Archive | Women’s Athletics

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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NCAA D-I’s Strader to coach IWU women’s soccer team

Not many people would trade the sunny skies and nearby beaches of California for the ever-changing weather of Marion, Ind. Especially coming out of a winter when Hoosiers often endured sub-zero temperatures while parts of the Golden State enjoyed 90-degree highs in February.

But it’s a change Indiana Wesleyan University’s new head women’s soccer coach Tim Strader welcomes.

“It was an opportunity to come home,” said Strader, an Indiana native who spent his recent years coaching soccer in California and Arizona. “My wife and I love the Midwest values. That’s somewhere we’d like to settle down.”

Strader’s latest role was an assistant coaching position at NCAA Division I school Cal State University Northridge. The Matadors won the Big West Tournament and played in the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament in 2013 with Strader on the sideline.

And now, Strader looks to continue his success in the NAIA at IWU.

“For me, it’s not about the level, obviously I’ve loved my time at in Division I, but the constraints of not being able to share your faith is something that’s important to me,” Strader said. “There were opportunities to continue on the Division I path, but I knew that God opened this door and this is where my wife and I were supposed to go.”

Sharing his faith and building relationships is a theme IWU’s newest Wildcat wants to establish with his team. But he’s not waiting until he officially arrives in Marion this summer. Strader has already started calling his future players to get to know them.

Players like center midfielder Jordan Harris (so).

“It was really good to be able to talk to him,” said Harris, who got a phone call from Strader during spring break. “I gained more respect for him, saw more about who he was and what he was about. He also expressed interest in getting to know me, which I thought was huge.”

But Harris said the process of getting a new coach has its difficulties in any situation.

“When you’re under the authority of a coach, you have to get used to the way they work, kind of like in a classroom setting,” Harris said. “All that completely changes when you get a new coach. So it’s kind of like re-learning things all over again.”

As for Strader, the new coach said he’ll transition IWU’s program into a West Coast, zone defense team that’s “very organized.”

“We’re gonna want to put the ball on the ground and go through teams,” Strader said. “Give us some time and [you’ll] see a good product on the field.”

IWU’s squad won’t wait to be a cohesive unit off the field. Strader said he hopes to start success by forming personal bonds with the players immediately, and that means being intentional about communicating now.

That opportunity to build faith-based relationships is the main reason Strader chose to make the 2,100-mile move from California to Indiana Wesleyan.

“At the Division I level, you’re kind of constrained at a public university from having that interaction with your student-athletes,” Strader said. “Whether it’s a hardship on the field or off the field, my firm belief that everything goes back to your relationship with Christ, and being able to help kids through their faith is ultimately what led me to Indiana Wesleyan.”

As for dealing with the change in weather, Strader may still have some things to get used to.

“He said something about having to get a jacket,” Harris said. She promptly corrected him: “Yeah, you gotta get a coat.”

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Women’s golf team focusing on mission, not goals

The Indiana Wesleyan University women’s golf team is gearing up for the beginning of its spring season. Head coach Julie Wagner says she is changing the way the team views objectives and problems.

Kelli Sewell (fr) follows through on a good golf swing. (courtesy photo)

Kelli Sewell (fr) follows through on her golf swing. (Courtesy Photo)

“We’ve gotten away from goals. We have what we call ‘mission’ now,” Wagner said. “Our mission in terms of [Crossroads League] play is to try to get up into the third position because then we’re playing the top two teams for that match.”

“[Coach Wagner] wants us to choose a play focus that’s not physical. She has a list of play focuses, and one of them was to say ‘this is great’ before I hit a shot.” said Gracen Smith (sr). “My teammate and I were joking about it, but it kind of worked. You approach the ball in a positive manner, more so than thinking ‘I hope this goes straight.’”

Smith says that another play focus that Wagner emphasizes is letting go of past shots that did not meet the player’s standards.

“If you fall down on yourself in the middle of a tournament, it can just demolish the rest of your game,” Smith said.

The way that the team members approach their shots is one of Wagner’s main focuses.

“You stand behind the ball, and that’s the think box,” Smith said. “That’s where you do the technical stuff, like ‘I want it to go this way, I want it to go this far,’ and there’s a line that you cross as you’re approaching the ball.”

Once this player crosses the decision line, she has to either follow through with the shot, or go back into the think box.

Wagner has also been working on training the team to coach themselves, due to the solitary nature of golf.

Maggie Keiser (fr) focuses on the short putt in front of her. (Courtesy Photo)

Maggie Keiser (fr) focuses on the short putt in front of her. (Courtesy Photo)

“It’s team but it’s individual. You’re out there by yourself. As a college coach, I’ve got five or six people out on the golf course, all on different holes,” Wagner said. “As you can imagine, if emotions go the wrong way, I’m not always there. So over the winter, I’ve been trying to work with them on being able to coach themselves out of that emotional situation when it comes up.”

The team has used its emotional strength to work through this winter’s weather. The Wildcats have practiced in a heated indoor facility in Muncie because of snow.

“The team has been really good about getting out there at least once a week and getting their arms and legs moving,” Wagner said. “We kind of fell back on that last year. This year, from what I saw, when it was warm and they were hitting shots off the grass, they looked pretty good.”

The uncontrollable nature of the weather reflects Wagner’s view of goals and why she decided to move away from a goal-based mindset.

“Most goals are not controllable,” Wagner said. “So we’re trying to work on things that we can control instead of things we can’t.”

The Wildcats will start their season competing in the Cumberlands Invitational March 17-18 in London, Ky.

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