Athletics update

Here’s the scoop
Lacrosse is the new sport on campus. For the men, the first season started this spring (mid-February to late April), and for the women, the first season starts next spring. The men’s eight home games (there are 15 games total) will be played at Shula Stadium. The men’s team has 30 players on the roster – 40 to 50 players on a team is typical – and recruits are from all over, Illinois to Maryland. The Ohio Athletic Conference has six teams this year and will add two more next year. The oldest program in the OAC is five years old.

“I think we can win the league this year because we have skilled players,” says head coach Brian Small, adding that the size of a player isn’t a factor in lacrosse. “That’s the beauty of the game – it consists of guys who are all shapes and sizes.”

lax_webWhen recruiting, Small starts by looking at a player’s footwork. That skill is followed by athletic ability, stick skills, lacrosse IQ, character, and academics.

“Recruiting this year has surpassed my expectations,” he says, adding that he’s looking for midfielders who can play offense and defense. “Next year I’m only keeping 42 players, but I won’t cut a recruited freshman because we saw something in him.”

On the women’s team, head coach Rachel Dell is in the process of filling 25 spots. Some of the inaugural team will be from the University’s club team, and each consecutive year the number from the club team will diminish. The 2015 schedule isn’t set yet, but Dell hopes to start the season down South and play in areas such as Chicago; South Bend, Ind.; and Buffalo, N.Y., that will help recruiting.

“Recruiting is daunting, mainly because I put so much pressure on myself to be selective putting the first class of recruits on the field,” she says. “I want kids who want it all.”

Some differences (and similarities) between the men’s and women’s game are:
• Women don’t wear protective padding. They wear goggles and mouth guards but no helmet. It’s more of a finesse game. The men’s game is a full-blown contact sport.
• Women don’t play with a pocket in their stick – the net where the ball is held is taut. Their stick has a greater surface area; the men have a deeper pocket. The goalie stick is the same for both.
• The goal for both is 6 feet wide by 6 feet high.
• Women field 12 players – four attackers, three midfielders, four defenders, and one goalie. Men field 10 players – three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen, and one goalie.
• The men’s field varies in size, but it’s about 115 yards long and 55 yards wide. The women’s field can range from 110 to 140 yards long and 60 to 70 yards wide.
• Women play two 30-minute halves; men play four 15-minute quarters.


Finishing at the top
The women’s cross-country team captured its first Ohio Athletic Conference title since 1991 and had five runners in the top 10 who earned All-OAC honors. Also, for the second time in five years, the coaching staff was recognized as the OAC Women’s Coaching Staff of the Year. Led by sixth-year head coach Dara Ford, along with associate coach Kyle Basista and graduate assistant Christin Handley, JCU placed 12th out of 42 teams and third in Division III at the All-Ohio Championship.



The Blue Streaks finished the season with a ninth-place team finish at the Great Lakes Regional. Individually, Gabriella Kreuz ’14 capped the season earning All-American honors by placing 26th at the NCAA Division III National Championships in Hanover, Ind.

“I started the season anemic and didn’t do well for the team, but after I received an IV of iron, I felt better,” she says. “I dropped 20 seconds and ran a personal best at the regionals, then dropped another 20 seconds at nationals.”

During the course of the season, Kreuz cut her 6K time by three minutes. After placing 4th at the OACs, she finished her collegiate cross-country career topping the conference at the national meet. She credits her coaches, roommates, family, and high school coach for rallying her to the top after starting the season down. Many of them traveled to support her at nationals. Two weeks later, Kreuz made her first track-and-field debut in two years at the Kent State Open after spending the 2012-2013 season injured. Racing in the event for the first time, Kreuz ran a 10:16 3K and broke Ellie (Fernandez) Hess’ ’05 school record of 10:21.

“Track’s my true sport, but I’m a mid- distance runner,” she says. “3K are the most laps I’ve run on a track. I don’t know how I did it, but it was humbling breaking Ellie’s record.”


Building off a solid foundation
This spring, the University will celebrate 30 years of softball as a varsity sport. The program started in spring of 1984 when the inaugural team went 7-6 under the guise of coach Susie Brown. Gretchen Weitbrecht, former head coach and current associate athletic director, started coaching in the spring of 1991. After 17 seasons, Weitbrecht, the longest-tenured coach in the program’s history, handed over the reigns of the team to Erin Brooks in 2007. This year, new head coach Nicole Loudin looks to build off the solid foundation laid by Weitbrecht and Brooks.

softball_web“I’m excited to come to a program with a good base,” says Loudin, who coached previously at Fredonia State and Ithaca College in New York.

The program, which has modest beginnings, wasn’t affiliated with a conference the first two years of existence, then it joined the Presidents Athletic Conference for four years, then the Ohio Athletic Conference in 1990. Under Weitbrecht’s leadership, there were five or six years when the team was in the top half of the OAC – the top four go to the playoffs. One of the team’s best years was in 2003 when it went 11-7 and was first to qualify for the OAC tournament, but it lost in double elimination.

“Some years we were in the hunt but didn’t quite reach that pinnacle and hung up the cleats sooner than we wanted to,” says Weitbrecht, the winningest coach in the program’s history. “If you achieved a double- digit win total in the regular season, you had a good shot of qualifying for the tournament.”

With Brooks – the most successful coach in the program’s history who led the most prominent era of the program – at the helm in the spring of 2008, the team qualified for the playoffs that year, but again, were out in two games. Her teams won conference titles in 2011 and 2013.

The team’s first All-American was Carrie (McVicker) ’98 DeWitt, who was a statistical national champion in home runs per game and national Division III catcher of the year and is a JCU Athletic Hall of Fame inductee. Years later, standouts such as OAC Pitcher of the Year Brittany Danilov ’12 and Academic All-American catcher Mackenzie Griffin ’13 drew the spotlight.

Now Loudin is focused on developing people, not just players, because they won’t be playing the sport professionally.

“We have intelligent and respectful players who are known as the classiest team in the OAC,” she says. “They’re great examples of what the University is all about.”

Pitcher Rachael Byrnes ’15 and second baseman Sam Becker ’14 are players to watch this season, which will kick off in Florida March 1-8.

Also, the softball team continues to develop its off-the-field service. This year, there will be a significant meaning behind one component, Strike Out Cancer Weekend, planned for April 26 vs. Marietta at Bracken Field in support of JCU player Ally Kleinhans ’15 and her battle with the disease. All OAC softball coaches unanimously voted the OAC efforts for all teams for Strike Out Cancer 2014 will be in honor of Kleinhans.


Fall season success
At halftime of the men’s basketball game versus Mount Union on Jan. 29, the athletic department honored student-athletes and coaches for their success during this past fall season. Highlights included:
• The football team hosted its first NCAA Division III National Championship game in program history.
• The football team was ranked as high as ninth in the national polls and started the season 9-0.
• The volleyball team returned to the OAC tournament for the first time since 2010.
• The women’s soccer team was the OAC co-regular season champion.
• The men’s soccer team advanced to the championship of the OAC tournament for the third straight year.
• Kresimir Ivkovic ’15 (football) was named one of the 10 finalists for the prestigious Fred Mitchell Award.
• Brian Potocnik ’15 (men’s soccer) and Brody Zangaro ’15 (football) were Capital One Academic All-Americans. Potocnik was the first Blue Streak to earn first team NSCAA All-Region honors in 10 years.
• Kit O’Shaugnessy ’17 (volleyball) became the first Blue Streak to be tabbed the OAC Volleyball Freshman of the Year.
• Sara Kaminski ’16 (volleyball) finished 11th nationally in digs per set.
• Kay Akerly ’15 and Genny Goergen ’14 (women’s soccer) earned NSCAA All-Region honors.
• Tom Arth ’03 was named OAC Co-Coach of the Year and American Football Coaches Association and Regional Coach of the Year.

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