Rising to the Challenge

The last year brought its challenges, obstacles and uncertainty, but Ole Miss Athletics rose to the occasion in a season of historic success. The 2020-21 academic year was collectively the best in Rebel history as Ole Miss recorded its highest finish ever at No. 22 in the Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup standings. The Ole Miss donor base followed suit, generating $22.7 million in cash for the fiscal year, including Vaught Society’s second highest figure in history.

“Our student-athletes accomplished more on the field of play this year than ever before in Ole Miss history,” said Keith Carter, Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics, “From our women’s golf national championship through all of our teams, we couldn’t be more proud of what the Rebels did in 2020-21. As thrilled as we are with what our student-athletes achieved, we are most proud of the way they did it, keeping positive attitudes and remaining resilient through unusual and challenging circumstances. As we return to normal and welcome more fans back to our campus, we can’t wait to see what this group can accomplish in 2021-22.”

All but one Ole Miss team qualified for postseason play, highlighted by the women’s golf squad being crowned NCAA Champions. Led by National Coach of the Year Kory Henkes and a pair of All-Americans in Julia Johnson and Kennedy Swann, Ole Miss claimed the school’s first team national title in a women’s sport and the first outright national title in school history. The championship comes just over a year after the completion of the Tosh Family Short Course, which gave the program one of the premier practice resources in college golf.

The rifle program also achieved unprecedented success, earning the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking and its highest finish ever in the NCAA Rifle Championship in third place. Marsha Beasley was also named National Coach of the Year, joined by National Assistant Coach of the Year JP Lucas. The rifle campaign included an NCAA record 2361 in smallbore, a program record in air rifle and aggregate score, and individually, a perfect 600 in air rifle, shot by freshman Lea Horvath.

The baseball team also earned a No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. Swayze Field hosted an NCAA Regional for the 10th time, a home regional victory for Ole Miss that sent Mike Bianco‘s squad to the Super Regionals for the seventh time. Doug Nikhazy led the way for a group that earned numerous postseason honors, pitching his way to unanimous First Team All-American status. As new Rebel baseball legends were born in 2021, one of the greatest athletes in Ole Miss history, baseball and basketball star Don Kessinger, was honored with a jersey retirement at Swayze Field.

It was more continued success for the track and field/cross country teams as well, highlighted by program-record finishes in the USTFCCCA program of the Year standings. The Rebel men finished third and the women seventh in a team honor that recognizes strength in the outdoor, indoor and cross country seasons combined. Ole Miss is one of just three programs in the nation to have both its men’s and women’s teams ranked among the best of the year. Those powerhouse squads will soon enjoy one of the country’s best facilities. Construction is currently underway for the new Ole Miss track and field locker rooms, scheduled for completion in January 2022.

The Rebel basketball programs just missed out on the NCAA Tournament, each earning bids to the National Invitational Tournament. Excitement is high around both programs, including an impressive turnaround that saw the women’s team begin its rise up the SEC standings and gain national attention. Ole Miss also took time this year to recognize an all-time great with the unveiling of the Coolidge Ball statue, honoring one of the University’s foremost African American pioneers. The support for both basketball programs is as strong as ever, highlighted by the naming of the Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss, a facility that came as the cornerstone of the recently completed Forward Together campaign.

The outstanding 2020-21 academic year was sparked early by an impressive year one of the Lane Kiffin era for the Rebel football program. Ole Miss featured one of college football’s most explosive squads, leading the SEC and ranking third nationally in total offense. Coming off an Outback Bowl victory over a top-10 foe in Indiana, the Rebels will enter the 2021 season as one of the country’s most talked about teams.

Ole Miss Athletics continued to succeed in the classroom as well, tying the department record for highest APR score with its latest multi-year average of 991 and single-year average of 989 from the 2019-20 report. In the previous publicly released data from the NCAA for 2018-19 (released in 2020), Ole Miss ranked eight points above the national average of 983, while the football program ranked No. 3 in the nation at 997. Nine other programs posted a perfect 1000 APR score, and six Rebel teams tied or led the SEC in their respective sports.

“The past year has been challenging for everyone, but it has been truly remarkable to see the response from the friends and family of Ole Miss Athletics,” said Fowler Staines, Ole Miss Athletics Foundation CEO. “We thank our generous donors for their unwavering, selfless support, which has continued to pave the path to success for our student-athletes. With great momentum, we look forward to supporting our Rebels at a new level with the means to succeed and bring more championships back to Oxford.”

After an outstanding year, attention now turns to future goals, as well as projects and facility enhancements that will keep Ole Miss competing for national and SEC titles for years to come. As improvements continue all around campus, the Rebels are excited to defend their titles and reach for new heights as students return to Oxford for the 2021-22 academic year.

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