Archive for the ‘Lancer Athletic News’ Category

Warsaw Trio Reunites

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

This was the last thing Jordan Kistler, Jeff Himes and Jake Bloom expected. To be playing together…again.

Between school and travel ball, the Warsaw Community High School triumvirate has been playing together for a decade. But after high school, their time together appeared to be over.

“Just from an athletic standpoint, I never pictured myself coming here. Especially growing up here, they had contacted me, and I pretty much told them ‘no.’”

2008 Warsaw graduate Jeff Himes’s route was, yes, unexpected, but much more traditional than Bloom’s and Kistler’s.

During his senior year at Warsaw, Himes had his eyes set on Sinclair Community College and had practically told Grace to buzz off. When he visited Grace’s campus, however, he reconsidered. “All the people I met were unreal nice and unreal friendly,” Himes said.

After the coaching staff persistently contacted him, Himes gave into Grace, which established a pipeline to Kistler and potentially Bloom. It’s Himes, in fact, that may be the underestimated lynchpin behind Kistler’s arrival.

“There were always times last year when Jordan would call me to catch up,” Himes said. “He would ask questions like, ‘What’s chapel like?’ But I never caught on.”

While Kistler was at Iowa Western, Himes was Grace’s only marketer.

“There is nothing else to explain it except for…God works in crazy ways,” Himes said. “That’s why it’s so great. I never saw this coming. It’s cool…There are no words to say.”

“Never thought I’d be here, honestly. I grew up in Warsaw, and I was born here. I want to play, but at the same time, I don’t want to be here my whole life.”

Entering his freshman year at University of Indianapolis, 2009 Warsaw grad Jacob Bloom had every intention of trying to walk onto the team. After attending all the baseball meetings, however, Bloom coughed over the team shirts and shorts he had paid for, got his $20 back and quit the team because of a number of “outside factors.”

Every day Bloom worked out, however, he walked through campus, saw the U-Indy baseball field and realized something: He missed it. “It just ate at me, and it got to me a little bit,” Bloom said. “I just realized how much I missed it.”

Bloom began exploring other schools and learned that he could practically attend Grace for free. Bloom transferred to Grace for his freshman spring semester, joined Himes on the roster as a redshirt and is back on the field again this season.

“To go for free and play baseball again…It feels good,” Bloom said. “Taking a year off is not easy, but it just feels good to play again and be out there…I just kind of showed up.”

“They were like, ‘Hey, if anything ever goes south, get ahold of me.’ Apparently I remembered that when it went south.”

Jordan Kistler’s plan was panning out perfectly.

In his sophomore season, 2008 Warsaw graduate Kistler had just led his team, Iowa Western Community College, to the 2010 Junior College World Series title. With a 10-0 record on the mound, his reputation was at its peak. And after two years of recovery from elbow surgery, he was throwing his best since high school. He was on the brink of attaining his dream: Playing Division I baseball.

His success hadn’t gone unnoticed, either, and a number of bigger schools were flocking after him. At the end of May 2010, Kistler fulfilled his dream and signed with Division I University of St. Louis.

Three months later, however, something went incredibly wrong.

“I thought I was getting $34,000 out of $44,000 for my scholarship,” Kistler said. “I was under the assumption that I would get 85 percent, but I got $20,000 and didn’t get anything for academics.”

The timing of the debacle, one week before school, left him in a conundrum. Remember, this was in August. While most college students were packing up their cars for school, one of the top JUCO pitchers in the nation didn’t even have a team.

That’s when Kistler remembered his encounter with Grace’s coaching staff at the BPA (Baseball Players Association) convention at Grace’s Orthopaedic Capital Center earlier that summer. They had told him that if things ever went south, he could contact them.

So he did. Luckily, head baseball coach Josh Bailey just so happened to have scholarship money available. And it also helped that Kistler’s high school sweetheart, Rachael Slater, just so happened to still be in the area.

Kistler realized that in Warsaw, he had a chance to be around the people he loved and be part of a team that valued him as more than a baseball player.

“Even at a DI school, you are just a scholarship on the mound pitching,” Kistler said. “Here, you are a person.”

What makes the Warsaw trio’s reunion even more capturing is the depth of their relationships. Himes and Bloom have been dominating the outfield together for years, Bloom went to Kistler’s father for hitting lessons, and Kistler and Himes are, well, best friends. “Jeff and I have pretty much known each other since we’ve been in diapers,” Kistler said.

They shared their graduation open houses together. They vented to one another over the phone about the stresses of collegiate baseball. Himes even remembers having “Beanie Baby wars” upstairs at Kistler’s house where they would whirl the plastic pellet-filled critters at one another (whether that was their six-year-old days or last summer, he wouldn’t say).

“He’s my best friend,” Himes said. “He’s my go-to guy for a lot of stuff.”

It wasn’t just three former teammates that reunited this season. It was three friends that reunited…somehow.

“For me, it really hit home that everything happens for a reason,” Kistler said. “When you think you know life, you obviously don’t. You just have to have faith, and it will all work out.”

By Steve Copeland

This story was published in the April 17 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Bailey, Lancers on Brink of Turning Around Program

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

History is not on the side of  the men’s baseball team.

In fact, the team has never topped 21 wins in a season. That could change in 2011. While far from glamorous with an 11-15 record, the team is moving out of the days in the MCC cellar.

Josh Bailey is now on his fourth year as head coach. When he came to Grace, he mapped out a five-year plan—a plan to make a dismal program a competitive one. It would be no small task. Bailey took over a team that went 3-35, ended the season on a 16-game losing streak, and had only five juniors and seniors combined. There was a culture to change in the program, which meant beyond wins and losses.

In each of the next three seasons, the Lancers would increase their win totals, going from three wins to 10 wins to finally tying a school record by going 21-33 last season. Though a .389 winning percentage still appears shabby, the talent, experience and confidence needed to win is slowly seeping in.

The progression has come slowly, but steadily. This year the baseball team looks to build on last year’s improvement. Junior Brad Heinz has noticed the difference.

“In previous years we have had excuses for not playing well. Now we don’t have any, and the coaches demand and expect more. We just have to put it all together.”

Hot and cold streaks have marked the 2011 season. After starting the season on a six-game losing streak, the Lancers won ten of their next eleven games, including a victory over Bethel College for the first time in over five years. Now the team’s resolve is under fire as a mid-season slump has left the team on a seven game slide and 1-7 in the MCC.

“You see your character when you’re losing,” said Bailey, who says losing has helped humble the team. “Our schedule is set up so we play a lot of bad teams in-a-row and a lot of good teams in-a-row, so we need to learn how to be consistent.”

Before this season is labeled as a turnaround, Bailey is quick to point out that the team has a ways to go. This season is simply part of the plan, not a reversal of circumstances. The past losing seasons have taught the team the value of working hard, which will follow the team through ups and downs this year.

Still, the plan is falling into place. The team has leaned on strong freshmen contributions this year and Bailey anticipates continued improved recruiting in the future with the team only having one senior this year. Though pitching has been a struggle in years past, the Lancers pitching staff now has the second lowest ERA in the MCC and is earning the respect of conference opponents.

A final surge over their last 22 regular season games is well within reach. Freshman pitcher Clifford Buttermore says that success will come after the team regains their confidence. “It just takes one good game to get out of a slump. We feel we can win once we put all the pieces together at once.”

New talent and higher expectations are paving the way for the Lancers’ baseball team. History might not be on the Lancers’ side, but it is history they are learning from.

By Zane Gard

This story was published in the April 8 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Softball Enters 2011 with Different Look

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

WINONA LAKE, Ind. – The Lady Lancer softball team enters the 2011 season looking to continue rebuilding a program that has been in shambles in recent years. They’ll take the field with a different look, too, showcasing a roster that boasts talent, youth and promise.

Head coach Heather Johnson, entering her second season at the helm of the program, brought in a seven-person freshmen class to jumpstart the rebuilding process, six to seven of which will most likely start.

“The freshmen will make up for their lack of experience with high energy and their versatility,” Johnson commented. “We are going to play aggressive, and for this reason, I know we will make some mistakes. But it won’t be because of a lack of talent.”

The freshmen that are expected to have the biggest impact are Olivia Winget, Jordan McKinley and Brooke Shadinger. Winget and McKinley will be shouldering most of the load on the mound this season, and Shadinger will man centerfield and will be heavily relied on to be a leader in the outfield.

Winget posted a 1.59 career ERA at Southwood High School with 494 strikeouts, 43 victories, 15 shutouts and two no-hitters. She will also add some power to the middle of the lineup as she batted .494 during her senior year at Southwood and totaled eight home runs.

Johnson stressed that with a team this young, team chemistry is crucial to the program’s success and foundation.

“Our team is striving to be unified and to work through the challenges that this season will provide,” Johnson said. “We have become more of a unit since the fall and now throughout the winter. We are excited to see what the spring brings.”

Grace only returns three starters from last season in Genevieve Benson, Katie Clouse and Sam Fields. Fields looks to solidify the middle infield, as she was an MCC All-Conference honorable mention last year as a freshman. She led the team in hitting with a .336 batting average and will look to do so again.

Benson is the lone upperclassman and will serve as the leader on and off the field. She will play alongside Fields in the middle of the infield at second base. Clouse is transitioning from playing third base to being the catcher for the Lady Lancers this season.

Johnson expects her young lineup to play an aggressive, high-energy style of softball. Grace will turn out a faster lineup this season that will generate more hits and consequently more runs.

One of the team goals this year is to qualify for the MCC conference tournament, something they’ve been unable to do the last half-decade. They also want to compete in the NCCAA regional tournament come postseason.

Overall, Johnson is excited for the upcoming season as she tries to lead her players to compete beyond their years. Even though Grace’s youth will bring about some challenges, it will allow them to mature early as they pursue their team goals.

Says Johnson, “Our biggest challenge will be to build their confidence early as we try to put all the pieces together and pursue our team goals.”

The LAB — Live from Branson

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Click here to follow the Grace men’s basketball team on their quest for an NAIA national championship in Branson, Mo. Grace’s sports information department will provide stories, analysis, photos, blog posts, video interviews and highlights from the NAIA Division II men’s basketball tournament continually throughout the week.

Wednesday, March 2
Thursday, March 3
Friday, March 4
Saturday, March 5
Sunday, March 6
Monday, March 7
Tuesday, March 8
Wednesday, March 9
Thursday, March 10

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Lancer Dream Ends — 3/10/11 (8:50 p.m.)

Dakota Wesleyan opened up the second half with an 11-7 run to take back the lead at 43-42 early in the second half.

For Grace, Greg Miller came out hot in the second half scoring seven of the first nine points in the half.

Later, Grimm slashed to the basket and dished it off to Johnson for a deuce to bring the Lancers within four. After a trey from Wesleyan’s Jake Kneeland, Grace forced a pair of turnovers, but was unable to capitalize.

Grace hit a shooting slump in the second half and Dakota Wesleyan mounted a 20-6 run to take control of the game for good.

With 8:03 remaining, the Lancers found themselves trailing 50-58 and their hopes of making a deep run were slowly fading. However, Elliot Smith had something to say about that. He nailed a deep triple to bring the Lancers within five. But that was not enough as Dakota Wesleyan upped the lead to nine with 4:01 remaining in the contest.

With less than four minutes to play, Dakota Wesleyan’s Chase Walder hit the dagger three to stretch the Tiger lead to 12 points. Grace was unable to start a run and cut the deficit.

Over a span of 11 seconds in the final minute, David Henry hit a pair of threes in desperation to bring the Lancers within seven. But it was too little, too late. Grace was forced to foul and the lead got to nine.

In the final minute, senior Stephen Kaufman checked into the lineup one last time as a Lancer.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, all the Grace hopeful that made the trip to Branson gave the Lancers one final applause in thanks for a great season. The final score read Grace College 62, Dakota Wesleyan 71.

Click here to check out and download photos from Grace’s opening round game against Dakota Wesleyan.

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Lancers Lead at Halftime — 3/10/11 (7:26 p.m.)

Game day has finally arrived. The team rolled into town on Monday evening. It is now Thursday. In talking with members of the team, they are itching to get out on the floor and play. The much anticipated tipoff time would have to wait as play was delayed throughout the morning session because of scoreboard issues.

During halftime of the Northwood vs. Fisher game, the guys hit the floor to shoot around a bit before getting the official team picture taken.  From there it was back to the locker room to go over the game plan one final time.

After the final buzzer sounded, ten minutes were put on the scoreboard. Only ten minutes remained before tipoff between Grace College and Dakota Wesleyan. Lancer Nation has a presence here in Branson, with around 100 Grace fans in attendance.

Grace starters include Duke Johnson, David Henry, Greg Miller, Elliot Smith, and Bruce Grimm Jr.

In the opening minutes, neither team could produce much offense with the score being 4-2 Dakota Wesleyan after nearly five minutes of play. Freshman Greg Miller put the first points of the tournament on the board for the Lancers followed by a 3-pointer from Henry. Grace trailed early 7-10 at the first timeout with 12:55 remaining in the first half.

Grace’s shooting woes continued going almost three minutes without a basket. However, Henry again nailed a trey to bring the Lancers within four at 10-14. With seven minutes remaining in the half, Grace was down nine points before Miller hit a three from the left wing

Bruce Grimm scored his first points of the tournament as he slashed to the right block and backed in the runner.

Grace took its first lead of the game at 24-23 on back-to-back buckets from Duke Johnson. Grimm followed with a free throw line jumper to increase the lead to three with 3:24 remaining in the half. Jake Peattie put in a reverse layup on the assist from Grimm to give Grace a seven point lead. The lead came on the heels of a 15-0 run by the Lancers.

Dakota Wesleyan pulled within three to close out the half. The Lancers lead the Tigers 35-32 at the break here from Keeter Gymnasium in Point Lookout, Missouri.

Duke Johnson leads Grace with 11 points and six rebounds. Greg miller has seven points and three boards. Henry has a pair of treys and four rebounds.

By Adam Basinger

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Scouting Report: Grace vs. Dakota Wesleyan — 3/10/11 (2:29 a.m.)

Head coach Jim Kessler feels like his team has spent three weeks preparing for Dakota Wesleyan. And they almost have.

Thursday night, however, Grace’s time will have finally come. The No. 15 Lancers (22-10), who earned the sixth at-large bid, will go up against the evenly matched Tigers (23-8) of Dakota Wesleyan, the seventh-at large bid, on Thursday evening.

And Kessler believes the Lancers are ready.

In our interview with Kessler, conducted on his scenic back porch at the Hotel Grand Victorian (he insisted we try to capture the pine tree in the background), “Coach K” hit on several things for Thursday night’s game. The video, after all, is nearly nine minutes long.

Two things Kessler stressed were 1) Shutting down senior Brady Wiebe and 2) Defending the 3-pointer.

Wiebe, who ranks No. 15 in the nation in points per game (20.0), has attempted—get this—a whopping 348 free throws this season, knocking down 270 of them (77.6 percent).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PQMxfx-o7E[/youtube]

Let’s dissect that a little more. Three hundred and forty-eight free throws. The entire team has only taken 837 free throws this year. That’s 41.6 percent of the team’s free throws. That’s 11 free throws a game. That’s only three less free throws than his attempted field goals (351). And of those field goals, he’s made 175 of them. So…per every made field goal, he attempts nearly two free throws to along with it. Yikes.

Even the Black Hills State players in the hot tub last night were raving/ranting about how Wiebe has a knack for getting to the free throw line. “He’ll tick you off,” one of them said.

Luckily, Grace is prepared for Wiebe considering this year’s MCC season could be dubbed “the year of the flop” as Kessler says.

Regardless, have fun guarding him, Duke Johnson.

The other key for tomorrow night is defending the 3-pointer, as the Tigers rank No. 42 in the NAIA in 3-point percentage (35.3).  They have five players shooting above 35 percent from beyond the arc, led by Chase Walder who ranks No. 23 in the nation with 77 made 3-pointers. Walder is Wesleyan’s Dave Henry.

A good sign for Grace is that they have contended the 3-pointer well all season and actually rank No. 1 in America in 3-point field goal percentage defense (28.5 percent). If Grace plays like they have all year, Wesleyan’s threatening presence from downtown shouldn’t give the Lancers any problems.

On Thursday night, it begins. With a victory, they’ll most likely have their hands full with legend Rollie Massimino’s Northwood University in the second round. But for now, maybe they can just keep Wiebe off the free throw line.

By Justin Oren and Steve Copeland

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Ride the Ducks — 3/9/11 (11:45 p.m.)

After morning practice at the Branson RecPlex, the team came back to the hotel for a film session on Dakota Wesleyan. After analyzing game tape, the guys went to Chester’s Restaurant with team sponsor Hawthorn Bank.

After dinner, the guys headed to “Ride the Ducks”. Like the Dixie Stampede, some of the guys had been there before, but the new guys had a lot left to learn. The tour of the Taneycomo was led by “Captain Corn”. It was a chilly afternoon, but the guys made a good time of it. Even head manager, Aaron Minglin, got in on the action by taking his hand at the wheel.

After some good laughs, the team loaded up and drove over to the beautiful campus of College of the Ozarks to watch opening round games. The other MCC teams fared well on day one with Saint Francis and Indiana Wesleyan both pulling out victories.

Prior to watching the hometown team, College of the Ozarks, all 32 teams took the floor for the Parade of Champions. This is a time when each team is introduced and walks out on the floor to form “NAIA” on the hardwood.

Shortly after the parade, the team headed to dinner at Denny’s for a team meal. The remainder of the night was free for the players to relax and mentally prepare for tomorrow’s matchup.

In the morning, the team will have shootaround at the RecPlex at 10 a.m., followed by a film session and lunch. Grace will take on Dakota Wesleyan tomorrow night at 5:45 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast in Alpha Dining and can be heard over Stretch Internet as Andy Thompson and Jerry Gurrado bring the play-by-play.

Ladies and gentleman, tomorrow the Lancers begin their quest for a second national championship.

By Adam Basinger

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The World of Branson — 3/8/11 (11:59 a.m.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSEQZ9_05-Y[/youtube]

Freshman forward Greg Miller and junior guard Jake Peattie discuss the world of Branson. Miller and Peattie love the atmosphere and are excited about the atmosphere that surrounds Branson and the NAIA National Tournament. They conclude the interview only as Lancers can.

Q. Greg, this being your first time in Branson, discuss the atmosphere that you are experiencing?

A. I love the atmosphere. It is a great place to be. The people are great, and our sponsor’s are awesome. I can only hope that we back here three more times, and I win it all at least once.

Q. This is your third trip in four years, what is it like?

A. I can only speak on Branson. It is the best atmosphere and people. We are going to ride the ducks tomorrow. It is a great place to be with the team.

Q, What is the atmosphere of the gym like?

A. It is unbelievable. Just knowing that you’re playing for a national title is awesome. They bring in some elementary school kids to cheer on the teams that don’t have that many fans in the earlier rounds. In the later rounds the crowd gets bigger and bigger. Hopefully we get to play in a few. This makes it more exciting.

Q. What are your guys’ expectations?

A. We are trying to get healthy. Our goal is to play to the best that we can. If we do that, we can’t complain.

By Justin Oren and Caleb Ridgeway

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Humphrey Addresses the Twitter Phenomenon — 3/8/11 (11:59 a.m.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVYF_sSDY3o[/youtube]

Freshman point guard Michael Humphrey describes his time in Branson, Mo. He also elaborates on his Twitter account “IHeartHumphrey” that was created by teammate Ben Euler and has become an instant phenomenon on the trip. According to the account, it was designed “for all you freshmen ladies who want to know Michael Humphrey’s every move while in Branson, MO at the NAIA national tournament.”

Q. Are you enjoying Branson so far, and what is your favorite part?

A.  I am loving Branson, it has been a great experience. The best experience would definitely the Dixie Stampede, a really unique experience that others will helpfully get to see.

Q. Tell us about the Twitter account made about you and what your favorite tweet is/was?

A. I don’t have a favorite tweet, and I don’t even follow it that closely. All I know is that Ben Euler has been updating it quite frequently with some creative thoughts. I have no part in its creation or its continuation. Just throwing that out there.

Q. If you had one thing to say to the Twitter world, what would it be?

A. After the comments that Ben has been throwing out there, I really have nothing to say.

Q. What is your prediction on tomorrow’s game?

A. I predict a win.

By Caleb Ridgeway and Justin Oren

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Lancers Prepare for First Round — 3/9/11 (1:30 p.m.)

The team met for breakfast this morning before heading to the Branson RecPlex for one final tune-up before tomorrow’s game. The one hour walkthrough concluded at 11 a.m.

Before practice began, the guys warmed up taking some shots before stretching and officially opening practice with prayer.

The coaching staff put together a practice plan that was filled with drills and scout team activities. For one shooting drill, Coach Yeh upped the ante by offering the winning team milkshakes. Grimm and Henry had the lead after round one, followed closely by Merrell and Humphrey. After four rounds of different shots, the top group was Grimm and Henry with 186 points.

It was a physical practice with guys getting after each other. They worked through offensive plays and also worked on defensive strategy.

As for Grimm, he continues to improve each day. Having not seen many practices this year, I thought he looked good. He was running up and down the court working hard. He was hounding people on defense and getting his shot on offense.

The team has a film session scheduled for this afternoon before heading out to lunch with team sponsor Hawthorn Bank. Weather permitting, the guys will head across the street from the team hotel to “Ride the Ducks”. This attraction puts spectators in an amphibious vehicle and takes them around Lake Taneycomo to see the exquisite landscape and beautiful Ozark Mountains.

By Adam Basinger

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From the Big Dance to Branson, Bruce Grimm Jr. — 3/9/11 (2:01 a.m.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc2PB58B7tU[/youtube]

Sophomore point guard and Newcomer of the Year Bruce Grimm Jr. updates Lancer Nation on his leg injury, discusses his evening with the team in Branson and compares his preparation at the NAIA tournament to last year’s NCAA tournament when East Tennessee State University played the University of Kentucky in the first round of the Big Dance.

Q. How’s the recovery coming on your leg?

A. Great. The last couple days I’ve been able to practice, and it’s felt fine. I got hit once, but it feels good. So I guess it is going pretty well.

Q. How are you liking Branson so far?

A. It’s fun. Tonight, we went to the Dixie Stampede. We saw some horses… The North won, so it was a solid event. It’s going well.

Q. How does the NAIA tournament in Branson compare to the NCAA tournament last year?

A. It’s similar. A tournament is a tournament. Just trying to learn your opponent. That was Kentucky, so you can only learn so much about them. Just try to learn what they can do, and just have fun, pretty much.

By Justin Oren and Caleb Ridgeway

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First Time in Branson, Elliot Smith — 3/9/11 (2:01 a.m.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTr-Q6X4GYs[/youtube]

Sophomore shooting guard Elliot Smith compares his NCCAA tournament experience last year in Oakland City, Ind., to this year’s tournament in Branson, discusses the team’s daily schedule and tries to give LAB followers a picture of what Branson is like.

Q. How do the two tournaments compare?

A. We want to be here this year. We didn’t really want to be in Oakland City. It’s just real nice here. We have all the teams everywhere, and there are a lot of people out really supporting us. Restaurants and everywhere we go, they are just excited that the NAIA national tournament is here. So it’s a lot different because this is our goal. And we got here. Our goal wasn’t really to go to Oakland City last year.

Q. What is your day-to-day routine?

A. Well, we had a two-hour practice on Monday, and we had an hour today in a middle school gym or something. We just wake up, go to practice, come back, shower up, go out to eat, hang out in the afternoon, and then go out to dinner. We are in a routine, and we will probably do the same thing tomorrow. It’s nice to have some free time in the afternoon, which we usually don’t get on trips. It’s nice to have some down time.

Q. For those who haven’t experienced Branson, Give us a picture of what Branson is.

A. It’s basically like a big tourist trip. There are a bunch of weird shows, anything you can think of. It’s like Vegas for old people. When we drove through, there was like a Titanic Memorial Museum…but it was for the dogs on the Titanic.

By Justin Oren and Caleb Ridgeway

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Hot-Tubbin’ and Dixie Stampedin’ — 3/8/11 (10:14 p.m.)

Upon arriving last night in Branson, the guys took advantage of the facilities at the hotel. Some sat back and relaxed while others took some time to hit the hot tub. Tannan Peters posted this on Facebook about his first night, “In Branson, at the hotel, the hot tub was nice.”

After a good practice this morning, the team had a free afternoon to relax. A number of guys worked on homework in the lobby while others went shopping at the Tanger Outlet Mall down the hill from the team hotel.

The main event left for the evening was to go to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede for dinner. Seven players had been there before, but the remaining nine had yet to experience it. The dinner attraction, depicting events in American history, has been a big hit each time the Lancers have been in Branson. Many of the veterans reminisced about it, and the newcomers were in for a treat.

Once the guys came back from dinner, the Sports Information staff conducted interviews with players to get there take on Branson so far and will be posted shortly.

The Lancers have a busy day scheduled for tomorrow. Practice is scheduled for 10 a.m. with a team activity in the afternoon. They will also head to Keeter Gymnasium to watch some first round action.

Tomorrow marks the first day of competition for the 2011 NAIA National Tournament. The first round will last two days with the second round taking place on Friday. Grace is scheduled to play on Thursday night at 5:45 p.m. CST against Dakota Wesleyan.

By Adam Basinger

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Bracketology: How Far Will the Lancers Go? — 3/8/11 (11:59 p.m.)

With the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament starting on Wednesday morning, Michael Blevins and Zane Gard made some predictions and analyzed the tournament bracket. They predicted a winner, sleeper, one-and-done team, and an MVP of the tournament. And of course, they predicted how far Grace will go on their quest for a national title. Print out your NAIA bracket here.

This column by Zane Gard will be published in the March 11 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Winner- Oklahoma Wesleyan

Been there, done that.

Two years ago, the Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles cut down the championship nets in Branson. Last year they made it to the Final Four. This year they are “only” a No. 7 seed. Oklahoma Wesleyan is led by an experienced coach in Donnie Bostwick and a potential Player of the Year candidate in Sadiel Rojas.

Two players outside of Rojas also average over 12 points per game, and Oklahoma Wesleyan outscores their opponent by an average of 12 points. Three of the Eagles’ four losses came against teams in the tournament. They are ready, they are experienced, and they are hungry.

Sleeper- IU-East

Yes, this is the same team that Grace beat by 29 points. And they very well may have squeaked into the tournament as the twelfth at-large bid. But…

They have a true scorer in Tyler Rigby. They create turnovers (first in the nation in steals). They shoot well (fourth in 3-pointers made). They pass (ninth in assists per game). That, I believe, along with a manageable schedule makes them dangerous.

One-and-Done: All Wesleyan schools not beginning with “Oklahoma”

I just don’t think you’re ready right now, Indiana Wesleyan. Yeah, you have the No. 9 seed, but your two leading scorers (Patrick Hopkins and Jordan Weidner) are a sophomore and a freshman. Five of your seven losses were away or at a neutral location, and Branson is no place to bring a team that does not travel well. You started well, but you finished the season 4-4. I’m sorry.

It’s just not going to work out, Iowa Wesleyan. See, I like stability, and you have three first-round exits in three tournament appearances. But now you have to play a red-hot IU-Southeast. Goodbye.

It’s not you; it’s me, Dakota Wesleyan. I’d like to give you credit for beating Briar Cliff University and Black Hills State University, but only half of your conference finished above .500. OK, it’s you.

MVP: Sadiel Rojas, Oklahoma Wesleyan

There are 15 good reasons for Rojas to be the tournament MVP. Unfortunately, 15 minutes is also the length of his YouTube highlight reel, so you will have to see for yourself.

Stats do not lie, however. Rojas ranks first in Division II total scoring and second in total rebounding. He has also tallied 22 double-doubles this year and is shooting 55 percent from the floor. And this is coming from a small forward. In addition to crazy athleticism, Rojas is the complete package. He is averaging over one 3-point shot made per game and has 42 steals and 13 blocks in 31 games.

More importantly, he makes his team better. He has filled the place of departed teammate and national Player of the Year Steve Briggs effortlessly and has stepped up as the captain.

Lancers’ Fate: Losing in Elite Eight

The Lancers have worn the Cinderella shoes many times. They have, after all, made the Elite Eight twice in the past three years.

Looming ahead in the second round is a potential matchup against No. 2 Northwood University. Mr. Disney himself could not have scripted a better Cinderella story than an underdog going against the coach who led a No. 8 seed to an NCAA national championship 26 years ago.

Yes, the Lancers may have an injured Grimm, but they are not without talent. The team can count on center Duke Johnson and rely on their defense. In fact, the Lancers have the top-ranked 3-point defense in Division II basketball.

Need I remind you that Saint Francis won the tournament last year as the No. 15 seed? Yes, another Elite Eight appearance is more than possible for the Lancers.

By Zane Gard

This column by Michael Blevins will be published in the March 11 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJGINHO19vk[/youtube]

Winner: Northwood University

Overall this team can score on anyone, and they play great defense. The one thing that will take this team over the top and win the tournament is head coach Rollie Massamino. Sound familiar? Massamino is the former head coach of Villanova—the one who led them to the 1985 national championship. He is the first head coach of Northwood and has compiled a stellar record of 104-29 in five seasons.

Massamino led No. 2 Northwood to 30 victories this season including two wins over No. 6 Embry Riddle. They are the top team in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (41 percent) and rank second in assists and fourth in scoring margin.

Northwood wins the tournament beating Walsh in the Championship.

Sleeper: IU-Southeast

If you remember playing at Conseco Fieldhouse, then you will remember this team. IU-Southeast, who defeated Grace on Nov. 16, is my pick as the sleeper. Led by the nation’s third leading scorer in Jazzmarr Ferguson, they have scored over 90 points in their last seven games. Offensively, they are explosive, ranking No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense and No. 1 in the NAIA in 3-pointers per game.

The reason they are the sleeper is because they were at one point a top-10 team in the nation. They have dropped off a bit, but it is about how you are playing at the end of the year. They won the conference tournament, beating another hot team in IU-East.

The bottom line is this: You can’t stop Ferguson or stop this team at all from scoring. They can beat anyone in the country if they are hitting threes.

One-and-Done: Bellevue

Bellevue is a top-5 team in the country and one of the hottest teams in the country. Why would I pick them to lose in the first round? The reason is because of their unfortunate matchup against Ashford. They are both strong defensively, but Ashford is one of the best in the country at controlling the boards. They also hit a fair amount of threes, ranking in the top-40 in both categories.

They will keep it close through the whole game and, at the end, bury Bellevue from downtown. They control the clock, hit lots of threes and play good defense.

They’ll keep it close and pull off the upset. Happens all the time in college basketball.

MVP: Jonathan Dunn, Northwood

With the prediction of Northwood winning the championship, they must have a leader on the court. That leader is Jonathan Dunn, the team’s starting shooting guard and one of the nation’s leading scorers. He ranks No. 2 in the nation in total scoring (787 points) and fourth in points per game (23.9 ppg). He is also one of the top all-around shooters in the country, whether it is from the 3-point line or from the free throw line.

Dunn is the leader of the team and the catalyst behind Northwood’s 30 victories. In some of their biggest games of the year, Dunn has performed his best, including his 32 points against Saint Francis.

MVP: Dunn. Champion: Northwood.

Lancers’ Fate: Sweet Sixteen

The Lancers are looking for a third Elite Eight appearance in the last four years. Sadly it does not seem like that will happen. The first round is very winnable as the Lancers take on Dakota Wesleyan. Grace will win because of its size underneath. The problem is the second round game is against the Northwood, who spent the entire year as the No. 1 team in the country.

Grace struggles against good 3-point shooting teams (Marian and Indiana Wesleyan) and struggles to contend stars like Jazzmarr Ferguson of IU-Southeast. Plus, Grace’s rhythm has been thrown off because they’ve been playing without Bruce Grimm Jr.

The Lancers will play Northwood close, but I see Dunn taking down the Lancers.

By Michael Blevins

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Bruce Returns to the Practice Floor — 3/7/11 (3:00 p.m.)

This morning, the team headed to Maryville University to have practice before making their way to the Promised Land. Grace wasn’t the only qualifying team to have practice at MU. MCC rival Indiana Wesleyan had the time slot just after ours.

There is great news for Lancer Nation wondering if the First Team All-Conference and MCC Newcomer of the Year, Bruce Grimm Jr., is ready to make his return to the floor. Over the last few days, Grimm has been able to ride a stationary bike and get some shots up. Today marked the first full practice for Grimm after having surgery to remove a MRSA infection from his left leg. He was able to fully participate running up and down the floor and even dove on the floor for a loose ball.

When Bruce was sidelined nearly two weeks ago, the hearts of many Lancer fans sank. I know mine did. The team had worked so hard and finished the season so well, winning five of its final six games to end the regular season. But the recent developments will give the Lancers, who went 1-1 without Grimm in the conference tournament, a boost.

After practice, the Lancers packed up for the four-hour journey south to Branson. For dinner, the team stopped at local favorite Lambert’s Café, “The Only Home of Throwed Rolls.” If you want a roll just raise your hand and the server will literally toss a piping-hot, fresh roll.

Tomorrow the team will have practice and then have some time to enjoy the sights and experience Branson.

By Adam Basinger

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Lancers Depart for the Promised Land — 3/6/11 (1:30 p.m.)

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Winona Lake. Not only was the sun shining, but also the Lancers were about to embark on their journey to Branson, Missouri. After church services concluded, the team met at Alpha Dining Commons for team dinner with departure time set for 1 p.m.

Waiting in the parking lot were three vans, all with one destination in mind. Before leaving, all the members of the team were talking and laughing in the entryway of the OCC. Each Lancer had a goodie-bag in hand that was supplied by faithful fans wishing the team luck.

At 1 p.m. the much awaited time had come. It was time to load up and hit the road. The players headed to their respective vans, whose passengers were drawn out of a hat. A few lucky ones, Stephen Kaufman, Greg Miller, and Aaron Minglin were chosen to ride in the luxury van.

Before they could get settled in, Coach Kessler called them all back out to get a team photo and team prayer before they left. No matter what the stage, Assembly Hall in Bloomington or Conseco in Indianapolis, prayer and thanksgiving to God is number one.

After team pictures, it was time to leave. The team has reservations to practice at Maryville University tomorrow morning. This is the place that the previous two NAIA tournament qualifying teams conducted practice before punching its ticket to the Elite Eight.

After practice in the morning, Grace will head the rest of the way to Branson.

By Adam Basinger

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One Day Away from Departure — 3/5/11 (5:14 p.m.)

The Branson Bound Lancers are working hard. Just a few days after finally hearing that the NAIA National Tournament has become a reality, the men are in the gym for one final practice in the confines of the OCC. Tomorrow, the team will head to St. Louis for the first leg of its road trip en route to Point Lookout, Missouri and the NAIA Men’s Division II National Tournament.

They will depart campus after church services conclude on Sunday and stop in St. Louis. On Monday morning, the team will hold a practice at Maryville University before hitting the road again to drive the remaining 245 miles. The team will be traveling in style, taking three lavish vans that were donated by Explorer Van of Warsaw. This same type of van was taken the last two times the Lancers have ventured to Branson.

Starting at 11:30 a.m. today, Jerry Gurrado, the color commentator for Lancer basketball games on Stretch Internet, is hosting the “Dancin’ in Branson” preview broadcast live from Kessler Court in the Orthopaedic Capital Center. They will be talking all things Branson from our opponent, Dakota Wesleyan, to the latest on Bruce Grimm Jr.

Lancer Nation can follow along in a number of ways as the tournament unfolds. The Grace games will be broadcast via webcast in Alpha Dining and also broadcast over Stretch Internet. Stay tuned as the Sports Information Department will be covering the team and its happenings in Branson by supplying player and coach interviews, highlight reels, pictures, and a blog. The Lancers are Dancin’ in Branson!

By Adam Basinger

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Lancer Fans, We’re Spoiled — 3/4/11 (3:00 p.m.)

Call it the Marvelous Millennium. Call it the Golden Years. But whatever you call it, just know this one thing: we are living in the best years of Grace basketball. Ever.

Think I’m exaggerating? Think again.

Consider this: even when Grace won a national championship in 1991-92, they defended their title with a first-round exit in the following year’s NAIA tournament. What followed next for Grace basketball was perhaps the lowest years of the program – nine years of futility with only one winning season (1996-97).

But with Tuesday’s announcement of Grace as the No. 15 seed in Branson, the Lancers have now earned a berth in five straight national tournaments, three in the Promised Land of Branson.

In the past five years, Grace has amassed a record of 110-59 (.651 winning percentage). Only the win total from the mid-80s can top that in the record books. But the Lancers only had one trip to Branson during those years.

“These are certainly some of the best years. We have been very solid and competitive on a national scene,” said head coach Jim Kessler. “The competition level is also stronger now than it was in the past, and now we play the elite teams in the NAIA.”

The Lancers have much thanks from the past four years to go to David Henry and Stephen Kaufman, two seniors who have battled through more injuries and surgeries than the dude in the Operation board game.

Their goal is clear – “to finish a year with a win instead of getting beat and going home,” as Henry put it. Even if you had asked Kaufman, he would admit he didn’t expect this type of success during his career. “Coming out of high school, I wasn’t a part of championship teams. So to come to Grace and be a part of a successful program was a sweet experience for me,” he said.

The best part is that the future is incredibly promising with only two seniors on the roster and one starter in Henry. With (current juniors) Duke Johnson, Dayton Merrell, Jacob Peattie, (sophomores) Bruce Grimm Jr., Tannan Peters, Elliot Smith, (freshmen) Greg Miller and Dennis Williams all returning and all contributing in a major way the past season, the Lancers will display a talented and battle-tested squad fit for another deep run in the NAIAs.

So as incredible of a journey as the last several years have been, the magic might still be beginning. Coach K has navigated this team through Branson with a sterling 8-3 record in his career, and Lancer Nation should be in store for more wins.

But regardless, soak in every game, every player this week in Branson. Seasons and memories like this might not happen again for several more Grace generations.

Lancer Nation, we are spoiled.

By Josh Neuhart

This column was published in the March 5 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.
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Grimm’s Health Questionable, Essential for a Deep Run? — 3/4/11 (3:00 p.m.)

Bruce Grimm Jr. is a giant question mark.

Yes, he’ll play. But how many minutes will he last?

Yes, it helps that Grace’s first game isn’t until Thursday night—more time for recovery. But will he be able to play three games in three days if Grace goes to the Final Four?

Who knows? I’m not Bruce. I can’t feel the inch-thick chunk of flesh missing in my left thigh. I’m not his doctor. I didn’t dig it out.

“I’m not worried about being rusty,” Grimm said. “The first time we play up and down will probably be the first game I play, but I’m in pretty good shape, so I’m not worried about it.”

Gulp. Pen quivering.

All I know is this: Grace needs him. And without him, I don’t know if the Lancers are national-championship caliber. I think they can win a game or two, yes. The MCC season is great preparation for Branson. But I think his presence is crucial for a deep run.

Notice I said “presence.”

That’s because head coach Jim Kessler brought up a great point: The Lancers won an NAIA national championship in 1992 while their star transfer, Scott Blum (who also wore #44), missed the first-round game, had a broken foot and had a broken nose.

Parallels…

Blum only played a fraction of the national championship game, but he was still there. And things worked out pretty well, I’d say.

“The bus driver (Grimm) doesn’t have to push the bus,” Kessler said. “You just drive it.”

And who says driving the bus requires 35 minutes of PT, 20 points and eight assists?

A positive sign is that Kessler seems to think we may see 35 minutes of playing time from Grimm, anyway. Or at least he didn’t rule it out. “I wouldn’t assume that he won’t be full strength,” Kessler said. “I think he can go 35. We’ll see.”

It’s just difficult to gage the essentiality of Grimm because we’ve only seen two games without him. If this was Duke Johnson injured, I’d give it to you flat out: We’d be done for.

We dropped four in a row earlier in the season when he was getting limited playing time recovering from his ankle injury. And Grace has two victories and six losses when Johnson has scored less than 10 points.

But we’ve only seen two games without Grimm. In the first game, Grace yielded 73 points to Taylor, missing his lock-down defense. Still, however, a win.

In the second game, the Lancers nearly beat Saint Francis in the semifinals while shooting 1 for 16 from downtown, taking nine less free throws and playing without their star point guard. Still, however, a loss and a loss against a Branson-esque team.

Whatever the case, ever since Grimm took over at the end of the season, I feel uneasy without him in the lineup.

So again, who knows? Grimm’s status is a question mark. And so are the Lancers without him.

“I’m assuming that we won’t have him,” Henry said. “But even if he does play, he won’t be able to go 35 minutes. With or without him, we’ll be fine.”

I’m not sold on it. But please, prove me wrong.

Just like 1992.

By Stephen Copeland

This column was published in the March 5 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.
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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9gKtdSPZqo[/youtube]

Former Lancer Creates Video about Branson — 3/3/11 (9:30 p.m.)

Josh Arnold, a current junior who played for Grace last season and is a manager this year, created “Grace Men’s Basketball (Part 3)” about the Lancers’ upcoming trip to Branson.

His video series has become a Grace Internet sensation…or at least, it’s become popular on campus.

The series highlights two Grace students, one who is an avid Lancer fan and another who hates the Grace men’s basketball team. Student A continually tries to convince Student B to become part of Lancer Nation, but he stubbornly refuses time after time.

Arnold made the first video as a promo for Grace’s game against the University of Saint Francis on Feb. 15, a 57-56 victory that punched Grace’s ticket to Branson and clinched second place in the MCC regular season conference standings.

The second video was a promo for Grace’s last regular season game against Indiana Wesleyan University when the Lancers had a chance to earn their first regular season conference title since 1993.

In the third video, Student A begins discussing a road trip to Branson to cheer on the team. A major breakthrough occurs…enjoy.

Click here to see the first video.

Click here to see the second video.
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Lancers Earn Bid to NAIA Tournament — 3/2/11 (10:00 a.m.)

WINONA LAKE, Ind. – For the third time in four years, Grace’s men’s basketball team will be playing for an NAIA championship in Branson, Mo.

The Lancers made the 32-team tournament as the No. 15 seed and as the sixth at-large bid. It will be their fifth NAIA Division II national appearance. The Lancers’ national tournament record stands at 8-3 all-time, including a national championship in 1992. In their last appearance in 2009, the Lancers made it to the quarterfinal round.

During the 2010-11 regular season, the Lancers finished with a 22-10 record, good for second in the MCC. In the MCC tournament, they defeated Taylor University before falling to Saint Francis University in the semifinal round.

Grace will play Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) in the first round at 5:45 CST on Thursday, March 10. Dakota Wesleyan has a 23-8 record and received the seventh at-large bid. This will be the Tigers’ fifth consecutive national tournament appearance, but they have gone 1-5 over that span.

The Lancers survived a tough schedule this season, with five of the Lancers’ losses coming against teams in the national championship tournament. Senior David Henry says this has prepared them well for a tournament run. “Being there before, I see that our conference is as good as any other. We can compete against the top teams if we take one game at a time.”

Should the Lancers win, they will most likely face No. 2 Northwood University (Fla.) who takes on Fisher College (Mass.). But head coach Jim Kessler says his team is ready for the challenge. “I’m proud of what our men have done this year. We know what we have to do to win, and we will make the best team effort we can.”

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Decade Goes By, Harshman Returns

Monday, February 28th, 2011

At age 31, the roles of Brian Harshman are many: spouse, father, coach and student. This semester he added another—athlete.

Harshman, though, is no stranger to Grace College athletics. He was on the Grace track and field team from 1999-2001. Harshman’s first three years marked him as one of the best, setting three school throwing records and becoming the NCCAA runner-up in javelin. But this success would vanish when he least expected it.

Following a summer working at a Christian camp and experiencing revival at his church, Harshman described himself then as being at his highest point spiritually, praying for hours every day. Returning for his junior year, Harshman was excited for the upcoming season and being a growth group leader. Yet it was then that God brought him to his lowest.

Midway through his junior year, Harshman went through a trial that sunk him deep into depression and one that would alter the course of his life. He began to flunk out of classes and negatively affect the track team. At the conclusion of the year, he then decided to remove himself from school. Harshman was done.

Over a six-to-seven year period, Harshman fought to get back. Things would only gradually change, though one particular night marked a turning point. After yet another anxiety attack,

Harshman went to his bathroom to get away. It was there he gave in. As he explains, “I finally told God that whatever he wanted I was on board with. After finally meaning what I just said, I could feel burdens start falling off.”

At Grace, Andria Parker was also on the track and field team with Harshman. As the only throwers on the team, they developed a solid friendship. It was at the end of Harshman’s time away from Grace that their friendship would lead to him dating and marrying the one who would become “the constant of [his] life.”

In the fall semester of 2010, Harshman started to pursue going back to Grace to finish his degree. After he mentioned a possible comeback to track, Andria, who had become the women’s volleyball coach and assistant athletic director at Grace College three years earlier, looked into eligibility rules. It was discovered that because of the NAIA’s Gap Rule, he could once again become a member of Grace’s track and field team.

A decade after walking away from college athletics, Harshman was back. In more than one way, Harshman has been given a second chance. “My decision to leave was always in the back of my mind,” Harshman explained. “Now I’m redeeming myself for not doing things right originally.”

Harshman’s schedule now is much more packed that of the average college student. In fact, up until this week, he even had to make up team workouts by himself because of his prior commitment to coaching girls’ basketball at Lakeview Middle School. On top of homework, workouts, practices, and meets, the Harshmans are expecting their second child, yet track coach Jeff Raymond praised Harshman for his positive attitude and work ethic.

“A lot of people can make goals, but don’t see them through,” Raymond said. “He has the willingness to work hard toward a goal and set the example.”

As a youth ministry major, Harshman finds himself connecting well with teammates from a younger generation. Athletic director Chad Briscoe has been impressed. “The neatest thing to see is his desire to impact others’ lives,” Briscoe said. “I think he’ll look back when it’s done and see it as more than a chance to compete.”

Grace College has become a sanctuary for Harshman. He is at a place of growth instead of pain, a place of support with other Christians and a place to finish the process of healing that has begun. He hopes to pass on his experiences to others after he graduates through a career in ministry or coaching.

Back at her office, Andria is enjoying seeing her husband around more. Whether it is a lunch date at Alpha or a quick stop by the office, having Brian at Grace has strengthened their relationship and given them time together they otherwise would not have had.

Harshman also treasures his circumstances and is quick to give credit. “It is all for God. He has given me this opportunity and I want to make the most of it.”

By Zane Gard

This story was published in the February 25 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Grace On a Roll, Bound for Branson

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

For about a year now, I’ve been dying to say it.

Ever since Grace signed Greg Miller last September…Ever since Grace landed ETSU transfer Bruce Grimm Jr. last March…Ever since injury-riddled Dave Henry got healthy in the offseason… Ever since Grace’s 10-2 start, the Bethel sweep, the four-game winning streak in January and the five-game winning streak in February, we’ve all been thinking it. And now, we can say it – finally.

The Lancers are Branson bound.

The last 17 seconds of Grace’s 57-56 upset against No. 14 Saint Francis, I believe, secured it – when Grimm did exactly what he’s done the last six games. He took control. After grabbing a long rebound, he went coast-to-coast for a layup in the final seconds to punch his team’s ticket to Branson and the defending national champions in the gut.

“Bruce told me, ‘If I get the rebound, I’m going the other way,’” said head coach Jim Kessler. “And that’s what he did. He took it to the rack.”

Of course, we won’t be certain about Grace’s future until March 2, when the conference tournaments are complete and the at-large bids are awarded according to the final poll. Nothing is ever certain.

“Right now, there is probably a 57 percent chance that we are already in,” said Aaron Minglin, a rater for the MCC and NAIA. “If we lose to Wesleyan on Saturday, then lose to our first round opponent, that would make us 21-10. And that 10th loss would probably put us on the bubble. We will probably still get in, but you just don’t know.”

But I’m going to go against my pessimistic tendencies and say it: Grace is in. When you finish second in the best conference in the nation, it’d take an uncanny string of bad luck to keep us out of the mix. In 2009, Grace lost in the first round with a 20-10 record, but still received an at-large bid because of the prestige of the MCC.

“In all probability, the win solidified our position for Branson to go as an at-large at worst,” Kessler continued. “Deservingly, we probably have four teams in our conference that should go and should be competitive at the national tournament.”

“As an oversight person of the national polls, I study the trends, and one of the things I look at is the strength of vote. There are usually some echelons. Now, the third echelon, those are your bubble teams. But we’ve consistently been in the second echelon. IWU has been up and down. Huntington has been up and down. But we are peaking.”

It’s funny, really, how circumstances can change in a matter of games. Three weeks ago, if you had told me that Grace would have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, I would have told you to go back to the asylum.

Grace flopped against Marian University on Jan. 29, and Grace’s Branson hopes seemed, well, possible but improbable. Oakland City, suddenly, became very real.

“That Marian game was a turning point,” Kessler said. “That was kind of a low point for us, and I felt like we were playing not to lose. From that point on, we tried to come out really hard and just focus on what we do.”

Then Grace went on a rampage. They won five straight, seven of their last eight, winning every game they needed to win – making them the hottest team in the MCC. Grimm, “the bus driver” as Kessler calls him, turned his vehicle into the Magic School Bus. He put Grace’s fate on his shoulders, and proved to the skeptics that though he struggled at the beginning of the year, he was the real deal. His last six stat lines: 27 points, six assists; 27 points, four assists; 17 points, seven assists; 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists; 29 points, 10 rebounds, six assists (Dear Moses…); 21 points, six rebounds.

Every team dreams of peaking at this time of the season, and with the help of Grimm, Grace is doing it. Granted, there is still a lot of work to do, especially now that we’ve seen the type of talent this team has. It would have been nice to win our first regular season conference title since 1993 or even win the conference tournament and find ourselves flirting with a top-five seed in Branson.

But for now, for once, maybe Lancer Nation can take a deep breath…and just enjoy it. Maybe this will help: The Lancers are Branson bound.

By Stephen Copeland

This column was published in the February 18 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Remembering the NAIA Championship Team

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

It was 1990, and Scott Blum was a sophomore at Division I Valparaiso University. He was a sixth man the year before and a starter his sophomore year.

But something wasn’t right at Valparaiso.

Although Division I basketball was a milestone in his dream to one day play in the NBA, he realized that it didn’t live up to its hype.

As a new Christian, Blum could see the negative environment affecting him. “I could tell that I was either going to live my life for the Lord or I was going to start to see myself going the other way,” Blum said.

One night, Blum was in his dorm room upset with the whole situation when the phone rang. It was Jim Kessler calling to see how he was doing. Because Blum had attended Lancer basketball camp and had grown up in the area, they had become friends over the years.

Blum broke down on the phone. Along with his disappointment about Valparaiso’s basketball team, his parents had also gotten a divorce. So Kessler and then-assistant men’s basketball coach Skip Forbes drove up to Valparaiso and met Blum at a restaurant to talk.

Before their departure, Blum popped a question that changed Grace College basketball: “So do you mind if I come to Grace and play basketball?” he asked.

That arrangement wouldn’t be a problem.

Blum sat out the following year due to an injury and made his Grace College debut in 1991. He was part of a special group of guys – a group of guys who ambitiously made it a goal to “win the last game of the season.”

In a Grace College production, “The Heart of a Champion,” Kessler noted that there was utter silence around the table when that particular goal was stated. “I had never had a team that put that as a goal before,” Kessler said in the video.

To win the last game of the season meant to win the national title, and Grace had only made it to the NAIA national tournament once before.

But soon enough, their tournament testing time arrived.

Blum woke up the morning of the first round to discover that he could hardly walk. The result: a foot fracture. His playing time the remainder of the tournament was minimal.

But other guys stepped up. They won their first round game 81-69 over Tiffin (Ohio), and would face then-rival Franklin College (Ind.) the following round. Forbes noted that because all the teams were in the same hotel, some of the Franklin players were harassing Grace’s players.

Before the game began, Forbes remembers holding the door for the players before they ran out on the court. Freshman Trent Lehman approached Forbes. “This is decided,” he said. “Leave this up to us.” Next thing Forbes knew, Grace was winning 19-2, on their way to a 106–70 thrashing. “Enjoy it, did you?” Lehman said after the game.

Grace went on to beat Concordia 95-89 in the semifinals and would play Northwestern (Iowa) in the championship game. By that time, Forbes noted that 250 students had driven down to Stephenville, Texas, to support their team. On top of that, Sports Illustrated was also at the tournament to do a story on Blum.

Blum didn’t play the first half of the championship, but Forbes noticed him inching closer and closer  to Kessler every timeout.

Eventually, Blum was in Kessler’s ear begging to get in.

“Coach (Kessler) says to me, ‘Do we play him?’” Forbes remembers. “We agreed that if he helped get us here, we can’t leave him out.”

His minutes may have been scarce, but Blum’s All-American presence drew attention and opened up other players. On top of that, Blum hit a clutch three-pointer and drew a momentum-swinging charge in overtime.

Grace’s 85-79 victory sparked a dog pile at center court with Kessler sandwiched at the bottom. “After the dog pile, we all got around a circle and prayed,” Blum said. “We really focused on giving glory to God that year. That’s what Coach Kessler stands for. Through all that emotion, he still gave thanks to the Lord.”

And while 250 students witnessed history in Stephenville, Texas, another party erupted in Winona Lake as the game was broadcasted in Lancer Gym. “That was the neatest thing – sharing that with everybody,” Blum said.

Nearly two decades later, they have a chance to do it again. They have a shot to experience what Forbes, Kessler and Blum experienced 19 years ago.

By Stephen Copeland

This story was previously published in a 2009 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Globetrotters Once-in-a-lifetime Experience

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Let’s face it – the life of a sports fan is pathetic. We spend hours watching bigger, stronger men do what we can only dream about and then hope, pray, sweat, and scream in vain for the perfect moment, the perfect season that will only happen a handful of times in our lifetime.

It’s kind of like shooting a full-court basketball shot, only we fully expect it to go in every time. When it misses, we lose grip on reality, throwing cell phones, breaking TVs, muttering sweet-nothings under our breath (hopefully). I might go into therapy after thinking through how pathetic it is.

But those moments are at the core of the sports enthusiast. Every diehard has them, too: the games or plays that we’ll retell with nostalgic pride to our grandkids (who won’t care) or our girlfriends (who definitely won’t care).

My select few memories that will remain as my all-time favorites include: the Reggie Miller game-winner over Michael Jordan in the NBA playoffs, when Grace played IU at Assembly Hall last year, the Ohio State football national championship in 2003, and when the Colts finally beat the Patriots in the playoffs. These are the moments that sadly define my pathetic life as a sports fan.

But there’s one more event I experienced recently that I’ll never forget, albeit for a very different reason. If you were one of the approximately 1,300 fans to see the Harlem Globetrotters play at the Orthopaedic Capital Center on Jan. 19, you were in for a treat.

Putting on a show for the packed out OCC, “Big Easy” Lofton makes a local boy’s day by lifting him up before the crowd on Jan. 19. The dazzling display of high-flying dunks and dribbling wizardry was enough for the price of admission. But the positive, fun, untainted atmosphere of the evening is what really captivated me.

Now, hardcore basketball fundamentalists will gripe and complain about how showy it was or that there was a lack of sound basketball skills exhibited. But that’s missing the point of the Globetrotters entirely.

If you took the time to look around the OCC, you didn’t see the typical intense, agonizing emotions or hear the shouts of “constructive criticism” for the refs. No, what you saw was the laughing, beaming faces of all in attendance: from the little boy sitting with his dad to the Grace College basketball player, from the Warsaw High School student to the grandpa reliving what he saw decades before. If you looked around, you knew just how special that night was.

In a world filled with athlete-idols with inflated egos and filthy lives outside of the limelight, having the chance to watch Globetrotters like “Big Easy” Lofton or “Firefly”

Fisher swoop and fly across the court carried me back to the days when all that mattered in sports was having fun. Nobody gave a hoot about minutes played or points scored. No, it was just basketball, and I played it…simply because it was fun.

So unlike my other favorite sports moments, the night of Jan. 19 when I first saw the Globetrotters doesn’t have a score attached to it; it doesn’t have one signature play cemented in my mind.

But maybe that’s why I’ll remember it. Pure. Fun.

By Josh Neuhart

This story was published in the Feb. 4 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Top 10 Stories of 2010

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The 2010 athletic year was certainly one to remember. As we reflect on the past year for the Lancers, here is our list of the Top 10 Stories…

10. Women’s Basketball Receives Votes for First Time
As a result of the Lady Lancers incredible start to the season (10-3), they received national recognition this winter — the first time Grace has been ranked by the NAIA in the history of the program. In the NCCAA Division One, Grace is currently ranked No. 6. Hayley Cashier has led Grace’s revival with 12.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg.

9. Baseball Ties Record for Wins
After years of futility for Grace’s baseball team, the Lancers began to turn things around. Grace used an eight-game winning streak to tie the program record of 21 wins in a season, which was set by the 1972 team. The Lancers would have broken the record were it not for two gut-wrenching losses in the season-ending NCCAA Regionals.

8. Bruce Grimm Jr. Signing
Possibly the most anticipated and talked about rumor of the year came to fruition on March 31 when Bruce Grimm Jr. officially signed to play basketball for Grace. Grimm, who played and started games for NCAA Division I East Tennessee State, was the Indiana Mr. Basketball Runner-up in 2009. Grimm may arguably be the biggest D-One transfer to Grace since Scott Blum came from Valparaiso University in the early 1990s. Read Grimm’s story here.

7. Briscoe Named MCC Athletic Director of the Year
Chad Briscoe won a well-deserved honor after the Mid-Central College Conference named him Athletic Director of the Year in July. Briscoe has brought both the men’s and women’s NCCAA National Tournaments to the Orthopaedic Capital Center, arranged Grace’s first Big Ten basketball matchup, and has increased athletic aid by 25 percent during his tenure.

6. Volleyball Turnaround, Third-Place Finish in MCC
After finishing eight in the MCC one year ago, Grace completed its remarkable turnaround with a third-place finish in the conference. It was Grace’s best conference performance since their second-place finish in 2001, head coach Andria Harshman’s senior year at Grace. The Lady Lancers hosted a first-round conference tournament game for the first time in half a decade, when they swept Goshen.

5. NCCAA National Championships to Grace
After successfully hosting the NCCAA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championships for two years, the NCCAA awarded both the men’s and women’s national championships to the Orthopaedic Capital Center for 2012-2014. Sixteen of the nation’s top men’s and women’s teams will play at the OCC during the four-day event.

4. Bethel Drought Ends for Men’s Basketball
After losing eight games in a row to the School from Up North, Grace snapped their four-year drought against the Pilots on Dec. 1 with an 84-76 win. The victory prompted students to rush the court, fans to cry with joy, and one sportswriter to produce a soulful poem to commemorate the event.

3. Jessica Stolle Finishes Her Assault on the Record Books
Senior Jessica Stolle completed the best tennis career in Grace’s history with a 48-8 overall record at No. 1 singles, where she played every match during her career. She posted the only undefeated season at No. 1 singles as a freshman and nearly equaled the feat in 2010 when she finished her senior campaign 11-1. Stolle holds the program records for most career singles wins, most single season wins, and most total wins among others.

2. Barefooted Wegert Qualifies for NAIA Nationals, Breaks MCC Record for 800m
In one calendar year, MariJean Wegert accomplished feats that no other Lady Lancer runner had achieved. In the spring, she used her trademark barefeet to set an MCC record in the 800m, where she won first place. In the fall, she completed her cross country career by representing Grace in the NAIA National Invitational with a 60th-place finish out of 331 runners.

1. Huntington Game, Kastner Remembered
During Mallori Kastner’s memorial service at Grace, her father Rob Kastner gave an emotional charge to the volleyball team to crush Huntington the following match, but also to remember that it’s just a game. The Lady Lancers, playing in front of a frenzied orange-clad crowd, routed Huntington in straight sets. The crowd of an estimated 1,000 was the most-attended volleyball match in Grace’s history. Midway through the match, Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” was played, and the whole crowd sang along in a memorable moment.

Head coach Andria Harshman had this to say after the match: “In times of trials, we are going to still persevere. Trials and tribulations build character. I believe that tonight this team gave those in this lost and hurting world hope — hope that we too shall share one day in the eternity that God has promised us. God is still going to be honored with this circumstance and through this team this season even though we are mourning the loss of a loved one.”

Honorable Mentions: Men’s Basketball Plays at Conseco Fieldhouse,
Three NAIA All-Americans Reunite from Men’s Soccer

Three Men Revolutionize Grace Turf

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

By Josh Neuhart, Sounding Board Staff Writer

It would be a shame to close the book on fall sports without shedding light on the untold story of the grass. That’s right, the green grass. Or more accurately, the story of the men behind the grass – those who transformed Miller Field’s soccer turf from an eyesore into the crème de la crème of the conference.

Meet Jeff Buriff. He is the Grounds Supervisor, a position he has held since he first started working at Grace in 2006. If ever there was a man who loves green grass, it would be Buriff.

“I get excited about really nice turf,” Buriff said. “I get jazzed that we’re dealing with God’s creation.”

(From left to right) Jeff Buriff, Kyle Alcorn and Roger Sarber, helped make Grace’s turf the best in the Mid-Central College Conference this past fall.

So when Buriff, a 1993 Grace graduate, stepped into his role, he immediately recognized the need for change. The soccer field resembled more of a ripped-up kids’ playground than a soccer field. Dirt and divots were the norm. The field was far too hard and the grass was far too thin, even lacking altogether around both goals.

The necessity to change was obvious, but with the current state of the economy, there was no room to add money to Grace’s grass fund. Within the same operating budget, Buriff still had the desire to be the fairy godmother to the ugly Cinderella known as Miller Field.

The breakthrough came this summer. Buriff got his crew into a training session that included a who’s who of big-name Midwest colleges. Buriff, Kyle Alcorn, and Roger Sarber from little Grace

College got the opportunity to brush shoulders with big-time turf workers from colleges like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue under the instruction of a former turf manager for the Texas Rangers among others.

“These guys knew what they were doing, and they knew how to manage their field for specific sports,” Buriff explained. “We don’t have the same equipment, but we can use what we have. Basically, we can take their ideas and scale it down to our budget.”

So Buriff used that knowledge to incorporate a high-tech, highly organized program for the field consisting of specialized fertilizers, watering programs, and chemical sprays. Another main aspect in keeping the grass pristine was utilizing three practice fields for the men’s and women’s soccer teams to keep the game field fresh. Men’s soccer coach Matt Hotchkin and women’s coach Michael Voss came on board immediately with Buriff’s plan and volunteered to help however necessary. According to Alcorn, this was the first year the game field was not practiced on by either team.

For Alcorn, a former Lancer soccer player and current assistant coach on the men’s team, working on the field is an especially rewarding experience. He remembers playing on the high grass and the ubiquitous divots.

“I want to make this program the best it can be. I want to give back, whether it’s coaching or working on the game field,” Alcorn continued. “It just so happens that my job is to make the grass. I really enjoy it since I played here and have seen the change. Now, I’m kind of jealous.”

When Grace acquired a golf course lawnmower this summer (one they nicknamed “Hot Dang” for its cuts), the vision began to crystallize. The game field could get a daily trim of a few inches. Professional-level field designs and short, accurate cuts added the final wow factor the field needed.

“Once we saw the type of cut we got with our mower, it put us in an extra gear,” Alcorn said. “We were like little kids. When we’re done, we just look out at it. We take pride in it.”

As a result, Miller Field grew into the top turf in the Mid-Central College Conference this fall. Grace’s MCC championship in grass was not noticed by the groundscrew alone, however.

Opposing coaches and fans often made remark, but perhaps the most telling sign was the in how lightly several teams tiptoed across the field to their benches before a game.

“We like to see other schools come and stop at the field, brush their foot on the grass, and reach out and touch it. Grace’s soccer field is kinda sacred ground right now,” Buriff joked.

While Buriff wants to tackle the baseball and softball fields next, the crew faces the challenge of manpower before that comes to pass. But regardless of when that happens, one thing is clear: Buriff and his crew will continue to work with students in mind. His passion burns for serving Grace students and above all in serving God.

“I’d love to be able to say we didn’t have one injury caused by the field, and I think we did that this year. It brings in better recruits, but it’s also safer,” Buriff continued. “Our job is studentdriven. Above all, we want to protect the students and do our work for the glory of God.”

This story was published in the Dec. 10 issue of the Sounding Board, Grace College’s student newspaper.