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WCU Athletics Honors Its 2005 December Graduates

Dec. 20, 2005

Cullowhee, N.C. - Thirteen former Western Carolina student-athletes participated in graduation exercises this past weekend at the Ramsey Activity Center, as well as one student who was an academic support assistant. The list or graduates included five student-athletes from track and field, three from football, two from baseball, one from women's basketball, one from women's soccer and one from men's golf.

Headlining the list were Southern Conference track and field champions Leslie Martin and Laura Tieszen. Martin, who graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in art, was five-time SoCon champion this past year. The Jonesville, Va., native won both the SoCon indoor and outdoor 800 meters. She was additionally a member of the winning indoor and outdoor 4x400 meter team, setting a SoCon record during the indoor season in the event, while being on the winning indoor distance medley relay team as well. For her career, Martin was a three-time conference outdoor champion in the 800 meters, while winning the event once during the indoor season. Tieszen, who graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in elementary education, was the 2005 SoCon Indoor and Outdoor Performer of the Year. The Rapid City, S.D., product was the league's indoor champion in the pole vault and pentathlon, as well as the outdoor champion in the pole vault heptathlon and javelin. For her career, she was a three-time SoCon indoor and outdoor champion in the pole vault.

Joining Martin and Tieszen on their walk across the stage were teammates Darius Bryson, Bobby Robinson and David McCall. Bryson, a member of the 2005 SoCon Outdoor champion 4x100 meter relay team, received his B.S. in entrepreneurship. Robinson, who earned All-SoCon last season in the decathlon, graduated with a B.S. in nutrition/dietetics, while McCall garnered a B.S. in criminal justice and psychology.

Leslie Martin, who graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in art, was five-time SoCon champion this past year.

Two of the three members of the football to graduate were All-SoCon performers this past fall. Francis Brown, who was a first team selection at defensive back, received his B.S. in criminal justice, while fellow first teamer at defensive end Rico Reese received his B.S. in communication. Brown, who was granted a fifth-year by the NCAA this past summer, took full advantage of his circumstances both on and off the field. While getting the opportunity to complete his degree, he recorded 35 tackles and led Western with four interceptions, the 10th-highest total by a Catamount since 1969. He additionally ranked second in the SoCon in picks and sixth in the league in passes defended, while ranking 24th in the nation in interceptions. Brown was also third in the SoCon and 47th in the nation in punt returns, averaging 8.0 yard per return. Reese finished the season by ranking second on the team in tackles with 58, which ranked 19th in the SoCon. The Austell, Ga., native additionally turned in 12 tackles for losses to rank fifth in the SoCon and 54th in the nation. Brown and Reese helped Western Carolina lead the nation in pass defense, allowing just 132.33 passing yards per game. The Catamounts also led the SoCon and ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 98.81, while leading the SoCon and ranking 18th nationally by allowing just 310.56 yards of offense per game.

The third member of the football team, Jarrett Wishon, graduated with a B.S. in criminal justice. Wishon played three seasons at center before spending this past fall as a student assistant.

Both members of the baseball team to graduate, Brandon McDowell and Brian McCullen, will stick around this spring to pitch for the Catamounts and both received their B.S. in the College of Applied Science. McDowell (criminal justice) was a key in Western's championship run in 2003, going 7-2 with a 3.42 ERA on the mound and batting .326. After having surgery in the summer of 2003 and redshirting the 2004 season, the Franklin native is showing signs of returning to his earlier form on the mound. McCullen (nutrition/dietetics) ended the 2004 season with a 4-0 record on the mound and used that momentum to post a 7-3 mark in 2005.

Former student-athletes Brittany Bennefield and Lori Tanner exhausted their eligibility last season, but completed their requirements for graduation this past semester. Bennefield, who was a member of Western's first women's soccer championship team in 2001, graduated with a B.S. in communication, while Lori Tanner, who was named to the SoCon All-Tournament first team when helping the Lady Catamounts win the 2005 SoCon women's basketball tournament championship, graduated with a B.S. in engineering technology.

Men's golfer Shawn Costello, who began his career at UNC Greensboro, received his B.S. in political science, while academic support student assistant Michael Blackmon graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in political science as well.