Gardner-Webb To Induct Five Into 2016 Athletics Hall of Fame Friday Night

Gardner-Webb To Induct Five Into 2016 Athletics Hall of Fame Friday Night

BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb will induct five new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame Friday evening, in addition to presenting its meritorious service award to the late J.J. Abernethy.

Friday's ceremony will be held at 7:00 pm in Tucker Student Center, with a reception beginning at 6:30 pm. The class will also be honored prior to Saturday's football game vs. 16th-ranked Coastal Carolina (1:30 pm kickoff).

The 2016 Hall of Fame class is comprised of: Leeanna Woodworth Blalock (women's soccer); Stanley Easterling (men's basketball); Blake Lalli (baseball); Jim Maxwell (football) and Harold Wells (football). The Hall of Fame will also honor the late J.J. Abernethy with the 2016 Meritorious Service Award. Abernethy was an avid supporter and friend of the university and athletics program for more than four decades and was part of the school's first senior college graduating class in 1971.

One of the most decorated players in Gardner-Webb soccer history, Leeanna Woodworth Blalock established a high bar during her career in Boiling Springs. A standout on the field and in the classroom, Blalock finished her four years with the Runnin' Bulldogs as the program's all-time leading scorer with 135 points – 20 points more than any other GWU performer. She scored 49 career goals, which is tied for the top mark in school history, and finished with a program-best 37 assists. A three-time All-Atlantic Sun Conference selection, Blalock was named the 2004 A-Sun Player of the Year after setting a GWU single-season mark with 59 points. She led NCAA Division I in scoring that season, setting Gardner-Webb single-season marks for goals scored (22) and assists (15). Her efforts helped Gardner-Webb to 10 wins and the first A-Sun Tournament win in program history. Blalock was named to the A-Sun All-Tournament Team following that event, which saw her post a goal and two assists in a win over Stetson. In addition to her Atlantic Sun Conference honors in 2004, Blalock was named Gardner-Webb's Female Athlete of the Year for the 2004-2005 academic year and earned third-team All-Southeast Region honors from Soccer Buzz. Blalock finished her career following the 2005 season, earning third-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors. She was an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District III selection as a junior and senior. Blalock scored at least 20 points in each of her four seasons with the Runnin' Bulldogs.

Former Gardner-Webb post player Stanley Easterling excelled with the Runnin' Bulldogs from 1985-1989, finishing his career ranked third in school history in both scoring and rebounding. Easterling finished his four seasons with 2,134 career points and 1,062 rebounds – one of only three men in Gardner-Webb's storied senior college basketball history to pour in more than 2,000 points and pull down at least 1,000 rebounds. Former NBA players George Adams and Eddie Lee Wilkins are the other names on that list. Easterling's paint production allowed the Runnin' Bulldogs to win 22 games and the NAIA District 26 Championship during his stellar junior year in 1987-88 under Hall of Fame head coach Jim Wiles. The 6-foot-8 Easterling averaged 18.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game that season while shooting 58.5 percent from the floor. Two decades passed before another Gardner-Webb player averaged a double-double for a full season. He was named NAIA District 26 Player of the Year and earned All-America honors for the first time in 1987-88. Easterling was also named NAIA District 26 Player of the Year in 1986-87, averaging 18.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Easterling averaged a career-best 19.0 points per game as a senior to earn All-America honors for a second time. He was one of the team's top players as a freshman as well, averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, setting the stage for what was to come. He played in 120 career games at Gardner-Webb to finish with career averages of 17.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He went on to a very successful professional career in the CBA and overseas.

Slugger Blake Lalli will go down as arguably the most complete hitter ever to suit up for the Runnin' Bulldogs. Lalli finished his career as the all-time leader at GWU in hits, games played, starts, doubles and at bats – and ranked in the top-5 in career batting average, runs, RBI, home runs, total bases and walks. That included a solid .340 average with 290 hits, 155 runs scored, 70 doubles, 27 home runs and 153 RBI in four seasons. Lalli's versatility was unmatched, with starts at six different positions and on the mound. Lalli earned first-team All-Atlantic Sun Conference honors at third base in 2005, when he led NCAA Division I with a school-record 30 doubles and powered GWU to its first Atlantic Sun Tournament victory – earning 2005 A-Sun All-Tournament honors in the process. Lalli adjusted quickly to a new position in 2006, moving behind the plate as a redshirt senior. The move didn't hinder his offensive prowess, as he slammed a career-high 11 home runs and earned first-team All-Atlantic Sun Conference honors at his new spot following the season. Lalli went on to sign with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2006 MLB Draft and eventually became the first Gardner-Webb product to play in a Major League game when he suited up against the White Sox on May 18, 2012. Lalli had a very successful minor league career with the Cubs before his call up, earning All-Southern League (AA) honors three times. He went on to play in the majors with the Brewers in 2013 and finished the 2016 season on the Atlanta Braves big league roster.

From the time he arrived on campus as a slim quarterback to his completion of two degrees at Gardner-Webb, former Runnin' Bulldog Jim Maxwell set the bar for excellence on the field and in the classroom. Maxwell never played on the offensive side for the Runnin' Bulldogs, instead earning a starting role in the secondary before eventually starring at linebacker on two Big South Conference championship teams. Maxwell earned All-Big South Conference honors in both 2002 and 2003 and was an honorable mention Division I-AA All-America selection by the Football Gazette in 2002. That season he led the Runnin' Bulldogs to a 9-1 mark, the inaugural Big South football crown and final national ranking in the top-20 of both major I-AA polls. In 2003, Maxwell helped GWU to an 8-4 mark and was named CoSIDA Academic All-District III in addition to Big South Conference Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He played a key role in Gardner-Webb's move to Division I on the gridiron, which saw the Runnin' Bulldogs post a 30-13 overall record during his four years on the field. Maxwell finished those four seasons with 306 total tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. His 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown in 2001 vs. Morris Brown remains the longest in the school's record book. Maxwell went on to sign with the New York Giants and played with the Giants, 49ers, Dolphins and Bengals during a five-year NFL career. Maxwell was recognized by the NFL in 2005 for returning to Gardner-Webb to complete his MBA.

Defensive lineman Harold Wells spent a great deal of time in opposing backfields from 2001-2004. Wells, who excelled at defensive end and nose guard, earned Division I-AA All-America honors in 2003 and 2004 and was a three-time All-Big South Conference choice from 2002-2004. Wells' best season came in 2004, when he was named NCAA Division I-AA Defensive Lineman of the Year by the Football Gazette and became the first consensus Division I-AA All-America in Big South Conference and Gardner-Webb history. Wells led the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss and finished 2004 with a career-high 86 total stops, three forced fumbles and 12 quarterback hurries. Wells was also named Big South Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. Wells wasn't limited to defense, bruising his way to eight touchdowns on just 17 carries as the team's short-yardage fullback. He was a stalwart on each of Gardner-Webb's Big South Conference Championship teams, earning All-Big South honors in both 2002 and 2003 as GWU went 17-5 overall and established a 15-game home win streak in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. He made 47 stops on defense and scored four touchdowns at fullback in 2003, earning first-team All-Big South Conference honors as GWU went 8-4. USA Today named Wells one of the top two-way players in college football midway through the 2003 campaign. Wells went on to a successful professional career, playing in the Arena Football League (AFL) for the Columbus Destroyers. He finished his career as that franchise's leading rusher and was twice named to the AFL All-Ironman Team.

One of the pillars of Gardner-Webb's athletics program over more than four decades of support, J.J. Abernethy spent much of his life following and helping to build a legacy of success at his alma mater. Abernethy was part of the first senior college graduating class at Gardner-Webb, and was actually the first person to cross the stage in 1971 to receive his diploma in historic Bost Gymnasium. His involvement with Gardner-Webb's Bulldog Club was invaluable over the years, serving for a time as that organization's president. His engaging personality proved to be a great asset as Gardner-Webb advanced from a member of the NAIA, NCAA Division II and eventually NCAA Division I. His love of basketball was particularly evident and his Newton Flames AAU teams were always very competitive. Many of his former players went on to the college ranks and several played for the Runnin' Bulldogs. Abernethy served Gardner-Webb in a wide variety of roles, including on the Board of Trustees. He was also a longtime, and very influential, member of the Athletics Hall of Fame committee. He was named Gardner-Webb University Alumnus of the Year in 2000.