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Eagle Media’s Top-8 Moments of the 2023-24 FGCU Athletics Season

Jessica Piland

The 2023-24 season for FGCU Athletics was notable for the university, as the Eagles had numerous moments across different sports that will be solidified in their history. We ranked the top eight FGCU athletics moments throughout the past season.

Jessica Piland 

1) Men’s Basketball Defeats No. 7 Florida Atlantic University Owls

The FGCU’s men’s basketball team had a lackluster season after finishing with a 14-18 record, including an early exit from the first round of the 2024 ASUN Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. The only upside of the season came on Dec. 30 when FGCU was scheduled to host the Florida Atlantic University Owls.

The Owls entered this matchup ranked seventh in the country, as they came into their 2023-24 off a NCAA Final Four appearance. FGCU had a disappointing season up to this point as they started the season losing six out of their first seven games. They entered this game barely fending off NAIA school Florida Memorial University Lions, as they won that game off a buzzer-beater.

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This would not be the case against the Owls, as FGCU held the lead for most of the night. Multiple Eagles scored in double figures. Juniors Zach Anderson and Dallion Johnson scored a combined 39 points, outdueling the Owls’ defense for their largest-ranked home win in program history. 

This moment is ranked first on our list due to the unexpectedness of the upset. FGCU had been plagued with injuries throughout the season up to this point, so everyone had this game written off for the Eagles. It went on to be a win that was written in their history books.

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

2) Women’s Basketball Earns Seventh Consecutive ASUN Title in Blowout Fashion

Despite heavy roster turnover for the FGCU women’s basketball team heading into the 2023-24 season, the Eagles seemingly picked up right where they left off after reaching the second round of the 2023 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. Following a long season with an undefeated conference record, the Eagles ran through the ASUN Conference Tournament all the way to the championship game against the third-seeded University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears on March 16.

After the Sugar Bears scored first with a 3-pointer, the Eagles quickly tied the game and took the lead. They never gave the lead-up after the game was tied 5-5 less than four minutes in. FGCU blew out Central Arkansas 76-47 for another ASUN Conference Tournament win. Both redshirt junior Emani Jefferson and senior Dolly Cairns reached double figures in scoring with 20 and 14 points respectively. Fifth-year student Uju Ezeudu secured a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

This moment is ranked second because the Eagles earned another title to secure a seventh-straight ASUN Tournament championship and an automatic berth into the 2024 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. FGCU has continued to be one of the most consistent programs in women’s basketball, and this season has only added to that.

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

3) Softball Wins Second ASUN Title against the North Florida Ospreys

Dominance is the word that defined FGCU softball’s 2024 ASUN Championship Tournament run. They entered the tournament as the fourth seed, winning every game leading to the ASUN Championship. They played the University of North Florida Ospreys, who entered the tournament with the second seed and beat Eastern Kentucky University in the elimination bracket to play the Eagles on May 11 in a rematch after losing to FGCU in the previous game.

The game was a high-scoring affair, as both teams traded the lead throughout the first two innings. North Florida opened the game up with a solo home run. They extended this lead to 3-0 with two more runs, one on a fielder’s choice and the other off a double. The Eagles scored five runs of their own, with the most notable stemming from a double down the left-field line by sophomore second-baseman Tiffany Meek to bring in two runners.

Both teams exited the second inning tied 6-6 after the Ospreys scored three runs to the Eagles one. After this high-scoring affair, neither team scored a run through the next five innings, forcing the game to extra innings. FGCU kept the North Florida offense scoreless at the top of the inning, allowing the game to fall into the hands of catcher Neely Peterson. Peterson hit a walk-off home run to left field to give the Eagles a 7-6 win over the Ospreys.

This moment sits third on our list due to the dominance the Eagles demonstrated to make the 2024 ASUN Softball Championship. This marked the Eagles’ first title in 12 years, earning just their second trip to the NCAA Softball Tournament in program history. 

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

4) Softball Outduels No.16 Florida State University Seminoles in Eleventh Try

Exiting the spring break weekend, the FGCU softball team’s biggest win came in their annual Spring Break Classic. On March 8, the Eagles were set to play the 16th-ranked Florida State Seminoles. They have never beaten the Seminoles in their last ten matchups, dating back to their first in 2012.

FGCU started the game with back-to-back singles for two runs in the bottom of the second inning. They extended this lead with a single down the right-field line for an unearned run. Florida State could not conjure any runs as the Eagles had a 3-0 lead heading into the final two innings. The Eagles won the game 3-1, with the Seminoles scoring a single run in the sixth inning to no avail.

Although the Eagles lost to the Seminoles in their second game a few days later, this moment is ranked fourth on our list because it is the first time the Eagles beat their cross-state rivals. It also marked their 11th NCAA Division I ranked win in program history.

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

5) Volleyball Sweeps Lipscomb for Third Straight ASUN Championship Win

The FGCU volleyball team had an incredible 2023 season, especially in ASUN Conference play. The Eagles went 15-1 in conference play during the regular season and reached the ASUN Final against the Lipscomb University Bisons on Nov. 18.

They came out in the first set and blitzed the Bisons early, winning 25-11 to claim the first set and take the lead. Although the Bisons were able to keep the next two sets closer, the Eagles won both, 25-21 and 25-20, to sweep the Bisons 3-0 and win their third straight ASUN Conference championship.

This championship win ranks fifth on our list because this is the Eagles’ third consecutive title. It also showed redemption for FGCU, as their last tile loss in 2020 was against the Bisons. The Eagles joined Lipscomb and the University of Central Florida as the only teams to win three consecutive ASUN volleyball championships.

Jessica Piland 

6) Karl Smesko gets his 600th Win at FGCU

Karl Smesko has been the head coach of the FGCU women’s basketball team since its inception in 2002. Over that time, he has brought the 10 ASUN Championships and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances to the program over the last 13 years.

On Jan. 31, Smesko achieved a milestone at FGCU. He claimed his 600th win in a decisive victory against the Bellarmine University Knights. The Eagles beat their ASUN Conference rivals 72-55, never trailing the Knights in the process.

“Well, this place is definitely special to me,” Smesko said. “I mean, we, and there’s other coaches in the same situation, where we started this program from scratch, and we saw the university grow.”

Over his coaching tenure, Smesko has made FGCU one of the winningest programs in the country, building it from the level of NCAA Division I. He is ranked sixth on our list due to everything he has contributed to FGCU and how much he has contributed to the basketball program.

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

7) Women’s Soccer Pulls off Three-Goal Comeback en Route to Back-to-Back ASUN Championships

A trend emerged for FGCU’s women’s athletic teams as the basketball and volleyball teams were repeat champions. The FGCU women’s soccer team also achieved this feat, but it took a bit more drama for the Eagles to repeat as ASUN champions in 2023.

On Nov. 5, the Eagles faced off against the fourth seed, the University of North Alabama Lions, in Nashville, Tennessee, with the ASUN title up for grabs. However, the Eagles trailed with just 27 minutes left in the game as the Lions led 3-0. The comeback started here for FGCU on the back of sophomore midfielder Erika Zschuppe. Zschuppe scored three goals in less than 15 minutes for a hat trick, tying the game up in the process.

The game went into penalty kicks and the Eagles prevailed 3-2 in penalties after the Lions’ final shot went over the crossbar to secure the come-from-behind win and back-to-back championships for FGCU. This moment comes in at seventh on our list because it marked the first time since 2016 and 2017 that FGCU won back-to-back championships. With this win, they earned themselves a trip back to the NCAA Tournament.

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

8) Senior Men’s Golfer Joseph Sullivan Wins Valero Texas Collegiate Individual Title to Qualify for PGA Tour’s 2024 Valero Texas Open

Senior golfer Joseph Sullivan was a standout performer for the FGCU men’s golf team throughout the 2023-24 season. That was evident in the first invitational tournament the Eagles participated in this season from Sept. 9-11, the Valero Texas Collegiate, in San Antonio, Texas.

While the Eagles as a team finished in seventh place out of 12 schools, Sullivan forced a three-way playoff against a golfer from Texas Christian University and Baylor University after he remained tied after a par putt on hole No. 18. Sullivan (-6, 210) clinched the inaugural Valero Texas Collegiate individual title with a birdie on the second playoff hole.

Sullivan’s win earned him an exemption as the only amateur in the 2024 Valero Texas Open in April. He is ranked eighth on our list because he was able to win an individual championship and represent himself and FGCU on the PGA Tour.

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About the Contributors
Jeffrey Hrunka
Jeffrey Hrunka, Eagle News Assistant Sports Editor
Jeffrey Hrunka is a junior double majoring in communications and journalism with a concentration in public relations. Jeffrey is from Fort Myers where his interest in sports journalism originated after falling in love with the world of motorsports. When he’s not working for Eagle News, he is usually spending time with friends, watching the New York Giants lose, or chilling in the pool.
James Curtis
James Curtis, Eagle News Sports Editor
James Curtis is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in global studies. He is from Tampa, FL, and has known he wanted to be a journalist since taking a journalism class in seventh grade. He has been involved in sports for his whole life, including swimming competitively all the way through high school. His goal now is to be a sports journalist. When not covering sports games or writing stories, he's usually spending his free time with his friends or watching YouTube.
Jessica Piland
Jessica Piland, Eagle News Photo Editor
Jessica Piland is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in global studies. She found her passion for photography during her senior year of high school after shooting some film for fun with her grandfather’s camera from the 80s. In addition to her work as photo editor for Eagle News, she works as a staff photographer for FGCU Athletics and is a photography intern with the University Marketing and Communications department. As she enters her third year as photo editor, she is excited for the fun stories, campus events, and breaking news that Eagle News will be covering!

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