Archive for the ‘Lancer Athletic News’ Category

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.

Grace and Bethel, How the Rivalry Began

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

By Zane Gard, Sounding Board Staff Writer

Over the past fifty years, many things have changed in basketball— the teams, the players, the coaches, and even the rules. Yet in northern Indiana, one thing has yet to change. When Bethel College plays Grace College on the hardwood, there is a battle to be fought and history on the line.

Today, togas, midnight practices, and buzzer-beaters all mark the Grace-Bethel rivalry, but this was not always the case. First came the building of programs that would win a  combined 19 MCC championships. Next was the hiring of coaches that have won a combined 1,239 games prior to the start of this season. Then came the rivalry which would have 45 contests decided by five points or less in 114 meetings.

During the 1959-1960 season, an upstart Bethel program started to play a Grace basketball team that was already established.

The first recorded games between Bethel and Grace that year saw Grace win three out of the first four games. Robbie Lightfoot, assistant basketball coach at Bethel College and eldest son of head coach Mike Lightfoot, believes that Bethel wanting to become like Grace’s strong basketball program helped jumpstart the rivalry.

In the early days, there were no Christian school members in the NAIA. With Taylor University and Anderson University not wanting to play “Bible schools,” it was natural for Bethel and Grace to play each other many times a year. Lancer’s head coach Jim Kessler said that the “underdog mentality” of schools trying to prove themselves to the regional colleges helped the rivalry grow. Once the NCCAA was formed in 1968, Bethel and Grace could play each other four times a season—once in a Thanksgiving tournament (the Turkey Classic), twice during the conference season, and once in the playoffs.

Lancer fans charge the floor after Grace took down the PIlots on Wednesday.

Grace-Bethel games were not much of a rivalry to start, with Grace winning all but six of the first 37 meetings between the two. Kessler remembers those days with games played in “cracker box gyms” with legends like Doug Noll (though he inadvertently called a timeout once when Grace was out, enabling Bethel to win). The series would lend itself to long winning streaks on both sides. Grace won 14-consecutive games from 1967-1973, followed by an eight-game streak for Bethel from 19781981.

The 1980s marked what may be considered the height of the Grace-Bethel rivalry and consequently the height of fan participation. Kessler recalls fondly one away game that Grace faithful showed up extra early to. So early, actually, that they lined the front row of the entire gymnasium, Bethel student section and all. These are just some of the antics of fans that would be in lines to get into the game over an hour before tipoff and find standing room only once the game began.

John Boal, Grace’s Chief Advancement Officer, also played basketball for Grace in the ‘80s. Boal led the team that won the first three of seven consecutive MCC championships from 1981-1988. However, he did not realize the significance of the rivalry until Grace lost all four games to Bethel his freshman year, but quickly figured it out. “You just couldn’t be friends with a Pilot,” Boal explained. “Now I hate (in a Christian way) seeing blue shirts in the OCC.”

Women’s basketball head coach Scott Blum was a part of the team in the 1990s and even hit a game-winning shot in 1991. The ‘90s were home to some of the most successful teams in the Grace-Bethel rivalry. Look no further than 1992, when Grace won the NAIA National Championship and Bethel won the NCCAA title after Grace defeated Bethel in NAIA district play. Lest Bethel be overlooked, however, the Pilots won a national championship four years during this decade and hold the record for consecutive victories with 16 in a row from 1994-2000.

An eye injury cut short what could have been a boost to the rivalry in the 2000s. After playing together throughout high school, twins Matt and Andy Abernathy split, with Matt going to Grace and Andy going to Bethel. While Matt would go on to have a stellar career at Grace (sixth in all-time scoring), Andy’s injury would end his early. Regardless, former Lancer Matt Moore called it the “one you want to win” (even if fans mistakenly attempted to mock the Pilots by faking airplane crashes with their arms).

Assistant Coach Dan Zawlocki knows the Grace-Bethel rivalry. He played in it… only he was a Pilot. In fact, Zawlocki is in Bethel’s Hall of Fame. Zawlocki’s favorite memories of playing Grace were giving nicknames to Grace players, constantly having sold-out crowds and beating Grace every game but once in his career. For years, Zawlocki explained, Grace and Bethel were the top two teams in the region. Yet half a century later, the overall record is only 59-56 in Bethel’s favor.

So where is the rivalry now? Newer and nicer facilities, more in-conference rivalry games, and a national outlook trumping a local emphasis, provide the risk of the rivalry fading as the student body becomes less engaged.

The Grace-Bethel rivalry may no longer have raucous “Beta Boys” wearing togas in mass to intimidate opponents or emergency after-game practices before eventually winning a national championship like in 1992, but it has even more of what it is made of: history. And this history is worth repeating.

Quotes About the Rivalry

“What makes this rivalry so great is that during the heat of competition it is evident that both schools respect each other so much. Bethel and Grace put Jesus Christ first in everything they do both in athletics and in the mission field. There is a mutual respect because both institutions play basketball for the right reasons.”
Robbie Lightfoot, Bethel men’s assistant basketball coach

“There was just something about that game that put everyone on pins and needles. Like any good rivalry game, it was the fear of losing that tied you up in knots. The pain of losing to the ‘evil empire’ was greater than the joy of winning.”
Stephen J. Matteson, Bethel Sports Information Director and former Bethel player

“Part of a healthy rivalry is a game that fans want to watch again, and players don’t want to have to play again.”
Jim Kessler, Grace men’s head basketball coach

“When you win, you not only beat the other team, but the fans as well.”
-Scott Blum, Grace women’s head basketball coach

“The rivalry isn’t what it is without Kessler and Lightfoot. Players come and go, but they are the two constants.”
-Matt Moore, Mount Vernon men’s head coach and former Grace player

“When I arrived at Bethel all our fans and people talked about Grace College and the competition that they had with one another.”
-Homer Drew, former Bethel men’s head basketball coach

This story was published in the December 3 Edition of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Three NAIA All-Americans Reunite

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Stephen Copeland, Sounding Board Staff Writer

When Dennis Lapp got a call from his alma mater regarding his induction into the 2010 Lancer Athletic Hall of Fame class, all he expected was a ceremony. But he got much more.

On homecoming weekend, Lapp was greeted by two of his 1976 teammates, Paul Henning (2008 HOF Class) and Tim VanDuyne (2009 HOF Class)—a collective one-of-a-kind trio that all received NAIA All-American honors in the same year (’76) and the same sport (men’s soccer), the only time in Grace history something like that has happened.

“It’s a great experience for me to be back and see these guys that I haven’t seen in a long time,” Lapp said. “It means a lot to me for them to show up.”

The combination of the three premier talents made the ‘76 season unlike any other. None of them, however, imagined a season that successful.

Henning, possibly the best striker Grace has seen, tallied 20 goals in ‘76 and 67 in his Grace career. “The reason Paul scored so much was because he never passed the ball,” VanDuyne joked.

From left to right: Athletic Director Chad Briscoe, 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee Tim VanDuyne, 2010 Hall of Fame Inductee Dennis Lapp and 2008 Hall of Fame Inductee Paul Henning.

VanDuyne played the sweeper position but also scored five goals that season, and Lapp played in the midfield and tallied nine goals. “The rest of us only scored because everyone else was covering Paul,” Lapp said.

After winning two straight MCC championships in ‘73 and ‘74, the Lancers finished just barely above .500 in ‘75. The three All-Americans expected the ‘76 season to merely be another stepping stone.

“The year before was not the greatest year,” Henning said. “It was a rebuilding year, and it was not that good of a year. There weren’t high expectations.”

But the season was far from a rebuilding year. Not only did they boast three NAIA All-Americans, but the Lancers also posted a 14-3-1 record, went undefeated in conference play and won an MCC regular season championship. Defensively, they recorded 10 shutouts, didn’t allow a single goal in conference and, according to Henning, posted the lowest goals against average in Grace College history.

“There weren’t many losses, but what was really special, in my opinion, was that the defense was absolutely incredible,” Henning said. “We just had a field day on offense because of our incredible defense.”

The ‘76 trio also credited much of their success to head coach Terry Shrock, who compiled a 43-16-2 record in his four-year stint at Grace (his last season was ‘76). Some of his unorthodox methods included running and conditioning with the team, making them pass a rules test before earning playing time and not letting them take the field if he felt things weren’t right spiritually on the team.

“He cared for everyone on that team as an individual, physically and spiritually,” VanDuyne said. “He told us, ‘You have to take care of yourself before you can go out there and think that everything is okay.’ If we did that, he knew the team would come together.”

Unfortunately, the ’76 season ended on a bitter note. After defeating Goshen 5-0 in the regular season, Grace fell to the Maple Leafs in the NAIA District 21 championship, then slipped again in the championship game of the NCCAA tournament when they lost to defending champion Bryan College after missing a penalty kick in overtime. “That was a heartbreaker,” Lapp said.

In the busyness and stresses of life, their stories almost ended on a strange note as well. After the three of them graduated, Lapp didn’t see Henning and VanDuyne again…until this year’s Hall of Fame banquet when Grace soccer’s greatest storyline reunited—34 years later.

“I came back for Tim when he got inducted last year, and I wouldn’t have missed that for the world,” Henning said. “When I heard Dennis would be inducted as well I knew I couldn’t miss that for the world, either. It’s just so unusual to have three NAIA First Team All-Americans.”

This article was originally printed in the November 19, 2010 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Wegert, Thomas Put Together Memorable Season

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

by Stephen Copeland, Sounding Board Staff Writer

MariJean Wegert and Ashley Thomas, Grace’s lethal one-two combo in women’s cross country, are polar opposites with parallel stories.

Wegert, Grace’s No. 1 runner and possibly the best this school’s ever seen, was never a “runner” per se. She only did it because her track coach her senior year of high school dared her. Thomas, on the other hand, who runs in the No. 2 slot, is a runner at heart. It’s her passion, and she plans on entering exercise science or coaching upon graduation.

Wegert isn’t sporty. Thomas is. On a perfect day, Wegert would probably read a book and drink tea. Thomas would run. Wegert runs barefoot, even in races. Thomas wears shoes, like most normal people.

It’s their stories that have always seemed to be intertwined, not their personalities. Last year was no different, when their college careers simultaneously hit rock bottom and they debated their return for their senior seasons.

Goodbye, Fun

Wegert and Thomas have yet to have an easy season. But last year, their spirits reached an all-time low.

When their head coach resigned mid-season last fall, the team felt isolated and helpless. No more workout plans. No more instruction. No more guidance.

The transition was especially difficult because of the dedication and intensity of their former coach. Thomas recalls that he only missed one day of practice during her three years at Grace – so to go from total structure to no structure was taxing.

Even though Grace hired interim head coach Art Woodruff, the coaching pressures on the women’s side naturally shifted to Thomas because of her leadership and knowledge for the sport – which only added more stress.

For both of them, running was no longer fun. It was stressful.

But that was the nature of the sport. Ever since their freshmen seasons, there was always something holding them back. In Wegert’s first season, it was anemia. In her sophomore season, it was mono. And in her junior season, it was recovering from mono combined with the stresses of the coaching vacancy.

Thomas’s situation was remarkably similar. She, too, had anemia her freshman year and was also diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis, an inflammation on the sole of the foot. The pain became unbearable, and doctors suggested she stop running altogether. It took until her junior year for her plantar to heal completely, and injuries to her hamstring and knee made her recovery painstakingly slow.

Wegert and Thomas hit their breaking points last season, and they really considered quitting.

“There were a lot of times where I wanted to just walk away from it,” Thomas said. “MJ and I, for the first time ever, realized that we could walk away. We had a choice.”

It didn’t matter that they were the two best on the team, maybe even in Grace history. Why would you keep doing something that you hate?

Senior Glory

“I didn’t want to run this year because last year was so difficult,” Wegert said. “I remember praying that God would provide the money for me not to run or give me a change of heart. He definitely did the second one.”

After fighting through several struggles together the last three years, their stories are finally making a simultaneous positive turn.

Both received All-Little State Honors on Sept. 17, finished in the top five at the Indiana Wesleyan Invitational on Oct. 2 and ran their career bests at their previous meet on Oct. 23. Just recently, Wegert and Thomas both earned NCCAA All-American honors.

Wegert also won her first ever cross country meet at the Manchester Invitational on Oct. 16 and was named All-MCC two weeks ago. At NAIA Nationals on Nov. 20, she finished 60th in a field that included more than 300 runners. It’s been a senior season you hope every athlete has.

The only explanation to their return, both will tell you, is because God guided their situation.

Wegert’s change of heart came in the spring. After pain and confusion in the fall and winter, she began to have fun again…finally. Having Woodruff at the helm helped provide structure for the program, and for once, she was actually healthy, which led to a first place finish in the 800m at the MCC conference meet (barefoot, of course).

“We ended up having so much fun as a team and still being successful,” Wegert said. “We didn’t know that those things went together.”

Thomas’s turning point came much later – when she went on a two-mile run toward a lighthouse on the shoreline of Lake Michigan in August.

Things had gotten even more difficult that summer, even after a rigorous junior season. One of her close friends from high school was shot and killed, and she was dealing with inner turmoil from her junior year, confronting bitterness and undergoing a change of attitude.

She was in the pit, but God met her on that day in August. As she focused on the lighthouse in the distance, she noticed that the closer she got, the more of the lighthouse she saw, and the hungrier she was to reach her destination. She realized that God is the same way. The closer you get to Him, the more you see, and the hungrier you become for His love.

“Basically, I realized God was going to get me where He wanted me regardless of the outcome,” Thomas said. “He wants me to show the girls (on the team) how much He loves them, how much control He has, and He can get them through anything. I want them to know Him more.”

The key, perhaps, is running towards Him.

This article was published in the November 12 Homecoming edition of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Stolle Completes Standout Career

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

by Zane Gard, Sounding Board Staff Writer

It seems that athletes do not choose to play at Grace College. They are simply sent here. The most accomplished player in women’s tennis history was no exception.

With a career record of 48-8, Jessica Stolle holds numerous Grace tennis records. She holds the top singles season record, top singles career record, highest win percentage for a season, and highest win percentage for a career, not to mention numerous second-place records for doubles. While holding these accomplishments place Stolle in a category of her own, none of the records would exist had it not been for Kara Jackson.

Yes, Grace’s best women’s tennis player ever is here not because of a coach, but because of an old friend. Jackson, who currently plays tennis at Lipscomb University, was a friend of Stolle in high school. Stolle was looking to attend nearby Cedarville University while Jackson was about to visit Grace College for a potential tennis scholarship. Jackson convinced Stolle to come along with her and visit. “It’s cool to see how God worked it out,” Stolle said. “Coach looked at her, and she didn’t go. He didn’t look at me, and I did.”

After feeling more at home than at Cedarville, Stolle committed to play tennis at Grace. “It is a testimony of God’s providence,” said women’s head coach Deron Datzman. “I had no idea about Jessica, but when I saw her I knew she would be an excellent fit with our program.”

That is only the beginning of Stolle’s story. Coming in as a freshman, scared and not knowing what to expect at the collegiate level, Stolle had no idea that she would play at the No. 1 singles spot. Knowing she did not anticipate that, she certainly could not have foreseen having the first undefeated season in Grace’s history and winning the MCC tournament in singles.

Over her next three seasons, Stolle compiled records of 10-2, 11-4 and 11-1 with her fan base right there with her. Her parents, who reside in Ohio, drove to all of her games. Home or away. Rain or shine. Despite the three-hour drive, Stolle says her father has never missed one of her matches and credits her family for helping her through tough matches.

Simply put, Stolle is different—just like her tennis career. Her success too often goes unnoticed by most because a casual conversation would not reveal she is one of the top athletes at Grace. (In fact, there is no virtual chatting with Stolle, because she does not have a Facebook.)

She relies on her mental toughness and patience to win rather than power. According to Datzman, she possesses a “strong will to win that’s not in every tennis player.” She maintains a low-profile to focus on academics (a science major who is looking to go to school for physical therapy training). She is involved with a Grace Serve team (a highlight being playing bingo at Grace Village). And she is undoubtedly humble.

“I’m not one to talk about myself,” Stolle explained. “It has been such a blessing, and it’s just because of God.”

Before Stolle’s arrival, the Lady Lancers had a record of 6-5. That quickly changed. During Stolle’s sophomore and junior seasons, the team had its first two double-digit win seasons. This year also marked the team’s fifth winning record in a row. “Jessica put Grace College on the map and took the program to a new level,” Datzman said. “When you have such a solid number-one it helps our team at winning matches.”

When Stolle came from behind to win her singles match in the MCC tournament on Oct. 8, it was a fitting end to an outstanding career — epitomizing her work ethic and fighting through adversity. After losing the first set, Stolle won the second set and forced a tiebreaker. After falling behind 4-7, Stolle battled back and won 10-7 to win her final collegiate tennis match.

Her storied career has left its mark on Grace athletics and has set the bar high for future tennis players. “I will remember her never giving up, no matter what,” Datzman said. “No one has excelled in the tennis program as much as Jessica has.”

This article was published in the Nov. 5 Homecoming Edition of The Sounding Board, Grace College’s student newspaper.