James Rowe '23, Lilly Blair '22, Cyrus Pace '23 and Selam Mekonnen '23

James Rowe '23, Lilly Blair '22, Cyrus Pace '23 and Selam Mekonnen '23 all qualified for the finals of the National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship, and Rowe, Pace and Mekonnen earned a second-place finish in the Game Analytics Division.

By Roanoke College News

Roanoke students place second in national sports analytics contest

A team of three Roanoke College seniors bested clever minds from around the country to earn second place in the Game Analytics Division of the AXS National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship in early February.

James Rowe ’23, a sport management major from Charlotte, North Carolina; Selam Mekonnen ’23, a data science major with minors in sports analytics and statistics from Germany; and Cyrus Pace ’23, a sport management major from Roanoke, competed in the contest held Feb. 1-2 and were outperformed only by the team from Syracuse University. The championship was meant to be hosted by the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, but organizers switched it to a virtual event after a severe winter storm crippled travel in and out of Dallas.

The competition was based on individual work, with team standings compiled by average scores of schools with three or more competitors. Contestants had to analyze a large spreadsheet of play-by-play basketball data; isolate a team, player or type of play; distill the data into a small number of insights; and highlight those in a five-minute presentation. The students were seeded into seven groups, with the top two in each group advancing to the next round. Pace and Mekonnen advanced to the second round, while Rowe was a close third in a highly competitive group.

Lilly Blair ’22, a math, economics and actuarial science major, also qualified for the championship in a semifinal round that took place in November 2022. However, Blair, who is on Roanoke’s women’s lacrosse team, had a lacrosse scheduling conflict that prevented her from participating in the final.

Faculty advisor Roland Minton, a professor in the Department of Math, Computer Science and Physics, said it was a shame the students lost the opportunity to network face-to-face with judges, who often are “in recruiting mode” at the championship, but they all gained valuable experience in sports analytics. Rowe said they did get a chance to meet and chat with some of the judges over Zoom.

Both Rowe and Pace have interned with the Rail Yard Dawgs, a professional ice hockey team based in Roanoke, and Rowe has also worked with the Salem Red Sox. Mekonnen had a data analysis internship with AMDEX Corp. in Maryland.

Although they didn’t get to sample Tex-Mex cuisine in Dallas, Minton treated all four students to dinner at Alejandro’s Mexican Grill as a congratulations for their performance in the competition.