The good, the bad and the lessons learned from the Georgia State Panthers’ 2020 fall sports seasons

Georgia State Football lines up in the panther tunnel before the last home game against Georgia Southern University. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

The spring is upon us, which means that fall sports are in the book for 2020. Just playing and getting a season in was a massive accomplishment for Georgia State student-athletes and the Sun Belt Conference.

Some teams may have had the record to support a better than average year. Some may not have had the glamorous records. But every team, athlete, coach and everyone in-between started and finished their reduced seasons.

Let’s rewind to 2020 and look at the uniqueness of each team.

Volleyball: 9-11 overall record; 7-9 conference; lost in first round of conference tournament

In the case of head coach Sally Polhamus’ squad, it was not solely about the destination for them this year. 

“Our team is very unique. Having seven returners and seven newcomers makes the team chemistry a lot more interesting than I have ever been a part of,” freshman Ally Thees said.

That dynamic, combined with five seniors and five freshmen (plus redshirt freshman Isabelle Percoco), presents a dual-sided challenge.

While the seniors brought a lot of experienced court-time, they knew the program’s younger players could also use the reps.

The Lady Panthers always played with pride and spirit, mixing youthful energy with experienced play. Their mentorship and time allowed Ava Vlkovic, Clara Bednarek and Erin Wyatt to come alive, especially down the year’s ending stretch. Thees saw breakout games as well in the early and middle parts of the season, in addition to her other significant contributions down the stretch.

As good as the freshmen turned out to be, the seniors steadied the offense. Meisheia Griffin, Cierra Sillmon, Jordan Shoemaker and Leah Wilcox led the way for the team.

Griffin led the team with 74 blocks, Shoemaker finished fifth in the conference in assist per set, and Wilcox led the team with 228.5 total points.

Graduating one-third of the roster will lead to some growing pains for sure, but after getting the freshmen significant playing time this year, the future looks bright for the Polhamus’ squad.

Cross Country

Lotte Meyburg was named the Sun Belt’s “Runner to Watch” and picked up two wins at the 2020 conference championships in the 5000 meter and 3000-meter races.

Football: 6-4 overall, 4-4 conference; won LendingTree Bowl

The Panthers did not open their season until Sept. 19, when they made their Center Parc Stadium debut. 

The team lost a 34-31 heartbreaker in overtime versus the No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Georgia State running back Destin Coates notched a career-high 150 rushing yards and was the workhorse all game.

The Panthers finished out their regular season with a gratifying, close victory over their rival Georgia Southern Eagles. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cornelious “Quad” Brown capped off his stellar day of 372 total yards and two touchdowns with a one-yard sneak in the last 2:54 of the game. That score set the game at 30-24, which held to the final whistle, finishing Georgia State with a 5-4 record in the regular season.

With many teams opting out of bowl games, it could have been the end of Georgia State’s season. But the team had one last game.

It was a long season from all aspects. From the physical grind of training camp to the actual season, the Panthers gave it their all mentally and physically. The hard work paid off when they knocked off Western Kentucky in the LendingTree Bowl.

The bowl game was the program’s second straight and third under Elliott, pushing their final record to 6-4 and finishing with back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the program’s 11-year history.

Women’s Soccer: 10-3-2 overall; 6-2-2 conference. 1-1 in the conference tournament

The Lady Panthers enjoyed a plethora of success, with five players named to an All Sunbelt first or second team and a semi-finals appearance in the conference tournament. Ten wins in a shortened season and finishing the season just shy of the finals to the No. 1 seed team and eventual champion South Alabama Jaguars?

Not too shabby for the Lady Panthers.

Sophomore forward Jimena Cabrero left no doubt that her great freshman year was a sign of things to come, as she followed-up last year’s second-team All-Sun Belt with first-team honors in 2020. 

Joining her was the 2020 Sun Belt Freshman of the year Maddie Johnston, who became the first Panther to win a Player of the Year award since Jewel Evans in 2010.

Three more ladies earned honors as second-team All-Sun Belt members: freshman goalkeeper Jaddah Foos and sophomores Kamree Holloway and Jolie Ryff. Another young squad with history backing them, Georgia State will have high expectations for 2021 and, without a doubt, can accomplish them all.

“We won 10 games without even playing a full non-conference schedule. They should be proud of that. We’re a team of players going towards a common goal, but unfortunately, we fell a little short. But we’ve built a massive foundation for where this program is going moving forward,” head coach Ed Joyce said.

Men’s Soccer: 9-2-2 overall; 4-2 conference; 1-1 in the conference tournament

Deep, talented, well-coached, immeasurable heart and pain: That is the best way to sum up the season for Brett Surrency’s bunch this year.

They fell painfully short of reaching the NCAA Tournament after the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers beat them in penalty kicks in the Sun Belt Championship game. It was the fourth time in the last five seasons that the two teams have met, with Coastal Carolina winning three of the four matches.

Behind a studded group of seniors Aris Briggs, Paul Tyson, George Proctor and Andrew Miller-Bell, the men fell in one of the best games the program played in quite some time.

With a bright future ahead and Surrency leading, the team has the talent to offset some of the voids that will be left behind. But it was an emotional end to the Panthers’ 2020 season, no matter how you slice it.