By Steve Robinson | April 4, 2021 - 10:25 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Normal Community High School’s football team has had its way with Big 12 Conference rival Bloomington High School for the last seven years, winning at home and here at Fred Carlton Field. Friday night, however, in a low scoring affair, the Purple Raiders’ scored on both offense and defense while confining the Ironmen to being scoreless for half the contest as BHS defeated NCHS, 12-6, Friday night. The win gave the Purple Raiders their first victory on the abbreviated season.

BHS (1-2) scored first to complete their first series of downs following the opening kickoff with senior running back Ean Haggarty bursting through the Ironmen defense for a 49 yard touchdown drive at 9:50 in the first quarter. That play capped a 6 play 86 yard drive followed by a successful extra point by junior kicker Cameron Anderson, putting the hosts up, 7-0.

Later in the quarter, with NCHS deep in their own territory, Ironmen sophomore kicker Ryan Millmore lost and recovered the ball in the end zone before he could punt and BHS freshman defensive lineman Miguel Espindola tackled Millmore for a safety, increasing the Purple Raiders’ lead, 9-0, going into the second quarter.

From there, defenses for both sides stayed busy through the second and third quarters preventing any scoring. A 26 yard field goal by Anderson ended that drought with 7:04 left in the contest extended BHS’ advantage capping a 65 yard drive, extending the Purple Raiders’ lead to 12-3.

BHS’ defense kept NCHS close to midfield following the ensuing kickoff but the Ironmen managed to get to the BHS 31 as time started winding down. Millmore entered the contest a last time with 5:55 remaining kicking a 41 yard field goal which cut BHS’ lead in half. But NCHS could not gain possession again before the final horn.

Ironmen sophomore backup quarterback Chase Wiese completed 15-of-31 passes for 163 yards in what was his debut under center. Wellman completed 8-of-13 passes garnering 81 yards in the victory.

NCHS was short-handed going into this contest as junior starting quarterback Chase Mackey was continuing to recover from an injury he suffered during NCHS’ opening game against Normal Community West March 20. In addition, contact tracing related to COVID-19 kept NCHS’ all five offensive line players sidelined. In all, a total of seven Ironmen players did not play due to COVID-19 related issues.

BHS head coach Scott Godfrey said he was aware of the medical issues NCHS faced coming into this game and had praise for how his team got back on the winning track against the Ironmen. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said about snapping his team’s losing streak against the Ironmen. “It’s a big win for us.”

“We put the pressure on our guys all week if we wanted into the playoffs,” Godfrey added. “We knew we were going to have to earn it against NCHS and our guys came out and executed.”

“It hurts to get beat, but I’m extremely proud of our guys and how they battled,” NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz said. “We had the short hand tonight, but the credit goes to Bloomington. They played well offensively. They played well on special teams and they played really well on defense.

“Maybe we’ll get a chance to play them again,” the second season Ironmen head coach said. “I’m disappointed for the loss and I’m disappointed for our seniors. However, I’m really proud of the effort our kids played. They fought hard and they never gave up. They stuck together to the very end.”

Drengwitz was quick to credit Wiese for his effort on the night, saying, “For his first start, he did a really nice job. He battled a lot of adversity and did a lot of difficult things.”

By Steve Robinson | March 27, 2021 - 11:22 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – University High School earned its first Central State 8 Conference win Friday night, overtaking Springfield Southeast in a 49-6 victory at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus. Pioneers senior running back-defense back Peter Deffenbaugh scored on runs of 4 and 6 yards topping it off with an 82 yard scoring sprint to complete the night.

The sole score by Springfield Southeast (0-2) on the night came courtesy of a 21 yard interception touchdown by senior defense back Jared Harris, picking off a pass from Pioneers senior quarterback Camdyn Barclay converting it into what would be the Spartans’ only score of the night. That was followed by a failed two-point conversion. As a result, the visitors had a quick 6-0 lead going into the second quarter.

But from there, U-High (1-1) owned the evening, starting with taking the lead on a 13 yard rushing touchdown from senior wide receiver Ethan Hunt, followed by a successful extra point by sophomore kicker Declan Duley. That would put the Pioneers up 7-6, with 11 minutes left in the half.

U-High’s next score would come on a 36 yard touchdown pass from Barclay to senior wide receiver Justin “J.J.” Johnson at 6:04 in the second quarter, followed by Duley’s extra point, advancing the Pioneers lead to 14-6. U-High added a second touchdown in the half thanks to Deffenbaugh’s first score on the night, a 4 yard dash into the end zone at 2:46 until halftime followed by Duley’s extra point, increasing the Pioneers lead going into the half, 21-6.

Barclay’s 35 yard touchdown pass to senior Matthew Davenport helped the Pioneers open the second half with a 7 play 69 yard march into the end zone followed by another Duley extra point, giving U-High a 28-6 lead.

Deffenbaugh’s next rushing score from 6 yards out followed by Duley’s extra point helped add to the Pioneers’ lead, 35-6 at the four minute mark in the third quarter.

A Spartans special teams player bobbled and lost the ball after the ensuing kickoff giving Pioneers senior linebacker Harris Carr an opportunity to recover it, putting U-High at the Spartans’ 25 yard line for their next possession. It took the Pioneers three plays in one minute to get to the 1-yard line, highlighted by a 24 yard Barclay pass to junior quarterback-turned-receiver Konnor Bouman to get the Pioneers to the 1-yard line. From there, senior wide receiver Gavin Markert dashed into the end zone for a touchdown, putting the Pioneers up, 42-6.

On the Spartans’ next possession, an interception by Davenport stopped Springfield Southeast in the midst of a 6-play drive at the U-High 20 yard line. One play later, Deffenbaugh rushed for an 80 yard touchdown, followed by Duley’s last extra point on the night resulting in the final score.

“I feel like I stepped up this game and that 82 yard really helped me out,” Deffenbaugh said, adding he had a couple tackles in which Springfield Southeast lost yardage. He said the victory “definitely felt like a team win, for sure. We kept a good mentality throughout the whole game and we made big stops on defense and scored a bunch on offense. That really helped us out.”

Pioneers head coach John Johnson had praise for his six foot, 190 pound senior’s efforts on the night. “He ran the ball well and he blocked well, and he had an interception. He had a great game.”

Once the Pioneers figured out how to get around the Spartans’ secondary unit players, Johnson explained, “We started burning them pretty bad.”

The fourth season head coach added his staff challenged members of the defense all week to prevent Springfield Southeast from scoring as soon as the Pioneers put points on the board themselves. Johnson said that appears to be a pattern when playing other CS8 teams. “The defense answered the bell tonight. They played very hard.”

“We’ve got to execute, stay true to the game plan and just execute right,” Springfield Southeast head coach Matt Lauber said in explaining what his team should have accomplished during Friday’s contest. “U-High didn’t do anything different from what we planned for.” From looking at the Pioneers on film, Lauber added, “We thought we could take advantage of some stuff which would help clog up some of the running game. We did a good job on the run game. It was more the receivers that got us. That’s what hurt.”

NORMAL – One thing football coaches have to make sure players understand is they must be prepared for anything during a game. It’s a lesson that fits for life, too. Normal Community High School senior wide receiver Jackson Wiggins showed rival Normal Community West High School he has taken note of that lesson, and made use of it Friday night. It was opening night of a COVID-19 delayed season for both teams. Wiggins scored two touchdowns against the Wildcats, giving the Ironmen a 14-0 annual “Chili Bowl” victory in a game played at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus. The win gave the Ironmen a 1-0 start on the season.

A fumble by Normal West quickly ended the Wildcats’ second possession at their own 21 yard line. Two plays later, NCHS senior quarterback Chase Mackey connected with Wiggins for the first Ironmen touchdown with 7:09 left in the first quarter followed by sophomore kicker Ryan Millmore’s extra point. That gave NCHS a fast 7-0 lead.

Normal West (0-1) fumbled the ball deep in their own territory but fumbled where West junior defensive back Camden Maas recovered it and was downed at the Wildcats’ 9 yard line at 3:54 in the opening quarter. Three plays later, Mackey scored for the second time on the night catching an 8-yard pass from Mackey, followed by another Millmore extra point, resulting in the final score.

Where the Ironmen used Mackey all evening under center, Normal West rotated a trio of quarterbacks – seniors Leslie Fisher and Levi Hess, and junior Kolton Lindsay, to anchor the Wildcats’ offense throughout the contest.

Until Friday’s game, Wiggins said, he had only scored one touchdown in any game he had been in up to then. He was quick to distribute credit to both Chase and Wildcats Offensive Coordinator Chris Messina. Messina is also the team’s quarterback coach.

Normal Community High head coach Jason Drengwitz said he saw “a real good defensive effort by a young defense with some great senior leadership in the back end.” He added special teams “played a huge part” in the contest. “We know we have some room to improve, but when we need to make some plays, we made plays,” Drengwitz said. “We didn’t turn the ball over. We took care of it. When we needed to punt, we punted and let the defense take care of it.” It was a three-phase game, Drengwitz added, referring to the trio of parts of the team that work together – offense, defense, and special teams.

Since Normal West (0-1) rotated three quarterbacks, Drengwitz said that made it “somewhat hard to prepare for.” But he said his staff had an idea who the Wildcats would put behind center.

“It was a tough game,” said Normal West head coach Nate Fincham. “Give credit to Normal. They came out and played physical. They didn’t make mistakes. We looked like we hadn’t played a game in 18 months. We came out and had some mistakes and you can’t do that against a team like Normal.”

Fincham said his team would address ball security when they practiced this week in preparation for hosting non-conference opponent Quincy Notre Dame in a Friday 7p.m. contest

Ironmen Field Deemed Too Muddy: Late Friday afternoon, just hours before NCHS’ scheduled game with Unit 5 School District rival Normal Community High School, NCHS Athletic Director Nic Kearfoot called an audible and was able to move the game from NCHS’ Ironmen Field to Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2021 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – The wait is finally over for Illinois State University’s Volleyball team. Precautions surrounding COVID-19 forced the Missouri Valley to push back the sport’s regular fall scheduling in favor of playing when players came back for spring semester.

On Monday, after a fall semester of wondering when they would be allowed to not think about COVID-19 restrictions and concentrate on kills and digs, third season head coach Leah Johnson and her team took to Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena to get a feel for the new season with hopes of getting back to the Conference Championship.

They managed that last year, having been seeded 2nd and disposing of 6th seed Drake before falling to top seed Northern Iowa. And things went so well, the Redbirds obtained a berth in the NCAAs but fell in the opening session to University of Cincinnati.

What she said she witnessed during the session was “this was a team I could trust and I saw that again today,” said Johnson, who met remotely with local media members via Zoom after the practice session. “We needed this experience in practice to feel what it’s like to get our name called, seeing our name up on the big board because we’ve been beating each other up for a little while now.”

Johnson said the team was prepping for a new season with returning players coming back in July and newcomers joining before fall semester. “It was disappointing to hear our season was transitioned to the spring, but once we kind of got through that grieving process, I believe everyone expected to prepare,” Johnson said.

At that point, Johnson said, she and her team practiced six days a week, simulating playing on one side of the net through a full match. “We did as much simulating as we could, and with that, we also simulated resiliency.” She said that also meant mentally preparing for changes thrown their way as a result of COVID.

Some of that resiliency will mean contending with playing games on back-to-back days as opposed to having a few days to recover and go at it again. Johnson said the team was actually considering scheduling games in that manner in the fall before the league moved the season as a whole to the spring. “If you win day one, your opponent knows what they get to fix before game two,” she explained. “Our goal is to constantly best ourselves. I also think it will be about recovery – which team can play their depth, which team can recover and see the next match as a brand new match.”

Johnson said with five returning seniors and six freshmen on the roster, “This is a team that is pretty special. It has a lot of potential and has five seniors who have all been at starting roles or significant roles their entire career. This year’s seniors (and hometowns) are: Kaylee Martin (Sterling, Ill.); Kendal Meier (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Stef Jankiewicz (Farmington Hills, Mich.); Alyssa Kronberg (Palatine, Ill.); and Sydney Holt (Eureka, Mo.). The team also has six freshmen, including one redshirt, joining the team for their first season as Redbirds. The team also has one player from Austria and one from New Zealand.

“They’re a pretty special senior class,” Johnson said. “If I could keep them around longer, I would.” She added that everyone underneath them is competitive. “That’s one thing the seniors have given me feedback on – how the freshmen, sophomore, even junior class, are pushing them. It’s not easy to still be a starter in our gym just because you’re a senior. It’s not given. You have to earn it and they’re feeling that. So that’s a good sign for the future, too.”

Meier, who plays in the middle blocker slot, said it may not seem like the season has finally arrived until they hit the court to open the season at Marquette Friday night.

Kendal Meier: Because of COVID, players will need to wear masks while on the court. Iowa native Meier, a senior, told reporters players didn’t play with masks, so playing with them “was a huge adjustment. Coach is all about being prepared and when the season starts, you will have to wear a mask, or working out, you will be wearing a mask. I think we all have embraced the face that we are wearing masks.”

Meier said to answer the question of what makes this team different, she has to go back to comparing advantages and disadvantages such as the advantage of training for a full semester. One of the advantages, to her, was being able to spend time at length bonding with freshman teammates, something that doesn’t happen in the midst of a season.

Stef Jankiewicz: Stef Jankiewicz, another senior on the team, said the cold and snow are the biggest difference in adjusting to playing in the spring semester because she said it usually get cold toward the end of the season, when the team plays at the MVC Tourney in November. Jankiewicz said the additional bonding time also helped the team in terms of players knowing what is expected of them on the court come game time. She said she is looking forward to helping ISU “show the team’s competitive side” when they take to the court against Marquette.

Jankiewicz said COVID has added a layer of responsibility for players in that they had to make sure that, in addition to bringing shoes, certain stretch bands, and kneepads to games or practices, they also brought masks. The end result was all team members held each other accountable for making sure additional items like masks were part of their equipment. “Freshmen held us accountable the same way we would hold them accountable for things,” she explained.

About that aspect of how the team is operating now as a result, Jankiewicz said and referring to the underclassmen, “That’s one of the biggest differences that I am really excited for because I know they will always be there to push me, and every single person on the team will. So, I have to hold myself to a new standard every match and every practice.”

Redbirds Host Bradley Monday At 6p.m.: The Redbirds will play Missouri Valley Conference rival Bradley Monday at 6p.m. followed by a two-night visit by University of Cincinnati. On Feb. 1, the Redbirds visit Bradley for a 6p.m. The game at Bradley is part of a three-game road trip as the Redbirds will visit Indiana State for contests on Feb. 7 and 8.

NORMAL – Kyle Brennan was announced as the new Athletic Director for Illinois State University in a Zoom press conference on Dec. 31. Brennan will begin his tenure as ISU’s 12th person to hold that position on Jan. 15. He succeeds Larry Lyons who announced his retirement in October after 30 years with the University, serving as AD since 2013.

Brennan explained his passion for being in higher education saying he nearly didn’t stay with it until one of his professors guided him to the tract his career is at currently. He said he works with athletes “to help them achieve their dreams, not just to help them athletically, but also academically, and socially to help them become great adults as they move forward with their lives.”

Brennan said upon hearing about ISU’s opening for the AD’s position, “When this job came open, I called every search firm in the country and told them I wanted in on this job. The reason is it has such an amazing history.” Looking at Redbirds sports history, he explained its successes in Softball, Basketball, and Football showed him “a great opportunity to build on such great success that’s already taken place.”

He added the people he came in contact with during the interview process “really made the difference for me.”

Because of COVID-19, all interviews ISU staff did with Brennan were done remotely. He met face-to-face with ISU President Dr. Larry Dietz for the first time the day before the press conference.

Turning his attention to the Redbirds in relation to the Missouri Valley Conference, Brennan said, “I’m competitive. I didn’t take this job because we want to be good. I took this job because we want to be a dominant force in this conference and win championships. This school has everything it takes to do that.”

Shifting gears to another aspect of the job, Brennan added, “Community is very important to us, my family and I.” He explained that means “jumping in with both feet and getting involved in every aspect of the community, and we look forward to that.”

He thanked his family, which includes his wife, Beth, and sons Patrick, Mac, and Murphy. “They’re excited to come,” he said, adding his kids “are coming on a leap of faith.”

“What really attracted me to the position was the people,” Brennan said, who he met at ISU during his interview process. “After all the interviews and time I had with everybody, it really convinced me that this way the right place for my family and to have the opportunity to move forward and have success.”

He also thanked Lyons for conversations they had recently, and ISU Deputy AD Leanna Bordner for her efforts during the interview process. Regarding succeeding Lyons, Brennan said, “I’m humbled. I’ve got big shoes to fill, and I look forward to learning from him as we move forward, as well.”

Brennan said one does not get through life without there being people in life who help along the way, and began his remarks after being introduced by Dr. Dietz by thanking Dr. Chris Hill, athletic director at Utah for 25 of his 31 years at that University. He also thanked current Utah AD Mark Harlan, Barb Snyder, vice president for student affairs at that university, who, Brennan said, gave him some insight into ISU, and that University’s president, Dr. Ruth V. Watkins.

Prior to coming to ISU, Brennan has more than 16 years of combined University and athletic department experience at Northern Illinois University, Texas Christian University, Ball State University and University of Utah.

Dr. Dietz said the search for a new athletic director, which also makes that person a member of the University President’s Cabinet, was unique in that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, “it was the first time we held a Cabinet-level search without all of the candidates coming to the campus. It was different for all of us, but it worked.”

“When Illinois State announced Kyle’s hiring on Dec. 23, I commented that Kyle’s leadership and experiences make him an excellent fit for Illinois State,” Dr. Dietz said. “His terrific attitude perfectly complements his diverse and well-rounded background.”

A member of the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association Fellows Program for future Athletic Directors, Brennan has been mentored by Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith since 2013. He was hired in 2008 as Utah’s assistant athletics director for compliance and was named associate A.D. for compliance in 2009. In 2011, he was promoted to special assistant to the athletics director, and in 2012, he was named senior associate A.D. for administration. He was named the school’s first deputy athletics director in December of 2014.

Prior to joining the staff at Utah, Brennan served as the director of compliance at TCU in the 2005-06 school year and at Ball State from 2006-08. But his career life hasn’t always been in athletics. Prior to the job he had at NIU, Brennan was an estate planning attorney in Denver, beginning his collegiate athletics work as a graduate assistant at NIU during the 2004-05 school year. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Calvin College in Michigan, and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver in 2001.

The press conference opened with Dr. Dietz calling for a moment of silence for Ty Jordan, a freshman at Utah who was also named PAC-12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year. Jordan died of a gunshot wound back home in Texas, according to broadcast and print reports. A preliminary investigation by the Denton, Texas Police Department indicated Jordan shot himself, while reports from a Salt Lake City TV station indicated the gun went off accidentally.

Brennan thanked Dr. Dietz for acknowledging the loss of Jordan, saying, “Ty was very important to his teammates, to the University of Utah and it’s a great loss for everyone there. So I really appreciate the respect and honor that you’ve shown him today.”