The Rise of The Valkyries: 21-22 Year in Converse Athletics
It was a year of both change and firsts on the campus of Converse University for the 2021-2022 academic year; the first change came on July 1, 2021, as the school officially transitioned from College to University status.
The second change happened about a month later when the men’s cross country and soccer teams stepped on campus for the first time. The historically all-women’s institution allowed undergraduate males on campus for the first time in its 132-year history. The Converse University athletic department added six male programs (Basketball, Cross Country, Soccer, Tennis, Track & Field and Esports) for the academic year.
Friday, September 3, 2021 marked the first ever competition for both men’s cross country and soccer teams. The men’s cross-country team placed sixth overall in their first collegiate race, while the men’s soccer team defeated Columbia College 5-0. Tim Boeckstaens (Pulle, Antwerpern, Belgium) picked up the first two goals in program history, while Gero Wolters (Niederkruchten, Germany) picked up the first official assist in club history.
Meanwhile, a strong opening weekend to the athletic year was echoed by a few of the Converse women’s teams. Freshman cross-country runner Carson Towe finished seventh overall in the USC Upstate Eye Opener Invitational and helped the women’s team to a fifth-place finish. The field hockey team won their first home opener in school history with a 1-0 win over Mount Olive. Eryn Follett (Lakeside, Calif.) scored the lone goal of the game, while Ciriaca Petitto (Yorktown, Va.) made a pair of saves to preserve the shutout. For her efforts in the goal, Petitto won the first player of the week laurels by the South Atlantic Conference Carolinas office.
During the second week of the season, the women’s cross-country team placed third overall in the Wingate University Bulldog stampede. The men’s soccer team, won the program’s first road game of the season with a 4-0 win over Bob Jones University. As the calendar began to flip over to the month of October, the Valkyries concluded the month of September with a few highlights. The volleyball team defeated North Greenville 3-1 on Family Weekend, while the men’s and women’s soccer programs swept Erskine at the end of the month. The field hockey team knocked off their first ever nationally ranked opponent with a 3-1 road win over rival #10 Limestone.
The winning ways continued for the Valkyries in the first week of October. Towe finished second overall at the Koala Classic and helped lead the women’s cross-country team to a first-place finish. Luis Rios Brena (Gray Court, S.C.) placed sixth overall and helped the men’s cross-country team to a fourth-place finish at the event. The volleyball team picked up a pair of wins over Southern Wesleyan and Mount Olive and the field hockey team finished off the season sweep of Limestone the following Tuesday. Two more sports started their seasons in the first weeks of October, with the swim team competing in the King Invite and the equestrian team competing in the IHSA Show at the University of South Carolina.
On October 12, 2021 the Converse men’s tennis team won their first official match against in-state foe Limestone. Two days later, the men’s soccer team scored a school-record six goals against Johnson & Wales University. A few days later, Fabio Pasini (Ardesio, Italy) recorded the first hat-trick in school history against USC Aiken. The following weekend, the swim team swept Columbia College and Pfeiffer in their first home meet of the season. Both tennis teams came back victorious over Catawba with 4-3 road wins over the Indians. The cross-country programs competed in the Conference Carolinas Championships, with the women’s team placing third overall in the event. A total of four women’s cross-country runners took home All-Conference honors after the meet.
The field hockey team rounded out the month of October by setting a new school record for goals in a game against Sewanee. Catalina Pistaccio (Buenos, Aires, Argentina) also set the school record for fastest hat-trick in a match against the Tigers. Two days later, the Valkyries captured their first Regular Season Championship with a 3-1 win over Belmont Abbey.
In November 2021, the men’s soccer team qualified and competed in the Opening Round of the Conference Carolinas men’s soccer championship to start the month. Two days later, the field hockey team won their first ever South Atlantic Conference Carolinas tournament game and advanced to championship Sunday for the first time in school history. The men’s and women’s cross-country teams wrapped up their seasons by hosting the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
On Sunday, November 7, 2021 the field hockey pulled off the Game of the Year and defeated Limestone 1-0 to win the school’s first tournament championship. With just 17 seconds to go in the match, Mira Polzer (Munich, Germany) found Luisa Fasold (Wolfenbuttel, Germany) on a corner opportunity for the game-winning goal.
The tournament championship from field hockey sent positive waves across the entire department and built up positive hype for the rest of the month. The Volleyball team won a thrilling five-set match over Erskine just two days after the championship match.
On November 12, 2021, history was made once again for the Converse athletic department as the Converse men’s basketball welcomed Belmont Abbey, Wingate and Mars Hill to the Weisiger Center for the opening of basketball season. In front of a sold-out crowd and an electric atmosphere within the gym, the Valkyries defeated Mars Hill 93-82 for the program’s first-ever win.
Going into the Thanksgiving Holiday, the Valkyries had much to be thankful for. The Equestrian team had just come off a third-place finish in the College of Charleston show, while the swim team had one of their best finishes ever at the Mid-Season Invitational. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams went into the holiday break with a win against Erskine College.
After a busy fall season, the months of December and January began to slow down for the athletic department as only the basketball programs and the indoor track team were in action. The holiday break gave the athletic department just enough time to prepare for a busy spring cross-over season.
In February 2022, the athletic department also officially opened up the new turf field on campus and officially unveiled the new name of Hayden Abney Fulp Field at Weisiger Stadium to the public.
A few of the highlights from a busy February included Bayley Robinson (Simpsonville, S.C.) winning the 800-meter event at the Conference Carolinas Indoor Championships and Julia Beebe (Charleston, S.C.) finishing third overall in the 200-yard free event and fourth overall in the 500-yard free. The equestrian team had numerous athletes qualify for regionals and the acrobatics & tumbling team was 4-0 on the season.
In the final months of the spring season, the Converse athletic department continued to see success. In equestrian, Madison Montgomery (Camden, S.C.) won the regional in her respective event, while Heather Harris and Kinsley Allaire (Inman, S.C.) each finished runner-up at regional in their respective events. Montgomery went on to represent Converse at the National IHSA Show at the end of the semester. The women’s golf team placed third overall in their home tournament and had a pair of players named to the All-Conference teams at the end of the season. The softball team picked up a 15-1 win over Brevard and the lacrosse team defeated Dallas 25-4.
The men’s tennis team defeated nationally ranked Francis Marion and became nationally ranked themselves in the month of April. The men’s tennis team was the first male sport to receive national recognition at Converse. The acrobatics & tumbling team finished runner-up in Conference Carolinas but made it to Nationals in Oregon. The acrobatics & tumbling team won an individual event National Championship.
The women’s tennis team competed at the Conference Carolinas Championship Tournament for the second season in a row. The women’s outdoor track team finished fourth overall and had numerous athletes named to All-Conference squads. Senior women’s tennis player Belen Vendrell (Buenos, Aires, Argentina) was named the Murphy Osborne Award Winner by the Conference Carolinas office and became the first Valkyrie named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America Team.
In Esports, the Valkyries brought home a pair of Conference Carolinas Championships in the games of Overwatch and League of Legends. While the Rainbow Six Siege team won the first ever Grand Championship at the national level. The League of Legends team made it to the national semifinals of the College League of Legends Championship this season.
Overall this season, the Converse athletic department had one event national champion, two All-Americans, one National Freshman of the Year, one National Coach of the Year, two National Rookie Team Members, a NCAA Statistical Championship, the Murphy Osborne Award Winner, an Elite 23 Award Winner, two Messick Sportsmanship award winners, one Conference Coach of the Year, one Conference Athlete of the Year, one Conference Defensive Player of the Year, one Conference Offensive Player of the Year and four Conference Freshman of Year award winners.
The Valkyries also had 36 All-Conference selections, five All-Tournament selections, one Tournament MVP, 38 Conference Carolinas Academic Team members, 21 Conference Players of the Week, three Conference Freshman of the Month, 66 members of the Dean’s List and 216 Fall 2021 Conference Carolinas Presidential Honor Roll members. Looking back at the 2021-2022 athletic year, one can see that the department has set a solid foundation for years to come.