Reorganized in 1996 from Southern Seminary, (a small two year college), Southern Virginia University is nestled in the foothills of the scenic Shenandoah Valley – hardly the typical environs for building championship sports programs.
What's the driving force for SVU's rapid expansion into championship athletics? Some believe it's the unique nature of the school. Coaches and faculty say that while athletics remain secondary to academics at SVU, a full third of the student body is playing some sort of competitive sport. Many of their athletes play more than one sport and top athletes can start all four years for their favorite team.
Diedra Dryden, SVU head women's softball coach, said athletes are drawn there because it allows them to play sports at a top quality university and still remain "a regular Joe" in the classroom. "I see us a lot like BYU-Hawaii. We're using our athletics to draw attention to the university," she said.
And draw attention they do. Liz Weber, a four-year varsity basketball starter, scored over 2,000 career points. According to Dryden, "Liz had offers … she could have done anything she wanted," yet she chose SVU. Weber is not alone.
Shalece Hibbert is a second-year college student who transferred to SVU this year from Utah. According to SVU's women's basketball coach Mike Harmon, Hibbert gave up a full Div. 1 soccer scholarship and a chance to play Division III basketball just to come to SVU.
Kevin Parks, assistant men's basketball coach, also named several athletes there he felt could play Div. 1. "Cory Sullivan (high jumper) could go Division I if he wanted to," said Parks. "This past year, the coach of the UVSC (Utah Valley State College) basketball team told me that we had at least three players on our team that could play Division I basketball."
Meanwhile the championships keep piling up. Amber Clark, assistant women's basketball coach, noted, "There's a good chance our track and field teams will bring home one – if not two –national championships next year based on their performances the last three years."
Parks added: "I think every team we have here has a shot at a national title if they are able to recruit the right people. As we continue to make a name for ourselves, we're better able to attract top athletes. We're turning heads out there. We've had great athletes in the past, but we're talking to people now that could take us to the next level."
It probably is not surprising that SVU has done so well so quickly. Its current university president, Dr. Monte S. Nyman, came to the SVU as the original men's baseball coach.
New incoming university president, Dr. Rodney K. Smith, begins his tenure in June. He has served on the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee for Div. 1 sports and as faculty athletics representative at the University of Memphis.
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