Cougars the top NAIA finisher at track meet
St. Xavier University didn’t win the Chicagoland Championships, but no other NAIA men’s track program could surpass the Cougars’ performance.
At a meet featuring schools from all three divisions of the NCAA as well as the NAIA, SXU placed sixth overall in a 17-squad field at North Central College. That represented the Cougars’ highest team finish ever.
Highlighting SXU’s exhibition on Feb. 15 were Brian Corcoran, Shane Kenney and Janis Pastars, who occupied the top three positions in the 1,000-meter run. Both Corcoran (2 minutes, 33.22 seconds) and Kenney (2:33.58) ran national-qualifying times, while Pastars clocked a 2:36.48 in taking third. Pastars did post a qualifying time in the mile run, where his 4:17.34 effort was good for fifth place overall.
Also turning in solid showings on the Cougars’ behalf were John Stancato (fourth in the 200-dash in 22.73; fifth in the 60 in 7.11), Matt Krakowski (51.18 in the 400) and Rexford Wiafe (ninth in the 800 in 1:57.93). Wiafe’s clocking was just off the national-qualifying mark.
“Overall, this was the best meet that we have had as a team,” SXU coach Ed McAllister said. “The three qualifiers all performed splendidly. We have three more who are very close to reaching the national-qualifying standard, and I feel that each of them have the potential to make it to nationals as well.”
The NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships will be held March 6-8 at Newark, Ohio.
Senior outside hitter Justin Cousin was an unstoppable force along the net, as he posted a team-best 12 kills and .379 attack percentage to lead the Cougars past Robert Morris University in a Great Lakes Division encounter Friday night at the Shannon Center.
SXU (2-10, 2-3) swept the Eagles in straight sets, 28-26, 30-28, 25-17. As a team, the Cougars totaled 36 kills while committing just 13 hitting errors, which gave them a .247 attack percentage for the match, one of their best showings of the season.
Sophomore middle blocker Sam Kull backed Cousin with eight kills and three assisted blocks, while freshman outside hitter Sean Barry contributed seven kills. Also lending a hand were freshman setter Moises Lopez (30 assists, nine digs) and senior middle blocker J.T. O’Connell (seven blocks, including three solos, four kills).
O’Connell’s kills total pushed him past the 400 mark for his career. He is only the fourth SXU men’s volleyball player to reach that level.
The Cougars faced No. 6-ranked Clarke University this past Tuesday in Dubuque, Iowa.
That may not have described the NAIA Division II No. 7-ranked Cougars’ performance Saturday in Palos Heights, but the words accurately summed up the latest storyline involving SXU and Trinity Christian College. The Trolls stayed close to their area rival on the scoreboard, but could never overtake them, a scenario that’s become all too familiar to those individuals within the Trinity hoops program.
The Cougars’ 70-62 triumph over the Trolls in a regular-season-ending Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference contest kept them unbeaten against Trinity during Tom O’Malley’s 17-year tenure at SXU. The Cougars defeated the Trolls once before this winter, but O’Malley wasn’t surprised his guys had their hands full in the rematch.
“They were not operating and executing their offense as well as they do now,” he said of Trinity. “They have six or seven players who do the same [kind of] things and they’ve gotten comfortable in their roles.
“I give [Trolls coach] Brandon [Nicol] a whole lot of credit because they played really well. Hopefully, they don’t get crazy over there and think he’s not doing a good job.
“In fairness to Trinity Christian, they finished with five [conference] wins, but they had to play us, Robert Morris and [top-ranked] Cardinal Stritch twice. Six wins on the other side got teams in [to the CCAC Tournament], so being in the North Division didn’t help them any.”
The Trolls, who pushed Stritch to overtime recently, are known for their shooting prowess. In particular, freshman Jared Jones has been an integral part of Trinity’s offense, but the trio of Jack Krieger, Michael Simpson and Kyle Huppe took turns hounding Jones defensively.
“Jones has been shooting lights-out — about 47 percent from 3-[point territory],” O’Malley said. “But he didn’t get a lot of good looks. We played pretty good defense on Wednesday and Saturday.”
Still, the Trolls held an early lead before SXU (26-4, 16-3) used a 14-3 run to go up 21-15. The Cougars were ahead 34-26 at intermission, then outscored Trinity 14-7 at the outset of the second half.
Krieger’s 3-pointer capped the blitz at the 13:28 mark. He and Brad Karp both tallied 16 points for SXU, and the duo combined to haul in 22 rebounds. Krieger also made four steals.
Other contributors included Simpson and Josh Mawhorr, who notched 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The Trolls weren’t going away quietly, however, and drew as close as four points before the Cougars beat back the challenge. O’Malley admitted SXU “snuck by Trinity,” but he didn’t believe his own squad’s long stretch of success versus the Trolls factored into the closeness of the final score.
“What we try to do as much as we can is say the past is past,” O’Malley said. “The next game is the most important one.”
For the Cougars, that next game took place this past Wednesday, when they tangled with the University of St. Francis in the CCAC Tournament. While SXU doesn’t need to finish first in the tourney in order to receive a bid to the NAIA’s national event, O’Malley would prefer seeing his athletes treat the conference tournament as a must-win proposition.
“You want to get as high a seeding as you can for the NAIA [tourney],” he said. “I don’t really pay much attention to that, though, because everybody who gets in the tournament is pretty good.”
That obviously includes the Cougars.
“We’ve won 20 of our last 22, so you’ve got to give [our players] credit to have maintained the equilibrium to do that,” O’Malley said. “We haven’t been shooting the ball well lately, but we’ve got to look at the positives as well as the negatives. If anybody had St. Xavier going 26-4 at the beginning of the year, I’d have said that’s a good season.”
In their final regular-season home game, the Cougars brushed aside Roosevelt University 90-76 last Wednesday at the Shannon Center. Karp’s double-double of 29 points and 10 rebounds paced SXU.
Karp, who is the Cougars’ career scoring leader, moved up to the No. 5 position among all Illinois collegians in history. In addition to his 2,777 points, Karp surpassed the 1,000 plateau in rebounding with his effort versus the Lakers.
Four other players also chipped in measurably to a robust SXU attack. Krieger (16 points, six assists), Simpson (15 points, five rebounds, five assists), Tony Core (14 points, four rebounds) and Mawhorr (10 points) helped the Cougars post a field-goal percentage of 52 and, even more impressively, commit only three turnovers in 40 minutes.
Karp’s three-point play culminated a 9-0 run that staked SXU to a 20-10 advantage with nine minutes left in the opening half, and the hosts were ahead by seven at the break. That 40-33 lead steadily grew after play resumed, and the Cougars put Roosevelt in arrears by as many as 20 points during the second half.
“Roosevelt might be a little more talented overall than Trinity Christian,” O’Malley said. “They have three kids who are all-conference types, but we played a little bit better than we did on Saturday.” —Ken Karrson
In summarizing the regular-season performance of his team, Cougars coach Bob Hallberg described SXU’s 26-4 overall record and 16-2 mark in CCAC play as a great achievement. He was especially happy that his team’s only losses to date have been administered by opponents found among the top 25 in NAIA Division II.
The No. 5-ranked Cougars finished out their schedule in strong fashion, particularly on defense, as they defeated Roosevelt University 64-56 at home last Wednesday and Trinity Christian 61-43 on the road on Saturday. SXU opened play in the CCAC Tournament this past Wednesday versus the winner of Monday’s Calumet College of St. Joseph-University of St. Francis play-in game.
“When you look at a 30-game schedule and you think that we could be good this year and have the talent to do something — 26-4 is a quite an accomplishment for these girls,” Hallberg said. “We’re ranked No. 5 and might have a chance to move up. It’s been a great year, especially because we played our whole basketball season without making a mistake.
“We didn’t get beat by a team by upset. To play the whole season and not make a mistake [like that] is a great accomplishment. Now, we’re on to the second half of the season — the conference tournament and, next [week], the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.”
In the Cougars’ win over Roosevelt at the Shannon Center, junior forward Morgan Stuut had the hot hand as she logged her 22nd double-double of the season with 21 points and 14 rebounds. She also had four blocks.
Prior to the game, SXU honored its five senior team members: guards Jordan Brandt and Niara Harris, forwards Chrissy Heine and Dana Sibley, and student assistant Ashley Reeves. Harris also had a solid night for the Cougars by chipping in 12 points and three rebounds. Junior guard Suzie Broski added eight points and six boards.
SXU was tough defensively throughout the game, limiting the visiting Lakers to just 29 percent shooting from the field and forcing 21 Roosevelt turnovers, 11 of which resulted from steals. The Cougars tallied 15 points off Lakers miscues.
Nevertheless, Roosevelt held a 13-10 edge midway through the opening half before SXU ran off 11 unanswered points. Harris accounted for six of those.
The Cougars took a 29-22 lead into the break and continued to be the aggressor when play resumed. Their advantage grew as big as 14 points in the second half before the Lakers made some late noise.
Roosevelt drew within six in the final two minutes, but free throws by Harris and Brandt helped put away the visitors for good.
“Roosevelt is a high-scoring team,” Hallberg said. “We held them to 22 points in the first half and 29 percent shooting for the game. We did a nice job despite struggling a little bit offensively.”
Three SXU players scored in double figures in the victory over Trinity Christian: Stutt provided 16 points, seven rebounds five steals and three assists, Broski had 14 points and Brandt tossed in 11. Another key performer was redshirt freshman Sidney Prasse, who finished with eight points and three rebounds.
In what has become a recent trend, the Cougars used tough defense to aid in the triumph. SXU limited the Trolls to a 30 percent success rate from the floor and caused 28 turnovers, a dozen of which were produced on steals.
The Cougars got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, falling behind 6-0 before junior forward Margaret Wildner hit a layup almost six minutes into the opening half. Brandt’s 3-pointer then sparked a 15-2 SXU tear that gave the visitors a double-digit lead with five minutes remaining.
The Cougars were up 30-16 at halftime and extended that edge all the way up to 25 points with 6 1/2 minutes to play on Broski’s layup.
“We had a nice performance defensively against Trinity despite another slow start,” Hallberg said. “We didn’t score points in the first five minutes, but holding them to 43 points was due to our defensive consistency.
“I might have to look at Sidney Prasse and Mikayla Leyden as offensive options because they can put the ball in the basket from long range. It’s hard to imagine making changes in a 26-4 season, but if we’re struggling offensively, I might have to find ways to put more players in the lineup.”
In a year that has seen SXU twice eclipse the century mark in games after not doing so for three seasons and deliver several other high-scoring performances, Hallberg knows the kind of impact the Cougars might have if they can piece together solid efforts on both sides of the ball.
“If we could ever consistently put together our best offensive performance [with the] zone defensive performances we’ve been getting in the same game, we should play real well,” he said. “Both games this [past] week we struggled offensively in the beginning of the game, but played defense as good as we have all season long.
“It will be interesting to see how we fare in the conference tournament.” — Anthony Nasella
The Cougars’ bats were slow to awaken from their winter slumber, and that resultant lack of offense forced SXU to absorb setbacks in both ends of its season-opening doubleheader in Kentucky. Host Georgetown College swept Saturday’s twinbill by scores of 3-1 and 7-0.
The Cougars managed just seven hits over the two contests. A bases-loaded walk to freshman Tom Hayes in the top of the seventh inning of Game 1 accounted for SXU’s lone tally on the day. Seniors Chris Klein and Tom Keating both hit safely in that same frame.
Junior Scott Vachon was the losing pitcher in the opener despite registering seven strikeouts and allowing just one earned run and three hits over six innings.
The Tigers plated all seven of their runs in the nightcap during their first three at-bats.
The news wasn’t any better for the Cougars on Sunday, as they again dropped both ends of a doubleheader to Georgetown. This time, the No. 23-ranked Tigers prevailed 3-2 and 6-2.
Game 1 required extra innings to settle. SXU grabbed a 2-0 lead in the fifth when sophomore shortstop Alec Barnhart homered following sophomore Steve Carrabotta’s double, and that advantage stood until Georgetown’s Martin Lemus powered a two-run round-tripper of his own in the bottom of the sixth. After the Cougars stranded baserunners in both the seventh and eighth frames, the Tigers gained the win on Steve Mancilla’s two-base hit.
Dan Wetzel took the loss in relief of Chris Klein, who worked the first six innings on the hill for SXU and scattered seven hits while fanning five and walking no one.
Keating’s two-out single in the fifth inning of the nightcap supplied the Cougars with both of their runs. It was one of only three Game 2 hits for SXU, which trailed Georgetown 6-0 at the time of Keating’s hit, one of three on the afternoon for the St. Laurence alumnus.
Barnhart and freshman Bryan Polak scored the Cougars’ runs in the second contest. Freshman Justin Dryier was tagged with the pitching loss in a game halted in the bottom of the sixth by snow.
SXU travels to Canton, Mo., this weekend for a pair of doubleheaders against Culver Stockton College.