DALLAS (WDAM) _ Three University of Southern Mississippi sports standouts were among the 25 named in the inaugural Conference USA Hall of Fame class.
Two-time All-American softball pitcher Courtney Blades, two-time C-USA female field athlete of the year Tori Bowie and C-USA “football coach of the decade: Jeff Bower were among the initial inductees announced Monday morning.
USM was one of five current or former conference institutions with three inductees. The other four included the University of Cincinnati; University of Alabama-Birmingham; Rice University; and University of Houston.
“We are pleased to honor this outstanding group for their many lasting contributions to their universities and to Conference USA,” C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a statement. “They have provided many outstanding achievements and memories, and we are proud to recognize their lasting legacy to our conference.”
Blades led the Lady Eagles to consecutive appearances Women’s College World Series (1999, 2000), becoming the first to pitch a complete-game no-hitter.
Blades also became the first in Division I history to strike out 600 batters in a season and finished her career as Division I’s all-time strikeout leader.
The 2000 Honda Award winner as National Softball Player of the Year, Blades helped USM win both the regular-season and tournament titles that spring.
Bowie participated in USM track and field from 2009-12, winning C-USA “Field Athlete of the Year” in 2011 and 2012.
She won a pair of national NCAA long jump titles (indoor and outdoor) in 2011, and finished runner-up outdoors in 2012. After leaving USM, she focused her concentration on sprints, and won a set of medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics: gold (4X100-meter relay); silver (100-meter dash) and bronze (200-meter dash).
Bower, whose coaching career overlapped the first 12 years of C-USA football, led USM to five, first-place finishes, including three outright championships.
A three-time C-USA “Coach of the Year” (1997, 1999, 2003), Bower’s Golden Eagles posted 12 consecutive winning seasons, making 10 bowl appearances in that span.
Bower most recently completed a three-year stint on the Championship Football Playoff committee.
C-USA’s inaugural Hall of Fame class, created as part of the conference’s 25th anniversary celebration, was comprised of 20 athletes, three coaches and two administrators. The honorees represent 11 schools and represent 13 different sports.
Eligibility criteria includes:
- A minimum of two years played for student-athletes, minimum five years served for coaches/administrators (coaches/administrators in current roles are eligible)
- Student-athletes are eligible five years after their last C-USA competition
- Considerations for athletes will be based on but not limited to All-America selections and national honors, C-USA superlative awards, academic standing and off-the-field contributions
- Considerations for coaches/administrators will be based on contributions to C-USA as a whole
In the future, the C-USA Hall of Fame class size will be a minimum of one inductee and a maximum of five inductees per year. A committee has been put in place to select nominees and the league’s athletics directors serve as the voting panel for the hall. Initial nominees not selected in this class will remain on the ballot for future years.