By Anna Brown, Owner of Union County News
USC Union’s athletic director and coaches said they are proud of the success of sports programs at the school and they are even more pleased with the GPAs of the athletes.
Athletic Director Zachary Simmons, Softball Coach William Royce, Soccer Coach Marc Curlee and athletes Hannah Truett of Sumter and Niko Steinweg of Germany spoke at the Union Rotary Club on March 14.
Simmons said baseball, women’s volleyball, a rifle team, bass fishing and e-gaming also are offered at the school. Women’s and Men’s Golf will be added next year and will be headquartered at the USC Union Laurens Location.
“We have vastly grown in sports in the past seven years but what I am more passionate about is grades,” Simmons said. “Our overall GPA for all sports is 3.43 out of 4.0, which is amazing.”
Simmons said many athletes have 4.0 GPAs, including Truett and Steinweg.
In the next year, the softball field on West Main Street and the baseball field in Jonesville will be upgraded, Simmons said. Union County recently deeded the softball field, formerly City Park, to the school.
In Jonesville, the former high school gymnasium has been transformed into an indoor athletic facility with artificial turf for softball, baseball and soccer practice.
“We know in South Carolina it rains like crazy in January and February and this gives us a competitive edge,” he said. “No other JUCO (junior college) in South Carolina, North Carolina or Virginia has a turf inside field. This gives us another reason for students to come to us because we have something the other schools don’t have.”
Royce said Union, a softball community, has welcomed the college team. Because of recruiting, the team has grown and along with South Carolina, now includes players from North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. Next year two players from Georgia will join the team.
“In the last two years we have moved from last place to second place in the region,” he said. “Last year we were conference runner-ups. We were one inning away from getting ready to go to the district, which allows us to go to the World Series. That is major for a JUCO D1.”
The team’s accolades includes a high number of NJCA Academic All Americans named to Team 1, 2 and 3.
“Like Zach said, academics is my first priority,” Royce said. “You are a student first before you are an athlete. We are proud to announce that softball this year has a 3.745 GPA. We have six to eight girls with 4.0.”
Royce said under the leadership of Dean Dr. Randy Lowell, all sports are doing well.
Truett, a Sumter native, said she has enjoyed her time at USC Union. A sophomore, she will transfer next year to Southern Wesleyan, a D2 school.
“I have learned so much about myself and just the community here,” she said. “Although Union is very small there are so many people who have brought me so much joy and have taught me so much about accountability and being true to myself.”
She thanked Royce for the influence he has been on her life.
Curlee was an assistant coach under Simmons when the soccer program began seven years ago. He became head coach about a year and a half ago.
Curlee, whose mother is from Germany, spent a lot of time in that country when he was younger. He said when he became head coach he wanted to see what would happen if he brought in talent from other countries. Many of the other teams USC Union plays have international players. The USC Union team currently has players from Germany, UK, Brazil, Switzerland, France and other areas.
“Last year we made it to the semi-finals for the first time ever in school history, which I am really proud of,” he said. “Most of our guys, their GPA is a 3.9 or higher. Like Coach Royce said, academics is huge for me. I have two (sons) who have gone through college and I expect the same thing out of these guys.”
The program has grown from 18 players to 30. This fall the team will include players from South Africa and Canada.
“We are fortunate to have the facility in Jonesville,” he said. “The old football field is perfect for us and the indoor facility is perfect.”
Steinweg was player of the year for the region, carries a 4.0 GPA and was first team All-Region.
“I have high expectations (for the upcoming season),” Curlee said. “I get a lot of support from the staff at the school, and I am really happy with the direction the program is going. And the way the town treats these guys- they have been accepted by the community. That is really nice to see when you have guys traveling 1,700 or 1,900 miles across the ocean to the little town of Union.”
Steinweg said he did experience some culture shock when he came to Union from Dortmund, a city of around 600,000 people.
“But I have definitely settled in and am definitely happy to be here,” he said.
He thanked his coaches, the school and the people of Union for all they have done to help him settle in.
A freshman, Steinweg said he declined an offer from a larger college and will remain in Union another year with his team, which he described as “more like a family.”
“I see how much we have changed already, and I think we can do even better next year,” he said.
Front row: Hannah Truett, William Royce, Nico Steinweg. Back row: Marc Curlee, Zach Simmons, USC Union Dean Randy Lowell, Annie Smith (Anna Brown, photo)