Shares qualifies for NAIA track meet
The NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships are still almost a half-year away, but Ashley Shares has already reserved her spot in them.
The St. Xavier University senior will compete in the marathon at next May’s national meet after posting a time of 1 hour, 23 minutes, 32 seconds at the Schaumburg Half Marathon on Nov. 30. With a clocking that represented both personal and school records, Shares placed third among female runners and 28th overall. She eclipsed her previous-best time by 33 seconds.
Shares, the first Cougar to qualify for the 2014 NAIA meet, will be making her second appearance at the national event.
“Ashley is so focused right now, and it really showed in her performance at the Schaumburg Half Marathon,” SXU coach Lisa Ebel said. “I am so excited to see how she performs in the marathon next May after she finished 10th overall last season at the national meet.
“Ashley always finds ways to improve, like she did in the half marathon this year, so I can’t wait to see how well she finishes this time around.”
The NAIA meet will be held May 22-24 at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Senior linebacker Zach Dolph and junior defensive lineman Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn), both of whom were among a dozen Cougars recently named to the Mid-States Football Association All-Midwest League, have brains to go along with their brawn.
They proved as much by getting selected as first-team members of the 2013 Capital One Academic All-America® College Division football team, which was chosen by the College Sports Information Directors of America. The team is comprised of student-athletes from NAIA, Canadian and two-year institutions.
To be eligible for consideration, a student-athlete must be a varsity starter or key reserve, maintain a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.3 on a scale of 4.0, and have reached sophomore athletic and academic standing at his current institution.
A finance and mathematics double major with a 3.63 GPA, Dolph topped the Midwest League with 112 total tackles while also registering three sacks, three interceptions, five pass breakups and four forced fumbles for SXU. Twenty-three of his tackles were delivered in the Cougars’ Oct. 26 game against William Penn University and established a single-game school standard. In addition to his all-league honors, Dolph was twice recognized as the NAIA Defensive Player of the Week.
Hayward, a criminal justice and sociology major with a 3.80 GPA, is an Academic All-American for the second year in a row. On the field in 2013, Hayward notched 50 total tackles to go along with team-best efforts of 16 tackles for loss and 6 1/2 sacks.
SXU was one of only six schools in the nation to boast a pair of honorees on the Capital One team.
MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY
After leading the Cougars to their best postseason finish in program history, senior runner Brian Corcoran (Brother Rice) was the November recipient of the World Hyundai-St. Xavier University Athlete of the Month award. He was honored before last Saturday’s men’s basketball game between the Cougars and Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference foe Judson University.
Corcoran’s November work included strong finishes in two key meets. He placed fourth in a 118-athlete field at the CCAC Championship on Nov. 11 and earned all-conference recognition in the process after completing the 8K race in 25:34.
With Corcoran serving as its headliner, SXU was third in the team standings behind the University of St. Francis and Olivet Nazarene University, the NAIA’s Nos. 1 and 4 programs, respectively, at that time. That finish was good enough to advance the entire Cougars squad to the NAIA Cross Country National Championship for the first time in eight years.
At the national event on Nov. 23, Corcoran was exceptional again as he wound up 58th among 313 runners in 25:32. SXU was 19th as a team.
Caroline Kuzel, a senior pitcher/outfielder at Sandburg, recently signed a letter of intent to continue both her education and athletic career at SXU as a member of the Cougars softball program. The Orland Park native will be a college freshman next fall and compete for playing time on the field in the spring of 2015.
In addition to her skill sets on the softball diamond, Kuzel, who will pursue a degree in business, is an outstanding student. She is a member of Mu Alpha Theta, a mathematics honor society for high schools and two-year colleges.
“Caroline will be a great addition to our pitching staff,” SXU coach Myra Minuskin said. “She has experienced tremendous success in competitive high school and summer programs.
“Caroline is athletic, versatile and has great foot speed. We are thrilled to have her.”
In Tom O’Malley’s mind, the only two things that really mattered about last week were the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference wins the Cougars picked up at the expense of Trinity International University (108-81 on Tuesday) and Judson University (90-67 on Saturday).
And indeed, those victories were important. They improved SXU’s season ledger to 8-2 and stretched its latest unbeaten streak to four games.
However, the achieving of a couple personal milestones were bigger attention-grabbers, although the one attached to O’Malley was quickly downplayed by the veteran coach. The Cougars’ triumph over the Trojans on Tuesday was their 400th garnered under O’Malley’s leadership.
“That’s a credit to the kids,” said O’Malley, now in his 17th year at the Chicago school. “I would like to send a personal thank-you out to all of the players who’ve made this possible. I take credit for teaching the game, but players win games.”
Maybe so, but O’Malley and his staff obviously are doing something right to have SXU consistently produce so many accomplished squads. Interestingly, none of the current athletes was made aware of the landmark victory until after it had been registered.
Some members of past O’Malley teams knew, however, and last Wednesday an office filled with photos and other memory-jogging items greeted the coach. He spent a while perusing some things and admitted to getting a bit misty-eyed at all the recollections they conjured up.
That, O’Malley insisted, was what meant the most to him.
“People look at [win] numbers and get hysterical about them, but I don’t try to broadcast anything like that,” he said. “If somebody mentions it, fine, but I want the players to get credit. Victories don’t mean anything to me; it’s the people I’ve come in contact with that are most important.
“My No. 1 job is that I recruit you to be a student, and anybody that stays in our program will graduate. We’ve got close to a 100 percent graduation rate, and those people [who’ve already done so] are out in the world doing something.”
Senior Brad Karp will be among the Cougars’ next crop of graduates, and when he leaves he may very well do so as SXU’s all-time scoring leader. He moved into the No. 2 position during Saturday’s conquest of Judson as he passed Brother Rice alumnus Mark Telander, who totaled 2,281 points in his Cougars career.
Karp entered this week with 2,290 points. He trails Mike Walaszak (1978) by only 227 points. Karp is also fourth all-time in rebounding with 856 boards to date.
“And he’s averaging about four steals a game,” O’Malley said. “The big thing I thought when I recruited him was that he could play outside. He can, but he can also play inside. He’s a complete type of player, and he’s really far surpassed what we expected out of him.”
Judson defenders probably felt they did a solid job on Karp by limiting him to 13 points, but the latter made his presence keenly felt anyway by gathering in 19 rebounds. And compensating for Karp’s relatively low scoring output were the trio of Michael Simpson (22 points, 11 assists), Jack Krieger (15 points) and Josh Mawhorr (14 points).
The Eagles stayed close to SXU through much of the first half. The Cougars used a closing 11-2 run to establish some breathing room for themselves by intermission, then shot a blistering 62 percent over the final 20 minutes to pull away from Judson. Included among SXU’s later production was a spirit-crushing 34-12 blitz.
O’Malley hoped his guys learned a lesson from the Eagles’ strong display over the first 15 minutes.
“If you’re 8-2 and the other team is 3-8, they’re going to come at you with everything they’ve got,” he said. “It’s a tough situation to tell your kids anyone is capable of beating you if you don’t play your best, but teams like us, St. Francis, Olivet [Nazarene] and Robert Morris took a scholarship drop [by moving down to NAIA Division II] and the playing field got more level [for smaller schools].”
Trinity didn’t issue as stern a challenge to the Cougars last Tuesday, as the latter embarked on an 11-2 tear to begin the CCAC contest and held an advantage that topped out at 17 points during the opening half. SXU was ahead 53-38 at the break.
And if the Trojans thought they could take a run at the Cougars in the last 20 minutes, SXU blew up that plan by firing away at a 63 percent clip (24-of-38) after intermission.
Simpson and Karp combined for 41 points, Karp accumulating his 20 on 9-of-12 shooting. Simpson, meanwhile, complemented his scoring with seven assists and seven steals. In the two games last week, Simpson committed only two turnovers.
Former Stagg standout Darius Draper enjoyed his finest outing as a Cougar as he posted a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Kyle Huppe supplied SXU with a fourth double-digit man by popping in 17 points.
“We’re getting good balance, like we want to have,” O’Malley said. “I think we’ve stabilized our guard play — Jack [Krieger] continues to be very steady, and Simpson’s a great kid who listens [to instructions]. If we can get our big guys to play on a steady basis, we’ll be in good shape.”
With final exams taking place this week, the Cougars’ only scheduled game is a Saturday matchup with Robert Morris. A CCAC date with Roosevelt awaits SXU next week, and then the Cougars will host their own Christmas tournament that will feature five programs ranked among the NAIA’s top 25. — Ken Karrson
The Cougars’ 6-3 start to the season was not, by any means, the best one in program history, but remaining competitive in the midst of a difficult early schedule earned SXU a No. 13 ranking in the most recent NAIA Division 2 poll.
And a glance at the Massey ratings — an independent rating site for college and pro sports — shows that the Cougars actually boast the second-toughest schedule in the nation among NAIA D-II schools. They played up to that statistic, too, in a pair of CCAC victories last week.
SXU began on a very high note as it upset No. 5 Roosevelt University 72-66 at the Goodman Center in Chicago. The Cougars then returned home to the Shannon Center on Saturday afternoon to defeat Judson University 75-65.
Star juniors Suzie Broski and Morgan Stuut contributed significantly in both victories. Broski scored 20 points and pulled down eight rebounds against the Lakers and added 19 points versus the Eagles, while Stuut was a rebounding machine. After grabbing 16 boards — and scoring 17 points — against Roosevelt, Stuut posted a 20-20 double-double opposite Judson.
“I always knew that we played a tough schedule, but I had never checked out the statistics [on Massey] until I researched the website this [past] week,” SXU coach Bob Hallberg said. “Only Northwestern Iowa has a tougher schedule, and no doubt what I’ve been saying — that such a strong schedule should prepare us for the games against quality opponents — is true.
“The girls really played up to their potential against Roosevelt and it was a big win for us.”
That game lived up to its billing, as the two high-ranked NAIA teams swapped the lead 13 times and were tied 10 other times over the 40-minute affair. Neither squad ever held a lead larger than single digits, and the Cougars were forced to sink foul shots in the final 17 seconds to build their final six-point edge.
SXU also received solid outings from senior point guard Jordan Brandt and sophomore forward Caitlin McMahon. Brandt recorded five points, five assists and six steals, while McMahon had six points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Cougars overcame their own tough shooting night (37 percent) by limiting Roosevelt to just a 34 percent accuracy rate from the floor and forcing 17 Lakers turnovers. SXU scored 20 of its 72 points off Roosevelt miscues.
The defense really paid off in the last three minutes of regulation, as the Lakers tallied their final points of the game on a layup at the 2:52 mark. A layup by Cougars senior forward Chrissy Heine a minute later broke a 66-66 tie, and free throws by junior guard Maloree Johnson and Broski in the closing seconds sealed the win.
The victory kept SXU perfect (8-0) in its all-time series with Roosevelt.
“When you play four, five, seven or 12 minutes, that’s not a lot of minutes to play,” Hallberg said. “But everyone who played that night made a contribution to the team while they were in there. Whether it was an assist, a rebound or a key shot, it was one of those games that I played a lot of people and everybody contributed in some way.”
Making the win even more significant for the Cougars was that it came away from home.
“The key to being successful in any conference is winning games on the road,” Hallberg said. “It’s more enjoyable that we beat them with a good performance at their facility. Also, we know that our next game against them will be at our place.”
Stuut’s solid all-around game against Judson also included five assists, four blocked shots and a steal. Broski had the best field-goal effort of the day by shooting 8-of-15 after going 9-of-15 against Roosevelt.
SXU was especially effective behind the 3-point line, converting on eight long-distance baskets in 21 attempts.
The game was close early on before an offensive rebound and a layup by Stuut broke an 11-11 tie at the 12:30 mark and sparked a 24-9 run for the Cougars that was capped by a 3-pointer from freshman guard Mikayla Leyden. A late burst by Judson cut into SXU’s 35-19 lead, but the Cougars were still up by nine at halftime.
SXU never trailed in the second half and was aided by a pair of 3-point baskets from Brandt midway through the session. Brandt finished with eight points and five assists. The Cougars also tied a season high for blocked shots with nine in the game.
“We’ve been on the road for so long — it’s almost hard to believe that we were finally home,” Hallberg said. “We responded well.
“Morgan Stuut is just unbelievable. People can score points, but for her to also be able to grab 20 rebounds is just tremendous — it’s almost impossible. Caitlin McMahon expressed to me that she didn’t think she was doing a very good job on the boards, and I told her there’s not many left over after Morgan.”
One down side to the victory was an injury sustained by freshman Revi McMahon. The Stagg alumnus and sharpshooter broke her foot right before halftime and could miss the remainder of her freshman season.
“Revi is a good recruit and one of the best ball handlers that I have on the team,” Hallberg said. “She’ll obviously be out for a while. That put a damper on a very good game.”
On the flip side is Leyden, whose return from a torn ACL has been a boost to SXU’s bench. She hit a total of three 3-point buckets in the win over Judson
“Mikayla is slowly recovering and starting to come around,” Hallberg said. “It was a good all-around hustle game for her.
“It’s great to see a freshman like her responding. I think her playing time will increase in the coming games as she gets herself into better basketball shape.”
The Cougars (8-3, 3-1) hit the road for a conference matchup with Robert Morris University on Saturday.
“We have a light schedule because the girls will be taking final exams this whole week,” Hallberg said. “We have a tough opponent on the road in Robert Morris, a team that is athletic and well-coached. We have to keep playing the way we did this [past] week.” — Anthony Nasella