BLOOMINGTON – After the Coronavirus first delayed Illinois Wesleyan University’s football season and then shortened the planned spring season, head coach Norm Eash and his players are hoping for a squad and opponents who are fully vaccinated and thus, will be able to have a full season taking on and earning wins against non-conference and Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin opponents.

And when the season gets underway, it will be another milestone year for head coach Norm Eash as the 2021 season will mark his 35th year patrolling the sidelines at Tucci Stadium. “Every season is different, no two seasons are ever the same and that’s what makes the job exciting,” Eash explained. “Competing in our league, CCIW, is one of the top three leagues in the country. That makes coaching fun, too.”

Normal Community West High School grad Holden Smith, son of Ryan and Jenifer Smith, joins IWU in his junior year after starting his college career at Heartland Community College. He said with no games last fall and getting to play in just one of four scheduled games last spring, the 6 foot, 270 pound lineman looks forward to getting into pads and taking on opponents this season.

“I felt being on the field was useful for me after not being on the field for about two years,” the Business major, son of Ryan and Jenifer Smith, explained. “It felt good.”

“Holden is a good offensive lineman for us,” Eash said. “He has speed and quickness.”

Lexington High School alum and IWU sophomore Carter Little, son of Shane and Pam Little, explained he took a couple of political science classes his freshman year which peaked his interest in Political Science which is now his major. And having that major, he explained, has also got him thinking about becoming involved with his community on some level once he graduates, he said.

He said he played in one of the rescheduled games last year, but admitted not getting additional playing time as a member of IWU’s junior varsity squad “was a bit of a struggle.” Despite it being only one game to be in for him, Little said being “a great experience because it was a big change from high school because in high school I played both ways and played every snap, so coming here made a pretty big difference just playing on one side of the ball.” Being on one side of the ball, he added, allows more time to study his playbook when he’s not hitting the schoolbooks.

“Carter learned a lot while a freshman because Covid made for a challenging year for him,” Eash said, explaining it was a challenge for the entire team as they worked through the experience. “We look for him to give us some size on the offensive line. He’s learned a lot of football since he’s been here, so I think you will see him really blossom as he gets older.”

Heyworth High School grad Gavin Hicklin, son of Jeff and April Hicklin, will be starting his collegiate playing career as a wide receiver for Eash’s team this year. “I wasn’t even considering playing college sports, but then I visited the campus and visited with the coaches and thought it would be a good fit for me,” the 6-foot, 160 pounder explained. He could prove versatile if what he explained about his switching positions halfway through high school proves to be a positive. That’s because he was a quarterback his freshman and sophomore seasons in a Hornets jersey before switching to receiver his last two years.

He said he is looking into being a Business major and knew coming to IWU “would be good for my future.”

Eash said Hicklin will spend the next year making the transition from being a high school player to being a college player. “He’s a good athlete which will allow him to participate at the next level.” the coach explained.

Quarterbacks To Duel For Getting Behind Center: Eash said a competition could be in the works to find this season’s starting quarterback. Sophomore Sage Shindler directed the offense during IWU’s games last spring, Eash explained, adding his belief the 5 foot-10, 160 passer “did a good job.” Eash said Shindler will find some competition from freshman Ryan Saxe, a graduate of Palatine’s Fremd High School. “We’ll have to see how quickly Saxe makes the transition from high school to college,” Eash said.

New Assistant Coaches Join Football Staff: IWU’s defense might not look the same thanks to he hiring of new defensive coordinator Matt Williamson. Williamson is a Columbus, Ohio native who has 11 years of collegiate coaching experience which has included stops at Gannon University, Urbana University, Seton Hill University, and the University of Mount Union. During those stops, Williamson has been part of coaching staffs which have garnered seven NCAA Division III National Championship appearances, four as a player and three as a coach, and has been a part of three National Championships.

Also joining the staff is Anfernee Roberts, a former IWU player from six years ago who will instruct running backs, as is another former player from the 1990s, Alan Kuchefski, who will oversee tight ends on the team. Randon Recker, a former University High assistant coach, is on Eash’s staff overseeing outside linebacckers for the coming season, and Chris Richardson has also joined the staff.

CCIW-Heavy Schedule In 2021: The Titans have just one non-conference foe on their schedule this season – Indiana-based Franklin College – who will visit Tucci Stadium for a 1:30p.m. Sept. 4. After an open date Sept. 11, IWU will be on the road for two weeks beginning its CCIW season at Carroll College Sept. 18, and at Carthage Sept. 25, returning home Oct. 2 to host its first conference home game against Elmhurst.

BLOOMINGTON – Ron Rose admits he needs to make sure his team absorbs as much information while at practice on Dennie Bridges Court in Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center for this season’s version of the Fightin’ Titans to be successful this season. Of his 19-player roster, nine are brand new to the program.

To get his newer charges to understand the team’s playing system, Rose admits, instructing players becomes “a slower process and you have to get a base” established to get the newer players to understand what you want to accomplish.

“There are so many things you have to prepare for, both offensively and defensively, that you don’t want to skip stuff,” explained Rose, who will be going into his 13th season on the sidelines. “An equal challenge to that is you have 10 other guys chomping at the bit to get going because they are ready for the next step.”

His job at this stage of the year, Rose said, “becomes a fine line between keeping your eye on the development of everybody and preparing for that first game.” Rose said he believes his current group of players “have a ton of potential and we want to give our guys every opportunity to have some success and build confidence as well.

Rose said getting freshmen used to the physical nature of how much different the college game is from the high school game. “You’re 18-years-old and you’re going up against 21-year-old men who have been in college weight programs,” Rose explained. “So there is just initially, just the physical nature of whether freshmen are strong enough and physically developed to compete.” He said the returning players found the answer to those questions as they got older and so, too, the veteran coach adds, will these freshmen.

Keondre Schumacher, University High: Redshirt freshman guard went to play and study at college out of state before returning to central Illinois and the chance to play for IWU. But the 5 foot-11, 175 pound guard will not have to sit out a year per NCAA rules because he is transferring to Division III IWU from an NCAA Div. I school.

IWU lost three starting guards to graduation, so Rose is happy to see Schumacher come to play for his team. He has two years of college ball under his belt so he’s not new to the college game having transferred to IWU after attending and playing for South Carolina-based Winthrop College. He’s looking to earn a Bachelor’s degree in World Religions.

“I thought it would be cool to come play college basketball in my hometown,” said Schumacher, who is the son of IWU Track and Field head coach Chris Schumacher. He added the Division I school he came from taught him to stay competitive and to maintain a good work ethic toward the sport.

Tommy Nelson, Central Catholic: Nelson, the 6 foot-6, 205 pound freshman forward said he is getting along with his new teammates and admits, “I’m just trying to get used to the system. Right now, I’m just trying to practice hard and play well.” Nelson said he wants to major in Finance.

“As you jump up in levels in this game, there’s just a lot to learn and that’s where Tommy is right now,” Rose added.

Luke Yoder, Central Catholic: “I really like the small campus and the basketball program here,” explained 6 foot, 170 pound freshman guard Luke Yoder. He said at this stage, he is learning from his older teammates. The biggest lesson so far that he has picked up at this early stage is “I have a lot of learning and developing yet in term of skills,” he admitted. Yoder is looking to major in Health Promotion-Fitness Management.

“We’re excited Luke is in the program because he’s got a game that travels at a lot of different levels,” said Rose. “He’s tough, he handles the ball, he makes great decisions and he defends. Not many freshmen defend.

At this stage of practice, Rose said Schumacher, Nelson, and Yoder “have done a nice job of picking things up but they aren’t at the stage to where they can just play yet.” He said that goes for all of his new players as the practice phase gets started.

Circle Your Calendars: IWU will have already played an exhibition against Missouri Valley Conference member Southern Illinois University. They start their home schedule on Tuesday, Nov. 12 hosting Blackburn College. Their first Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game will be Wednesday, Dec. 4 when they host Wheaton College for a 7p.m. contest.

BLOOMINGTON – Most basketball coaches will stress making sure their player has a good look toward the basket before even thinking about taking a shot. IWU women’s basketball coach Mia Smith. That philosophy has been altered slightly by Smith as her team’s season starts. “The first open look, if it’s a good look for that player, is what we want to take,” said Smith, who is entering her 22nd season as head coach of the Fightin’ Titans.

“If we can pass it down on the parameter, find a wing open, find it to our shooter’s hands, we’re going to fire that ball right up there,” Smith said. On defense, Smith said, “This team will have to live by their defensive game,” Smith said, adding she believes this team defends better when there is only a half court at stake rather than a full court against opponents. “Our players are probably going to log harder and longer minutes against opponents than we’ve done in the past,” Smith said. “In order to do that, we’ve got to be in great game shape, getting up and down the floor and play inline to inline. You’ll see our run and jump for sure this year.”

Smith said she believes Sydney Shanks “has been pressing in some form or style her entire athletic career,” in mentioning how the 5 foot-9 Bloomington Central Catholic product has handled how she has played the game. “The more aggressive she becomes, the more confident and aggressive the rest of our team becomes.”

Of Kendall Sosa, the 5-9 guard who graduated from Normal Community High School, Smith said, “I love that kid. I don’t just love the basketball player, I love the person. She’s an incredible young woman. I think our players are going to follow, and our team will kind of go as Kendall does.”

“We’ve got great shooters, great parameter shooters, and we’re going to shoot more threes,” Smith admitted. She added if her team doesn’t find itself in the top ten in three-point field goal percentage and three point percentage made, she would be really disappointed. “We know that’s where we need to go,” she said.

Sosa said, for her, it took a little while to understand and learn the role Smith wants to her to take on, and is quick to add, “It’s nice to have that kind of confidence from your coach.

Of Shanks and Sosa, their coach said, “They’re just quality. I don’t know what else you can say. They’re just such great kids. Sydney is so respected over in the Nursing Department, where she is majoring.” Of Sosa, her coach added, “Kendall is just an outstanding citizen. She’s kind, she’s empathic. She’s just an outstanding young woman.”

Circle Your Calendars: IWU started the season Nov. 1 dropping an 86-82 road game at Eastern Illinois. Another non-conference road game is on tap Nov. 12 for IWU at University of Chicago. They then travel to the St. Norbert Tip-Off Tournament in Depere, Wis. Nov. 9 where they will also be joined by University of Wisconsin-Stout, Calvin College, and the host school. They then travel to St. Louis for the Midwest Challenge Tournament before CCIW action begins in earnest. IWU’s first road Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin league game will be at North Central College Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 7p.m. The first CCIW foe to visit Shirk Center will be Carthage College Saturday, Dec. 7 at 5p.m.

By Steve Robinson | August 19, 2019 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: Illinois Wesleyan, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Graduating from LeRoy High School in 2016, Bryce Dooley opted not to play sports after being part of the Panthers’ football team for four years. He chose the University of Illinois to attend college and dove into his general studies. But with time, he realized he did miss being on a team and decided to transfer to IWU to resume playing football.

By the end of this coming academic year, Dooley, now a senior, will finish his education – both having learned more about the intricacies of college football and the ability to start a career having earned a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting.

I’m really excited about the season,” Dooley said. He said he’s really looking forward to playing his last season. One thing that has never slowed is that he knew the local fans and friends and family who came to see him play in junior high and high school didn’t trail off when he got to IWU. He said he looks forward to seeing the folks from LeRoy come out to see his final season.

What he said he’ll remember is “the great culture here,” Dooley said. “It’s just a great group of guys. It’s really no better place to be if you want to be an athlete and go to a great school academically.”

“When he went to the University of Illinois, he did well, he’s a very bright young man,” IWU head coach Norm Eash said. “He’s a great student and he just missed football.” Feeling as Dooley did, he called Eash looking to transfer schools, wanting to play again. He did have to adjust to a new position though, once he got to IWU, switching to running back from having played quarterback at LHS.

Eash noticed once Dooley began playing for the Titans that he, perhaps, had some additional skills, thanks to his speed, the Titans could use. Eash turned out to be right: Dooley not only maintained his position as a back, but came in handy as a slot receiver, too.

“He’s a playmaker,” Eash added. “He’s a great young man. He’s a team captain this year. Our players really look up to him, so, we look forward to him having a tremendous year for us.”

First Home Game A Month Away: The way the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin football schedule came together this year, it will be a month before Fightin’ Titans fans will get a first glimpse of the team at Tucci Stadium. That will happen on Saturday, Sept. 28 when Augustana visits for a 1p.m. game. Eash, entering his 33rd season, said he believes his squad is up to the task of pushing for a conference crown this year. IWU starts the season with a bye week on Sept. 7 followed by two straight road games – a non-conference tilt at University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Sept. 14, and Sept. 21 at their first CCIW opponent of the season, Wheaton College.

With Dooley and 13 other seniors and a battery of returning starters led by senior quarterback Brandon Bauer, Eash said he sees a lot of confidence in returning players as training camp opened up. Bauer is one of the few four-year starting quarterbacks IWU has ever had. “Brandon is like another coach out there,” Eash said. “He understands the offensive system that we run, and we put a lot of responsibility on him during the game, making reads on every play.”

Eash said there “has always been a sense of urgency” inside his players at this time of year. “And that sense of urgency is a little higher this year,” he said, adding that the experience level in his players is showing itself at this point so far, too.

He said that mindset “is going to benefit our whole football team because the freshmen learn much faster with the seniors showing them the way and how things are done.”

Final Media Day For Sports Information Director Stew Salowitz: For 31 years, Stew Salowitz has helped local media stay up-to-date on teams, scores, statistics, and other related items pertaining to IWU teams. Monday’s Football Media Day was Salowitz’s last event for IWU, as he is retiring on Aug. 30. “I’ve had a great run at Illinois Wesleyan. I’ve been blessed with winning teams and so many great people to work with.” He added the athletes he has written about over the years in the job have gone on to become people he has become great friends with.

This event also marked the first Media Day for Salowitz’s successor in the SID post, Katie Gonzales. She shadowed Salowitz on this day but will be fully at the controls when Basketball Media Day rolls around in October. Gonzales graduated from Loras College in 2014 with a double major in sport management and mathematics and received her master’s degree with honors in sport management from Eastern Michigan in 2017.

Circle Your Calendars: Carroll University will be IWU’s Homecoming opponent Saturday, Oct. 5 for a 1p.m. game. North Park University will be the opponent for Senior Day on Saturday, Nov. 16’s 1p.m. game.

BLOOMINGTON – With both Illinois Wesleyan University ’s Men’s and Women’s basketball teams getting into NCAA Div. III playoffs last year, Men’s head coach Ron Rose and Women’s head coach Mia Smith don’t foresee this season ending in either team staying home when NCAA bids come out this year. What’s more, they would like their individual teams to get further than they did at the end of last year.

But first, both must play tough non-conference and Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin schedules to prove to opponents they will get back to compete for championships.

Both teams exited early in the NCAA tournament – the Men exiting after a round one loss to Wooster , the Women leaving after a second round loss to Trine. Women’s team head coach Mia Smith said her team was hampered by injuries as the season wound down last year, to forwards Raven Hughes and Sydney Shanks, both of whom watched the team’s post-season march from the bench.

Hughes, Shanks “Were Helping Coach” Team: But for the Women’s team, a curious thing got noticed by Smith about how Hughes and Shanks, now healthy and ready to take on opponents this year, contributed from the bench during the team’s tournament run. “They were helping me coach at the end of the season because they could pick up on things having been in the system, and watching from the bench at games, they picked up on a lot of things and for them to do that is very mature.”

Smith described Hughes, a sophomore and a University High grad, and Shanks, a junior and a Central Catholic grad, as “basketball-oriented kids who have basketball-oriented minds. What did surprise me is how they stayed in the game for their teammates.” She explained injured players on the bench have a tendency to show discouragement about the fact they are not on the hardwood because an injury has benched them. Smith said that didn’t occur with either Hughes or Shanks. “Their vision from the sideline was really good,” Smith said of the pair’s contributions.

A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament on her left knee sidelined Hughes for the Conference playoffs and NCAAs. She received clearance from doctors to begin working with the team again at the beginning of this season. “It was difficult to be on the bench but at least I had Sydnee with me,” Hughes said. From the bench, Hughes said she learned that, even when a player gets hurt, “the team knows to keep going and that we shouldn’t give up.”

Shanks said being at NCAAs her sophomore season, although she didn’t get on the court due to a broken hand, was “amazing” and she loved cheering on her teammates as they made their way through the bracket. She added she “can’t wait to get back to NCAAs again next year.”

Downs Tri-Valley grad Maddie Merritt will be experiencing her final season on the court for IWU this year. She is one of four seniors expected to lead IWU back toward CCIW Tournament and an NCAA tourney bid. The team’s other seniors are guards Emily Farris and Nina Anderson, and forward Ashley Schneider.

Sophomore guard Kendall Sosa called what she had last season at IWU “a great experience for my freshman year.” Now a sophomore, she added she learned plenty from last year’s senior teammates which included El Paso Gridley High School alum Rebekah Ehresman. “That prepared me a lot for this year, I think, so that means we will have a lot of experience for this year.”

Last year’s seniors taught Sosa a number of things including “how to stay composed and the speed of the game,” she said, adding, “this level has a little more speed and having to learn about shot selection” from that group has prepared her for this season.

Rose Coaching A “Hungry” Men’s Team: Rose’s men’s team is again relying on senior depth to help get them through, and one of those seniors will be his son, Brady. “Brady had a great junior year,” his coach said, explaining his son “had a great junior year, having been named all-conference. He comes back with a world of experience.” The senior Rose said the 6 foot-3, 185 pound guard spent the summer doing workouts to improve. He said the same could be said of Jack Martin, the 6 foot-4, 180 pound guard and University High alum.

“Jack is bigger and stronger, was on the Junior Varsity team last year and learned a lot,” Rose added. “He has learned the system and really shown improvement this first week.”

The younger Rose, a guard, may be a senior but he’s going to be playing in his fifth season for his father because of a broken foot injury he sustained in his sophomore season. He was allowed to redshirt which gave him an extra season this year.

“It seems like a long time ago that I showed up on campus,” the younger Rose said. “Just looking back on the four seasons I had – three I played and this last one I’m getting a chance to. I’ve played with a lot of great players, a lot of great friends, a lot of great coaches. It’s brought us a lot of different experiences every single year. It has brought me a lot of different learning experiences I’ve been able to take some lessons from.”

Personally, Rose said, the ultimate goal of winning a national championship is front and center on his mind. That means going for a repeat of getting the CCIW championship since IWU won it last year. He called being at IWU collecting “some of the best memories of my life.”

Sophomore guard and University High alum Jack Martin was on IWU’s junior varsity team last year and admitted the up tempo pace of the game from high school to college didn’t intimidate him. “I just want to practice hard and do the best I can this season,” he explained.

“We’ve got some great senior leadership,” Coach Rose reminded. In addition to the younger Rose, that group includes guards Colin Bennett and Jason Gregoire, and forward Danny Baker. “We’ve got some great senior leadership,” explained the coach, who is entering his 13th season at the helm of the program. Of his players as this season dawns, Rose said, “This is a hungry group. We shared the CCIW title last year, made it to the NCAA, but we’re certainly not satisfied. We have the team that has the potential to have a special season.”

EPG Alum Ehresman Now A Grad Assistant: Sometimes, students find the career path they wanted gets changed simply by changing majors. That’s what happened to Rebekah Ehresman, the star basketball player at El Paso Gridley High School and an IWU graduate. She got her undergraduate degree in Accounting but is now a graduate student at Illinois State University in Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, as well as serving as a graduate assistant coach for Smith’s IWU Women’s team.

As part of her job, Ehresman helps with logistics for the women’s team as well as recruiting, scouting, and helping at practices. “I’m very passionate about sports and basketball in general, and this school,” she said. She started out as a Business major and switched to Accounting, but even as she was getting her degree, the yearning to stay close to sports in some way never left Ehresman’s thoughts.

For me, accounting was sitting and looking at a computer, and not a whole lot of interaction,” Ehresman said. “I should have known that going into it. I switched my major late, in my junior year. So now, I’m changing career paths a little bit.”

Circle Your Calendars: IWU Men will play two exhibition games – at University of Illinois at Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 1 and at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana on Nov. 2, both starting at 7p.m. They open the regular season at Shirk Center on Sunday, Nov. 11 against University of Chicago at 4p.m. Their CCIW season starts at home against Carthage College on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7p.m. IWU Women open with two road exhibitions, at Eastern Illinois on Nov. 1 at 6p.m. and at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Monday, Nov. 5 at 7p.m. Their regular season opens also opens Nov. 11 at Shirk Center against UC starting at 2p.m. Their first CCIW contest is on Dec. 1 against Carthage College begins at 5p.m.