Cougars 16th in spring football poll
The 2014 football season is still 4 1/2 months away, but it's not too soon to begin prognosticating.
And in the opinion of NAIA football coaches, St. Xavier University is deserving of the No. 16 position in their spring top-25 poll. The Cougars finished 2013 at No. 18 despite missing out on the national tournament for the first time since 2008.
SXU, which was the NAIA national champion in 2011 and reached the semifinal round every year between 2009-2012, has been ranked in 76 consecutive polls. That's the fifth-longest streak among current NAIA institutions.
Grand View University, the 2013 national champ and a member of the Mid-States Football Association along with the Cougars, grabbed the top spot in the spring poll.
"I think this is the lowest we have been rated in a spring poll in about five years, so we will use this as a motivating factor," SXU coach Mike Feminis said. "The reality of it is that spring polls are usually just an extension of how you did last season, and for us 7-4 is unacceptable.
"I fully expect us to be right back where we belong as one of the top NAIA teams in the country this fall."
The Cougars, who are in the midst of conducting spring practices, kick off their 2014 campaign Sept. 6 against Marian University.
Former SXU kicker Spencer Nolen participated in last Friday's Chicago Bears metropolitan area workout at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
The annual workout is an invitation-only event and provides an NFL team the opportunity to work out draft-eligible players in the metropolitan area of the player’s campus or residence in preparation for the NFL Draft in May. Nolen, who earned the invitation after performing well at Northwestern University's pro day in March, performed a number of punting, field-goal and kickoff drills during the workout.
"Spencer has worked extremely hard to improve his leg strength, and the fact that he can do all three phases of kicking makes him more marketable," Feminis said. "It was a great experience for him to work out with the Bears and, hopefully, he will gain some interest from a professional team, whether it's here, the Canadian Football League or an Arena League team."
Two other former Cougars kickers, Shane Longest and Tom Lynch, drew past interest from NFL scouts.
Brittney van der Hoek, a senior forward/midfielder at Elkhart Central High School in Elkhart, Ind., has signed a letter of intent to continue her education and athletic career at SXU in the fall as a member of the Cougars women's soccer program.
She ended her prep soccer career as her school's No. 3 all-time scorer with 43 goals. Chosen as the Lady Blue Blazers' Offensive MVP, van der Hoek earned All-Northern Indiana Conference honors multiple times while playing for Elkhart.
"The addition of Brittney to our program is going to be big for us," SXU coach Evan Strehlau said. “She has it all — speed, strength, skill, the ability to finish, and [she] is also a great student.
"Brittney will put a lot of pressure on our veterans for a starting role, either in the midfield or up top. I’m really happy that she made the decision to continue her career at St. Xavier University.”
The Cougars placed 11th among 14 schools at Benedictine University's Eagle Invitational one day after occupying the 14th spot in a 20-team field at the Chicagoland Championships, which were hosted by Lewis University.
SXU's top individual performer at Benedictine was senior Jordan Wallace, whose effort in the 3,000-meter steeplechase was second only to that of Trinity Christian College's Jessica Disselkoen. Wallace registered a runner-up time of 11 minutes, 59.1 seconds, which trailed Disselkoen by 27.1 seconds.
Also scoring for the Cougars were senior Leslie Rosario in the 1,500-run (sixth in 5:00.29) and sophomore Lexi McDermid in the 100-hurdles (seventh, 17.27). Other athletes competing on SXU's behalf included sophomore Ann Kolker (11th in the 1,500, 5:06.90), senior Anna Galvez (14th in the 800, 2:30.80), freshman Nicole Watkins (15th in the 800, 2:31.34), sophomore Dana Martin (18th in the 800, 2:33.28) and freshman Rachel Koronkiewicz (27th in the 400, 1:12.64).
The Cougars totaled 15 points.
Senior Ashley Shares was sixth in the 10,000-meter event at the Chicagoland Championships after crossing the finish line in 38:49.38. Her three points were the only ones garnered by SXU in an individual event.
Also scoring was the 3,200-relay foursome of Rosario, Galvez, Martin and Watkins, whose 9:45.40 clocking was good for fifth place overall and four total points.
Three strong innings of relief by freshman pitcher Jesse Lopez helped the Cougars salvage a split of their Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference doubleheader against Holy Cross College at Richard R. Ferrell Field last Wednesday. SXU triumphed 7-4 after losing the opener 1-0.
Lopez struck out one, allowed just one hit and did not issue a walk during his appearance. The win squared his record at 3-3. RBI hits from freshman Tom Hayes (two-run single) and senior Brad Myjak in the eighth inning gave Lopez a lead to protect.
The Cougars had gone ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second on senior Chris Klein's RBI single and again at 3-1 in the fourth, but Holy Cross eventually pulled even in both instances. The Saints then moved in front in their half of the sixth by combining four walks, an error and single before sophomore Steve Carrabotta's sacrifice fly created a 4-all tie in the bottom half of that same stanza.
Other RBI men for SXU were junior Bryan Villanova and sophomore Alec Barnhart, both of whom stroked fourth-inning singles.
The Cougars managed only five hits off Holy Cross' Jacob Lanning in Game 1. Barnhart and Myjak accounted for four of them, with the latter's double being SXU's lone extra-base hit.
Junior Dan Wetzel was almost as effective as Lanning on the hill. He scattered six hits and fanned five over seven innings, but still saw his ledger dip to 3-4.
Cardinal Stritch's Chad Mazur broke up a scoreless tie with his 12th-inning single, as the Wolves captured the opener of a three-game CCAC series with the Cougars last Friday at WCTC Field in Pewaukee, Wis.
SXU finished with eight hits and stranded half of those baserunners in scoring position. Klein had three of the Cougars' safeties, including a double, while Myjak doubled and received two walks. SXU wasted freshman Ryan Pellack's inning-opening triple in the top of the 10th.
Scott Vachon pitched the first nine innings for the Cougars on a yield of seven hits and two walks while striking out eight. Freshman Adrian Luna took the loss in relief despite surrendering only two hits and fanning three in two-plus stanzas.
Senior Tom Keating went 4-for-7 on the day with a double, two runs and an RBI, and the Cougars used that performance to gain a split with Cardinal Stritch on Saturday at Richard R. Ferrell Field.
SXU (17-23, 12-8) blasted the Wolves 9-3 in the opener, employing a 12-hit attack to get the job done. Stritch bounced back, however, to claim a 5-4 triumph in the second contest.
Two wild pitches handed the Cougars a couple early runs in Game 1 and they never relinquished the lead. Freshman Bryan Polak's two-out double drove in two more runs in the third, Villanova's fourth-inning single made it 5-0, and SXU then wrapped up its scoring by erupting for four tallies in the sixth. Supplying RBI in that latter frame were Myjak (two-run double), Barnhart (sacrifice fly) and sophomore Andres Alika (sacrifice fly).
Stritch put up a three-spot in the seventh by piecing together five singles and a walk, but a 4-6-3 double play brought the rally to a halt. Lopez earned the pitching win by going the distance on a yield of seven hits.
SXU expunged a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning of Game 2, thanks to a critical Wolves error and Keating's RBI single. But Stritch got the final say when it scored twice in the ninth and saddled reliever Wetzel with a tough setback.
Villanova accounted for the Cougars' other RBI with his third-inning hit. Klein pitched the first eight stanzas and fanned six.
SXU returned to action this past Wednesday when it visited Olivet Nazarene University for a CCAC doubleheader.
Sophomore Nicole Nonnemacher and senior Megan Nonnemacher allowed just one hit between them and no walks over two games as the No. 10-ranked Cougars whipped Purdue-North Central 9-0 and 12-0 in a CCAC doubleheader last Thursday in Westville, Ind.
Nicole Nonnemacher threw a perfect game in the opener, a performance spiced with 11 strikeouts. Offensive support for both her and Megan Nonnemacher (eight strikeouts in Game 2) was plentiful, as junior Katie Sears (4-for-7 with a double, four runs and three RBI on the day) and senior Katie Houlihan (4-for-6, four runs, two RBI) led the way.
Nicole Nonnemacher also collected four hits overall, one of which went for two bases. She augmented her hitting with four RBI and three runs. Stepping forward in Game 2 was junior Amanda Hainlen, who produced a homer, double, four RBI and two runs.
William Penn University gave SXU far stiffer competition on Friday, but the Cougars (35-3, 15-1) rode two more whitewashes from their ace pitchers to 1-0 and 2-0 victories.
Sears tallied the lone run of the opener in the bottom of the 10th on a Penn throwing error. Sears (3-for-4) had gotten on base with a double and advanced on sophomore Kasey Kanaga's sacrifice bunt, a play extended by the miscue. Megan Nonnemacher went the distance in the circle to record her 10th shutout of the season, a three-hitter highlighted by 10 strikeouts.
Nicole Nonnemacher (14-2) tossed her 13th shutout of the year in Game 2 while striking out six and scattering four hits. Junior Shannon Lauret (double) and Hainlen (suicide squeeze) garnered the Cougars' RBI in the first and third stanzas, respectively.
In addition to her pitching, Nicole Nonnemacher aided SXU's offense with two hits. She and Sears scored the team's runs.
Megan Nonnemacher, Houlihan and catcher Ariel Hinton were honored in a Senior Day ceremony between games on Saturday, but that was only part of the afternoon's highlights. The Cougars also provided some on the field, where they took both ends of a doubleheader from Grand View University.
SXU's pair of 2-0 triumphs gave it 19 wins in a row, matching the longest win streak in program history that was established in 2013. The shutouts were the 25th and 26th of the season thrown by Cougars pitchers.
Megan Nonnemacher (17-1) logged the Game 1 victory by tossing a three-hitter, while sister Nicole (15-2) did the same in the second game. The younger Nonnemacher also struck out 14 batters. The siblings have accounted for every one of SXU's whitewashes to date.
Sears and freshman Franchesca Graffeo had RBI singles in the fourth inning of the opener to give Megan Nonnemacher the only runs she'd need. Nicole Nonnemacher and Kanaga each went 2-for-3 at the plate.
Hainlen's infield single chased in the first marker of Game 2 during the Cougars' initial at-bat and then Houlihan belted an RBI double in the second to complete SXU's scoring.
The Cougars hosted Judson University in a CCAC twinbill this past Tuesday.