Top five Mercer sports moments of the fall semester
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5. Jama runs away from competition for Julius Johnson Invitational win
Men’s cross country runner Ahmed Jama took the reigns as a freshman for Mercer last semester, leading the Bears in all five of the team’s races — but that doesn’t tell the whole story for the Woodstock, Georgia, native. An impressive first semester — which featured a program record time of 15:31.9 for a 5K race and a spot on the All-SoCon Freshman Team — was highlighted by a first-place finish at Mercer’s home race, the Julius Johnson Invitational held in Macon on Sept. 25. His individual title propelled the Bears to their best finish of the season, as the team took home the team title, as well.
“The win was big for my confidence for bigger meets throughout the season,” Jama said.
- Janiga finds the cup for a win at the Fighting Camels Classic
Another freshman, women’s golfer Mary Janiga, putted her way into the record books on Oct. 20 when she earned medalist at Campbell University’s Fighting Camels Classic in Buies Creek, North Carolina.
“I just wanted to end the season with a good tournament,” Janiga said of the win.
Similar to Jama, the Wellington, Florida, native led the team in all three tournaments the Bears completed in the fall, registering a 71.4 scoring average in those tournaments.After finishes of fifth and tied for seventh in her first two outings, Janiga culminated her first semester of strong play with a three-round total of 1-under par in North Carolina, becoming only the second player in the tournament’s 21-year history to finish under par.
Janiga’s medalist marked the first time a Mercer women’s golfer had won a tournament since Katy Harris’ victory at the 2014 Forest Oaks Fall Classic.
With the spring season and six tournaments still ahead, the freshman will have the opportunity to possibly add another trophy to her resume. But she won’t let the win affect her psyche too much.
“Going into spring season, (I) just hope for the best, play my game, keep everything level-headed,” she said.
3. Mercer men’s basketball makes history
Mercer’s men’s basketball has been playing in the NCAA’s Division I for over 42 years. It never started a season 8-1 — until this year.
The 2015-16 squad broke the previous record of 7-1 held by the 1984-85 team led by eventual NBA player Sam Mitchell and legendary coach Bill Bibb, who leads the program with 222 wins. That team went on to win the Atlantic Sun title and made an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“That’s something special that we can always remember,” said sixth-year senior Jibri Bryan of the record. “When we’re 50 years old, we can come back and talk about that.”
The Bears reached the 8-1 mark in a 68-43 win over Alcorn State in Hawkins Arena Dec. 5 after their lone loss in the first nine games at Davidson. Not only did sophomore Demetre Rivers score a career-high 15 points in the outing, but it was the last game Bryan played before taking a 10-game absence. He returned to the court Thursday night against VMI.
2. Mitchell highlights the “student” in student athlete
Eight sophomores have received Academic All-America First Team status in Division I football in the last 13 years. Mercer running back Tee Mitchell’s name rounds out the list. The near-1,000-yard rusher this season joined the likes of Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffery out of Stanford as a recipient.
Mitchell became the first Mercer football player to ever receive the award and the 11th Mercer athlete to earn such recognition in the last 10 years. Softball’s Natalie Shiver and women’s soccer’s Ashani Samuels earned Academic All-America honors in 2014.
“Our entire program is very proud of Tee for receiving such an incredible honor,” head coach Bobby Lamb told mercerbears.com in December. “I can’t say enough about what he has accomplished both on and off the field. He has set the standard for our program going forward.”
The sophomore out of Jacksonville, Florida, headlined a Bears team which boasted a SoCon-leading 48 Academic All-SoCon selections and three players with a 4.0 GPA in the fall.
1. Mercer football claws through No. 3 Chattanooga
But the classroom wasn’t the only grounds for success for Mercer’s football team in its third season since re-establishment. Although Mercer was under .500 (5-6) for the first time under the new regime, head coach Bobby Lamb said he believes the team is right where it should be at this point.
But few third-year programs achieve this: beating the FCS’ No. 3-ranked team. SoCon foe Chattanooga came to Five Star Stadium Nov. 7 with a flawless record in conference play. And then it entered the Bears’ den.
Mercer defeated the Mocs 17-14 for only its second-ever SoCon victory after junior safety Zach Jackson intercepted Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman deep in Mercer territory with 3:57 remaining. The Bears eventually ran out the clock after junior quarterback John Russ converted a fourth and inches with 2:00 left.
“What a great win for us,” Lamb said. “I can’t be more proud of this team because time, time and time again, we sat right here and it’s been a 7-point loss, a 3-point loss, a 2-point loss, it’s been a loss on the last play of the game. These kids are resilient. They finally just stepped up.”
And the Bears chose an appropriate time for one of its best wins in the last three seasons — its first program win over a Top-25 opponent. Mercer unveiled and donned camo uniforms for the outing as the team held Military Appreciation Day.
“Our camouflage uniforms may have helped us a little bit,” Lamb said. “They couldn’t see us out there a little bit.”
But the rest of the FCS did after the victory.