Four former student-athletes and one administrator were recently selected to the 33rd annual class of the Malone University Athletics Hall of Fame and will be officially inducted on Saturday, Feb. 10 in the Johnson Center on the university’s campus. A luncheon will be held at 11 a.m. that day and will be followed immediately by the Hall of Fame program. The inductees also will be recognized during the Malone vs. Trevecca Nazarene University basketball doubleheader that will be held in Osborne Hall that afternoon.
The newest Hall of Fame inductees include Chrissie (Jeren) Slack (’01, women’s track and field and cross country), Suzi (Jeren) Lantz (’00, women’s track and field and cross country), Tanya (McQueen) Finney (’02, women’s track and field), Nikki (Parson) Thompson (’07, women’s basketball) and John Russell (’73, administrator). With the addition of the five newest members, the current total of inductees now stands at 128.
Established in 1985, the Malone University Athletics Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in athletics while at the university. To qualify, athlete inductees must be graduates of Malone, must have graduated at least 10 years prior to selection, must exemplify the highest ideals of intercollegiate athletics and must have earned two letters in one or more sports.
As a coach they must have served the university athletics department five or more years (current coaches 10 or more years). In 2007 a provision was established to allow athletics administrators or other support personnel to become eligible with a minimum of 10 years of athletics service to the university.
Nikki (Parson) Thompson, a 2007 Malone graduate (early childhood education, intervention specialist), was a four-year starter on the Pioneer women’s basketball team. A 2003 graduate of Garaway High School, Thompson received a Reading Endorsement from Malone following graduation and then went on to earn a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of the Southwest in 2015.
The only two-time NAIA All-American in Malone women’s basketball history, Thompson currently ranks third on the Pioneers’ all-time scoring list with 1,965 career points. She also is third all-time at Malone in rebounds with 988 career boards.
Thompson entered the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2003-04 and was a model of consistency, never missing a game for the Pioneers over the next four years. The 6’0” post player averaged an impressive 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds over the span of 118 career games and led Malone to American Mideast Conference postseason appearances following both her sophomore and junior seasons.
Thompson became just the third Pioneer women’s basketball player to receive All-America recognition as a junior in 2005-06, collecting Third Team honors after averaging 16.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest.
Then as a senior in 2006-07, she was voted to the NAIA All-America Second Team and was selected as the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Player of the Year after netting 17.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per outing while leading the Pioneers to an 18-12 overall record.
An excellent free-throw shooter, Thompson holds Malone’s records for most foul shots made in a game (15) and a season (176). She also set the Pioneer single-season record for free-throw accuracy at 88.3 percent, making 121 of 137 attempts at the charity stripe during the 2005-06 campaign.
Thompson’s lengthy list of career accolades also includes being a three-time NCCAA All-American and a four-time All-AMC and NCCAA All-East Region honoree.
Thompson currently serves as a seventh-grade intervention specialist at Licking Valley Middle School. She is married to Alton Thompson, a former Pioneer baseball player and 2006 Malone graduate. The couple resides in Newark, Ohio, with their twin six-year-old daughters, Mya and Maci.
Chrissie (Jeren) Slack, a 2001 Malone graduate (social studies comprehensive, secondary education), was a four-year member of the Malone track and field and cross country teams. She is also a 1996 graduate of Poland Seminary High School.
In track and field Slack took part in a total of eight NAIA National Track & Field Championship Meets, qualifying for both indoor and outdoor nationals each and every year.
She also competed for Malone at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships in 1996 and 1998 and was a member of the Pioneers’ 1999 NAIA National Championship cross country team.
Slack collected four NAIA All-America awards during her outstanding career, three in indoor track and one in outdoor. She took sixth place in the 800 meters at Indoor Nationals as a freshman in 1997 and then repeated the feat again as a sophomore in 1998, once again taking sixth in the 800.
Slack returned to the podium at the Indoor National Championship Meet in 2000 as a member of Malone’s fifth-place distance medley relay team. Her final All-American Award came later that year at Outdoor Nationals as she took sixth in the 800 meters.
Slack also excelled in the classroom, earning NAIA All-American Scholar Athlete recognition in 1998 and 2000.
In addition to her individual awards, Slack helped the Pioneers register back-to-back American Mideast Conference and National Christian College Athletic Association Outdoor National Championships in both 1999 and 2000. She and her twin sister (and fellow 2018 inductee) Suzi (Jeren) Lantz played a significant role in those team titles, combining to win multiple conference and NCCAA National Championships in the 4-by-400 and 4-by-800 relay events.
Slack’s name can be found throughout the Pioneers’ all-time record book as she still ranks among the Top 10 in the outdoor 800 meters along with the indoor 500, 600 and 800 meters.
She is married to Lans Slack, a former men’s golf student-athlete at the University of Tennessee. The couple resides in Matthews, North Carolina, with daughters Alicia (11) and Abigail (9).
Suzi (Jeren) Lantz, Slack’s twin sister and a 2000 Malone graduate (English and secondary education), was a four-year member of the Malone track and field and cross country teams. A 1996 graduate of Poland Seminary High School, Lantz is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Christian ministries from Emmanuel Christian Seminary.
Just like her sister, Lantz was a four-time All-American for the Pioneer women’s track and field team and never missed a trip to nationals, qualifying for the NAIA Indoor and Outdoor Championships in each of her four years on the team.
Her first NAIA All-American honor came as a freshman in 1997 as she placed fifth in the 800 meters at the Indoor National Meet. Lantz would then repeat as an All-American in the indoor 800 the following year, finishing as the national runner-up with a career-best time of 2:15.88.
She would collect two more All-America awards as a senior, teaming with her sister Chrissie, Stephanie Volpe and Everlyne Lagat to take fifth in the indoor distance medley relay. Lantz then wrapped up her track and field career with a fifth-place finish in the 800 meters at the 2000 NAIA Outdoor National Championships.
In the Malone track and field record book, Lantz still owns the third-fastest outdoor 800 meters time in school history (2:14.5) while also ranking fourth in the indoor 800 (2:15.88).
On top of her lengthy list of track and field accomplishments, Lantz made significant contributions in cross country as she competed for Malone at two NAIA National Championship Meets and helped the Pioneers claim the 1997 NCCAA Women’s Cross Country National Championship.
Academically she collected NAIA All-America Scholar Athlete accolades in both 1999 and 2000.
Lantz currently serves as the Missional Community director at RiverTree Christian Church’s Jackson campus. She is married to Jason Lantz, a 2002 Malone graduate who competed for the Pioneer football team. The couple resides in Canton with their daughter Caris (13) and son Joshua (11).
Tanya (McQueen) Finney, a 2002 Malone graduate (sports science), was a four-year member of the Pioneer track and field team. A 1998 graduate of Licking Valley High School, Finney also earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Malone in 2009.
Finney was a three-time NAIA All-American for the Pioneers and is one of only two women’s track and field athletes in program history to earn All-America accolades in a multi-event (heptathlon or pentathlon).
She became Malone’s first female multi-event All-American as a junior in 2001 with a fourth-place finish in the heptathlon at the NAIA Outdoor National Championship Meet.
Then as a senior in 2002, Finney captured two additional NAIA All-American awards. She took fourth in the pentathlon at the NAIA Indoor National Championship Meet before closing out her outstanding collegiate career at the Outdoor National Championships by claiming a runner-up finish in the heptathlon.
Finney also excelled in National Christian College Athletic Association and American Mideast Conference competition, earning multiple NCCAA All-America awards and numerous individual AMC titles. She was named Athlete of the Meet at the 2002 NCCAA Outdoor National Championships after leading the Pioneer women to their fourth consecutive NCCAA National Title. Finney also was named AMC Athlete of the Meet in 2002 after pacing Malone to its fourth straight women’s conference championship.
In her final collegiate competition at NAIA Nationals, Finney racked up an incredible total of 4,715 points in the heptathlon, which still stands as Malone’s all-time record.
In addition to her impressive heptathlon mark, Finney still ranks among the Top 10 in 11 separate events on the program’s all-time performers lists. She is second all-time in the indoor pentathlon (3,303 points), the outdoor long jump (18’ 3”) and the outdoor triple jump (37’4”). Finney also is third in the indoor triple jump (36’1”), fourth in the indoor long jump (17’8”) and fifth in the indoor 55-meter hurdles (8.85 seconds).
Finney currently works as a registered nurse in Aultman Hospital’s cardiac care unit. She is married to 2002 Malone graduate Brian Finney, who also was an All-American for the Pioneer track and field team. The couple resides in Navarre, Ohio, with their four children: Zane (7), Piper (5), Cortland (2) and Brock (three months).
John Russell, Malone’s current associate athletic director and compliance officer, is in his 27th year at the university and becomes the second inductee elected under the “administrator or support personnel” provision (longtime sports information director Mark Bankert was the first in 2008).
Russell, a 1963 graduate of New Philadelphia High School, competed for the Pioneer baseball team during the 1964 and 1965 seasons. Following five years of service in the United States Army, Russell returned to Malone as a student and then graduated in 1973 with a degree in physical education.
Russell would spend the next 18 years at Massillon Christian School, where he served as a teacher, coach, athletic director and principal. He began working at his alma mater in 1991 as an admissions counselor and then was named Malone’s director of admissions in 1997. Russell transitioned to his current position in the athletic department in 2009 and played a key role in the Pioneers’ move to NCAA Div. II membership.
Russell was an assistant on head coach on Bob Starcher’s baseball staff from 1989-94 and then served as the Pioneers’ interim head baseball coach during the 1996 season.
As Malone’s athletic compliance officer, Russell oversees all aspects of student-athlete recruiting by the university, ensuring all rules and regulations set forth by the institution, conference and NCAA are followed.
John and his wife Carol (also a former Malone student) reside in Jackson Township and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in December 2016. The couple has two adult children, Carrie (May) and Johnny, and five grandchildren. Both Russell children and their daughter-in-law (Darci) are Malone alums.