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Spring sports teams adapt to long winter

Indiana Wesleyan University sports teams have battled an extra opponent this spring: the ever-changing weather.

Emily Sell (sr) fields a ball at her shortstop position. The Wildcats got in a doubleheader versus Marian March 28 before unfavorable weather cancelled the following day's games.

Emily Sell (sr) fields a ball at her shortstop position. The Wildcats got in a doubleheader versus Marian March 28 before unfavorable weather cancelled the following day’s games.

Athletic Director Mark DeMichael said more than half of the scheduled spring sporting events so far have been rescheduled or cancelled due to the weather. DeMichael blamed the long winter and heavy snowfall for setting teams back to start the season.

“When the snow goes away, that doesn’t mean the field is ready,” DeMichael said. “I’ve been here 17 years, and this is easily the worst winter we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

According to DeMichael, IWU coaches collaborate with opponent’s coaches to decide whether an event will be played, rescheduled or cancelled. Ultimately, the home team’s coach makes a judgment call about the game. After a coach makes the decision to cancel, the teams have to communicate with their athletic directors, groundskeepers, transportation and game officials to decide on a date to make up the event, if possible.

“It’s a pain; it’s just not a fun process,” said DeMichael.

Baseball head coach Chad Newhard said rescheduling isn’t ideal, but the team is used to the process.

“We’ve played three games on the regularly scheduled time at the facility that they were supposed to be at, but that’s typical stuff,” Newhard said April 9. “Our guys do a really good job of handling it and they understand it’s part of [the game].”

Members of the baseball team practice in Troyer Fieldhouse. The long winter has greatly affected the baseball team's ability to practice outside.

Members of the baseball team practice in Troyer Fieldhouse. The long winter has affected the team’s ability to practice outside.

Newhard said low temperatures early in the baseball season caused the most cancellations,

“We’ve had to move some games because of rain,” Newhard said. “But usually temperature, especially in March, is kind of the biggest deal if we can play or not.”

The baseball team has been fortunate to make up some games at a turf facility in Westfield, Ind.

“We’ve gotten fortunate to have a couple other facilities open up,” Newhard said, “and we’ve been able to play there so it’s really helped us out.”

The men’s golf team has not been so lucky. The team had to cancel its only home match of the season, the IWU Spring Invitational, and fought through lightning, rain and hailstorms to finish the NAIA Brickyard Classic last week. The IWU Spring Invitational was supposed to be Coach Austin Conroy’s first match as head coach of the men’s golf team. Conroy said it’s nearly impossible to reschedule golf matches.

“In the spring season there’s not really much you can do to move it,” Conroy said. “It’s tough and it’s hard as a coach, honestly, not to get frustrated.”

Coach Conroy said he tries to focus on how players can grow through the adversity of severe weather conditions.

Conroy said, “If they’re comfortable with [the weather] and just realize that and stick through it mentally, that’s kind of the most important thing.”

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Moving on up: How IWU gets NCAA talent to go NAIA

Less than two weeks after winning the NAIA Division II National Championship, the Indiana Wesleyan University men’s basketball team registered another big victory.

Greg Tonagel hopped on an elliptical machine on a Friday morning. It was the only chance he had to talk in the midst of a busy time for the Wildcats head coach. If Tonagel had earned any rest by capturing the program’s first national title March 18 with a 78-68 win against Midland University, it was a privilege soon forfeited.

His team's season is over, but men's basketball coach Greg Tonagel has kept very busy.

His team’s season is over, but men’s basketball coach Greg Tonagel has kept very busy.

“It’s definitely been one of the busiest weeks of my life,” Tonagel said as he started pumping away on the machine. “But when my busyness looks like this I’ll welcome it any time when it’s centered around good news for our program and good news for our university.”

The latest good news came in the 5’10″ form of Indiana University sophomore guard Jonny Marlin, who officially announced his transfer to IWU March 31.

The path to Marlin’s arrival began even before the former Indiana University Purdue Fort Wayne starter walked on to IU’s team in 2013.

“We recruited him out of high school and we told him that if he ever transferred to consider us,” Tonagel said as he pumped away on the elliptical. “He waited until the season was over, talked with his coach and pretty much had his mind made up where he was going to go based on that past relationship.”

Indiana University transfer Jonny Marlin is one of the latest in a string of recent Division I transfers. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletic Deparment)

Indiana University transfer Jonny Marlin is one of the latest in a string of recent Division I transfers. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletic Deparment)

Marlin isn’t the first NCAA athlete to make the switch to the pride of Marion, Ind. If recent trends are any indication, he won’t be the last.

IWU Athletic Director Mark DeMichael said these transfers happen “pretty regularly,” with a particularly noticeable increase during the last five years.

“It’s pretty common now where our coaches in all sports are recruiting athletes that are also being recruited by Division I schools,” DeMichael said. “Over the course of the recruiting process, our coaches are building relationships with Division I-caliber athletes and their families. That’s how we recruit, we recruit based on who we are as a university and building relationships.”

It’s these relationships which have parlayed into NCAA talents dawning a Wildcat jersey in several sports, headlined by names such as Claire Ray, Paige Smith, Tyrone Martin, men’s basketball star RJ Mahurin and even newfound women’s soccer coach Tim Strader.

Katrina Blackmon of the women’s basketball team started her college career at NCAA Division I school Wright State University, transferring to IWU in 2012.

“I wanted to go somewhere where basketball wasn’t seen as a job; I was looking for the love of the game,” Blackmon said, adding that life outside athletics is another reason she’s glad she came back to her Marion roots. “Coach is really involved, making sure that not only are we getting the best out of basketball but the best out of life and what’s to come after we’re done playing.”

If you ask DeMichael, he’ll tell you that’s IWU’s goal and a point of interest for potential NCAA transfers.

Katrina Blackmon (dribbling the ball) transferred from Wright State University in the fall of 2012, and helped IWU women's basketball to a national championship in 2013.

Katrina Blackmon (dribbling the ball) transferred from Wright State University in the fall of 2012, and helped IWU women’s basketball to a national championship in 2013.

“Not to make a blanket statement about Division I, but in a lot of cases you’re in a program where it’s purely about winning,” DeMichael said. “[Athletes] think back to what they were told by the coaches at Indiana Wesleyan and what [we have] to offer and the investment into the whole student-athlete spiritually, academically.”

That’s a mission all of IWU’s athletic department can get on board with. Even a busy coach who just won a national championship with a former NCAA player helping lead the way.

“What I’ve heard from our recruits and our players is that [we] offer them an elite experience,” Tonagel said, continuing his steady pedal. “That’s a combination of the people who are going to invest in your lives, but also a high level from the way we’re going to travel, house, the different places we’re going to go, the locker room.”

But even with the influx of Division I transfer athletes, don’t expect IWU’s recruiting focus to shift. DeMichael plans to keep pumping away at what’s been working for the Wildcats, taking the NCAA crossovers as added bonuses.

“Because our philosophy is about the mentoring and the growth spiritually, academically, athletically, that’s much more effective and you can do that much better when you have young people for four years,” DeMichael said. “High school student-athletes are always going to be the foundation of our recruiting focus.”

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Haughey’s spirit key in Wildcat title run

By the time Garvin Haughey (sr) reached the court it was already decided. Only 4.2 seconds remained in  his Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats’ 78-68 victory against Midland University in the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball National Championship Finals. Game over.

Referees had to tell the Wildcat bench, led by Haughey (in red), to calm down several times during the championship game.

Referees had to tell the Wildcat bench, led by Haughey (in red), to calm down several times during the championship game.

Yet Haughey’s quick entrance carried a significant amount of meaning to it.

Not only because the game marked Haughey’s last as a collegiate basketball player. Not only because of the uproarious applause Wildcat fans and players presented to him as he trotted towards the scorer’s table to check in. Not only because Wildcat fans consistently chanted for him to be inserted into the game during the season. But because IWU head coach Greg Tonagel believes this 6-foot-3 senior was a vital part of the Wildcats’ championship team and he wanted to let him get playing time.

“He’s had a huge impact on this program and without him, we wouldn’t have won a national championship, and that says a lot about a kid who didn’t play,” Tonagel said. “It meant everything to get him in.”

Haughey was already contributing to the game in his own way at his spot near the end of the literal and metaphorical Wildcat bench. He spent most of Tuesday night shouting encouragement to his teammates and being one of the first to welcome players back to the sideline during timeouts. That energy spilled onto the court and helped fuel the win.

“It’s always a goal to have the refs tell you to sit down, but the refs started coming up to us at the beginning of games in this tournament telling us to sit down so it was definitely a plus there,” Haughey said. “There was definitely a little bit of extra enthusiasm.”

Haughey rarely played during his four years at IWU, but played a big part in the team's success.

Haughey rarely played during his four years at IWU, but played a big part in the team’s success.

But that’s just part of his mentality as a player. Haughey was the last player off the court during warm-ups right before the last game of the season tipped off. He was also the first one out of the locker room at halftime, leading his team back onto the court for IWU’s final push to a title.

The fact that he also had the chance to play in every tournament contest was, as he put it, “a nice little cherry on top.”

“To touch the court in all five games, I can’t put it into words,” Haughey said after the game while sporting his national championship t-shirt. “A lot of people put success into this national championship, but seeing the growth in my teammates means a whole lot more than this.”

These qualities are just one of the traits that caused Tonagel to pay Haughey a lofty compliment: “Garvin will go down as the greatest leader to ever wear a Wildcat uniform.”

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Men’s basketball team makes history with first title

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The Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats are champions once again.

Jordan Weidner (sr) led the way as the IWU men’s basketball team won the NAIA Division II crown Tuesday night in Point Lookout, Missouri with a 78-68 victory over Midland University. While the win marks the Wildcat men’s team’s first-ever national title, it comes one year after IWU’s women’s team won its championship.

Your 2014 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Champion Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats.

Your 2014 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Champion Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats.

The Wildcats never trailed in the contest, avenging an 85-81 loss to the Warriors earlier in the season.

“The single greatest factor for us winning this year was a fearless mindset,” IWU head coach Greg Tonagel said after the game. “It came through in this whole tournament. Do you back down or do you have faith? Faith in each other, faith in God, faith that, ‘you know, I’m playing for something bigger than a championship, so if I fail, that doesn’t define who I am.’”

Even though the Wildcats didn’t fall behind on the scoreboard, they still faced adversity from a tough Midland team that ended the year with a program record 30 wins against just six losses.

The Warriors fought back from down by as many as nine points in the first half, closing the gap and staying in the game into the second period. But one shot swung the momentum completely in the Wildcats’ favor, propelling IWU to their eventual victory.

Zac Vandewater (jr) shot just one three-pointer the entire game. But it was a critical basket, giving the Wildcats a 49-38 lead six minutes into the second half and sending IWU fans into a frenzy. Bob Peters (fr) followed that act with a bucket of his own, capping a 7-0 Wildcat run that gave IWU a 13-point, 51-38 lead.

Guard and Tournament MVP Jordan Weidner (sr) was a leader for the Wildcats all season.

Guard and Tournament MVP Jordan Weidner (sr) was a leader for the Wildcats all season.

Midland, a team that dismantled Robert Morris College by 39 points in the semifinal the night before, never recovered.

The Wildcats closed out the game by playing the same solid style that got them there.

“This whole tournament, we really stepped up our defense, stepped up our rebounding and stepped up getting to the free throw line,” said Garvin Haughey (sr). “That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

IWU rode these trends to an NAIA record as well, notching a tournament-best 128 free throws while becoming the first team in history to win all five games of the tournament by double-digit margins.

That padded lead allowed starters like Weidner, the tournament MVP, to come off the court early, making for an emotional scene when the guard tearfully hugged Tonagel on the sideline.

“Nobody has a bigger heart than Jordan,” said Tonagel, the NAIA Division II Coach of the Year. “He just wasn’t gonna let us lose.”

“I can’t even put it into words,” Weidner said after the game. “It’s a blessing, it’s an honor and it just speaks to the maturity, the courage, the confidence — anything positive you can think of man, it just speaks to that about our team and it’s so awesome to experience.”

As for his individual hardware, Weidner said it doesn’t even compare to the team effort.

Coach Greg Tonagel received the NAIA Division II Coach of the Year award.

Coach Greg Tonagel received the NAIA Division II Coach of the Year award.

“I’m just glad we won,” Weidner said. “I could have gotten not a single award, just won this thing and been perfectly fine.”

It’s attitudes like this that impressed IWU Athletic Director Mark DeMichael the most, as well as earning the Wildcats the league award for the best sportsmanship in the tournament.

“When you have a team that wins the national championship and then at the same time wins the tournament sportsmanship award – that doesn’t happen very often,” DeMichael said. “To me, that sums up this team.”

RJ Mahurin (sr), a transfer from Indiana State University before this season, said a championship was the perfect ending to his season with the Wildcats.

“All summer we talked about it, you know, obviously that’s your goal and it’s just kinda crazy to see it come to fruition,” RJ said. “The guys stuck together really well and we just relied on each other. Knowing that this is probably my last game, it’s amazing to go out with a championship.”

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