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.

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.