with 4 turnovers — did more harm than good despite his final point total. Overall, the Bears couldn’t muster their offense early enough and no hope in stopping the snowballing power of the Terriers led to their defeat. Wofford guard Tray Hollowell dropped 22 points with four 3-pointers on the Bears to lead Wofford to a 72-69 win. East Tennessee State Buccaneers The Bears fell once again to the ETSU Buccaneers in their Feb. 3 game. Mercer started the game behind the Buccaneers but kept within striking distance by never falling behind by more than 7 points in the first half. The Bears led the game 40-32 at halftime. Mercer managed to keep their lead all the way until ETSU forward Damari Monsanto hit a 3-point jumper to take the lead with 8 minutes left in the game. From there, ETSU kept Mercer at bay all the way until the final buzzer. Mercer couldn’t find their range for much of the game, shooting 8-22 from the 3-point line. Ross Cummings only took 9 shots in this game and only made 3 of them for a total of 8 points in the game. While both Leon Ayers III and Neftali Alvarez had efficient days — scoring 13 and 17 points respectively — it wasn’t enough to keep Mercer afloat. Behind 24 points from Damari Monsanto and 14 points from David Sloan, the Buccaneers took down the bears 70-64. Samford Bulldogs @ Home In a thrilling double overtime contest, the Mercer Bears triumphed over the Samford Bulldogs. The Bears started the game hot, quickly going up 7-0 on the Bulldogs until a run by Samford pushed them into the lead 11-10. Both teams fought back and forth until a short run by Mercer allowed the Bears to retain a 28-20 lead going into halftime. Coming out of the locker room, Mercer guard Ross Cummings hit two 3-pointers to quickly put the Bears up 34-22 in a game that looked like it was trending Mercer’s way. The Bulldogs, however, slowly chipped away at the lead until the final moments of the regulation where Mercer led 57-59. Samford center Jacob Tryon hit a fadeaway jump shot to push the game into its first overtime with a score of 59-59. The first overtime was a battle of layups and free throws as Mercer managed to keep themselves alive with 3 straight free throws from Jeff Gary to tie the game at 72 all. In the second overtime, Mercer players Leon Ayers III, Neftali Alvarez and James Glisson III hit 2 free throws each toward the end of the period to hold Samford off. Mercer won the game 89-82 off the back of Ross Cummings’ 25 points and Neftali Alvarez’s 18 points. Samford Bulldogs @ Samford The Bears traveled to Birmingham to face the Bulldogs this time and managed to defeat them in another overtime battle. The Bears once again started hot, going up 9-1 in the first three minutes of the game. They held this lead all the way until the 8:45 minute mark of the first half where A.J. Staton-McCray made a 3-point jumper to tie the game 20-20. Samford managed to take and hold the lead into halftime with a score of 35-29. Samford’s lead persisted until the 11:04 minute mark of the second half where James Glisson III tied the game 50-50 on a layup after an offensive rebound. The two teams continued to dual back and forth until A.J. Staton-McCray hit 2 free throws to tie the game 66-66 in regulation. Mercer had a chance to win it in regulation with 20 seconds remaining, but Neftali Alveraz turned the ball over. In overtime, both teams ran cold and neither scored until the 2:40 minute mark where Alveraz hit a layup. Samford came right back with a score of their own, but two straight Mercer layups and a missed Samford 3-pointer forced the Bulldogs to begin the foul game. Neftali Alvarez, Leon Ayers III, and Jeff Gary hit 2 free throws each to — once again — sink the Bulldogs in overtime. Neftali Alvarez’s efficient 23 points on 10-14 shooting helped push the Bears to a 77-70 win. Takeaways from the season so far While volume does not necessarily mean efficiency, Ross Cummings needs to shoot the ball more. Since Jan. 30, Cummings has scored 18 points, 8 points, 25 points and 13 points in his last four games. Even in a 25-point effort, Cummings only took 13 shots and he sunk 6 of his 9 3-point attempts. If Cummings gets going, Mercer has a much higher chance of winning their games, and low volume from Mercer’s leading scorer can only hurt the team. In that same vein, the emergence of Neftali Alvarez as a capable point guard and scorer has been nice to see but his volume can sometimes be too high. Alvarez has taken more shots than Cummings in three of the last four games. This is not problematic when Alverez shoots 10-14 in a win like in the Samford game Feb. 10, but it is a problem when he shoots 6-16 in a loss like the Wofford game. In the two games Mercer lost, their opponents shot better from the field and turned the ball over less. If Mercer can increase the output for Ross Cummings, control rebounds to the best of their ability and decrease their opponents field-goal percentage, the SoCon conference title is still very much within reach.
On Jan. 19, American sportscaster and radio host Dan Partick aired information from one of his sources. “You literally had bag men,” he said on the Dan Patrick Show. “They put the cash in McDonald's bags and handed it to the recruits. My source said they were so in your face with this — they weren't even trying to hide it. And that's where my source said: ‘Tennessee got sloppy. Georgia has gotten sloppy.' But there's been no word on the NCAA looking at Georgia. But Tennessee, they got sloppy, and they were handing out cash in McDonald's bags.” The NCAA was already investigating the University of Tennessee for possible violations, and it’s not the first time that a school has been investigated and convicted of illegal recruiting tactics. In 2015, the University of Louisville's men’s basketball team was stripped of their NCAA basketball championship after the NCAA learned that the ex-Assistant Coach Andre McGee paid strippers to attend around two dozen parties from 2010-2014 in order to sway recruits over to Louisville. In 2014, the University of North Carolina had a cheating scandal in which athletes received automatic grades and fake classes on their transcripts in order to retain eligibility to play, which would have been stripped if their GPA fell below a 2.0. These types of scandals go back even further, but recounting each experience won’t do anything without explaining why this keeps happening. The NCAA is a corporation, college sports are a business, and the players are employees. The players, however, are not your typical paid employees. They don’t earn wages in a normal sense. They are paid in scholarships, housing and meal plans with the promise of a fulfilling education for the millions of dollars they rake in for their universities and colleges. Athletes also risk their health on the field in exchange for this education. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “only 7% of the revenue generated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association — more than $8 billion annually — finds its way to football and men's basketball players through scholarships and living stipends.” That same study suggests that football players could earn $360,000 per year and basketball players could earn nearly $500,000 if more renowned conferences split revenue 50-50 with players. Now, it’s not as cut and dry as splitting things 50-50 with players. The problem arises at the fact that players should not be paid directly by schools. Larger schools would promise players thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. This means the current talent gap — most prominently found in football — would only continue to widen. There are several solutions that can and should be done that will surely ease the plight of many players. Of course, lawsuits filed by former college players, such as former University of Wisconsin basketball player Nigel Hayes, have prompted action on Capitol Hill to support players. The College Athletics Bill of Rights, introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Dec. 17, 2020, was designed to get players their safety and money. The bill would allow athletes to earn from the profits their division makes once their scholarships are deducted. According to Sportsnation, the bill only pertains to sports where revenue generated exceeds scholarships costs across the entire division. Only football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball meet that requirement. The College Athletics Bill of Rights is also designed to give students extended healthcare that would provide coverage for five years following their eligibility, according to Sportsnation. Another name, image and likeness bill was brought before Congress in January, and though this College Athletics Bill of Rights was proposed, it has not been voted on. While the bill is a definite step in the right direction, there are still issues that cannot be ignored. The bill only covers the funds and healthcare of scholarship players, but walk-on players still participate with the team in the exact same ways. Walk-on players should be paid at a much lower rate but still paid nonetheless for the physical labor they do for the school. There’s also the issue of recruiting becoming even harder for smaller schools as players might not be able to get the exposure — and therefore endorsements — at the non-Power Five level. Obviously, it’s not easy to design a system where players can get paid and still be student-athletes. It’s also naive to suggest that amateurism can still be maintained in an $8 billion industry. Players deserve to be paid, and hopefully, the NCAA and the United States move in that direction when it comes time to vote.
This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster. The emergence of COVID-19 in the United States over a year ago sent average daily life grinding to a halt. Because of the speed at which the virus spreads and the damage it can do, many people are questioning whether newly-elected President Joe Biden will place the country into a lockdown once again. Unfortunately, medical opinion on lockdowns is as divided as the partisan groups in America have become. There are several studies suggesting that lockdowns have saved millions of lives while others suggest that they have no clear benefit. Despite being a college student who would surely be adversely affected by a lockdown, I think the nation must go through with it. Should we enter another lockdown? Lockdowns across the world have had mixed results for the most part. Many states in Australia have gone more than two weeks without having any cases of COVID-19. This drastic decrease in case numbers is due to each state and territories’ strict lockdown restrictions. New Zealand also went into lockdown during the start of the pandemic, which resulted in the country recording only 2,186 cases and 25 deaths until Jan. 24. It wasn’t until they reopened that they recorded new cases, having only two Jan. 25. China, a country with a larger population than the United States and the epicenter of the pandemic, has only recorded 100,136 confirmed cases with 4,811 deaths as of Jan. 25. Some news outlets, such as the New York Times, are skeptical of how well China has done handling the pandemic and reporting accurate numbers, but the numbers are at least worth noting. Russia and India, both countries of similar size to the United States, have also recorded fewer deaths with fewer infections than the U.S. Why shouldn’t we? The obvious argument for avoiding a lockdown is based primarily on economic values. When Italy went into lockdown March 2020, their stock slid nearly 17% in its biggest record tumble. The United States experienced similar — albeit less extreme — market volatility when the pandemic first shook the country’s borders in April. Protecting the economy is important, and there are many people who will struggle to support their families with only stimulus funds or working from home. Additionally, many students are finding themselves struggling thanks to COVID-19. The pandemic has been awful for the mental health of college students and “U.S. college students struggled with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders at higher rates than the general population,” according to ScienceNews. A lockdown would force students who have been attending in-person or hybrid classes at the college level to go completely online. The switch to doing class via Zoom or asynchronously was and is difficult for me, as well as many other students. I find myself wanting to play games or watch YouTube videos if the class is not engaging enough over Zoom. According to a survey conducted by Barnes & Noble Education, “more than half of students, 60%, say they are at least somewhat prepared for the switch to online classes, while the rest are less certain, saying they need time to adjust to the transition.” There is an inherent risk for further affecting the health of our nation’s youth and the strength of the United States’ already faltering education. The bottom line The market can always recover — as it always has — but people’s lives cannot. The United States has recorded the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 of any country. In the last seven days alone, the U.S. saw more than 17,000 more deaths than Brazil, the country with the second-highest COVID fatalities in the world. While one could argue that a poor economy would result in similar deaths, the increase in stimulus funds under the Biden administration could help mitigate that impact. New Zealand went into lockdown, “but much of New Zealand’s economy has shown a rapid recovery thanks to government stimulus spending that has led to consumer spending,” according to the Montreal Gazette. Additionally, while taking a student health and education risk might not be worth it, we already have several systems in place that have already been designed to promote a safe and healthy online environment. Online counselling and applications like Zoom are also more available at a wide level than they were before the pandemic. There is no hard and fast way to fix the current pandemic. The only thing we can do is stick together and do our best to mitigate the loss of life. The United States should look into avenues of locking down the country, maybe in areas of need primarily, in order to help those at risk of catching or dying from COVID-19.
Mercer men’s basketball started off the season red-hot winning their first six games. The Bears then lost four of their next five before winning another three games in a row. In their last three games, the team showed promise for the future — but also a worrying trend. The Citadel The Bears downed The Citadel by a score of 83-63 in their game Jan. 20. The Citadel never led the entire game with Mercer storming out to a 9-2 lead in the first two minutes without missing a shot. From there, Mercer kept The Citadel at a distance until the Bulldogs tied the game at 13-13 with 15 minutes to go in the first half. Mercer’s leading scorer Ross Cummings found himself in foul trouble seven minutes into the game which led to Leon Ayers III getting more minutes. Ayers III quickly scored 10 points, including assisting on a Felipe Haase three-point shot, to put the Bears up 28-19 early. Scores from Neftali Alvarez and Ayers IIII, along with a Maciej Bender free throw, pushed the Bears further up 37-24. The Bears’ run continued until the half where they led 52-38. Ayers III ended the half shooting 100% from the field with 23 points. The second half was largely similar to the first, as Mercer continued to beat down The Citadel until the end of the game with a final score of 83-63. Ayers III ended the game with a career high 23 points and four of the five Mercer starters — Felipie Haase, Maciej Bender, Neftali Alvarez and Ross Cummings — ended up scoring in double figures. VMI In the next game Jan. 23, the Bears took on the Virginia Military Institute Keydets. This game was a lot closer than the bout against The Citadel, despite VMI being a team being near .500 on the season. Cummings and Haase scored 22 and 23 points respectively along with 18 points from Ayers III, leading the Bears to a victory. Both Cummings and Hasse crossed the 10 point threshold in the first half with the Bears leading 45-38 at halftime. The Keydets stayed in the game and wouldn’t go away until the final minutes before back-to-back threes from Hasse finally put the game out of reach. Hasses’s 23 points were a career high, and his scoring helped Mercer to their third win in a row. The final score was 83-80. UNC Greensboro Mercer’s next game was supposed to be against Samford, but COVID-19 complications led to a cancelation. Instead, Mercer drove up to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to play the Spartans Jan. 27. The Bears ended up driving back home with a loss. Despite the disappointing result, Hasse continued his hot streak and led the team with 17 points, including five three-point makes on six shots. The Bears’ loss to UNC Greensboro was partially due to the Spartans’ ability to chase the Bears off the three-point line. Mercer took 14 three-point shots but only made seven. Those fourteen three-point attempts were a season low for the Bears. On paper, 50% is good, but the lack of volume from a team like Mercer who prides themselves on the three-point shot is worrying. Additionally, the Bears were outplayed by the Spartans on the boards. UNCG had 36 rebounds to Mercer’s 24. The Bears had 17 less shots because of that gap. Rebound problems combined with UNCG’s Isaiah Miller racking up 22 points on 11-22 shooting led to a Spartans win by a score of 81-68. The future Mercer has lost every game where the opponent scores 81 points or more. Despite being a strong three-point shooting squad, the Bears have had trouble against defensively competent and offensively powerful teams. Mercer also has four wins and four losses when shooting under 40% from three, while they have six wins and one loss when shooting over 40% from the three-point line, according to Sports-Refrence.com. It’s entirely possible for the Bears to get an NCAA tourney bid without winning the Southern Conference, but they have the talent and tools to gain the automatic bid and the championship. The Bears will continue SoCon play with crucial games against Samford and others to begin February.
Mercer University junior Kevin Kinnard was always passionate about basketball growing up, and he wanted to carry that passion with him to Mercer. COVID-19 hasn’t kept him from expressing that passion in the form of Mercer’s Club Basketball team. When Kinnard arrived as a freshman in 2018, he participated in the original Mercer Club Basketball team. “My freshman year, we played a couple of times (in) a couple tournaments. I had a lot of fun. And my sophomore year, we didn't because of certain different things, because of conflict,” Kinnard said. “So I decided, Okay, well, I know I'm gonna continue doing this. So let me just go ahead and be the one to make it.” Kinnard is now the president of the new Mercer Basketball Club team along with a full staff of other students including vice president and social media manager Jerrell Smith, treasurer Elijah Berry, assistant coach Jacoby Felder and head coach Jeremiah Pulliam. “I had to have a staff in order to get the application done. And these guys are amazing guys, they are. They all have the same love for basketball that I do, and without them, I wouldn't be able to do (this), we wouldn't be here today,” Kinnard said. The club in their second bout of tryouts after having their first round on Oct. 22. “(The) first day the tryouts went amazing. Nobody questioned us when it came to COVID protocol. We set it up great. We had drills ready, everybody had fun even though you know it's a hard time to even try to do anything,” Kinnard said. COVID-19 protocols dictated that players and staff would have to wear masks when not participating in play, drills could only consist of five or less players on each side of the court and the staff sanitized the balls before and after tryouts. These protocols were put in place by student Gerald Washington, the club’s COVID-19 safety manager. Even once the team is established, they’re looking forward to next semester when it comes to playing in tournaments. “We discussed the possibility of a tournament and there's no way, you know, a tournament could happen this fall,” Kinnard said. “I understand that I don't want to put anyone at risk.” Kinnard had high hopes for anyone looking to join the team as a player, staff or even as a partner organization. “I would introduce club basketball as a part of Mercer that loves basketball. I love the game, if you would love to ever have any type of opportunity to be involved in basketball as a player, coach, staff, anything, we're open to anyone,” Kinnard said. The second round of tryouts are scheduled Nov. 6 from 6-8 p.m. and Nov. 7 from 2-4 p.m. at the University Center intramural courts. Anyone looking to try out must provide a negative COVID-19 test to attend. The team is looking to admit anywhere from 14 to 15 players on their roster and is accepting all applications for staff positions. [gallery ids="27910,27911,27912,27913"]
While the safety of athletes is on everyone’s mind during the COVID-19 pandemic, the officials are often forgotten. Referees and umpires have to take the field along with student-athletes — many of them within six feet of those players. One case where this safety is even more crucial is intramural sports, where the referees for the Mercerians playing sports are fellow students. So how is Mercer’s intramural system adjusting to give these referees the same safety measures as players? To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercer University’s Recreational Sports and Wellness and the intramural sports staff changed the Policy and Procedures Handbook for 2020-2021 to include a section regarding COVID-19. That sections included rules such as strongly encouraging face coverings for officials and players, social distancing protocols which require those on the sidelines to be six feet apart and a temperature check done before games. Gianni Calicchio, a third-year mechanical engineering major, has been a referee for two and a half years. “On the field, at least for outdoor sports, really, nothing has changed. The only thing that changed is the sport,” Calicchio said. “Normally at this time we'd be offering 7-v-7 flag football. Currently, we're offering 4-v-4 flag football so it's smaller sized games so we have fewer participants out to minimize contact on the fields.” While the players and referees can have their masks off for outdoor sports, that isn’t the case for indoor sports like basketball and volleyball which haven’t begun play yet. “Everyone, including the officials, has to be wearing masks. So the only person on the court for volleyball that will not be wearing masks is the official because they are at an elevation difference,” Calicchio said. As for basketball, the jury is still out. “I have no idea about basketball, but if they do basketball it's gonna be very limited players like flag football,” Roberts said. The referees aren’t just responsible for their own safety, though. The officials are also in charge of enforcing COVID-19 regulations during intramural events. Alyssa Roberts, another referee officiating for flag football, found that enforcing the new rules has turned out more challenging than she originally thought. “So as soon as you step off that field you gotta put on a mask, but nobody's listening, though,” Roberts said. “We had so many issues with that.” Players not listening to or purposely antagonizing officials has also been an issue, Roberts said. “We had a frat team and some other team that were taking it way too seriously, and because it’s my first time I'm making some mistakes, right? But every mistake got blown up. And they're, like, yelling at me,” Roberts said Since flag football has different referring positions, Roberts isn’t always the one calling the flags, but that doesn’t stop players from yelling at the nearest official. “I almost start crying in the middle of that field. I was like, please leave me alone,” Roberts said. Roberts said her stress is only compounded by the rules added because of COVID-19. “I had a couple people ask me if I enjoy working as an official. As a job, yes. This is one of the more fun jobs I've had. If I wasn't getting paid, no,” Roberts said.
Bailey Grace Pattison, or Bailey Grace as she’s known on stage, has been singing from a young age thanks to her family. “My dad was a worship leader, so I was up on stage performing with him,” Pattison said. “I grew up around a lot of music. We’ve always been a big concert-going family.” Pattison said she was always very passionate about music, but she didn’t start getting into it until her freshman year of high school. “I joined the worship team at my church and started doing worship leading. I've been in that ever since,” Pattison said. Pattison has been singing at her church for the past six years, but it wasn’t until she decided to take part in the 478 Sings United competition this summer that her experience all came together. 478 Sings United is an online competition. The final rounds, however, were in-person, where singers would perform — live or pre-recorded — to raise money for the Central Georgia COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund. Every vote counted for a dollar and the competition ended up raising $84,131 by the end. “I just decided to do the 478 Sings contest. That's kind of when I decided that I could really see myself pursuing music in the future,” Pattison said. “I obviously live in Macon now, but I'm from Jacksonville, Florida. So throughout the whole contest, I was driving back and forth.” Pattison not only made it to the final round of the competition, but she ended up winning the $2,500 grand prize and the ability to record a track at Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon. “This will be my first time in a recording studio actually working on a project. I'm just excited for the whole experience in general,” Pattison said. “It'll be really cool to be able to be in this historic place.” Despite being passionate about music, Pattison has struggled to find time for it in her life. “So between school and softball, I haven't done a whole lot of music stuff," she said. "I'm hoping now that our fall season is over that I can really kind of focus more on that." You can follow Pattison’s musical journey on Facebook @baileygracemusic.
With the semifinals underway, the bubble has stood the test of months of play without a single COVID-19 case. The bubble has even expanded to allow players to bring in certain family members that will fill the capacity that losing teams opened as they left. Speaking of losers, the playoff picture has changed dramatically as only four teams remain from each conference. The Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers have all already been eliminated in the Eastern Conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers have also been eliminated in the Western Conference. Eastern Conference semifinals The first seed Milwaukee Buckshave already lost 1-4 to the fifth seed Miami Heat. The Heat tore apart the defense of the Bucks and even stifled the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic averaged 20 or more points against the Bucks, and both Jae Crowder and Tyler Herro torched the Bucks defense from the 3-point line at 42% per game. The Bucks could only look to survive after Antetokounmpo went down with an ankle injury in game three. He tried to play through that injury in game four only to re-injure that ankle and miss the final game five. Khris Middleton was key to any chances the Bucks had, whether or not Giannis played, as he was averaging 26 points per game during that series. The second seed Toronto Raptors fell 3-4 to the third seed Boston Celtics. The Celtics looked to be dominating the series early until a game winning three point shot from OG Anunoby saved the Raptors from going down 3-0. The Raptors won two straight only to fall in embarrassing fashion in game five and then winning game six in double overtime. The Raptors hedged their bets on the performance of their defense, which has struggled at times in this series, and the play of their stars Kyle Lowery, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. The trio has averaged 19, 18 and 16 respectively and looked to take home a game seven victory. The Celtics continued to ask their main trio of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown to score the offensive load. They are averaging 22, 20 and 18 respectively and had more or less scored with ease against the Raptors defense until the later games of the series. The Celtics trio showed themselves to be stronger, defeating the Raptors in a close game 7 where Jason Tatum scored 29 points. Western Conference semifinals: The Houston Rockets lost 1-4 to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets dominated Game 1, only to drop four straight games and go on to lose the series. Rockets secondary star Russell Westbrook was poor most of the series, shooting 26% from three and 42% from the field despite averaging about 20 points per game. James Harden left little to be desired about his play. He averaged about 29 points per game against the Lakers while shooting 50% from the field and 38% from the three point line. James Harden, however, couldn’t carry the Rockets to another win the entire series. The Lakers managed to dominate the remainder of the series after game one with the surprising performance of Markkief Morris, who made four straight three pointers in the first quarter of game two, and the return of Rajon Rondo. Stars Lebron James and Anthoney Davis also did as they always do, both averaging about 25 points, and securing the victory for the Lakers. The third seed Denver Nuggets have completed the ultimate comeback, winning three straight games to beat the second seed Los Angeles Clippers 4-3 in game seven. The Nuggets got crushed in game one after making an incredible comeback from down 3-1 against the Utah Jazz. They channeled the energy from their previous series to roar back to life once the Clippers cornered them. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray lead the Nuggets in scoring, averaging 24 and 22 points per game respectively in the series against the Clippers. Jokic also leads the team in rebounds with 13 on the series. The Nuggets gambled with their chances, hedging bets on Jamal Murray’s sudden superstardom and Micheal Porter Jr.’s emergence as a great player, and they came out on top. The Clippers were the best team in this series, but they stopped doing anything to prove it after game four. Paul George was actually living up to his Playoff-P moniker before dropping off the map in game seven and shooting 25% from the field. Kawhi Leanord showed he was the best player in the series, averaging 24 points per game while leading the Clippers team in points, blocks, rebounds, blocks and assists. Despite his play all series, he too dropped the ball in game seven and The Clippers choked because of it. Predictions: The Conference Finals are finally here. In the East, the Miami Heat will face the Boston Celtics while in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers will face the Los Angeles Clippers. For the Eastern Conference Finals, I’m going with the Boston Celtics. The C’s defense has been stout all playoffs, only allowing their opponents to score over 100 five times in eleven post season games. The Heat, on the other hand, have only allowed under 100 points twice in their nine postseason games. The Celtics also have a more capable trio in Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. All three of them have averaged about 20 points or more with Tatum leading the team at 25 points. The Heat only have Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic averaging 20 or more points per game with both averaging 21 points. Despite the Heat taking game one with a spectacular overtime block by Bam Adabeyo as well as taking game two off of an implosion by the Celtics, I’m still taking the C’s. Prediction: Celtics beat Heat 4-3 In the Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets will have to contend with the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver has about four more games played this postseason than LeBron on the Lakers do. The fatigue will eventually catch up to them, even in the conference finals. With that in mind, it’s hard not to pick the Lakers who have just about dominated the last two series they’ve participated in. LeBron James and Anthoney Davis have been a power duo that most teams can only dream of with both averaging about 27 points per game this postseason. It’ll be up to Murray to continue his historically great playoff run and Jokic’s play as the best center in the league for the Nuggets to have a chance. Prediction: Lakers beat Nuggets 4-2
The sun was sliced off from view as the Blane Dunnam Band found themselves up against the brick wall of Fall Line Brewing Co. on Sept. 11. Fall Line had begun to build a beer garden for outdoor customers, and the limited seating along with the open space proved to be the perfect setting for a four-piece band to play for an open crowd. The crowd rolled in slowly as the band got going. Their gritty sound began reverberating against the wall and echoing through the streets of Macon. People danced to the slow tunes and cheered to the harder-hitting tracks as the band worked their way through their 25-song setlist. The show lasted long into the night despite the coming storm, and the crowd was left wanting more after each of the two intermissions. Dunnam’s background Blane Dunnam is a singer-songwriter living in Macon, Ga., with his wife, Mercy Dunnam, his son, Nehemiah, and his daughter, River. “I grew up in a musical family. We just always sang together in church or whatever else,” Dunnam said. Dunnam attributed his start in music to his own ability to learn, as he began playing guitar at around age 12, and time spent in the choir at church. Dunnam and his wife are both practicing Christians. Not only do they frequent church, but they are also heavily involved. “Right now, I’m the worship leader at my church while also playing shows around town,” Dunnam said. Dunnam’s music and band The Blane Dunnam band is a mixture of many different sounds stylized around Dunnam’s musical palette. “I play a mixture of Americana, folk, with maybe a little bit of country,” Dunnham said. Even with his individual style, Dunnam isn’t simply a solo artist. “I have two kinds of shows. One is just me with an acoustic guitar, and the other is me and my band,” Dunnam said. Dunnam’s show on Sept. 11 was one where he played with bandmates: drummer Justin Emerson, lead guitarist Ramsey Wynee and bass guitarist Clayton Goodwin. The band isn’t a cover band per se, but their set list for their concert consisted of many well-known songs such as “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and “Come Together” by Gary Clark Jr. They also played a Blane Dunnam original song called “For You My Love,” which Dunnam wrote for his wife in 2019. Goodwin even considered “For You My Love” to be one of his favorite songs that they had ready for their setlist. Dunnam also has one studio album with a 12-song track list that he recorded with his sister, Candice Emerson, back in 2018. During the band’s performance, Wynee’s guitar solos and his play throughout the show were striking. Dunnam also impressed with his vocal range and the occasional crack in his voice, which added a nice charm to most, if not all, of the songs they performed. Emerson not only kept the tempo of the setlist brilliantly, but he also made use of the brick backdrop to bolster the sound of his own play. Goodwin’s bass playing added a certain twang to some songs that would have lacked severely without him while also being strong throughout the performance. Performing during COVID-19 COVID-19 stood as a challenge to Dunnam, who had previously been playing many live shows. “It was difficult to play shows at first,” Dunnam said. “I did a lot of shows over livestream or Facebook Live. People hosted some shows for me as well.” One of the livestream events Dunnam participated in was the 478 Sings United live music tournament. The tournament consisted of artists local to Macon, and Dunnam made it all the way to the final round to take second place. Despite COVID-19 forcing Dunnam to go virtual, he explained that it wasn’t the worst thing for him. “The block of time where I couldn’t play shows actually worked out for me thanks to the birth of my daughter River. I was able to be with my family during that time,” Dunnam said. Dunnam said that, despite COVID-19, he dreams of continuing his music career by playing live shows and hopes to keep going for a long time. Dunnam’s music can be found on iTunes and Spotify as well as through his Facebook page, which also links to his website.
Despite rising COVID-19 cases in the state of Georgia, the Georgia High School Association is allowing the fall football season to begin in September. According to the GHSA website, high schools were allowed to begin play by Sept. 4 and were already allowed to practice in pads as of Aug. 1. Despite these dates, many high schools have delayed their season until October, if not later. “The football schedule is a ‘work in progress’ this season, and probably will remain so throughout the rest of the fall,” said Steve Figueroa, director of media relations with GHSA. Figueroa said that the schedule listed on the GHSA website and the ones that individual schools plan on playing all differ and that schools and school systems are making decisions almost daily that affect the schedule in some way. “We make the changes to the online schedule as soon as we learn of those decisions, but we are at the mercy of the schools who are changing their schedules as those decisions are made,” Figueroa said. None of the six Bibb County high schools with official athletics programs under GHSA began playing official games until Sept. 18, according to the Bibb County Athletics website. Bibb County Athletics states, however, that their own schedule is subject to change and they already cancelled what would have been the first and second week of football. Even though the GHSA has their own game day operations, Bibb County has created their own set of rules. These rules include articles such as, “Both teams will present proof that a symptom and temperature check was done on each student and coach prior to arriving at game site,” and many more. With these rules in place, eight teams played Sept. 18 to begin high school football in Bibb County on the public school level. Private schools such as First Presbyterian Day School and Academy for Classical Education had already begun play. First Presbyterian defeated Ace 37-14 during a game Sept. 4, and both schools have other games this weekend. The Westside Seminoles lost to the Central Charges 12 to 7. The game ended on a pass attempt by Seminoles quarterback Ja'lon Miller which was broken up in the endzone. The Rutland Hurricanes lost to the Luella Lions 21-6. The Lions only allowed the Hurricanes to score in the second quarter while they scored a touch-down each quarter until the fourth. The Therrell Panthers lost to the Northeast Raiders 34-20. The game looked like a blowout toward the end, but the Panthers actually led 13-12 going into the fourth quarter before giving up 22 points and only scoring seven. The Howard Huskies lost to the Northside Eagles 28-7. The Eagles scored twice through the air and twice on the ground in order to rout the Huskies who only managed to score in the second quarter. High School football will continue in Bibb County with preventative measures in place to try and keep players, staff and coaches safe.
The NHL Playoffs have already completed the first round of play as well as the qualifying round, and as of Sept. 2, only four teams from each conference remain for the second round. The second round of play is a best-of-seven series with the teams reseeding upon the end of the round. The Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning are two of the four Eastern Conference teams trying to make it to the finals. The Lightning has already won that series behind Ondrej Palat’s five goals and three assists and Brayden Point’s two goals and seven assists. They will play the winner of the Islanders and Flyers series. The other two Eastern Conference teams are the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders won that series 4-3. Both Anders Lee and Jean-Gabriel Pageau have three goals while the combination of Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, and Mathew Barzal all have four assists. The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche are two of the four Western Conference teams trying to make it to the conference finals. Dallas has won that series 4-3 behind the play of Jamie Benn, who has racked up three goals and six assists during the seven-game series. The other two Western Conference teams are the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights have won that series 4-3 behind Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch’s four goals and Shea Theodore’s seven assists. The Knights will play the Stars and the Lightning will play the Islanders in each conference’s respective finals.
Excitement for the return of the National Basketball Association season, which has been suspended since the season stopped on March 11, was renewed when the NBA announced their “bubble” plan. The NBA is using the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, to host the 22 playoff eligible teams for an eight-game regular season. This bubble strategy means teams will stay in one place for the duration of the regular season and playoffs, according to CBS Sports. The bubble has proven to be a working model, as no player has tested positive since the start of the bubble. Even players who leave for personal reasons are quarantined before they can take the floor. With the addition of the bubble, teams that might not have been able to make the playoffs under normal circumstances will have a chance in the form of an eighth seed play-in game. The play-in game will take place between the eighth and ninth seed of each conference, assuming the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed. With its rules in place, the NBA bubble has successfully avoided any COVID-19 related issues while putting on a series of games for fans to watch. Because the bubble is taking place during what is almost a new season, team and player performances have been different and therefore demand awards for the eight games each team has played. Bubble Team Awards: East Best Team: The Toronto Raptors have only lost one game in the NBA bubble and have shown the world that they deserve to be in the championship conversation. The Raps have held a commanding 4.5 game lead over the Celtics from their position in the second seed, despite the disrespect to their status as defending champions. They have also shown themselves to be capable of taking down the Lakers, the Heat and the Bucks while in the Bubble, despite losing to the Celtics. Most Underachieving: The Milwaukee Bucks have more or less run away with the Eastern Conference this season, being five games ahead of the Toronto Raptors through the combined efforts of Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo has averaged about 27.5 points per page with 12.75 rebounds since the start of the bubble while Middleton has averaged 21.5 points per game on 42.9 percent from three point range, according to ESPN. The Bucks, however, only won three of their eight bubble games, but they might not have given it their best since they’re locked up the first seed. They were missing Antetokounmpo for the final game of the bubble season due to his suspension. Most Overachieving: The Brooklyn Nets have five wins in the bubble despite missing Kevin Druant, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince and Kyrie Irving. Caris LeVert and Joe Harris have more than carried the load with each averaging 20 points and Harris making 55% of his three-point shots. They could possibly have made some serious noise in the playoffs if they weren’t all but doomed to play the Raptors in the first round. Playoff Dark Horse: It seems wrong to call the defending champions the dark horse, but the Toronto Raptors have not been given the respect they command since the departure of Kawai Leanord. They have a chance to not only make the finals for the second year in a row, but actually win the gold. Bubble Team Awards: West Best Team: No one in their right mind would have picked the Phoenix Suns to be the best team of the bubble, but the Suns have eight straight wins and have essentially come back from the dead inside the bubble. Devin Booker has silenced all who doubted him or his ability to lead a team, while averaging 31 points per game on 49.7% shooting with six assists to boot since the bubble began. Booker has had the ultimate sidekick in Deandre Ayton who has averaged 15.6 points per game with 9.6 rebounds, according to ESPN. Unfortunately, despite the perfect record, wins from the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers during Thursday's seeding games have kept the Suns from making it to the play-in game. Most Underachieving: The Memphis Grizzlies were the eighth seed at the start of the bubble and had one job: win half their games, and they would be guaranteed a spot in the eighth seed and the play-in game. Eight games later, and the Grizzlies have barely scraped together enough wins to keep them in the play-in game. With the two wins they do have, the Grizzlies have done enough to clinch a spot in the play-in despite their poor play. It’s worth noting that the losses of Jarren Jackson Jr. to a torn meniscus in his left knee and Justice Winslow to a hip injury have left the team scrambling to find help for Ja Morant and probably doing worse than they normally would have. Despite missing two key pieces, Morant has averaged 20 points per game with 9.9 assists while doing his best to keep the Grizzlies afloat. Unfortunately, Morant’s play wasn’t enough to allow the Grizzlies to defeat the Trail Blazers in Saturday’s play-in game. Most Overachieving: The Phoenix Suns get two awards here. Not only are they just the overall best team in the Western Conference based on the last eight games, but they had no business being close to the playoff conversation until the bubble started. Playoff Dark Horse: While whoever wins the eighth seed might be able to make some noise, there’s a scarier team lurking in the middle of the Western Conference playoff bracket. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the fourth seed and quietly have won four of seven games in the bubble. While that record might not be all that amazing, the Thunder are guaranteed a first round matchup with the Houston Rockets and a revenge game for their star point guard Chris Paul. The Thunder are a team that wins by committee, with seven players averaging 12 or more points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander topping all Thunder scorers with 17 points per game, and they’ll look to lock down James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.