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Rifle and women's basketball teams win conference titles

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The UNG rifle team won the overall Southern Conference championship for the third time in five years.

It was a weekend of championships for the University of North Georgia (UNG) Nighthawks.

The UNG rifle team defeated seven Division I rivals to earn a third overall Southern Conference (SoCon) championship during five years in the league in a March 6-7 event hosted by VMI.

On March 6, the UNG women's basketball team secured its third Peach Belt Conference (PBC) tournament championship in four seasons. The team clinched the title with a 72-70 victory against Lander University, ranked second nationally and previously undefeated, on the Bearcats' home court. The Nighthawks also earned the No. 1 seed for the six-team NCAA Division II South Regional championship set for March 12-15 in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Senior Kimberlee Nettles won the air rifle individual title and freshman Morgan Frank earned the smallbore individual championship as UNG posted an aggregate score of 4,600. UNG won the team air rifle title with 2,330, the highest score earned in the conference since the SoCon resurrected rifle as a sponsored sport for the 2016-17 season.

"These student-athletes did a really good job of supporting each other and cheering each other on," UNG rifle head coach Tori Kostecki said.

Nettles was named smallbore athlete of the year, and freshman Jaden-Ann Fraser was named co-air rifle athlete of the year. The SoCon championship match was the final rifle team competition of the year.

Nettles, who will compete at the NCAA air rifle championship March 13 in Columbus, Ohio, also brought home the Pinnacle Award. It is given to the student-athlete with the highest GPA on the championship-winning team in each SoCon sport.

"It means a lot to me that we were able to win another championship my senior year," Nettles said. "Our hard work throughout the year paid off."

The women's basketball team pushed its record to 17-1 with the two-point win versus Lander for the championship. The Nighthawks poured in 14 3-pointers in the title game, and tournament MVP Kara Groover lead the way with 18 points. Freshman Caroline Martin paced UNG in the tournament semifinal with 35 points in a 106-81 win over Clayton State University.

"I'm just trying to follow in the seniors' footsteps," Martin said. "They win all the time, so that's what's expected."

Martin was named PBC freshman of the year. Julianne Sutton and Abbie Franklin earned first-team All-PBC honors.

Six different players have led UNG in scoring during a game this season.

"It's been a balanced attack all year long," UNG women's basketball head coach Buffie Burson said. "That can be a challenge for an opponent. That's what makes this team special. There are so many weapons."

UNG and Lander earned first-round byes as the top two seeds in the NCAA South Regional. The Nighthawks will face the winner between fourth-seeded Union University and fifth-seeded University of Montevallo at 5 p.m. March 13. The regional championship is set for 6 p.m. March 15.

This is the fourth straight NCAA tournament bid for UNG, which reached the Sweet 16 in 2018 and Elite Eight in 2019. The team was slated for the regional last year before playoffs were canceled due to the pandemic.

NCAA Division II women's basketball South Regional

Friday, March 12

Game 1: No. 4 Union vs. No. 5 Montevallo, 5 p.m.
Game 2: No. 3 Valdosta State vs. No. 6 Lee, 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 13
Game 3: No. 1 North Georgia vs. Game 1 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 4: No. 2 Lander vs. Game 2 winner, 8 p.m.

Monday, March 15
Championship: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 6 p.m.

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