Featured Flock: Unbeaten Hawks ascend to No. 1 in Top 25 Poll
By Matt Green
KANSAS CITY – They began the season as the popular pick among Southern States Athletic Conference coaches to finish No. 1 in the SSAC.
Now, coaches across the country have tapped the Shorter University Hawks as the nation’s No. 1 team.
For the first time in program history, the Shorter men’s basketball team assumes the No. 1 ranking in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Coaches Top 25 Poll, which was released by the organization’s offices Monday evening.
The Hawks (17-0, 8-0 SSAC) gathered nine first place votes and 280 total points to claim the country’s top ranking in the fourth edition of the weekly ratings. Shorter knocked off former No. 1 Oklahoma Baptist, which lost for the first time last week in overtime to No. 12 Southern Nazarene.
The Hawks become the second team in Shorter history to garner a national No. 1 ranking – Shorter’s women’s golf team was first voted No. 1 on April 1, 2011.
“Although it is nice to be recognized as the nation’s No. 1 team, records and rankings should only be a product of talent and work,” said Shorter head coach Chad Warner, who is nine wins away from 100 for his career since taking over the program prior to the 2007-08 season. “We still have a long way to go and by no means are we satisfied with what we have accomplished to this point. Hopefully we will continue to work hard and play as a team.”
Shorter began the season ranked No. 12, which tied the program’s highest ranking to date. The Hawks have reeled off 17 straight wins to open the year and have built a rather impressive resume that includes two wins over a ranked Freed-Hardeman squad, a road win over SSAC West Division favorite Mobile and a 15-point road victory over defending SSAC champion Emmanuel this past Saturday.
Shorter’s overall turnaround since the arrival of Warner is even more remarkable.
When the Rome native accepted the offer to become Shorter’s head coach five years ago, he assumed control of a program that had suffered through three straight seasons of single digit victories and hadn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1997-98.
Warner won 19 games in his first season and advanced to the SSAC Tournament semifinals in each of his first two seasons. Last year, Warner guided Shorter to 23 wins – the program’s first 20-win season in 13 years – as the Hawks narrowly missed out on an at-large berth to the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The momentum and motivation from last season has certainly carried over into the 2011-12 campaign.
All-America forward Walter Hill (18.6 ppg) leads four Hawks averaging double figures and Shorter ranks as the country’s No. 1 3-point shooting team at 43 percent. New additions Anthony Banks (15.9 ppg) and C.J. Davis (14.5 ppg) have been spectacular since joining the lineup at the holiday break and Eric Nix ranks No. 10 in the NAIA at 6.0 assists per game.
The Hawks will have little time to bask in their newly acquired No. 1 ranking. Thursday night, Shorter hosts perennial conference power Southern Poly, which vaulted all the way from No. 10 to No. 4 in this latest version of the Top 25 Poll. The Hornets, who have made two straight appearances in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, have won nine straight and own wins over No. 7 Georgetown (Ky.) and No. 15 Mountain State (W.Va.).
Tip off Thursday in the showdown between the nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 teams is set for 8 pm at the Winthrop-King Centre.