It’s the last issue of the semester. Normally, there’s a farewell piece from the editor (me) or a writer who’s graduating, but there isn’t a single senior on the sports staff. Instead, we’ll acknowledge a few graduating seniors who went above and beyond for this University and this community.
We’re all thinking of Francis Alonso—and we’ll get to him—but he’s not the only graduating student-athlete at this institution. UNCG Athletics, across the board, from softball to women’s soccer to, yes, men’s basketball, has blossomed in these last four years into a legitimate mid-major program. The Spartan Club can raise the money and the coaches can put their blood and tears into the team, but it’s the players who get the job done.
I’m thinking of student-athletes like Stephanie Bryden. A senior pitcher/utility player for UNCG Softball, she anchored a dominant Spartan rotation that helped capture its first ever SoCon Championship in 2018, and they’re right back in the thick of it this year. Bryden went a stellar 16-1 with a 1.49 ERA in 2018. Her numbers have dipped noticeably in 2019—she’s 19-10 with a 2.65 ERA—but she’s also had to make up for the departure of ace Alicia Bazonski, who graduated last year. Bryden also has a career .289 batting average.
Most impressively, Bryden missed almost her entire sophomore season due to injury after winning SoCon Freshman of the Year. She didn’t come back the same—she came back better.
Redshirt senior Chad Sykes, a pitcher for UNCG Baseball, is another name I have in mind. The baseball team lost some good pitchers last season in Matt Frisbee and Jack Maynard. Before the season, the coaching staff expressed some concern to me about their absence, but mentioned Sykes as a pitcher whom they were hoping would step in. Sykes missed all of 2018 thanks to Tommy John surgery, a procedure that sometimes derails careers.
Like Bryden, Sykes has answered the call. Serving as UNCG’s chief closer, he has a 5-3 record, seven saves and a ridiculous 0.65 ERA in 41.2 innings pitched. Now the most dangerous weapon in UNCG’s pitching staff, he’ll have to continue his high play as the season winds down.
And then there’s Francis Alonso. He’s never had Tommy John surgery or any injury of that magnitude, but Bryden and Sykes are from Orlando and Creedmoor, N.C., respectively. Alonso is from Spain. He graduated from a college that doesn’t teach in his native language while becoming arguably the best UNCG basketball player ever. That’s a different kind of adversity but adversity nonetheless.
That’s not to mention the adversity that he, along with fellow seniors Demetrius Troy and Lloyd Burgess, faced on the court. When this class got here, the program was in rough shape. When they left, they were hailed as unquestionably the best senior class in UNCG Men’s Basketball history. Sure, Wes Miller was the grand master behind the plan, but Alonso and Troy were the executors. Their toughness, sacrifice and well-honed talent were what got UNCG to where it is now. For that, thank you, to them and every other graduating student-athlete.