Team captains take the field for the coin toss at the national championship game.

A national championship experience

(The Picket) – The Shepherd Rams bring their season to an end with a loss in the national championship, but the journey means more to the Shepherd community than any trophy.

Months of hard work and dedication helped to lead the Rams to the Division II National Championship in Kansas City.  The undefeated team fell in the national championship to the now five-time national champion Northwestern Missouri State University.

Ahja Lancaster, a junior fullback said, “I feel like our history as a program has helped us a lot and was a big part of how we got here.”

Game attendance throughout the season was strong in Shepherdstown.  Although Kansas City is some 1,003 miles from Shepherdstown, many parents, alumni, students, and other Shepherd supporters made the trip to Kansas for the game.

Brittney Moore, a senior cheerleader said, “We almost didn’t get to come, but I’m really thankful that the alumni made it happen for us and the band.”

Shelby Maly, a junior sports marketing major said, “We had a long ride on the fan bus, but it was really cool to see all of the fans who traveled all that way to see Shepherd play.”

Janet Vanvickle, mother of junior Jamie Deason said, “Watching Jamie play at this level is such a great experience, and all of the hard work and sacrifice that the team has given this year just makes it that much sweeter for them to be playing in the national championship.

Shayla Evans, a senior cheerleader said, “Being on the field for this game is kind of scary but also really awesome.”

“The stadium was awesome, and the crowd was in it from the beginning,” Maly said.

Ram fans cheering on the team in Kansas City.
Ram fans cheering on the team in Kansas City.

Ram fans that were unable to make the trip to the game showed their support from home by watching the game on television or keeping up with scores online.

Aaron Daily, Shepherd football alumni said, “Because the game was on ESPN2 I could finally have friends and family who could never make it up to Shepherd for games watch the powerhouse program on the big screen.”

Bryce Shemer, a senior education major said, “I never thought I’d get to watch my school compete on ESPN because Division II schools don’t get much recognition.”

Graham Scott, a senior political science major said, “The day of the game I was in a wedding, but you can bet that during the reception I was keeping up with the score online.”

“It was awesome to see a small school like Shep on the big screen,” Shemer said.

Throughout their journey this season, many Rams received honors for their success and accomplishments on and off the field.

“To see the maturity and growth of players like Ziemba, Lolley, Brown, and Kingston take their talents to the next level and play on the national stage is amazing,” Dailey said.  “It feels good to think that the alumni had a small part in that.”

Seven members of the team were named to the 2015 Conference Commissioner’s Association DII All-Super Region One Football Team.  Junior wide receiver Billy Brown and sophomore offensive lineman Lavonte Hights were both named to the 1st team offense.  Senior defensive end Shaneil Jenkins was also named to the Division II All-Super Region One 1st team defense.  Sophomore inside linebacker James Gupton, senior quarterback Jeff Ziemba, senior kicker Ryan Earls, and junior defensive back CJ Davis were all named to the Division II All-Super Region One Football Team Second Team.

At the national championship, senior wide receiver Kevin Cook was honored by receiving the Elite 90 award for the 2015 NCAA Division II Football Championship.  This award is given to an individual who competes in the national championship and possess the highest cumulative grade point average of those participating in the finals.  Any team member who has participated in their sport for two or more years and is an active member of the team is eligible to receive this award.  Cook finished his senior season with a 3.95 GPA.

Before reaching the playoffs to begin their trip on the road to the national championship, the Rams finished their in conference season with a 10-0 record.  The team also captured the Mountain East Conference title and other individual honors bestowed upon members of the team.

“They have seemed more focused this year and even more focused after every win,” Vanvickle said

Shaneil Jenkins was named MEC Defensive Player of the Year, and Jeff Ziemba was named MEC Offensive Player of the Year.  Ziemba was also named as one of the 38 finalists for the Harlon Hill Award.  To receive this national award, players can be nominated by sports information directors from their schools.  After players are nominated they are then voted on by all of the sports information directors in the four Division II Super Regions, and finally the players are voted on by the SIDs in Division II.

The MEC also named 20 Shepherd players to the 2015 All-MEC team, and coach Monte Cater was also honored by the MEC by being named the 2015 Coach of the Year.

“For me this game meant great teamwork, a lot of discipline, and amazing accomplishment by our boys,” Vanvickle said.  “These boys worked as a team, took one game at a time, were disciplined and stayed focused, and that equals a major accomplishment for them this season.”

“This game helped to finally give recognition for easily the greatest coaching staff I’ve ever seen or been associated with,” Dailey said.  “The connection they have with their athletes, the skills and lessons they teach us hangs with you for years.”

Anna Mueller, junior Business Administration major at Shepherd said, “Making the trip to Kansas City was well worth the drive no matter the outcome.  We are all very proud of the rams, and we are ready to do it again next year.”

“It was a great day to be a Ram,” Shemer said.

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