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.

By Steve Robinson | August 18, 2017 - 10:56 pm
Posted in Category: Illinois Wesleyan, The Normalite

FootballBLOOMINGTON – 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 on Illinois Wesleyan University Football Media Day at Tucci Stadium Aug. 18, the 5 foot-9, 175 pound Dooley was in uniform ready to give the sport he loved playing as a high school student another try. He played quarterback for the Panthers. Here, he’s a running back.

“I considered playing football here right out of high school,” Dooley recalled. “”But I decided against it. I took a year off from sports and I missed it a lot, so I came here.” Playing some pick-up games with friends at U. of I. seemed to renew the spark he had for the game to the point he approached an IWU assistant coach about being a walk-on. That message got passed to IWU head coach Norm Eash, who considered it and had Dooley suit up.

“I really just missed being an athlete and competing,” Dooley said, adding, “I missed working on the aspect of the game where you work on mental toughness, and all the things you can get from playing a sport.” What he missed, too, he explained, was the camaraderie with teammates and being able to challenge himself day in and day out.

Illinois Wesleyan FootballBecause he has been out of the sport already for a year, his transferring to and being able to begin playing for IWU this season will be to Dooley’s advantage. Normally, if a student-athlete competes at one college and then transfers to another, NCAA rules require the athlete to sit out one year. That won’t be necessary in Dooley’s case.

“Physically, I think I was in pretty good shape coming in, and feel like I’m a little ahead of where I was when I left off in high school,” he said. “But mostly, I’m starting from scratch because this is a new program and there’s a lot of stuff to learn.” That “stuff,” at least for now, would include IWU’s team playbook.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” said Eash, who enters his 31st season as Titans head coach. “He’s got some talent, some quickness, and I’m happy he’s here. Eash added Dooley would need to adjust to the college game’s faster speed, but sees him accomplishing that.

When the Titans take to the field, they will be looking to add to Eash’s career record of 191-101-1, a .651 winning percentage. That includes a 135-80-1 CCIW tally, or a winning percentage of .625.

CCIWCamp Opens With Competition At Quarterback: Two seasons ago with the Titans, Jack Warner was at the controls for IWU leading them to a 7-3 record in 2015 until he was sidelined for the entire next season due to injury. At that point, Eash put in Lincolnway-East product Brandon Bauer to helm the Titans for all of 2016.

But now, entering into this season, Warner, entering his senior year, is healthy again, and Bauer has necessary experience for the position as he goes into his sophomore year, setting up a quarterback quandary for their head coach as the Sept. 2 season opener against Wisconsin-Whitewater at Tucci Stadium approaches.

“It’s a great problem to have,” Eash said of this kind of decision. “Both of them lead the team very well. Both of them are playmakers, and our team responds well to both of them.” Eash characterizes the competition between the two as “wide open.”

Offensively, IWU is bringing back eight starters on offense and 11 starters on defense.

Circle Your Calendars: Technically, going into the season, IWU is already 1-0 having won their contest against Waseda University, 33-6, when the team took their spring trip to Tokyo. On Sept. 9, Nebraska Wesleyan visits Tucci Stadium for a 1p.m. game. IWU will visit North Central for their first Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin road game on Sept. 16. North Park will be the Titans’ first CCIW opponent at home for a Sept. 23 6p.m. game. Carroll University will visit for IWU’s homecoming on Oct. 14 at 1p.m., and Millikin will visit here for the Titans’ Senior Day game on Nov. 11.

By Steve Robinson | August 22, 2016 - 7:30 am
Posted in Category: Illinois Wesleyan, The Normalite

FootballBLOOMINGTON – When Illinois Wesleyan University’s football team takes the field for the 2016 season, opposing defenses will find a comparatively young offensive line trying to keep them from getting through to their quarterback and running backs. Opponents will also find that IWU’s squad has “Just One Thing” on their collective mind, as well.

Three specific words could be heard from every Titans player on media day Friday, Aug. 19 at Tucci Stadium: Just one thing. That one thing is to win the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title.

Last season, IWU looked to be well on their way to doing that with a 7-0 mark until coming up short against their last few foes on the schedule last season, North Central, Wheaton College, and North Park.

But with a leg injury sidelining junior first string quarterback Jack Warner, this season could start with his backup, junior Jack Donegan, to get IWU’s potential positive start underway.

As the season opens up, a preseason poll by D3football.com has Wheaton College and North Central ranked in the Top 25. Wheaton College is ranked 8th in the poll, with North Central sliding into 13th. The CCIW preseason poll has IWU ranked third behind these two foes in that order.

Illinois Wesleyan FootballLexington’s Laible Now Full-Time Linebacker: At Lexington High School, Donavan Laible was at the controls of a team as its quarterback. He also served as a defensive back in the Minutemen’s two-way system. Now a senior at IWU, he will stay on the defensive side of the ball as an outside linebacker.

“I played a good deal of linebacker in high school,” the 6 foot-1, 195 pound Laible said. “To do it in college is new territory than it was in high school. I’m getting used to play the position with the instincts needed. I’m used to reading defenses. Now, I’ve got to read offenses.

Being a former quarterback will help Laible read potential routes opposing quarterbacks call for in the passing game, but when it comes to run patterns, he admits those will be trickier for him. His goal this season is to “find time on the field.” When he is not on the field, he will be in the classroom finishing up to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He said he wants to study for his CPA exam.

Donavan appeared under center for IWU in two games, completing 36 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns. He has 31 rushes to his credit for 108 yards, with his longest being 23 yards

CCIWBut with Wagner and Donegan poised to be IWU’s chosen quarterbacks for the foreseeable future, Eash worked with Laible to find a position where his skills could be used. “Donovan is a great kid and we wanted to find a place for him on the field,” Eash said, adding, “I think you’ll see him on the field.”

BHS Alum Stephon Rudicil Shifting Positions, Too: Bloomington High alum Stephon Rudicil, a fifth year senior, is moving in Eash’s defensive scheme, as well, from linebacker to defensive end. In 2015, he appeared in one game making three total tackles, two of them solo.

Circle Your Calendars: IWU will have nine starters on offense and 10 on defense as the season opens at Nebraska Wesleyan on Sept. 10. IWU’s 2016 home part of the schedule begins by hosting North Central Sept. 10 at 6p.m., and Wheaton College visits for IWU Homecoming Oct. 1 at 1p.m. Elmhurst College will visit on IWU Senior Day Oct. 29 for a 1p.m. game.

By Steve Robinson | August 19, 2016 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: Illinois Wesleyan, Pekin Daily Times

FootballBLOOMINGTON – When Illinois Wesleyan University’s football team takes the field for the 2016 season, opposing defenses will find a comparatively young offensive line trying to keep them from getting through to their quarterback and running backs. Opponents will also find that IWU’s squad has “Just One Thing” on their collective mind, as well.

Three specific words could be heard from every Titans player on media day Friday at Tucci Stadium: Just one thing. That one thing is to win the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title.

Last season, IWU looked to be well on their way to doing that with a 7-0 mark until coming up short against their last two foes on the schedule last season, North Central, Wheaton College, and North Park.

But with a leg injury sidelining junior first string quarterback Jack Warner, the season could start with his backup, junior Jack Donegan, to get IWU’s potential positive start underway.

As the season opens up, a preseason poll by D3football.com has Wheaton College and North Central ranked in the Top 25. Wheaton College is ranked 8th in the poll, with North Central sliding into 13th. The CCIW preseason poll has IWU ranked third behind these two foes in that order.

Illinois Wesleyan FootballWashington Alum Herrell Looking To Finish By Fostering Traditions: Washington Community High School product Austin Harrell, now a senior at IWU, “brings some differences to the game,” IWU head coach Norm Eash said, adding, “He’s different because defensive backs don’t know how to take him. He’s big. If you’re thinking of hitting him high, you’d better not think of hitting him high because he’s 6 foot-4 and 214 pounds. He’s got tremendous speed. When he’s running, he takes long strides. Defensive backs don’t know how to take him.”

One of the captains for the team this season, Harrell said he would like to finish his IWU playing career “helping younger guys on the team and to foster traditions for players in future years.”

During the 2015 season, Harrell continued to make his mark at IWU, as he had 49 rushes last season for 341 yards and one touchdown, the longest of which was 60 yards. He also caught nine passes for 128 yards and one score.

Morton Alum Monferdini Moving From Tackle To Guard: Morton High School alum Nicholas Monferdini will be among those on the front line looking to protect IWU’s offense for the Titans’ Sept. 3 in an exhibition game against Mexico’s Monterey University at Tucci Stadium.

CCIW“We started four sophomores last year and he was among them,” Eash said, referring to Monferdini. “That was rough going but we were still at 7-0. Now those kids like Monferdini who were in the thick of it last year will be a year older and I think there’s a big jump in the offensive line from sophomore year to junior year.”

Now that those front line troops are in their junior year, Eash said, “We’ll have a veteran offensive line, and Monferdini will be a big part of it.”

The new season will also mean a position shift for Monferdini, from left tackle to right guard – a move Eash believes the 6 foot-4, 270 pounder is more suited for. “Nick was more of a guard for us,” Eash said about the role he saw for Business major.

“Being on the field was great and it was a great learning experience,” Monferdini said. “Playing at this level, after playing at the high school level, really made me step my game. It made me work a lot harder for this season so I could get better.” For instance, he said, being a Titan has taught him how to adjust his pass blocking style.

Squib Kicks: IWU will have 9 starters on offense and 10 on defense as the season opens…..IWU will open the season at Nebraska Wesleyan on Sept. 10….IWU’s 2016 home part of the schedule begins by hosting North Central Sept. 10 at 6p.m.…. Wheaton College visits for IWU Homecoming Oct. 1 at 1p.m…..Elmhurst College visits on IWU Senior Day Oct. 29 for a 1p.m. game.

FootballBLOOMINGTON – As a collective body, Illinois Wesleyan University’s football team knows they can improve on a 2014 season where they got more than they expected in injuries and disappointing outcomes, and less in terms of victories as a result, culminating in a 4-6 season, including a 2-5 conference mark.

So when the preseason poll came out from the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin predicting how teams would finish this year, the Titans were seen to finish third this season behind Wheaton College , who is predicted to win the conference this year, and North Central predicted to finish second. That, understandably, doesn’t sit well with Titans head coach Norm Eash, entering his 29th season patrolling the sidelines.

“We’ve got a successful program here, and 4-6 is not the standard that we have here,” Eash said. “So, we were disappointed and frustrated a little bit last year. There were some things that we couldn’t control.”

That included losing a total of five quarterbacks at points during the season, beginning with starter Jack Warner, now a sophomore, being sidelined with mononucleosis after playing 5 games, and Donovan Laible being sidelined after two contests with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in one knee which caused him to spend nearly six months rehabbing to get back on to the field should the need arise.

“Those are things you sometimes can’t control,” Eash said. “But the things that we looked at after the season were that we were still in every ball game that we played. Of our six losses, four of the six were by 6 points or less. That was with young, inexperienced players.”

Illinois Wesleyan FootballThe caution Eash puts out to opponents as this season opens is that all of those young players from last season are back year, “so expectations are very, very high.”

“We have a veteran team,” Eash added. “We have a talented team. We have a team that has enough talent to win a league, so we have to make sure that we take care of business.”

Laible got hurt in the game against Augustana last October, damaging his anterior cruciate ligament in one knee in a contest that more resembled a baseball score with the Titans losing, 7-2.

As a result of how the 2014 season turned out for IWU, Eash said the biggest thing the coaching staff needed to do both during the season and during the offseason “was not to panic. We have talented kids. When you have them healthy, you can win some ball games. We just didn’t have them together healthy all at the same time after the third game of the season.” That third game last year was a road game at Simpson College in September.

Lexington Alum Laible Saw Action, Fully Recovered From ACL: For junior quarterback Donovan Laible, getting pressed into service came at a cost. The Lexington High School alum was one of five men under center last season for the Titans, playing in two games before being sidelined by his ACL injury which took six months to repair, thanks to the IWU training staff.

Up until that injury, the 6 foot-1, 195 pound Laible played in two games and went 36-for-66 passing, racking up 420 yards and being credited with 3 touchdowns. He also tossed 3 interceptions before his season-ending injury.

“Six months is a long time to be out of full-go competition,” Laible said. “It was really daunting for me, especially, because I hadn’t had a season off since I was in the third grade. But that’s what it took to rehabilitate an ACL fully.

“With the medical technology of today, I wasn’t too concerned about how I would feel after the surgery and rehab were done,” Laible said. “I was worried I would lose a little of the speed and agility that I had, but nothing has changed in terms of my times. All my times are the same on any of the tests we do.”

As for the preseason ranking IWU received from their league, Laible responded, “Coming off not the best season we’ve had, that’s usually how those rankings work. But it’s not where you are ranked when you start. It’s where you’re ranked at the end.”

CCIWNCHS Alum Sheehan Recovers From Injury, Ready For Action: Junior offensive lineman Matt Sheehan, a Normal Community High School product, credits all his coaches for how he has improved at his position since arriving at IWU. If he has an individual goal for himself, the 6 foot-6, 290 pound Sheehan wants to be in a game. He hasn’t played yet in the last two years, partly the result of a fractured tibia he suffered during last year’s training camp that sidelined him for most of last season.

IWU Opens At Franklin , Starts Home Schedule Sept. 12 Vs. Alma College : IWU kicks off the 2015 campaign on Sept. 5 with a non-conference away game Indiana ’s Franklin College . That will be followed by the Titans hosting non-conference opponent Alma College at Tucci Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 12 starting at 1p.m. IWU will host Millikin University for its homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 10 starting at 1p.m., and Wheaton College will be the opponent for the last home game of the season on Saturday, Nov. 7, which will also be IWU’s Senior Day game.