XULA back on campus in two months with competition to resume Labor Day weekend

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NEW ORLEANS — Xavier University of Louisiana is aiming for a restart of intercollegiate athletic competition Labor Day weekend.

XULA spring sports were shut down in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the university went online to complete the spring semester and for all summer classes. Commencement was online only, and so was Athletic Awards Night. But XULA plans to reopen the campus later this summer, with the first day of brick-and-mortar classes Aug. 17. The first competition date for NAIA members will be Sept. 5.

XULA is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. One of the noticeable sport revisions will be during volleyball matches, when the Gold Nuggets and opponents will not switch benches after the second, third and fourth sets and at the midway point of fifth sets.

Here’s a brief look at XULA Athletics in 2020-21:

• Competitive Cheer: XULA will have 14 newcomers, all freshmen, and 24 returnees for its second varsity season. “We’re excited,” said coach Glenn Caston, whose debut team was 18th in the NAIA in points per meet. “We look forward to a stronger squad that will compete for nationals.”

• Track and Field/Cross Country: XULA repeated as Gulf Coast Athletic Conference team champions in men’s and women’s cross country, and then-freshman Samuel Abdellatif was the GCAC men’s individual cross country champion. Returnees Ariel Ford and Emerald Carter both qualified for NAIA nationals in the first women’s indoor track season since 2004. Neither track team competed outdoors.

XULA will have 40 newcomers (14 men, 26 women) and 41 returnees (19 men, 22 women).

“Coach (Kaisha) Weeks and I went into this recruiting cycle with the mindset of changing the culture of the track program,” said third-year head coach Yhann Plummer. “I feel extremely positive about this 2020-21 recruiting class. Their enthusiasm toward this upcoming season makes me look forward to getting back in the swing of things.”

• Volleyball: Fourth-year head coach Pat Kendrick and her quartet of three-year letterwomen — Kayla Black, Vivica Price-Spraggins, Eva Le Guillou and Jaida Dowd — have yet to lose to a GCAC opponent. They’re 40-0 regular season, 7-0 tournament against the league. The Gold Nuggets (31-9, 14-0 in 2019) again will be prohibitive favorites to earn GCAC regular-season and tournament championships and a berth at NAIA nationals. XULA aims for the 10th in a row of each.

The Gold Nuggets will return nine letterwomen — Black is two-time GCAC Player of the Year and Attacker of the Year; Price-Spraggins’s .360 career hitting percentage is a XULA record — and welcome five newcomers. Three more newcomers may join the program by August.

“We’re looking forward to defending our GCAC title and playing for a chance to compete at NAIA nationals,” said Kendrick, who is 80-19 at XULA.

• Men’s Tennis: The Gold Rush were NAIA national runner-up three times (2016, 2017, 2019) in four years and have an active streak of 77 consecutive top-10 poll appearances, including 31 top-3 appearances in the last 37 polls. The XULA men were No. 2 in every poll last season. ITA All-Americans Shaikh Abdullah, the first Gold Rush doubles player to be ranked three times in the ITA’s final top 10, and Juan Batalla, the Louisiana Freshman of the Year, lead the returnees.

• Women’s Tennis: Returning are left-handers Angela Charles-Alfred and Lailaa Bashir, who were the No. 1 women’s doubles team among small colleges last season. They also defeated a 37th-ranked UCLA team. A strong recruiting class has head coach Alan Green confident the Gold Nuggets can challenge for XULA’s first-ever NAIA national team championship in any sport.

Green will begin his 18th season as coach of the Nuggets and Rush.

• Men’s Basketball: XULA returns seven of its top 10 scorers from last’s season team that was 27-6 and won GCAC regular-season and tournament championships. Rayshawn Mart became the first player in the program’s history to reach 500 points, 150 rebounds, 25 made 3s, 70 assists, 50 steals and shoot 50 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the line in the same season. Also back are Ed Carter, who shot a XULA season-record 49.5 percent from 3-point range; Makye Richard, the first XULA player in 33 seasons to average at least 11 points, six rebounds and three assists; and TJ Jones, a 5-foot-8 point guard who shared GCAC Freshman of the Year.

• Women’s Basketball: Juniors Kyla Duncan and Da’Jha Virgil and sophomore Abryhia Irons were the top scorers last season among nine returning letterwomen. There are eight signees. Bo Browder returns for his 23rd season as head coach — XULA’s longest tenure in any sport. He’s 485-200 with the Gold Nuggets and will attempt to become the third women’s coach in Louisiana to reach 500 victories.

• Softball: New head coach Leslie Ballard has signed 27 for the debut season of this sport. XULA has the only active intercollegiate softball program in New Orleans.

• Baseball: New head coach Adrian Holloway, who not long ago built Selma University into a power in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association and National Christian College Athletic Association, has signed approximately 40 for the first season of XULA baseball since 1960.

This will be XULA’s 96th academic year and its 83rd of competition in intercollegiate athletics.

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