Cougars men win soccer playoff opener
The Cougars live to fight another day.
St. Xavier University’s men’s soccer team entered the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference playoffs on something of a low ebb after losing its regular-season finale to Robert Morris University, but there was no evidence of a letdown on Saturday. That’s when the Cougars used a 4-2 advantage during the penalty-kick shootout phase to advance past Judson University and into the semifinal round of the CCAC Tournament.
SXU (7-9-2, 6-4-1) traveled to Bourbonnais this past Wednesday to face No. 2-seeded Olivet Nazarene University.
Officially, the Cougars’ match with Judson was recorded as a 2-2 tie after two overtime periods failed to produce a winner. Junior Brandon Simoes, sophomore Marco Gutierrez, junior Rene Leon and junior Tom Lojek all converted penalty kicks for SXU.
Leon’s unassisted tally with under two minutes remaining in regulation created the need for extra sessions. Lojek’s free kick in the 64th minute accounted for the Cougars’ other early marker.
Juniors Bruno Oliveira and Michael Berrequin scored for the Tigers during regulation. Olivet was ahead 2-0 after less than 50 minutes had expired, but could do no further damage against SXU senior netminder Kyle Held (seven saves) until tallying a couple times on penalty kicks.
A goal by sophomore forward Steve Garofalo in the 81st minute proved the difference last Tuesday, as Robert Morris edged the Cougars 3-2 in Arlington Heights.
Although the loss in its regular-season finale didn’t prevent SXU from qualifying for this past weekend’s CCAC Tournament, it did saddle the Cougars with the No. 6 seed. That outcome meant SXU had to open on the road instead of serving as a first-round host, which it would have done with a triumph because the victory would have placed the locals among the top four in the conference standings.
The Cougars forged two ties against the Eagles, but never led. SXU answered a goal by Robert Morris’ Gordy Gurson in the 21st minute with one by Simoes 11 minutes later. Gutierrez earned the assist on Simoes’ tally, while Bobby Hurwitz set up Gurson’s score for the Eagles.
Robert Morris took a 2-1 lead in the second half when Stefan Zindovic scored on a header in the 55th minute after receiving a pass from Irving Eloiza. Again, though, the Cougars responded as junior defender Xavier Corona beat the Eagles’ keeper in the 71st minute after the latter had deflected a shot by Gutierrez. Zindovic set Garofalo up for the match-winner shortly thereafter.
Held was credited with five saves for SXU.
MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY
After earning their first team berth in the NAIA Championship since 2005 and taking third overall in arguably the toughest cross country conference last Saturday, it has been an exciting last few days for the Cougars.
Only defending NAIA champion University of St. Francis and No. 4-ranked Olivet Nazarene finished ahead of SXU at Sunset Hills Farm in Valparaiso, Ind. The Cougars, who totaled 77 points on Saturday, then learned the next day that they had been given the No. 16 spot in the final NAIA top-25 poll. That, in turn, resulted in SXU receiving on Monday an at-large berth in the national meet, which will be held Nov. 23 at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan.
At the CCAC event, senior Brian Corcoran led the Cougars by taking fourth among 118 runners. He timed out in 25 minutes, 34 seconds for the 8K race. Sophomore Eric Hancock was next down the chute for SXU, as he wound up ninth after completing the race in 26 minutes flat.
Also scoring for the Cougars were senior Shane Kenney (25th in 27:02), freshman Abel Hernandez (26th, 27:05) and junior Kyle Counter (31st, 27:29). Other SXU participants included seniors Chris Sarna (35th, 25:41), Chris Shellenberger (47th, 28:32) and Brian Meyer (48th, 28:35).
“It was not one of our better team races, but I can find many bright spots about [Saturday],” Cougars coach Ed McAllister. “Corcoran had an outstanding race. He is really reaching top form, as is Hancock.
“We are pretty banged up right now with injuries to Shellenberger and Meyer, and the younger guys, especially Kyle Counter and Abel Hernandez, really stepped up for us this [past] weekend. Finally, senior Shane Kenney had his finest meet of the season. Shane always finds a way to get the job done when the pressure is on the line, and this day was no exception.
“It feels great to get the at-large bid to nationals because this team really deserves it and we’re reaching our top form.”
WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY
Junior Leslie Rosario’s 14th-place finish topped the Cougars on Saturday at Sunset Hills Farm, a performance that lifted SXU to the No. 5 spot among 11 CCAC schools. Rosario’s 18:50.8 clocking over 5K was good enough to secure for her an individual spot in the upcoming NAIA meet.
Senior Anna Galvez took 22nd in a time of 19:41.6 to rank as the Cougars’ second-fastest runner. Other point producers for SXU in its final meet of 2013 were sophomore Dana Martin (23rd, 19:42.6), senior Jordan Wallace (24th, 19:44.5) and sophomore Ann Kolker (27th, 19:48.6).
Rounding out the Cougars’ lineup were freshman Nicole Watkins (29th, 19:58.4) and senior Mercedes Mancha (40th, 21:04.8).
The Cougars’ 2013 season came to an end last Wednesday in Arlington Heights, where they dropped a 4-2 decision to Robert Morris University in a CCAC match.
Sophomore forward Lexi Cozzi and freshman midfielder Delanie Bosworth both scored goals in the second half, but those weren’t enough to extend SXU’s campaign. By finishing ninth in the conference standings, the Cougars (6-11-1, 3-8) did not qualify for the seven-school CCAC Tournament, which got underway this past weekend.
The Eagles, who are ranked 20th in the NAIA, played on into the postseason, and they made sure to put SXU in a hole right away by tallying in the fourth minute of Wednesday’s match. They added markers in the 14th and 45th minutes to establish a 3-0 halftime cushion for themselves.
Cozzi’s goal in the 51st minute, off a short shot set up by junior midfielder Monica Chavolla, gained some momentum for the Cougars. Chavolla also assisted on Bosworth’s goal 27 minutes later, which came on a redirected shot, but SXU could get no closer.
Junior Danielle Knocius and freshman Alex Perry split time in the nets for the Cougars and made a total of six saves between them.
Mere hours after earning the CCAC Volleyball Player of the Week award, junior middle hitter Marie Hackert continued her impressive play for the Cougars last Tuesday night in their four-set win over Roosevelt University at the Goodman Center in Chicago.
Hackert paced SXU with 13 kills and five total blocks as it notched a 19-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-18 triumph. Junior Kelli Shaffer contributed 35 assists, six digs, four kills and two service aces to the Cougars’ cause, while junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Jessica Galotta and sophomore middle blocker Heidi Gregerson complemented Hackert’s strong net play with nine kills apiece.
In addition, Galotta had 10 digs, one fewer than junior libero Dominique Aramburu’s team-best total. Aramburu also served a pair of aces.
Career-high totals of 14 kills and four aces by sophomore right-side hitter Megan Falsey lifted the Cougars (16-13, 9-8) to a 25-20, 25-20, 19-25, 25-19 CCAC win over Judson University last Thursday at the Shannon Center.
The “Family Night” victory moved SXU up into the No. 6 position in the conference standings heading into the CCAC Tournament, which got underway this past Tuesday.
Hacker backed Falsey’s solid play with 14 kills and four blocks (three solos), while Shaffer chipped in with 43 assists, 11 digs and two aces. Additional help came from Galotta (six kills, 19 digs), Aramburu (22 digs, two aces) and freshman right-side hitter Natalie Carberry (eight kills, four digs).
Shoot to thrill — that was the Cougars’ method of operation last Saturday afternoon in Wisconsin.
The most delighted party was none other than St. Xavier University coach Tom O’Malley, who watched his players put on an offensive clinic during the second half of a nonconference game against Silver Lake College. After trailing 47-45 at halftime, the Cougars erupted for 68 points over the last 20 minutes, an outburst made possible by an otherworldly 82 percent accuracy rate.
SXU (2-0) connected on 27-of-33 second-half field-goal attempts to close the deal on a 113-88 victory. The Cougars used an opening 14-0 run to quickly build momentum, as senior guard Brad Karp hit a trio of baskets — including a 3-pointer — and sophomore Josh Mawhorr sank a pair of shots.
“That makes up for a lot of sins the other way,” O’Malley joked of his guys’ marksmanship. “That might be as many [points] as we’ve ever scored [in one half].”
As he has been so many times in his collegiate career, Karp was SXU’s ringleader as he tossed in 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting. He augmented his offensive production with 15 rebounds and six steals. Mawhorr (17 points on 7-of-11 shooting) and senior Michael Simpson (17 on 6-of-9 accuracy) were other pivotal figures for the Cougars.
Also lending a hand were Andre Arrington and Tony Core, both of whom tallied nine points. Thirteen players saw floor time for SXU and 11 of them registered at least two points.
Part of the reason the Cougars waited until the second half to shift their attack into overdrive was because they were coping with foul trouble prior to intermission. Three of SXU’s regular starters were saddled with three fouls before 10 minutes had elapsed.
“Guys that wouldn’t be starting normally played a lot,” O’Malley said. “We used everybody on the bench for half the game. It’s a learning process, but we’re scoring a lot of points and it’s a good start on one end of the floor.”
Of course, O’Malley’s first basketball love is a stingy defense, which has long been a hallmark of his squads, both at SXU and in the high school ranks. And in some ways, the current Cougars have already exhibited strength in that area — for instance, they forced a total of 49 turnovers in their first two outings.
However, O’Malley pointed to Silver Lake’s 51 percent shooting as evidence that all is not yet ideal.
“The competition hasn’t been that stiff yet, [but] we’re not doing as much defensively [as we can be],” he said. “It’s a little easier to get them to play offense, but guys are still getting used to the fact they have to stay in front of kids.
“What kid out there doesn’t think he’s quick enough [to guard someone]? But they have to learn to not slap at the ball and leave an opening in the middle of the floor. We’re going to learn to play defense soon.”
St. Xavier 95 Indiana Northwest 71
The Cougars had little difficult vanquishing Indiana University Northwest in their season-opener last Tuesday, as point runs at the onset of both halves enabled the locals to maintain control the entire way.
Kyle Huppe nailed two 3s and Mawhorr included one among his pair of baskets to put SXU on course for a 15-4 getaway. Huppe also dished out two assists, as did Simpson.
The Cougars’ lead stood at a hefty 51-31 midway through the contest, then they put the game beyond IU Northwest’s reach by embarking on an 18-4 surge when play got underway in the second half. Four Karp layups sparked the run.
Karp had 25 points, six rebounds, five steals and three assists to pace SXU, while Mawhorr was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field en route to a 19-point evening. The latter was the Cougars’ leader both on the glass (seven boards) and assist-wise (eight).
“Josh is giving us a whole lot,” O’Malley said.
A year ago, SXU’s top six players all averaged double-digit points and were pretty much interchangeable parts, which made the Cougars a difficult matchup for many opponents. However, half of that sextet has graduated and junior Jack Krieger is recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be available to SXU for a while, so Mawhorr’s early contributions have been most welcomed.
The Cougars play twice this weekend in Trinity Christian College’s annual four-team, pre-Thanksgiving tournament. Other upcoming dates include clashes with defending NAIA Division II national champion Cardinal Stritch and Division I heavyweight Arizona Christian.
“We’re going to find out real quick how good we are,” O’Malley said.
SXU was also ranked among the preseason top 25 in Division II, but O’Malley isn’t reading too much into that status.
“I’m sure they’re unaware of the situation with Jack Krieger,” he said of the pollsters. “They’re not seeing the reality; they’re only seeing that you have three guys back from a team that won 29 games.
“I’m not against being ranked, but preseason rankings mean nothing as far as I’m concerned. No matter what happens [in that regard], you get to be there at the end if you win enough games.” — Ken Karrson
A 3-pointer by redshirt freshman guard Sidney Praase with two seconds left in regulation gave the NAIA Division II No. 9-ranked Cougars a stunning 80-79 victory over NCAA Division I University of Illinois-Chicago Friday night at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.
With 15 seconds remaining, the host Flames turned the ball over, setting the stage for Praase’s late-game heroics. SXU coach Bob Hallberg quickly called a timeout to design the game-winning play, which included junior forward Morgan Stuut drawing the defense on a drive down the lane that turned into a kick-out pass to Praase for the final bucket.
Stuut led the Cougars with 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
“I’m so proud of our team and the intensity they exhibited over the entire 40 minutes of the game,” Hallberg said. “[It was] an amazing shot by Sidney Praase, who came in cold off the bench for that final play and hits the game-winning 3-pointer. What a great way to launch her college career after missing her entire freshman season due to injury.
“This was truly a team effort, though, with 10 different players contributing for us and everyone keeping their composure against a tough Division I team. What a great way to start our new season.”
SXU had four players score in double figures. In addition to Stuut, the group included junior guard Suzie Broski (16 points on 8-of-12 shooting), senior guard Jordan Brandt (13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including three 3s) and sophomore forward Caitlin McMahon (11 points).
As a team, the Cougars shot 48 percent (28-of-59) from the floor and sank 19-of-21 free throws.
UIC led briefly in the opening minutes of play before SXU used a 15-5 scoring run over the game’s next seven minutes to build a 19-10 lead. Junior Margaret Wildner’s layup capped the surge with 8:39 remaining in the first half. The Cougars got up by as many as 10 points before settling for a 34-27 advantage at intermission.
The Flames shot just 25 percent over the first 20 minutes, but an aggressive start to the second half quickly brought them within 34-31. Jumpers by McMahon and Broski got SXU’s lead back out to seven, and a Stuut layup eventually increased the margin to 53-41, the Cougars’ largest edge of the evening.
But UIC roared back to create a 60-all tie with 7 ½ minutes left, then got up by seven (71-64) with 4:48 remaining. Instead of wilting, though, SXU fought back as Stuut, Broski and Niara Harris all hit clutch buckets. Harris’ layup at the 1:18 mark established the final deadlock at 77.
The Cougars played their home opener this past Wednesday versus Trinity International University.