Cougars men place 19th at NAIA cross country meet
St. Xavier University houses a top-20 men’s cross country program.
That was what the Cougars proved Saturday at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. As part of a 32-school field in the NAIA Cross Country National Championship, the Cougars wound up 19th with 517 points and were one of three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference teams among the first 20 finishers.
Defending national champion University of St. Francis (157 points) occupied the No. 4 position, while Olivet Nazarene University (188) took sixth. Individually, Trinity Christian College’s Andy Reidsma was fourth overall after covering the 8K distance in 24 minutes, 35.69 seconds.
Leading the way for SXU, as usual, was senior Brian Corcoran, who hit the chute in 25:32.43. That enabled the Brother Rice grad to cap a superb collegiate career with a 58th-place showing, which became a 46th for team scoring purposes.
Following Corcoran to the finish was Cougars senior Shane Kenney, who was 140th overall (104th in scoring) with a 26:15.49 clocking. SXU’s other point producers were sophomore Eric Hancock (162nd in 26:24.24), freshman Abel Hernandez (164th, 26:24.77) and senior Chris Shellenberger (180th, 26:32.35).
Hancock’s effort was especially noteworthy since he ran over four miles with only one shoe in freezing weather. He lost it shortly after being inadvertently spiked by another runner early in the race.
Also competing on the Cougars’ behalf were Stagg product Chris Sarna (189th, 26:37.30) and junior Kyle Counter (220th, 26:55.31). A total of 313 runners took part in the race.
“I am quite satisfied with our overall performance,” said SXU coach Ed McAllister, who witnessed the Cougars’ highest postseason finish in their 10-year history. “The injury to Hancock probably cost us about three or four places, but nothing can take away from the overall success of the day and the season.
“This team stepped up over and over when their backs were against the wall, and I couldn’t be more proud of their performances. Kenney ran the greatest race of his career and Abel Hernandez also ran a personal best. This was overall a fantastic day and season for the Cougars.”
SXU only had one female representative at the national 5K women’s race, and junior Leslie Rosario completed her season by placing 227th in a field of 319 competitors in a time of 20:28.87.
The Cougars did not register a team score. However, two other CCAC schools, Olivet and USF were among the top 12 squads.
“This is a nice exclamation point on a great season for Leslie,” SXU coach Lisa Ebel said. “She has been one of our leaders throughout the fall and I’m so happy for her that she got to finish her year competing at the highest stage.”
No sooner did the 2013 campaign conclude for SXU’s fall sports teams than several athletes began receiving recognition for their in-season work.
Senior Kyle Held was one of five Cougars men’s soccer players to be chosen for the All-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference squad, and the lone first-teamer. Despite missing five matches due to injury, Held was between the pipes for all seven of SXU’s wins and helped the club compile a 7-4-2 ledger when he was the starting goalkeeper.
In his final collegiate season, Held posted four shutouts, made 73 saves and registered a goals-against average of 1.31.
Team scoring leader Marco Gutierrez led four other Cougars onto the All-CCAC second team. The sophomore forward knocked in 10 goals, dished out four assists and finished with 24 points. Another second-team pick, junior midfielder Brandon Simoes, was right behind Gutierrez offensively as he supplied SXU with nine goals, three assists and 21 points.
Also tabbed for all-conference honors were senior Dale Judickas (Stagg) and junior Xavier Corona, both of whom were defensive anchors for the Cougars while playing in front of Held. In addition to helping SXU allow an average of just 1.09 goals per outing, Judickas and Corona each tallied once himself and distributed three assists between them.
The Cougars women’s soccer team endured a rough year overall, but that didn’t prevent sophomore forward Lexi Cozzi from earning a spot on the All-CCAC second team.
Cozzi saw action in all but two of SXU’s 18 matches and finished as its top offensive weapon with six goals and 13 total points. Cozzi put 15 of her team-high 26 shots on goal during the season.
Representing the Cougars on the All-CCAC volleyball squad was junior middle hitter Marie Hackert.
A first-team all-conference pick, Hackert paced SXU in three statistical categories: kills (287), points (343.5) and assisted blocks (63). She ranked second among Cougars players in solo blocks (24) and attack percentage (.254) while playing in all 30 of SXU’s 2013 matches. Her hitting-percentage figure also placed her among the CCAC’s top 10.
Senior linebacker Dave Marciano won the final Midwest League Defensive Player of the Week designation of the regular season from the Mid-States Football Association following the Cougars’ 34-7 victory over Olivet Nazarene on Nov. 16.
Marciano gave SXU its third defensive honor of the year. Fellow linebacker Zach Dolph was feted by the MSFA on Sept. 9 and Oct. 28.
In his last collegiate appearance, Marciano recorded eight solo tackles, one assisted stop and two sacks. He wound up second to Dolph in total tackles (92) and tackles for loss (11 1/2) this season.
HALL OF FAME
SXU will induct five new members to its Athletics Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 1, in the university’s Butler Reception Room.
Entering the hall will be baseball coach Mike Dooley and former athletes Luke Gregerson (baseball, Class of 2006), Lissa Coby (women’s soccer, 2008), Traci Looby (volleyball, 2008) and Chris Rodgers (football, 2008). The induction class will be SXU’s first since May 2012, when nine members were added.
Dooley, the Cougars’ head coach since 1993, has been involved with the baseball program in some way since 1982. His record as coach is 785-472-3 (.624 winning percentage), and he led SXU to the NAIA World Series in 2006. That year, Dooley was named Coach of the Year for both NAIA Region VII and the CCAC.
Under his guidance, the Cougars have won eight conference and four region titles. Dooley has also served as SXU’s assistant athletics director since the mid-1990s.
One of his former players, Gregerson, was an NAIA honorable-mention All-American in 2006, a year which also saw the latter get named the CCAC Player of the Year and Region VII MVP. Gregerson reached the major leagues in 2009 with the San Diego Padres and established an MLB record with 40 holds as a relief pitcher in 2010.
Coby left SXU as the career scoring leader in women’s soccer. Her output included 75 goals and 67 assists, which added up to 217 points. Coby was an NAIA second-team All-American as both a junior and senior, which came on the heels of honorable-mention recognition her first two seasons.
Other awards included four first-team selections to the All-NAIA Region VII and All-CCAC squads. She was the Region VII Player of the Year in both 2006 and 2007. Behind Coby, the Cougars captured four CCAC regular-season championships and one conference tournament title, and made two appearances in the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship.
Looby ended her SXU volleyball career as the school’s career leader in assists (5,057), No. 2 in service aces (253) and No. 8 in digs (1,452). She was an NAIA All-America honorable mention in 2007 and two-time first-team selection on the All-NAIA Region VII and All-CCAC squads. Looby was named to the all-conference second team as a sophomore.
The Cougars reached the NAIA Volleyball National Championship in 2007.
Rodgers was chosen for the American Football Coaches Association-NAIA Coaches and College Fanz NAIA Football Coaches All-America squads in 2008 as a second-teamer. He was an All-Mid-States Football Association Mideast League first-team selection in 2008 and second-team choice in 2007.
Rodgers is No. 2 all-time in Cougars annals with 38 career pass breakups and fourth in career blocked kicks with four. SXU went 37-13 during Rodgers’ years with the team and reached the postseason three times.
When the going got tougher, the Cougars didn’t get going.
After his squad sped out of the starting gate with four straight wins to begin the 2013-14 campaign, SXU coach Tom O’Malley warned anyone who’d listen to not get overly excited. Bigger tests would soon be coming, he said, and a truer evaluation of the Cougars might be gleaned from four other contests.
The first two of those took place last week, much to SXU’s despair. Neither defending NAIA Division II champion Cardinal Stritch nor Division I No. 15-ranked Arizona Christian embarrassed the Cougars; far from it, in fact.
But SXU was unable to defeat either foe. The Wolves held serve on their own Panella Court in Milwaukee last Wednesday by an 82-74 count, while host Arizona Christian slipped past the Cougars 83-76 on Saturday.
“We’ve got to get ourselves to play at a high level against everybody, not just the teams we’re supposed to beat,” O’Malley said.
If certain statistics had told the entire story, SXU (4-2, 0-1 CCAC) certainly would have appeared to be on solid ground against Stritch.
“We took 27 more shots, had 15 more offensive rebounds and made 10 fewer turnovers,” O’Malley said. “No way you can lose a game like that, right?”
Wrong, at least if not enough of those 27 extra shots find their way into the cylinder. While the Wolves clicked on 52 percent of their field-goal tries, the Cougars’ accuracy rate languished at a disappointing 32 percent, a mark that included a 2-of-13 display from behind the 3-point line.
“[And] we must have missed 10-to-15 open shots around the basket,” O’Malley said. “It was just one of those nights. I do give [Stritch] credit — they have some size and they congregated around the basket, but not all of [our misses] were because of that.”
How bad did it get for SXU? Senior star Brad Karp, a 56 percent shooter last season, misfired 16 times versus Stritch.
Karp still produced a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds, which helped the Cougars hang around the whole way. They got up 66-63 after a Karp free throw in the second half, and his jumper with 2:57 left in regulation kept the visitors within 72-71.
However, the Wolves’ Tony Smit sank six free throws in final half-minute, which allowed the hosts to hold on for the win. In the closing moments, Cougars senior guard Michael Simpson missed a 3-point attempt and had a shot blocked.
Those were part of a forgettable evening for the former Stritch player in his first encounter with his old team. Simpson hit only 1-of-18 shots from the floor, and O’Malley felt bad for him.
“We told him, ‘You don’t have to prove anything to us or to yourself,’” O’Malley said. “Maybe he should have looked to push the ball back out when he got among the trees. Now, he knows.”
Simpson was in a much better groove on Saturday, and his 23-point, five-rebound performance keyed a strong early effort from SXU. With Karp on his way to a 27-point, five-steal outing, the Cougars rode their 1-2 punch to a 31-18 first-half advantage.
Arizona Christian wiped out that lead with a 17-2 run, then surged ahead to stay. It was up 76-61 with 1:16 to play when two Simpson 3s tightened things a bit.
The hosts survived, however, thanks to a hefty 47-30 edge on the glass, plus more sub-par shooting from the Cougars, who, despite their rapid getaway, wound up making good on only 37 percent of their field-goal tries and 64 percent of their free throws.
Part of the problem, according to O’Malley, was too much reliance on too few people.
“We’re running offense with two guys, which is not the way you do it,” he said. “We can’t turn it over to Mike and Brad and say, ‘You guys do it and we’ll stand around and watch.’
“Distribution of the ball is big for us [because] we’ve got to get more to the point where we have more people involved. We’ve got to run more things off the post.”
Dealing with Arizona Christian’s front line that measured 6-foot-9, 6-7 and 6-6 wasn’t easy for SXU, but no one guy hurt the Cougars that badly. Rather, it was the home team’s balance that proved critical — four Arizona players scored in double figures and another man had nine points coming off the bench.
“We knew we were playing two good teams,” O’Malley said. “We knew when we looked at the early part of the schedule this would be a tough part.”
The circumstances don’t immediately get easier, either, as Madonna University and Indiana East are on tap for SXU this weekend. But just as O’Malley said not to overrate the Cougars based on their start to the season, he now advises others to not undersell them.
“We lost three of our first four last year, then only two more the rest of the [regular] season,” he said. — Ken Karrson
After the Cougars suffered a disheartening defeat against No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan, they were forced to reassess and readjust for their next game, which turned out to be a victory.
No. 9-ranked SXU faced similar circumstances last week in the aftermath of a 71-61 CCAC loss to No. 15 Cardinal Stritch University on Wednesday. And just like they did previously, the Cougars were able to bounce back.
Sparked by a critical lineup change made by coach Bob Hallberg, SXU captured a pair of victories at last weekend’s Holiday Inn Express Classic, hosted by Olivet Nazarene University at McHie Arena in Bourbonnais. The Cougars got back in the win column with a 77-70 triumph over Huntington University on Friday and then crushed Mid-Continent University 82-40 on Saturday.
“The Cardinal Stritch game was a wake-up call for the coach,” Hallberg said. “It made me realize that I had to insert more offense into the lineup. I have two good guards [Jordan Brandt and Maloree Johnson] who I have complete confidence in, but my two main players [juniors Morgan Stuut and Suzie Broski] were being double-teamed and not much attention was being paid to the rest of the lineup.
“I realized we needed more firepower and another offensive option that would also draw players away from Stuut and Broski. So I inserted [senior point guard] Niara Harris in the game after we were behind, and she responded well. Again, you learn more in a loss and against good competition.”
Harris tied a career-best with 18 points against the Wolves, but Stritch was tough on the boards throughout the night as it out-rebounded SXU by 21 (46-25). The Wolves also aided their cause by sinking 20-of-26 free throws.
Broski totaled 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while Stuut added 13 points, nine rebounds and four steals. The latter two numbers represented team-best efforts. However, Stuut fouled out with 1:57 to play, which hampered the Cougars’ comeback bid from a 64-59 deficit.
SXU struggled with its shooting in all areas. It connected on just 40 percent of its attempts from the floor (23-of-57), 25 percent from 3-point land (4-of-16) and 58 percent at the charity stripe (11-of-19).
Harris tried to fire up the Cougars’ offense in the second half by going on a personal 7-0 run, which gave SXU its first lead since the opening minutes. But the Cougars’ offense went cold down the stretch, which enabled the Wolves to close them out with a 13-2 surge.
It was right after that, however, that Hallberg realized the need to insert Harris into the starting lineup.
“Naira can effectively score going to basket better than any other guard on the team,” Hallberg said. “We should not have lost to Cardinal Stritch, but the loss showed me that in order for us to be successful against a good offensive team, I had to put more offense into the lineup.
“Naira is very difficult to stop. She gives us another scoring opportunity and a matchup difficulty for the opposing coach.”
Against Huntington, Harris again led all scorers with 18 points for the Cougars, who used an 18-4 run and 58 percent shooting in the first half to take a 45-27 halftime lead. Broski scored 16 points and surpassed the 1,000 milestone for her career in the process.
The landmark points came on a jumper midway through the opening half, which gave SXU a 14-point lead at that juncture. Broski canned half of her 16 field-goal attempts.
Another influential figure was Stuut, who notched her fourth double-double of the young season with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. The Cougars were tough on the boards all night and held a 35-29 advantage over the Foresters, whose leading scorer was Courtney Baker (16 points).
“The winning margin could have been bigger,” said Hallberg, whose club was ahead by double digits most of the way. “Huntington’s perfect free-throw shooting in the second half kept them close.”
In their win over Mid-Continent, the Cougars jumped out to a 24-2 lead and helped their cause by forcing 30 turnovers — 16 of them off steals — and snaring 60 rebounds. Stuut’s 20-point, 12-rebound effort paced a quartet of double-figure scorers,
Other key contributors were junior forward Margaret Wildner (12 points, eight rebounds), Caitlin McMahon (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Broski (10 points).
SXU’s defense limited Mid-Continent to just 15 points and 17 percent shooting (5-of-29) in the first half while its own offense also contributed to the building of a massive 42-15 halftime lead.
“We were firing on all cylinders in that game,” Hallberg said. “Everybody got to play and everybody was able to score points. More importantly, I was able to insert two players [Meaghan McMahon and Mikayla Leyden] into the game who had been injured, but both of whom I’m counting on to contribute.
“Now, they both have some game experience. Hopefully, they’ll be more comfortable the next time I insert them in a game that is more meaningful.”
The Cougars resume play on Saturday at the Siena Heights (Mich.) University Tournament.
“It’s a tough tournament,” Hallberg said. “The other bracket has St. Francis of Indiana and Shawnee State, so win or lose, we have two tough games waiting for us. We’re playing better, and now we just have to keep it up.” — Anthony Nasella