By Steve Robinson | October 27, 2014 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Usually, battling for second place is not considered a big event. But with Normal Community High School having already taken the Big 12 Championship title, and one game left to decide who would come in second, Normal West and Champaign Centennial were preparing to scrape as though the title was still on the line. And yet, while the title had been decided, finishing second took on added significance for the teams in hopes of receiving a high seed when Illinois High School Association tournament pairings were to be announced.

Four first quarter touchdowns propelled Normal West to a 49-21 victory over Champaign Centennial, allowing them to make the second place claim and hoping to find themselves in a good position when the pairings were finalized.

Normal West (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) turned the first quarter of the contest into an all-star affair of sorts, with quarterbacks Arion Worthman and Mitch Fairfield rotating behind center. Normal West scored four times in the opening period, beginning with Worthman, a senior, getting the Wildcats on the board with a 52-yard touchdown run, putting West up, 7-0, at the 11:04 mark, followed by a point-after by junior kicker Tim O’Brien. Senior Worthman’s effort topped a 3 play, 65-yard drive.

A West interception by junior linebacker Connor Kennedy of Centennial senior quarterback Michael Risinger’s pass led to West’s next score at 5:59 in the quarter. Three plays later, Worthman connected with junior tight end Mace Julian on a 6-yard score, capping a 65 yard drive for a touchdown, putting West up, 14-0, after O’Brien’s extra point.

Champaign’s special teams unit mishandled the ensuing kickoff and West’s defense recovered it at the Chargers’ 37 yard line. Five plays later, Worthman connected with junior receiver Dajour Forrest on a 6-yard touchdown pass, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point, putting West up, 21-0, at the 3:30 mark.

Normal West Football Kennedy rose to the occasion defensively for a second time during Centennial’s next possession, as the 5 foot-8, 170 linebacker had his second big play of the night. On Centennial’s 47 yard line, Kennedy intercepted Risinger’s pass attempt, and was tackled, putting West in control at their own 49. Four plays later, Fairfield, a junior, connected on a 12 yard pass to junior wide receiver Dante Ruffin. That gave West a 28-0 edge at 1:36 left in the quarter following O’Brien’s extra point.

Champaign Centennial (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) scored their lone points of the first half when Risinger connected with junior wide receiver Julian Hess on an 18 yard scoring pass, topping a 5 play, 52 yard drive. The successful point after by senior kicker C. J. Lyons cut West’s lead, 28-7, going into halftime.

Each team only scored once in the third quarter, with West taking the ball 97 yards in 12 plays finishing in a 4 yard touchdown run by Forrest, at 6:01, followed by another successful O’Brien extra point, pushing West in front, 35-7.

With 1:18 left in the quarter, Risinger connected with senior wide receiver Steven Lee on an 18 yard scoring pass, capping an 8-play, 71 yard drive, followed by Lyons’ next extra point, cutting West’s lead, 35-14.

A 63 yard scoring run at 10:25 of the fourth quarter gave Forrest his next touchdown of the night closing out a 6 play, 78 yard drive for the Wildcats, increasing their lead, 42-14.

Junior defensive back Dave Watson duplicated Forrest’s feat with one of his own, intercepting a Risinger pass and returning it 63 yards for a score, followed by O’Brien’s extra point. That put West up, 49-14 with five minutes left in the contest.

Risinger took matters into his own hands for Centennial’s last score of the night on an 11 yard run, followed by another Lyons extra point to close out the scoring.

Wildcats interim head coach Duane Thoennes said he reminded his players before the contest against the Chargers began that West held a large lead of a few touchdowns in a game against them a few years ago, only to see Champaign Centennial come from behind to win. “Our whole message to the kids tonight was ‘don’t let up because of the talent and the skill’ Centennial has.” Thoennes said West had a 28-0 lead then, too, and wound up losing, 31-28.

Champaign Centennial footballThoennes said he hoped Normal West’s 7-2 record would be good enough for a home game in the first round of the Illinois High School Association playoffs’ opening round. “Playing conference opponents, you get a feel for what they do because you played them so many times. But preparing for a team from, say, the suburbs or somewhere outside the conference is a little different.”

“West got us down because we blew some coverages and didn’t get the job done offensively,” explained Champaign Centennial head coach Mike McDonnell. “Then, we got to where we adapted to them. West comes out and they have a lot of different things they throw at you. We had guys who were ready for some of it, but West threw some new stuff at us, and we didn’t adapt to it too well.”

Times For First Round Games Set:
Second seed West’s Class 6A clash against seventh seed Springfield Southeast will be on Oct. 31 starting at 7p.m. Class 5A top seed University High will host eighth seed Morris at Hancock Stadium on Nov. 1 at 3p.m. In Class 7A, fifth seed Normal Community will host 12th seed Plainfield North in a Saturday 5p.m. contest. In Class 1A, eighth seed LeRoy will host ninth seed Arthur in a Saturday 1p.m. game. Fifth seed El Paso Gridley’s Class 2A clash at fourth seed Momence will begin Saturday at 2p.m. Eighth seed Bloomington Central Catholic will visit top seed Greenville Saturday for 1p.m. start.

By Steve Robinson | October 23, 2014 - 10:39 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonNormal Community West High School is celebrating 20 years of existence this year and doing it in style, including inducting three new honorees for their “Wall Of Fame.” This year’s celebration, Normal West’s “Platinum Gala,” will take place on Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center in the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal.

The event will feature a silent auction, prizes, a cash bar, and after the formal induction ceremony, dancing with music from a live DJ. The event will begin with cocktails at 6p.m., and dinner at 7p.m.

In addition to the Wall Of Fame selections being honored, explained Normal West Social Studies Teacher John Bierbaum, a 2014 nominee for “Illinois Teacher Of The Year,” there will be displays of some of West historical memorabilia for guests to look over and reminisce on.

In 2013, Normal West is instituted a “Wall Of Fame,” honoring those persons who have made great achievements while at the school and beyond their time there.

The Wall, near the school’s front office, shows current students and faculty that the school has housed folks who can be seen as points of pride. Wall Of Fame honorees are remembered with an individual plaque with their picture and list of their accomplishments while they were West Wildcats. Those plaques are displayed on one wall along the school’s front entryway. Each honoree is given a duplicate plaque to keep. The honor also comes with something today’s students probably wish they could get their hands on: A lifetime hall pass.

The venture that became West’s Wall Of Fame began in the spring of 2013 when Bierbaum approached West Principal David Johnson with the idea of honoring former students and staffers with a permanent setting within the school. Johnson approved the idea and a committee comprised of between 25-30 people, including current students, was formed. Committee members gave input on who they thought should be the first members to have their plaques on the wall.

Last year, the committee came up with 31 nominees and narrowed those down to the very first four people to be forever honored for their contributions to Normal West. This year, 23 nominees were presented to the committee and Bierbaum said it took a couple of ballots to narrow that group down to those who will be honored this year.

And while “All-Star Cast” may not be an apt description of those chosen this year, Bierbaum explained the selections both “lay the foundation” for the Wall Of Fame by remembering those who have helped Normal West grow to be what it is today while, at the same time, begin looking ahead to the contributions Normal West grads are already making now and in the future as they make their way in the world.

This year’s nominees are Houston Texans offensive guard Cody White, former administrative assistant Linda Bawulski, and former Athletic Director Gary Woods.

Cody White, since graduating from West in 2007, has made it to the highest level in football as an NFL player. He was cited for hard work, dedication and leadership as some of the qualities that characterize White on and off the field. White is the first athlete in Normal West history to make it to the NFL. White’s accomplishments while at West include: Lettering in football and basketball for three years and being selected as a co-captain of the football team. In addition, he was Captain on the Wildcats’ Basketball squad for three years, a team MVP twice, and 1st Team All-Conference for three years, and a Team Most Valuable Player for two years.

While at West, White was a team captain for two years, and selected as an All-Conference player for three years. He was named to the Pantagraph All-Area Team for two years. White moved on to play his college ball at Illinois State University, where, in 2011, he earned All-Missouri Conference Honorable Mention. He started at both Tight End and Offensive Tackle. He played in 43 of a possible 44 games while at ISU. In 2012 as an undrafted free agent he earned a spot on the roster of the Houston Texans as a member of the offensive line.

Linda Bawulski served in the post of administrative assistant to the school principal from 1995 to 2010. In her official capacity, Bawulski managed the school’s district budget and the activity accounts for nearly 150 different student organizations, sports teams, and parent groups and provided advice and support to the administrative team, and performed numerous other tasks assigned by the principals. Her nominating petition referenced her “welcoming, positive spirit and professional demeanor,” thus making her the ‘face of West’ to countless parents and community members. Her duties also included the staging of public events such as graduation, Senior Award Nights, and homecoming events.

Gary Woods served as the school’s first Athletic Director from 1995- 2001. Woods was instrumental in establishing the athletic traditions and success at Normal West as its first athletic director. A long time teacher and coach in Unit 5 Schools, Woods was the athletic director at Normal Community High School prior to the opening of Normal West and served as the athletic director at both schools when Normal West opened its doors for the 1995-96 school year. He became the athletic director exclusively at Normal West the next year. Woods served the Illinois High School Association in many capacities from committee work to hosting state series events. The Illinois Athletic Directors Association also benefitted from Woods’ leadership as he served that association as an executive board member and a district representative. He has been inducted into the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Hall of Fame, as well as been named the Illinois Athletic Director of the Year in 2000 and was inducted into the Illinis Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame in 2004. Woods ended his 33-year education career when he retired from Normal West in 2001.

The trio to be honored at the celebration dinner will join the first inductees on the Wall Of Fame who were honored last year. That first group included Dr. Jerry Crabtree, West’s first principal from 1995-2003: Tom Eder, who followed Crabtree as principal from 2003-2012; Taylor Kirby, a 2011 West graduate who starred in Track, becoming both a two-time Intercity Pole Vault champion and a two-time Big 12 Conference Pole Vault champion among her honors, as well as having the distinction of earning West’s very first individual State Champion honor winning IHSA Class 3A Pole Vault title; and U. S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a 1996 West graduate.

Tickets for the formal event are $30 each or $20 per person for a VIP Table for a party of 10. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Tera Hafermann at Normal West, reaching her by email at hafermat@unit5.org.

By Steve Robinson | October 22, 2014 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, Pekin Daily Times

BasketballNORMAL – To their coach’s way of thinking, opponents who face Illinois State’s basketball team this season are looking at facing a team that is one-half returning players and one-half newcomers. But regardless of their experience level, Redbirds head coach Dan Muller expects his players to be a handful for their challengers.

At his “Media Day” news conference at Redbird Arena Wednesday, Muller said team practices have been “consistent” and his players have shown positive attitudes as they get ready for the season. “We’re obviously trying to build for what we want to be for the season,” explained the third-season head coach. “We have a lot of talent we can blend together.”

Length, or more accurately, height could be the key to this year’s Redbirds team as there are seven of the 14 players on the roster who range from 6 foot-7 to 6 foot-10. That includes 6 foot-7 freshman forward MiKyle McIntosh, 6 foot-8 junior forwards Will Ransom, 6 foot-8 freshman forward Deontae Hawkins, 6 foot-9 senior forward John Jones, and 6 foot-8 senior center James Stewarz.

With that kind of height, Muller said, his team “will have more options on both ends” of the court. Having played zone coverage against opponents last season, Muller said when his team resumes that tactic this season, taller bodies will “make our zone longer if and when we play it.” Muller added that man-to-man coverage is also helped by taller players because defending inside the paint will be easier.

“We’ll have different ways of getting the ball inside the paint with our length this year,” Muller said of another additional advantage.

“We have to shoot the ball well, and that will be a key for us this season,” Muller said. “But I think we have a chance to be a terrific rebounding team and a terrific defensive team because of that.”

“We have so much flexibility in our lineup right now,” Muller said. “We could play small, as we did on the perimeter. I don’t think we’ll be small very often, but, we may, because we have a lot of guys who are wings at 6-4, 6-5, 6-6 , and even 6-7 that we can put on the court. It all depends on who plays best, and those guys will be rewarded with minutes.

“We’ll be bigger inside at all times than last year, and for our league, we’ll have great length,” Muller said.

ISU RedbirdMuller said shooting is critical for his team. “We don’t have to be a great shooting team,” Muller added. “We just have to shoot it good enough, and I’m confident that will happen because the guys from last year are way better shooters, and we obviously have some very talented shooters. But it will be critical for our spacing offensively.”

Expectations Against Bradley And Missouri Valley: Asked if he expects his team to contend for Missouri Valley Conference’s championship title, Muller, who helped ISU win the prize at the end of both the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons as a player, said, “Absolutely. We certainly hope to be in a position to contend for a Valley championship, and I think we have the talent, that if we play hard enough and play together enough, we can do that.”

“Bradley is certainly a special rivalry for us because of the history of it,” Muller said. But he added, he does not dwell on that contest all season. He said his team takes their schedule a game at a time, and waits until it is before them before getting his players psyched up for it.

Getting that accomplished, of course, means ISU, which finished 18-16 last year, including finishing in fourth in MVC with a 9-4 mark, would need to beat I-74 foe Bradley in the process. The two rivals split last season’s series with Bradley slamming the Redbirds, 64-45 at Carver Arena on Jan. 29, and ISU evening the series with a 70-54 win on Feb. 15 at Redbird Arena.

Early Practices: With many Redbirds players having afternoon classes, Muller’s team have become early risers, holding morning practices, which has been something of a change for the squad. “The toughest thing for me or the coaches is, when you have to be done, you have to be done,” Muller said. “You can’t go long with practice if you want to watch film.”

Muller’s Biggest Concern: Early wake-up calls and practices ending promptly pale in comparison to what concerns Muller currently. He said one of his concerns is his team’s “ability to play together and play tough.” With newcomers on the team who have never experienced being in a close Division I contest, Muller said he wonders “how quickly can we learn the sense of urgency you need to get stops, or what the right play is. Sometimes, first year guys are great at that, and sometimes, it takes a while”

Muller said that particular aspect of play concerns him because it is something he can’t correct until his Redbirds are actually in a game situation. “We can scrimmage, we can go through special situations. Those are critical, but I don’t know how guys will respond on the road until we get there.”

Rim Shots: ISU opens the season at home Monday, Nov. 10 with an exhibition against Lewis University at 7p.m.……The Redbirds open the non-conference portion of their schedule at home against Utah State on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 4p.m……ISU will participate in the U.S Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Tournament Nov. 21-23….Indiana State will visit Redbird Arena to open the MVC season in a Dec. 31 4p.m. game….ISU and Bradley will square off Saturday, January 17 at 4p.m. here, and in Peoria’s Carver Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 8p.m.

By Steve Robinson | October 19, 2014 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThe way I understand it, Golf is advertised as a game that allows folks to take their bag of clubs, join a few friends and spend a relaxing period while taking up the challenge of getting a lower score than your opponent. Emotion, sometimes, will enter into the picture as the result of a bad tee shot or watching a putt rim a cup on a green, but for the most part, the point is for participants to relax. Emotion is not supposed to enter into the process, either for the golfer or any spectators.

However, at the Illinois High School Association Class 1A State Golf Tournament held at Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington last weekend, that may not have been possible for one of the families watching their sons play golf in their high school years for the last time. For Jim and Kerry Mounce and their extended family watching their twin sons, Michael and Branden, play their last match before going off to college this fall, it had to be an emotional moment. The fact that his sons led the charge to help El Paso Gridley High School capture a state title for the second straight year almost heightens that emotion.

Jim Mounce called the Tournament’s end – the end of his boys’ playing together for now – “bittersweet.” “They’ve played together the last four years, and it’s just kind of bittersweet to see them finish it off the way they did,” Jim Mounce said. “Individually, they probably wish they could have finished a little better than they did, but we couldn’t be more proud of them both.”

As individuals, Michael Mounce finished both rounds one and two with a 2-over-par 74 each day, while Branden Mounce finished day one with a par 72 and day two going 4-over-par 76 to arrive at the same total. As a result, the Mounce brothers shared third place overall for the tournament.

At the conclusion of the two-day tourney on Oct. 18, it was determined both boys lead the effort to helping the Titans earn their second straight first place finish with a total score of 619 on the 72-par course. Winnetka, Ill.-based North Shore County Day High School finished second with a two-day score of 629, while Nashville finished third with a total of 652. Spectators could find EPG players more readily on the course thanks to the team’s recent tradition of wearing white “bucket”-style hats on the course.

Jim Mounce said the boys were “9 or 10” when they began to enter competitive events, starting with the annual Country Classic Tournament. “They both excelled at it,” Jim Mounce said. “We knew we had something special there. We just support them. That’s all we can do.”

The boys’ drive to go into battle on the links began with the pair getting interested in the game at age 4 or 5, according to Lavonne Wade, the boys’ grandmother and Jim’s mother.

“They were very into golf,” Wade recalled. Wade and a friend sat in lawn chairs where they could get a good look at both the first tee and the 18th green, as carts are prohibited for spectators at IHSA golf events. “It’s so awesome to see how the boys have improved to now from their younger days,” Wade added.

Sydney Hall, Branden Mounce’s girlfriend, has watched him practice in the summer, walking El Paso Country Club with him and has traveled to see him play in tournaments. Her brother, Ian, was on EPG’s Golf Team with the Mounce Brothers two years ago, as a senior. “It’s just really exciting seeing how he’s grown his golf game, especially this year,” Hall said of Branden. “He’s gotten a lot better toward the end. It’s nice to see him make the shots he needs to and watch him get better.”

While the Mounce family’s chapter titled competing in high school golf was concluding, a chapter was opening for Kevin Greene, the only freshman on this year’s Titans six-man team. Kevin’s father, Larry, found himself in the same area as Wade, waiting and hoping. The difference was, Greene was able to walk the course with the gallery, something he said was tough for someone used to using a cart.

Watching a match, Larry Greene said, “is a lot harder than playing. That’s because Kevin can hit a shot, and it’s something you can’t do anything about if the ball doesn’t go where you planned. No matter how much you want to help, you can’t.”

On the par-72 course, Kevin’s debut round on Friday ended in a 24-over-par 96 followed by Saturday’s 14-over-par 86 for a two-round total of 182. “This was probably the best match of the year, the most fun match of the year,” Kevin stated. “It was the best part of the year.” He said he had butterflies more so prior to round one than he did before round two.

Kevin said many of the things his coaches and his dad had told him during the season stuck in his head during both rounds. “I just stayed calm and shoot what I normally shoot,” he said quietly. He said he would like to earn another few trips to State again during his high school years.

Right now, because the Mounce brothers led the way at last weekend’s State Tourney, Kevin and his teammates are defending champions in Class 1A. Should they do well again next season, they’ll be back to mount a title defense. With their collective determination and enthusiastic supporters, here’s hoping Kevin and his teammates, clubs and bucket hats at the ready, get that chance.

Shifting to another Titans sport, this is the last weekend of the high school football regular season and 7-1 EPG will be on the road to 3-5 Heyworth. Pairings for the playoffs will be announced on Saturday.

golfBLOOMINGTON – Regardless of the endeavor, or of the sport or profession, it’s been said that “it’s better to go out on top.” If that’s the case, El Paso Gridley High School’s Boys’ Golf team, and twin brothers Michael and Branden Mounce, would have been seen to have done just that in style at the Illinois High School Association Class 1A State Golf Tournament at Prairie Vista Golf Course.

That’s because, at the conclusion of the two-day tourney, on Oct. 18, the Mounce brothers tied for third individually overall. Both boys each shot a two-day total of 148 while helping the Titans earn their second straight first place finish with a total score of 619 on the 72-par course. Winnetka,Ill.-based North Shore County Day High School finished second with a two-day score of 629, while Nashville finished third with a total of 652.

On the tourney’s first day Oct. 17, EPG shot 306 to take the crown, with Winnetka,Ill.-based North Shore County Day High School placing second scoring 315, and Nashville collectively came in third having shot 319.

With their scores, the Mounce brothers led the way for their Titans teammates, all of whom could easily be spotted on the course thanks to their white bucket-style hats, a tradition that began within the last couple of seasons.

As individuals, Michael Mounce finished both rounds one and two with a 2-over-par 74 each day, while Branden Mounce finished day one with a par 72 and day two going 4-over-par 76 to arrive at the same total. As a result, the Mounce brothers shared third place overall for the tournament.

Fellow Titans teammates Derek Zielsdorf, a junior, had a two-day total of 177; Kyle Colmone, a senior, had a two-day total of 166; Brady Colburn, a junior, had a two-day total of 157; and freshman Kevin Greene had a two-day total of 182.

As for the Mounces tying by tournament’s end, “Yeah, it was a surprise,” Michael Mounce said. “We didn’t finish as well as we wanted to coming down the last couple holes. We definitely could have improved a lot. But, it worked out how it worked out.”

Branden Mounce smiled as he said he “wished he could have beaten him,” referring to Michael. Branden said that, in the end, “Things worked out. I would have liked to not have to hit my tee shot on 18 in the water today.”

Branden Mounce assessed on Saturday how the tourney concluded for EPG this way: “We started off slow today, and then we finally got it going. We had to hold off Winnetka at the very end because we didn’t finish as strong as we’d liked to. But it definitely was our goal to come here and win like we did last year.”

There was also some pride showing in how well the Mounces lead their team from head coach Ken Colmone. “You know, when you have two guys like Michael and Branden in your program, you expect a lot out of them,” Colmone said. “They’re great kids. They work hard. They’ve gotten out of golf exactly what they’ve put into it. They’re hard workers and they go at it and they battle every day.”