Bright Idea: The Story of O’Henry’s Coffee

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“I couldn’t find a truly great cup of coffee in Birmingham.” These words, spoken by Dr. Henry Bright of Birmingham, launched him into a coffee obsession that resulted in the birth of O’Henry’s Coffee in 1993.

At the start of his coffee craze, Bright was working as a successful orthodontist in the Birmingham area. Bright became interested in coffee after recognizing a need for a place where people could meet and enjoy one another’s company.

Bright’s passion carried him across the country, as he studied different techniques and roasting processes in order to be successful in the industry. Bright was fascinated with the chemistry of coffee, beyond the taste, and wanted to control all steps of the process, starting with the coffee bean.

He bought an espresso machine for his home and after learning how to roast, source, and blend coffee, Bright opened the original O’Henry’s in Homewood with a “little red roaster” in the front window.

Today, out of Bright’s vision, O’Henry’s has expanded to four different locations around Birmingham, Brookwood, Highland Park, Region Tower, and the original Homewood location. Business Insider named O’Henry’s Alabama’s Best Coffeehouse in 2014, proving it is a growing success story.

The story began when Bright saw a need for a gathering place and wanted to do something about it. He envisioned a coffeehouse as a place where cross sections of society could meet and feel comfortable.

Bright understood the dynamics necessary to produce a sense of hospitality, comfort, and home in a coffeehouse. O’Henry’s conveys this mood through warm colors and a welcoming environment.  “We love to hear people say meet me at O’Henry’s,” said current owner, Randy Adamy. O’Henry’s strives to make people feel comfortable in coming and staying.

O’Henry’s was a hit from day one. This business venture involved a great deal of risk, as Bright sold his coffee for $1.50 in 1993, when you could get coffee elsewhere for a quarter. Yet, people saw a difference and appreciated Bright’s innovative idea. Bright was revolutionary in bringing specialized coffee to the people of Birmingham.

“Dr. Bright was the type of guy that would make sure he succeeded, he would do whatever it took,” said Adamy. O’Henry’s introduced the trend of artisan roast, setting the standard for what is expected out of a quality cup of coffee.

Jenn Russ, employee of five years, described Bright as humble, soft-spoken, friendly, and a man who loves coffee and getting to know people. In the coffeehouse industry, “It is all about the relationships and Dr. Bright knew that,” said Adamy.

O’Henry’s employees make an effort to learn people’s needs, beyond a cup of coffee, whether it is the need to be heard or to slow down. “That is the most important thing we do, we just happen to be selling coffee,” said Adamy.

When Bright was looking to sell the company in 1999, he met Adamy through a mutual friend. Adamy said Bright wanted someone to keep the standards high, committed to producing something that would enhance the community. For Bright, it was never about money, and to Adamy, “profitability is something that happens when you do something right.”

Under Adamy’s ownership, O’Henry’s has just expanded on the precedent set by Bright. With four O’Henry’s across Birmingham and the roasting business booming, the franchise has managed to remain true to its “mom and pop” origin.

Russ appreciates the small-business aspects of the company and the traditional roots, which have sustained O’Henry’s and allowed it to flourish. “I like what it was founded on,” shared Russ. She described the reward of watching the coffee culture evolve and morph, while O’Henry’s hasn’t changed.

Bright, who will turn 81 this year, is still a vigorous and sharp businessman and consultant of O’Henry’s. There are regulars today who still come in and talk about him. One example is a group of men that have been coming every week since the opening in 1993. They call themselves the “has beens” and have a reserved table where they meet each Thursday morning at 9 a.m. “They are like antiques, we have to dust them off, they are part of the atmosphere,” said Adamy.

Regular costumer, Zach Eaves keeps coming back for “the atmosphere, seating options, and Southern Pecan Crème Coffee.” Everyone has their reason for coming back, and for many it is more than just coffee. The “notebox” on the mantle of every O’Henry’s serves as a testament to the memories made there, filled with notes on scrap paper and tokens of gratitude from loyal guests. Adamy believes regulars come back for “the same reason we all look forward to Christmas- tradition, comfort, family, friends.”

There is humility about Bright and the O’Henry’s story. “If you were to say to Dr. Bright, ‘You are too humble,’ he probably wouldn’t say anything,” shared Adamy. Bright started something unique and so it remains, coffee and community since 1993.

Harlem Globetrotters Come to Samford

The iconic Harlem Globetrotters are coming to Pete Hanna Center Sunday, March 6th at 4 p.m. and Monday, March 7th at 7 p.m. The team is celebrating its 90th anniversary world tour, and this one being called their most epic tour in history.

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Photos courtesy of Harlem Globetrotters media team.

The Local had the opportunity to interview Handles Franklin, one of the players.

The Local: I hear you’ve traveled to several different countries to play games. Which has been your favorite to visit and/or play in?
Franklin: When we go to other countries, we try to speak those languages. We’ve been to Iraq where the war is, and there are military bases and troops. That was pretty cool. In China and Romania, the games were absolutely packed – sold out.

L: Who are you closest to on the team?
F: I’m close with Marquez Haines. I also had a good friend Marcus who passed away. But we’re all like brothers, like one big family. When at practice or on the road, we’ll be together on a tour bus on Christmas morning.

L: What is your biggest challenge and how do you manage this challenge?
F: No one, no matter your path, is immune to life’s challenges. We all have challenges that we need to overcome. It’s about getting up and moving forward.

L: How do you set your goals?
F: I’ll have a tape sent I’ve me playing, which I will review. I always try to be persistent and keep pushing towards being the best I can be.

 

L: What’s your diet like?
F: We play over 300 games a year, so we play everyday. When I’m on tour, which is most often, I eat very healthy.

L: What was the best advice you were ever given?
F: My parents were my role models growing up. They taught me the value of getting an education and to help as many people as I can. Just try to make the world better. One act of service our team performs is a hospital visit called the Great Assist. We’re celebrating our 90th anniversary and encourage our fans to give back as well. People can learn more about it at http://www.harlemglobetrotters.com/greatassist.

 

L: Anything else you’d like to share?
F: I tell people to believe in themselves and believe in your dreams. They are attainable! There was a time when, at first, basketball didn’t work out. But I stuck with it.

 

Tickets start at $22 and are available at harlemglobetrotters.com, samfordsports.edu, the Pete Hanna Center box office, or by phone at 205-726-3647.  Information on group and scout tickets can also be found at harlemglobetrotters.com.

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Taking Flight

While many Birmingham residents are familiar with the Southern Museum of Flight, few have heard the tale of its beginning- the aviation adventures that initiated the museums ultimate take off. 

Take that ring off now, or I’ll take it off and throw it out the window!”

Mary Alice Gatling sat stiffly in her seat. Defiance danced in her eyes as silence settled in the stilled passenger car. The only motion that threatened to rock the tracks was the thundering voice that demanded the hand of the silent woman who had yet to speak a word.

Donald Croom Beatty steadied his gaze. He knew patience. But he was even better acquainted with the power of purpose.

When he had learned of Mary Alice’s engagement, he had wasted no time in jumping aboard his small plane and tracking down the train that was transporting his girl. Having found it, he landed in a nearby field and then halted the southbound train.

Now he refused to leave until the ring Mary Alice wore was replaced with the one he now held out to her.

Slowly the diamond ring began to twist from her slender fingers.

It was done.

“You’re my girl, and don’t you forget it!” Beatty boomed.

It would only be a matter of time before the hands of Mary Alice Beatty, more accustomed to frolicking across the piano keys at The Juilliard School, would take a bounding, daring leap and learn to soar across the heavens.

And he would teach her.

While many Birmingham residents are familiar with the Southern Museum of Flight, very few have heard the tale of its beginning—the aviation adventures that initiated the museum’s ultimate take off.

Since the moment it first revved up its engine for guests in 1983, the museum has been home to over 90 aircraft and numerous exhibitions and memorabilia, including more than 70 mounted biographical plaques documenting southern aviation history in the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.

Behind these exhibitions are many exciting years of teetering upon makeshift runways and gliding above horizons glimmering with mystery and danger.

“Dad taught Mother how to fly when girls never learned how to fly,” Mary Alice Beatty Carmichael, daughter of Donald and Mary Alice Beatty, recalled. Besides being a businessman, Donald Beatty was an aviator, explorer and inventor.

Carmichael explained that because of society’s expectations for women at the time, her mother never mentioned her flying lessons during her tutorship.

According to Carmichael, Beatty learned to fly in the early 1920’s. At that time, “ladies didn’t throw their legs over anything, and the only way you can get in a plane is to climb on the wing, throw your leg over the cowling and drop down into the seat.”

Carmichael is the second of three living children to Donald and Mary Alice Beatty, both of whom have since passed. She serves on several of the museum boards, including the Foundation Board, the City Board and the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame Board.

Although well occupied in their early years of marriage with explorations and expeditions—one of which was sponsored by J.P. Morgan after the historic stock market crash of 1929—Donald and Mary Alice Beatty spent most of their lives in Birmingham, where they had been born and raised.

Donald left behind a legacy of inventions and aerial flight routes through the hearts of Central and South America that have marked history. While Mary Alice accompanied and assisted her husband in many of his endeavors, perhaps her most invaluable contribution to Alabama is the Southern Museum of Flight.

With her husband’s vast collection of artifacts, plane pieces and memorabilia from various expeditions, Mary Alice Beatty initiated its creation.

“They started a museum that was in the attic at Samford above the library,” Carmichael recalled. She described the museum’s initial take off first at the university, and then as its cargo grew, at the Birmingham Airport before its final landing in the Historic East Lake district, where it is nestled today.

Carmichael remembers her mother quipping, “I had to do something to get Daddy’s things out—Daddy’s junk out of the closet!”

Although its engine has gently cooled over the years, today the Southern Museum of Flight still serves visitors as a quiet wonder tucked snugly into the heart of the steel city.

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File written with PhotoPhilia 1.9.4, http://www.pholix.com

Behind the Beats: Birmingham Mountain Radio

Birmingham Mountain Radio’s studio is tucked away in the halls of a the local music venue WorkPlay. Step into the station’s office and you will find walls covered in signed posters from bands like Alabama Shakes, Moon Taxi, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and other great musicians who originated in the heart of Birmingham.

Birmingham Mountain Radio is a locally run alternative music station that cultivates an authentic relationship between the listeners and the station by focusing on new artists as well as local advertisers – creating a movement that is bigger than they ever imagined.

The station got its start in 2011 after a few local radio stations that fell through and after the alternative 107.7 went off air. At that point, friends Jeff Clanton and Geno Pearson assumed there probably wasn’t going to be an alternative station to return to Birmingham.

“We sat on the idea of starting our own for a few months thinking that somebody else would pick up the gauntlet – they never did,” Clanton said.

Clanton and Geno decided that since they didn’t have the means or the know-how to run an FM station, they would start by creating an Internet-based radio station. In January of 2011 they launched the online version of BMR, and they were blown away by the response. Since then, BMR has paired with Summit Media Group and launched their FM station in June 2013.

“The community embraced us,” Geno said with joy as he looked out the window.

The BMR staff hopes to lift the community up through partnering with local vendors and advertisers. “We really want to be community driven,” said Scott.

“We want to lift people up who are doing great things in Birmingham. That’s what we hold near and dear – our community.”

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Vulcans on Parade

For over 80 years the 50-ton Vulcan statue has sat on Red Mountain overlooking the city. He is now joined by two smaller and more colorful versions of himself in downtown Birmingham.

One, with its earthy colors and painted words describing the city, is situated outside of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). The other, located in Railroad Park, depicts the magic city at night with stars forming Orion and the Big Dipper, two constellations that are often found in the city’s night sky.

These statues are the first of the ongoing Vulcans on Parade project, a partnership between members of the Project Corporate Leadership (PCL) class of 2015 and Vulcan Park and the Museum.

The class of PCL was challenged to create a project that aims to change the negative perception that there is a lack of activities and entertainment in the Birmingham Metro area.

“The idea that we ended up on was to get permission to use the image of Vulcan, make the Vulcan statues and put the statues up at attractions,” Cox said. “We want to use Vulcan to bring attention to local attractions.”

After getting approval from Vulcan Park and Museum to use the Vulcan, the statues are made in Nebraska. Then they are sent back to Birmingham where local artists design and decorate them.

Project Corporate Leadership went through the Birmingham Museum of Art to find people who could design and paint the first two statues, and got Simmons Middle School art teacher Carrie McGrann and local artist Paul Cordes Wilm.

McGrann and Wilm had plain, white fiberglass statues delivered to their homes and several months to paint it.

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Wilm’s statue, named “Forging Ahead,” is located in front of the BJCC. He wanted it to not only tell a story about how Birmingham has changed, but also to show the god of fire, Vulcan.

“It is an anatomical map of man, but instead of muscles I put strengths and things that Birmingham has achieved,” Wilm said. “I wanted it to be sort of a magical and spiritual map of Birmingham. This is what we have done and this is what we are striving to do.”

There are many elements on the statue that each have meaning. Words like “civil rights,” “industry,” “equality” and “dream” are written on it. Wilm said that these represent Birmingham’s story. A map of Birmingham has been included under Vulcan’s raised arm. Another map of the state of Alabama is on the block next to him with the words “Be Proud” painted above it.

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Magic City Lights by Carrie McGrann
McGrann took a different spin on her statue, named “Magic City Lights,” which is located in Railroad Park.

“I really wanted to go with the theme of Birmingham being the Magic City,” McGrann said.

At the bottom of the statue she painted her perspective of driving into Birmingham at night and seeing all of the red and yellow car lights. Then, on the apron she depicted many downtown buildings at sunset. These colors blend into a night sky as they move up the painting.

“If you look on the chest, there are stars that map out Orion and on the back is the Big Dipper,” McGrann said. “Those are the two things that I learned how to find in the sky here.”

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McGrann and Wilm did not know exactly where their statues were going to go until their reveal in late August.

The group, including Wade Cox, Justin Drummond, Chris Cooper, Ashley Stuckey and Leslie Dobbs, plan to place 18 additional statues in the city by the end of 2016.

Something that many involved in this project have in common is that they have all lived in Birmingham for many years. Wilm, Cox and McGrann all are enthusiastic about how this will bring attention to Birmingham and its many features.

“We are forging a new name for ourselves. We are an innovative, creative and a cool place to be. Come here and see us,” Wilm said.

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To learn more, visit www.bhamvulcans.com 

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@vulcansonparade 

IT’S DECEMBER – CUE THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC

Hip Hip Horray! It’s officially acceptable to start playing Christmas music and we couldn’t be more excited! Below is a compiled list of songs that we think will put you in the Christmas spirit! It’s great for the travels home and will definitely help you count down for the holidays! Enjoy!

All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
Frosty The Snowman- Ella Fitzgerald
Drummer boy – Justin Beiber
Christmas Lights – Coldplay
Baby It’s Cold Outside – She & Him
Sleigh Ride – KT Tunstall
Last Christmas – Jimmy Eat World
Winter Song – Sara Barilles, Ingrid Michaelson
A Holly Jolly Christmas – Lady Antebellum
White Christmas – Bing Crosby
Christmas Day – Johnnyswim
Rudolph the Red Nose Reighndeer – Jack Johnson
That’s Chistmas – Penatonix
Mele Kalikimaka – Bing Crosby
This Chirstmas – Chris Brown
Silent Night – Priscilla Ahn
Mvmt “Every Bell On Earth Will Ring” – The Oh Hellos
Maybe this Christmas – Ron Sexsmith
My Only Wish – Brittney Spears
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Sam Smith
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Michael Buble
Merry Chirstmas, Happy Holidays – Micahel Henry and Just Robinett

Birmingham Track Club: Fueling Friendships

It’s a crisp, fall Saturday morning in the heart of the Magic City, and the elusive sun is far beyond the      horizon, not scheduled to rise for another hour.

As most residents lie asleep in the comfort of their own homes, a sizeable group of runners has converged at the Trak Shak’s downtown Homewood location. Alert and energetic at this young hour, they are ready to embark on lengthy treks that range in distance from seven to 22 miles.

While pounding the pavement at the crack of dawn may not be everybody’s cup of tea, especially on a brisk weekend morning, a dedicated and growing number of people      routinely congregate at the same time every Saturday to start their weekend in the most rewarding way they know.

For some, it begins with a leisurely one-hour trot. For others, it begins with an arduous three-hour grind. But regardless of their varying speeds and distances, all are united by a common factor. As members of the booming Birmingham Track Club (BTC), the runners enjoy a special bond of friendship as they passionately pursue healthy, active lifestyles.
“The Saturday morning group ends up becoming your buddies, your friends,” BTC President Alex Morrow said. “You start off running and then pretty soon, you’re going to movies with them, you’re having dinner, and they become lifelong friends. That’s why running’s so cool.”

The Saturday morning group run represents just one of many club-sponsored events that offer rich opportunities for both aerobic and relational development, providing members with the opportunity to fulfill the club’s original mission.
Founded in 1979 by Dr. Arthur Black, the BTC was launched with hopes of improving the overall health and wellness of Birmingham area residents through running.

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As underscored in the club’s mission statement, the BTC was created “to promote physical fitness throughout the membership and the community, specifically through systematic running and the promulgation of positive health habits.”
Although the club started with only a handful of people, it has grown steadily since its inception and currently boasts 1,300 members.

Much of that membership base, however, is newly acquired, added over the course of the club’s present revival that began just over seven years ago.

“I had always heard stories from the heyday of the Birmingham Track Club when they did all these amazing things and it used to be a big club,” Morrow said.  “When I got involved, there were maybe 500 to 600 runners and the club had dwindled off a little bit, and it just needed something exciting to happen.”

The spark that ignited the BTC’s resurgence, Morrow said, can be credited to former club president Jennifer Andress.

“Jennifer’s a big runner. She’s been featured in Runner’s World and she brought a lot of energy and life to the club, and it really sparked some fun,” Morrow said, “and running has to be fun for you to want to be involved.”

Largely thanks to the added element of fun, club membership has more than doubled since Morrow joined in 2008, making the BTC the largest Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) affiliate in Alabama.

“From her presidency to my presidency, the club’s just continued to grow,” Morrow said. “We’ve instituted more programs, we have more socials, we have more runs and bigger events, and I think people see the value for their dollars now.”

That much is evident.

From free coaching and reduced race fees to an intriguing retailer discount program that includes merchants like Taco Mama and Mountain High Outfitters, there are a number of perks that come with club membership.

Plus, joining the BTC won’t break the bank, as it offers a 50 percent discount to students, military and first responders on the already minimal $24 annual rate.

“That’s a bargain and a half. If you go back to the original guys, Dr. Black and everyone who started the club, you go back to the mission statement, their whole goal was just to get people moving,” Morrow said. “And yeah, we want to have enough money to make sure we can continue the programs we’re offering, but it’s about creating healthy lifestyles.”

One key way of doing that is through building a strong sense of community within the club’s membership. As any former or current runner can attest, there’s motivational power in accountability.

“It’s so much easier to run with a group than to run by yourself,” Mike Ballard, a four-year BTC member, said.
Ballard attends the weekly Saturday morning long runs and various club-sponsored running events throughout the year, noting the sense of community as his favorite club aspect.

“I think just being part of the running community and trying to live a healthy lifestyle with a bunch of other people that are trying to do the same thing,” Ballard said.

In addition to the weekly Saturday morning long runs, the BTC hosts an annual race series, collectively participates in a Triple Crown Half Marathon Challenge and puts on a number of socials throughout the year, including an End of the Year party and a night out at a Birmingham Barons game.

“There’s a lot of different things that take place to kind of foster that community sense,” Morrow said. “We’re doing those types of initiatives to kind of get everybody excited and get them involved.”

As evidenced by the swift pace of growth, coupled with an overwhelmingly positive response from club members, that approach appears to be working.

“It’s just such a great community,” BTC member Kevin Bokus said. “Everyone’s training for similar goals, and it’s just great to have that friendship and support throughout your training.”

A Backstage Glimpse

Music. Spotlights. Deafening crowds. Cameras rolling.

To the fans that fill the auditorium, this life of entertaining in the music industry is one of pure mystery. But to Callie Phelps, daughter of gospel singer David Phelps, this life is normal.

“I know it’s not normal at all, but it’s normal to me because it’s just all I’ve known,” she explained.

Her father has been a musician since before she was born.

“I grew up on the road, took my naps in equipment boxes and behind the product table, and spent most birthdays at Chuck-E-Cheese in random towns for a really long time,” she said.

Callie Phelps is a Samford junior English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. Like the vast majority of her family—cousins included—her gifts are creatively and musically inclined.

She enjoys writing short stories and poetry, and has recently been nurturing a growing interest in interior design. To accompany these talents is her love for music, which she not only shares with the congregation some Sundays at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, but also with the world when she sings backup for her dad on his tours.

“It’s helped me become comfortable standing on stage without an instrument other than my voice.”

Phelps said she first began singing backup for her dad when her Aunt Sherri started losing her six-year battle with cancer in the fall of 2012.

In the two months preceding their aunt’s death, Phelps and her sister Maggie Beth Phelps, along with family friend Charlotte Richy, were prepped by David Phelps to stand in for his sister.

Sherri Proctor passed away in September of 2012, “and after that,” Phelps said, “we just kind of had to step up, and kept going. It’s a job,” she said.

Her father’s tours typically revolve around the seasons, the biggest ones taking place in winter and spring.

“The way he has it set up is really nice. He only tours on the weekends, and with some extension into the beginning or end of the week,” Phelps said, further relaying some variance when her father travels with the Gaither Vocal Band.

She described “a typical growing up and still typical week” for her and her siblings as one in which her dad would be home Monday through Thursday, and then gone for the weekend on tour.

“And so we homeschooled,” she said, “so we could hang out during the week and do school on the weekends when he was gone.”

As may be expected for a family of touring musicians, the Phelps family has grown especially close to each other.

Phelps considers each band member, regardless of biological relation, to be family. They often celebrate Thanksgiving together, and during Christmastime each year, host a Christmas concert on the family’s property—an old dairy farm converted into a musician’s dream studio and performance hall in Culleoka, Tennessee.

Now as autumn leaves begin to blanket the earth in preparation for the chilly days ahead, and semester finals ebb ever nearer, Phelps prepares once more for the busiest tour season.

“The world doesn’t change or stop just because you’re out on the road; if anything, it gets harder.”

Juggling academic demands with professional music responsibilities—including responsibilities toward fans, who are “constantly watching”, is not an easy task.

But as Phelps put it, “It’s a job.” And to her, it’s normal.

Samford Soccer will be the No. 1 in the SoCon Tourney

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Photo by Caroline Summers.

The Samford University women’s soccer team has clinched its second straight Southern Conference regular-season championship.

Despite falling 1-0 at Western Carolina on Sunday, the Bulldogs finished the 2015 regular season with a 13-5 overall record and an impressive 8-1 SoCon mark. The goal that WCU scored was the ONLY one allowed by Samford in the SoCon regular season.

The combination of offensive production from key players and consistent goalkeeping has propelled the Bulldogs to another successful year.

On Friday, Oct. 23, the Bulldogs won 1-0 at ETSU 1-0. Junior forward Malcanisha Kelley scored with only 3:30 remaining in the game. With her goal, Kelley tied the school’s single-season record in the goals category (11) and Samford’s all-time goals record (26). Junior forward Taylor Borman tallied her 10th assist of the season, which is tied for best on the team in the assist category.

“As a team we have goals, we want to make it farther than last year,” stated Malcanisha Kelley. “We celebrate our victory of winning SoCon regular season a little but continue to stay focused on what’s ahead that’s winning a SoCon Championship and giving us a change to compete in the NCAA Tournament.”

As a team, Samford Soccer is ranked No. 10 in the nation in assists (40), No. 11 in points (120) and No.18 in goals (40).

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Photo by Caroline Summers.

Senior defender Hallie Georgi is second on the team with 6 goals, followed by junior forward Sara Smeltzer (5) and Borman (4). The Bulldogs will look to these key players to carry them to victory in the conference tournament.

The Bulldogs terrific season has not only been displayed by its offensive playmakers, but also by stellar goalkeeping. Sophomore goalies Anna Maddox and Katie Peters have been rotating starts and have combined to record nine shutouts, while only allowing 14 goals in 18 matches. Samford has outscored its opponents by a total of 40-14 this season.

SoCon-champion Samford will next be in action Saturday at 7 p.m. as it will host either the No. 8 or No. 9 seed in the quarterfinal round of the SoCon Tournament.

For score updates and breaking news, follow @SamfordSoccer and @Samford_Sports on Twitter.

Cross Country Ready to Roll at Conference

Cool, crisp air. Color-changing leaves. Pumpkin everything.

All signs point to the delayed arrival of fall in central Alabama, and for the Samford men’s and women’s cross country teams that means one thing: championship season is here.

After logging hundreds of miles, enduring tedious workouts and persevering through the wear-and-tear of a long season, the time has finally come to reap the benefits of a training cycle that began nearly five months ago.

Scheduled for the morning of Oct. 31 on the Furman University Golf Course in Greenville, S.C., the 2015 Southern Conference Cross Country Championships represent the season’s pinnacle.

“It’s always our No. 1 focus,” first-year head coach Kevin Ondrasek said. “We’ll have a couple individuals who will progress past that, and we’ll train for that, but as a unit we’re trying to put it together at conference first.”

Both teams will face a talented field when they toe the starting line for the season-defining race, as the hometown Paladins enter the meet as two-time defending champions for both the men and women.

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In fact, the Furman men enter the meet with a national ranking, earning recognition in the latest poll as the No. 10 team in the country.

But that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs will be running with decreased expectations, especially on the men’s side. After tying their highest finish position in program history by placing fourth at the 2014 conference meet, the Samford men are focused on reaching new heights.

“I think if we’re not on the podium we’ve failed, or I failed, either way,” Ondrasek said. “How far up on to the podium is up to them. I don’t think Furman is necessarily in reach, just being realistic, but I’ve seen some crazy things happen. Cross country’s a crazy sport, you never know.”

Individually, the men will be led by star sophomore Arsène Guillorel, the 2015 SoCon outdoor track and field 5,000-meter champion who recently notched a 19-second cross country personal best, cruising to a fourth-place finish at Friday’s hypercompetitive Crimson Classic.

Severely affected by graduation and hampered by a mix of injury and illness, the Samford women will enter the conference meet with a slightly different approach. Though they’ll arrive in Greenville with an expectation of reaching the podium as a team, Ondrasek is placing an elevated importance on each runner’s individual performance.

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“They’re working on just finding some consistency, and just kind of celebrating improving as individuals,” Ondrasek said. “If we come out feeling good about what we’ve done as individuals, I’ll be happy with the team performance.”

The sophomore duo of Karisa Nelson and Emma Garner will set the pace for the Bulldog women, as each will look to improve upon their performances from a year ago. Both Nelson and Garner earned spots on the 2014 All-SoCon Freshman Team after placing 12th and 24th, respectively.

As the Samford men and women continue to make their final preparations for the championship meet, ensuring full health across the board, Ondrasek said he’s been pleased by each group’s collective improvement over the course of the season, fulfilling the vision established on day one.

“I mean we’ve had little hiccups here and there, but they’ve progressed along beautifully,” Ondrasek said. “They’re right where I hoped they would be.”