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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.”

Posted in Men's Athletics, Sports, Women's AthleticsComments (0)

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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Two IWU track and field athletes star in multi-events

Most track and field athletes focus on running, jumping or throwing. But two Indiana Wesleyan University athletes do it all.

Kyla Morgan (sr) started track and field in the third grade, mainly due to the fact that her father is a track and field coach back in her home state of Ohio. Morgan finally started competing in meets in sixth grade.

Just a state over, Mason DePeal (so) began competing in track and field during eighth grade at his middle school in Pennsylvania. He specialized in the high jump, triple jump and long jump.

Morgan, on the other hand, started out sprinting and then added shot put and discus to her repertoire.

Kyla Morgan (sr) stretches her legs by scissor kicking over the high jump bar.

Kyla Morgan (sr) stretches her legs by scissor kicking over the high jump bar.

Both athletes found themselves at IWU with head coach John Foss.

During Morgan’s freshman year of college, Foss asked if she wanted to attempt the heptathlon at IWU. It had been a couple of years since someone had competed in either the decathlon and heptathlon for the Wildcats.

“We had to teach her three or four events, but she had the basic gifts to be able to do those events,” Foss said. “It paid off.”

DePeal’s high school jump coach was a decathlete in college, and so DePeal asked him more about the event during his senior year. DePeal asked Foss about training for the decathlon at IWU, and Foss decided the idea could work.

“Over the summer, [DePeal] had experimented with several of the different events and had done very well, and was able to send us some marks,” Foss said. “And looking at those marks, it was quite obvious that he had potential to do very well.”

Women compete in the heptathlon and men compete in the decathlon.

The heptathlon consists of seven events: 100 meter hurdles, shotput, javelin, long jump, high jump, 200 meters and 800 meters.

A decathlon includes four of these events: shotput, javelin, long jump and high jump, but also adds a 100 meter run, 400 meters, 110 meter hurdles, discus, pole vault and a 1500 meter run.

Since DePeal only jumped in high school, he said doing more sprints and throws for the decathlon has proved difficult.

“It’s still kind of a learning curve,” DePeal said. “It’s very different, it’s over so fast. High jump you have multiple attempts to clear something or long jump you have multiple attempts to jump as far as you can. The 100, you run as fast as you can, once.”

Morgan said she “dabbled” in multiple events during high school, but she’s had fun training and working on improving in the heptathlon throughout college.

“It gets tiring, it does,” Morgan said. “But it is really fun because I’m never bored. I always have something different to do. Like if I’m tired of running, then I go jump.”

 Both athletes train multiple times a day, each day of the week. Usually, DePeal and Morgan practice three different times a day, and schedule running/jumping and lifting/throwing on different days. DePeal said Morgan helped him figure out scheduling because the amount can be overwhelming.

“By the end of the week, you’ve put in two, three track workouts,” DePeal said. “You’ve put in enough event work for some people for a couple weeks, and you’ve done it all in a week.”

Mason DePeal (so) readies himself for a practice throw of the shot put.

Mason DePeal (so) readies himself for a practice throw of the shot put.

DePeal and Morgan are now training for NAIA Outdoor Nationals, which happen May 22-24 in Gulf Shores, Ala. Morgan went to outdoor nationals her sophomore and junior years of college. She placed eighth and made the All-American team her sophomore, but last year she got hurt before indoor nationals. She recovered to place ninth at outdoor nationals, one spot from a second year as All-American.

This year Morgan injured herself again, tearing the meniscus in her knee during NCCAA nationals. She plans to compete for this year’s outdoor nationals and battle through the pain.

“I’m learning how to train through being uncomfortable,” Morgan said.

DePeal qualified for indoor NAIA nationals, competed in the heptathlon there and placed 10th. Since the indoor season doesn’t have javelin throwing or discus, the men participate in a heptathlon, different from the women’s version. The women compete in a pentathlon with five events.

As outdoor nationals approach, it’ll be Morgan’s last chance to compete and hopefully get back to being an All-American heptathlete. For DePeal, he has two years left to improve his skills. He said Morgan has had a big part in his training.

“She has been very instrumental in where I am right now,” DePeal said, “I mean there are a lot of people also, but her and I are able to relate just because we do similar things.”

Morgan wants to take her nursing degree and work for a mental and psychiatric unit back in Ohio. However, she won’t leave her love for track behind.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be done with track,” Morgan said. “I’d love to coach, especially with having parents that coached too. It’s a big part of my life.”

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Confessions of a sports addict: The best month in sports

Brace yourselves, sports fans. I have terrible news for you.

March Madness is over.

Well, kind of. The Final Four college basketball teams will square off for the national championship this weekend, but it’s not March anymore. That’s because March gave way to the best month of the year for sports fans: April.

Other months have bigger individual events. October has the MLB playoffs. January has the NFL playoffs. March has most of the NCAA basketball tournament, as I mentioned earlier. June and July have the World Cup.

But no month puts it together for sports fans quite like April.

The beginning of the month opens a new MLB season after a five-month break. It also brings us the Final Four of the college basketball tournament, as people closely follow their brackets to see just how badly they predicted the tournament.

The middle of the month marks the start of the exciting NBA and NHL playoffs after a long (probably too long!) regular season.

And if you only like football, April has something for you as well. The NFL draft happens at the end of the month in most years.

At IWU, we have the baseball, softball, track and field, golf and tennis teams all in the heart of their spring seasons as the weather warms up. So many great Wildcat teams will compete out at the athletic complex this month or at nearby golf courses.

Does it get any better than April, IWU sports fans?

I don’t think it does. At least, besides final exams.

Do you agree that April is the best month in sports? Leave a comment or tweet @sojournsports with your favorite sports month.

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