Football players receive postseason honors
The 2013 football season didn’t produce the kind of team accomplishments St. Xavier University has grown used to in recent years, but individual accolades were still plentiful in the postseason.
A total of 12 Cougars were recognized by the Mid-States Football Association as members of its All-Midwest League squad. Nine of those players were named to the first team, and two of them — junior Nick DeBenedetti and senior Spencer Nolan — were chosen in a couple of categories.
DeBenedetti copped first-team honors as both a receiver and return specialist, while Nolan was tabbed as the first-team punter and second-team place-kicker. Other first-team selections from SXU were senior running back Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn), senior offensive lineman Tim Ladd, senior linebackers Zach Dolph and Dave Marciano, junior defensive lineman Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn) and junior defensive back Jacob Ghinazzi.
Freshman receiver Stephen Simms was picked for the second team and the trio of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Luke Rowell, freshman offensive lineman Kevin Lonergan (Oak Lawn) and junior defensive lineman JD Barchard were all honorable-mention selections.
“Even though we didn’t have the kind of season we’re accustomed to having, it’s still nice that so many of our guys received individual recognition from the MSFA,” Cougars coach Mike Feminis said. “I’m particularly happy for our senior captains Dave Marciano, Zach Dolph, Jacob Ghinazzi, Tim Ladd and Nick Pesek, who were all voted to the first team.
“They were all great leaders and very instrumental in helping us win the NAIA national championship in 2011 and solidifying our program as one of the best in the nation. But as good as they were on the field, they’re some of the best character kids I’ve ever coached, and I know they will all find huge success in whatever they do.”
SXU finished 18th in the nation after posting a 7-4 record. It missed out on the NAIA national tournament for the first time since 2008.
For the third straight week, the Cougars were forced to make adjustments in the wake of a setback and then rebounded with a victory in their next game.
That was again the case last weekend, when SXU took part in the Siena Heights Tournament in Adrian, Mich. After being held to their lowest point total of the season in an 84-67 loss to the No. 16-ranked host school on Friday, the Cougars bounced back to notch an 82-70 triumph over 11th-ranked Shawnee State University on Saturday night.
Morgan Stuut, who was named to the all-tournament team, exploded for 30 points in the win over Shawnee State. Suzie Broski scored 17 points against Shawnee State and led SXU (6-3) with 13 points versus Siena Heights.
“Morgan and Suzie really had great performances in a game where we needed a win,” Cougars coach Bob Hallberg said. “We went with an eight-player rotation against Shawnee State, and that seemed to work for us.
“We beat a very good opponent in Shawnee State, and nobody has played a tougher schedule so far than we have. With nine games under our belt and just one home game — [and] six of our nine opponents ranked in the NAIA — we’ll definitely be benefiting by the time we reach our conference competition.”
SXU led Shawnee State most of the way after completing a 17-4 run with one of Stuut’s five 3-pointers at the 12:50 mark of the first half. The Cougars took control of the game in the second half and built a double-digit advantage late to secure the victory.
In addition to their points, Stuut and Broski combined to pull down 13 boards for SXU. Sophomore forward Caitlin McMahon led the rebounding effort with 11, including seven on the offensive end. McMahon also chipped in seven points, while senior point guard Jordan Brandt totaled 13 points and two assists.
“I know I have to keep Caitlin out there because she is our tallest player and a big rebounding force for us,” Hallberg said. “She needs more minutes.
“Jordan Brandt had a great tournament with back-to-back solid games. She was all over the floor in the win over Shawnee State with 13 points in 33 minutes.”
Siena Heights and SXU both shot 43 percent from the field on Friday, but the host Saints won the rebounding battle 42-33 and the Cougars committed 25 fouls, which sent Siena Heights to the line 36 times and resulted in 28 points off free throws.
Brandt also scored in double figures for SXU on Saturday with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Stuut just missed another double-double outing for the Cougars with eight points and a game-best 11 rebounds while also supplying six assists and four steals.
Senior guard Niara Harris and McMahon each chipped in nine points.
SXU struggled to find its long-range shot, hitting just 1-of-11 3-point attempts in the game. The Cougars led 13-8 in the opening minutes, but the Saints tied the game shortly thereafter — one of 10 deadlocks in the first half.
Siena Heights took a 40-36 lead into intermission, saw SXU knot the score at 44 on Broski’s layup after play resumed and then responded with a 10-2 run that put it ahead for good. The Cougars got within three points multiple times, but critical turnovers and missed shots in the closing minutes sealed SXU’s fate.
While Hallberg admitted the Cougars simply didn’t play especially well against Siena Heights, he also realized something else about his team. This discovery concerned the number of players he should typically use.
“I played [all] 13 players in a very close game,” Hallberg said, “and I came to the conclusion that I had to make some adjustments, which really helped us out the next game. Everybody on the team are great players, but it’s hard to play them all in a game.
“We got out-rebounded, outshot and outplayed by a pretty good team on their home court. And when Morgan is only limited to eight points and not her normal 25-to-30 points, we’re just going to struggle.”
SXU returns to CCAC action this week with games against Roosevelt and Judson universities. The Cougars host the latter Saturday at 1 p.m.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a home game, so that will be a nice change of pace for us,” Hallberg said. — Anthony Nasella
This Jack was also nimble and, much to the delight of everyone within the Cougars basketball program, very quick to return to the SXU lineup.
Unlike the character made famous in a children’s fable, however, this Jack — last name Krieger — proved himself in a man’s world. After undergoing ACL surgery in June, the junior guard figured to be idled for quite some time.
“I wasn’t even sure he was coming back at all,” Cougars coach Tom O’Malley said.
Krieger had no such qualms himself; in fact, he predicted a pre-Christmas return despite the severity of his injury. Various medical people recently agreed as they issued him a clearance to play, and by living up to his own ambitious prognostication, Krieger gave O’Malley “a Thanksgiving present and Christmas present all rolled into one.”
“He’s a kid that really worked hard [to come back],” the coach said. “He put a lot of demands on himself and nothing’s going to faze him. We only played him part-time [last Friday] and we didn’t expect him to come in and do a lot, but he was an important factor.”
Nine-of-17 shooting from 3-point range in two games at SXU’s Thanksgiving tournament proved Krieger was ready to go. He nailed three of those treys and totaled 19 points in his debut, as the Cougars pinned a 91-78 defeat on Madonna University at the Shannon Center, then contributed six 3s and 24 points to SXU’s cause on Saturday.
The Cougars needed every bit of that latter input, too, as they narrowly escaped with a 98-96 triumph over Indiana-East. Perhaps appropriately, Krieger also played a major role at the end, as his steal and on-target pass set Kyle Huppe up for the game-winning layup with five seconds remaining.
O’Malley felt SXU (6-2) should have been able to subdue the Red Wolves with a little less difficulty, but he wasn’t going to complain about the result.
“We’ve still got work to do, but a couple wins make you feel better than a couple losses,” said O’Malley, whose club had gotten tagged with consecutive setbacks the week before by defending NAIA Division II national champion Cardinal Stritch University and Arizona Christian, which is currently ranked among the top 20 teams in Division I.
“In this particular game [against Indiana-East], I felt we played poorly on defense,” O’Malley said. “They pretty much got whatever they wanted — there were a lot of shots [taken] where our guys didn’t get out on their shooters fast enough, and they made a lot of 3-point shots in the second half. I think they were 11-of-20 [for the game].”
The Red Wolves fired away at a 53 percent clip from the field overall, a figure the Cougars were basically able to match. However, SXU wasn’t as proficient from long range and, as a result, there was “never a safety lead” for it, according to O’Malley.
The Cougars got things rolling their way right away, as they netted 13 of the contest’s first 18 points within the opening four minutes. But instead of being shaken by that early blitz, Indiana-East simply responded in kind.
The Red Wolves’ 11-2 tear expunged SXU’s lead, then the visitors rallied again after the Cougars had re-established a seemingly comfortable advantage with a 27-12 spurt before halftime. By scoring 24 points in the first six minutes of the second half, Indiana-East positioned itself right alongside SXU for the remainder of the game.
In addition to Krieger’s 24-point eruption, the Cougars benefited from a 30-point, five-steal effort by senior guard Brad Karp. Sophomore forward Josh Mawhorr delivered 12 points and a team-best seven boards, while senior guard Michael Simpson provided SXU with a double-double of 10 points and 10 assists.
St. Xavier 91
Whatever defensive deficiencies popped up for the Cougars on Saturday were nowhere to be found the day before.
The NAIA-ranked Crusaders were completely shut down by SXU over the first 20 minutes and slipped well in arrears of the hosts. Madonna hit only 11 field goals before intermission and totaled just 25 points.
“Being up by 20 points on them was fantastic,” O’Malley said. “We were playing at a quicker pace, and we were doing everything we wanted to do offensively and defensively.”
Indeed, while their defense was hampering the Crusaders, the Cougars’ offense also carried its fair share of the load. Joining Krieger on the list of ringleaders were Karp (27 points) and Simpson (18 points, nine assists), and SXU fired away at a 56 percent clip (32-of-57) for the game.
“We’ve [so far] played five teams that are top-level teams,” O’Malley said. “To be able to hold our own against them, and win a majority of the games, is pretty pleasing.”
One thing O’Malley desires to avoid is developing a case of amnesia in regard to some of his players. While he’s obviously happy to have Krieger back in the fold and already being a person of influence, O’Malley wants to make sure anyone who stepped forward in his absence doesn’t suddenly become an odd man out.
“You can’t play the season hoping he’s going to come back [when it wasn’t certain],” he said of Krieger. “Hopefully, he stays healthy from now on, but we’ve got guys with six full games under them while he was out. We can’t forget about them now just because he’s back.”
Two Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference encounters were on tap for the Cougars this week. Following a matchup with Trinity International University on Tuesday, SXU squares off with Judson University on Saturday. — Ken Karrson