Archive for the ‘Lancer Athletic Blog’ Category

Year in Review

Monday, June 13th, 2011

From the volleyball team’s inspiring finish in conference play to the men’s basketball team’s third trip in four years to Branson, Missouri, it’s been an incredible athletic year in Lancer sports. Jessica Stolle and MariJean Wegert, two of the all-time greats in Grace women’s athletics, completed their probable hall of fame careers this season, and we witnessed junior baseball player Nate Wottring climb to the top of Grace’s hitting records. Check out Grace’s End of the Year Awards and Top 10 Stories of the year, chosen by athletic director Chad Briscoe and Grace’s Sports Information Department.

END OF THE YEAR AWARDS

Male Athlete of the Year: Bruce Grimm Jr. (men’s basketball)

Grace’s only male athlete to receive NAIA Honorable Mention accolades helped lead the Lancers to another NAIA national tournament appearance, averaging 13.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg and 2.1 spg. Grace’s sophomore transfer was also named First Team All-MCC.

In Grace’s last seven regular season games, Grimm had three games with 27 points or more, helping secure the Lancers’ bid to Branson. He had a season-high 29 points against Spring Arbor on February 12, totaled a season-high 11 rebounds against Taylor on January 8 and contributed a season-high 10 assists in Grace’s final game of the season on March 10.

Honorable Mention: Nate Wottring

Transfer of the Year: Bruce Grimm Jr (men’s basketball)

Last February, the 2009 Indiana Mr. Basketball Runner-up was playing for East Tennessee State, preparing for a first-round matchup against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. This February, he helped Grace finish second in the MCC and earn a bid to the NAIA national tournament.

Honorable Mention: Clifford Buttermore

Female Athlete of the Year: MariJean Wegert (women’s track and cross country)

In her senior season, Wegert’s unorthodox barefoot running style got her to the NAIA championships in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. She finished 17th in the 800-meter in outdoor nationals, finished eighth in the 800 at indoor nationals and finished 60th in a field of 331 runners at cross country nationals.

After a stressful junior season, “MJ” contemplated her return for her senior campaign. Under first-year head coach Jeff Raymond, however, Wegert returned and completed her probable Hall of Fame career, resetting the Grace College record books and becoming one of the most successful runners in Lady Lancer history.

Honorable Mention: Jessica Stolle

Freshman of the Year: Dana Johnston (volleyball), Juaneice Jackson (women’s basketball)

Right from the start, Johnston proved she would be a key component to the team when she tallied 16 kills in the Lady Lancers’ first match. Johnston was second on the team with 318 kills overall, leading Grace to a third-place finish in the MCC and receiving First Team All-MCC honors. She totaled a season-high 19 kills against both Bluefield College on Aug. 27 and Goshen College on Oct. 5. Her stellar .309 kill percentage was the highest on Grace’s team.

On the hardwood, “JJ” earned Freshman of the Year honors in the MCC as Grace’s sixth man and averaged 7.3 ppg. Jackson filled in for injured Hannah Lengel nicely on Jan. 29 when she exploded for 26 points against Marian University. She had another big performance two games later when she tallied 17 against Goshen College.

Honorable Mention: Olivia Winget

Comeback of the Year: David Henry (men’s basketball)

After an injured back sidelined him for all but 10 games of the 2009-10 season, Henry bounced back in his senior campaign and was an integral part of the Lancers’ national tournament run. Henry ranked No. 12 in the NAIA in 3-point percentage (.434) with 72 made threes in 166 attempts.

Henry drained five threes a trio of times throughout the season and had a season-high 20 points on Dec. 1, leading Grace to a victory against conference foe Bethel College, Grace’s first win against Bethel in four years.

Honorable Mention: Kiera Gray, Jessica Anton

Two-Sport Athlete of the Year: Kiera Gray (basketball and track & field)

One year after tearing her ACL, Gray averaged 9.2 ppg for the Lady Lancers in their 2010-11 season. She also competed in the high jump for track and field.

Gray scored a season-high 22 points in Grace’s last game against Mid-America Christian on March 19. She scored in double-figures 13 times throughout the season and shot 36.1 percent from the floor. In the high jump, Gray qualified for NCCAA Nationals and finished in seventh place.

Honorable Mention: Derek Zwier and Michael Humprey

Clutch Play of the Year: Grimm’s layup secures NAIA berth, Wottring’s home run breaks record

Trailing 56-55 with 17 seconds remaining, Bruce Grimm Jr. grabbed a long rebound and went coast-to-coast to score the go-ahead bucket with 12.7 seconds left to give Grace the 57-56 upset against No. 14 University of Saint Francis. The victory was a momentous one, most likely punching Grace’s ticket to Branson, Mo., for the NAIA national tournament.

On April 23, Nate Wottring completed his climb to the top of Grace’s hitting records. Wottring blasted a home run over the left-field fence against the University of Saint Francis for his 153rd hit, making him Grace’s all-time career hits leader in only his junior season.

Honorable Mention: Victoria Casey nets game-winner against Marian

Moment of the Year: Volleyball wins for Kastner

One week after the tragedy that took the life of freshman teammate Mallori Kastner, the Lady Lancers, supported by a packed-out OCC, defeated Huntington in straight sets on Sept. 24.

Hundreds wore orange to the game, Kastner’s favorite color, and the campus united in a time of sorrow and suffering.

Right, head coach Andria Harshman hugs Kastner’s father.

Honorable Mention: Wegert qualifies for three NAIA races

Character Award: Genevieve Benson and Dayton Merrell

Both were selected by athletic director Chad Briscoe for their exemplary Christian character on and off the athletic stage.

Benson was recently named a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete and was also one of 14 NAIA student-athletes selected for the the Red Cross Collegiate Leadership Program in Washington, DC.

Merrell received the Inaugural NCCAA Game Plan 4 LIFE (GP4L) Character Award for men’s athletics in early April for his leadership on the team and his involvement in the campus community.

Honorable Mention: Bethany Michalski (volleyball), Brad Heintz (baseball), Victoria Casey (soccer) and Sean Smith (cross country, track).

Coach of the Year: Andria Harshman, volleyball

In her third year at the helm of Grace’s volleyball program, Harshman led the seniorless Lady Lancers to a third-place conference finish following an eighth-place finish the year before.

Grace improved from 9-24 overall in 2009 to 17-17 in 2010. The Lady Lancers’ conference success was their best since Harshman’s senior year at Grace.

More importantly, she led her team through a tragedy that shattered the campus and continued to win for the Kastner family. Following the tragedy, Grace won four of its next five matches and went on a three-match tear toward the end of conference season.

Honorable mention: Scott Blum, women’s basketball

TOP STORIES OF THE YEAR

1. Livin’ on a Prayer: “Crush Huntington on Friday. But remember, it’s just a game.” The motivational words came from Mallori Kastner’s father during her memorial chapel service on Sept. 23. The team played inspired the remainder of the season, defeating Huntington in straight sets on Sept. 24 and finishing third in the conference after an eighth-place finish last season.

2. It’s About Time: Grace’s men’s basketball team swept the rival Pilots of Bethel College with an 84-76 win on Dec. 1 and an 87-82 win on Jan. 25, their first victories in eight contests.

3. Barefoot Sensation: Senior MariJean Wegert capped off her stellar career with the Lancers, qualifying for the NAIA Championships in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.

4. Quiet but Dominant: Senior Jessica Stolle completed the best tennis career in Grace’s history with a 48-8 overall record at No. 1 singles.

5. Busy, Busy, Busy: Starting next year, Grace’s athletic department will host both the men’s and women’s NCCAA basketball championships.

6. The Quest for No. 153: Junior Nate Wottring broke Grace’s all-time career hits record with style on April 23, jacking his record-breaking hit over the left field wall to break Mike Cox’s record of 152 hits.

7. A Signature Win: Head baseball coach Josh Bailey led the Lancers to a victory against Spring Arbor on April 20, Bailey’s first victory against the Cougars in his four years with the program and possibly the first victory against SAU since they joined the MCC.

8. It’s a Start: For the first time in the last half-decade, the Grace softball team earned a berth in the MCC tournament under head coach Heather Johnson.

9. Next Stop, Winona Lake: In their tour across the country, the Harlem Globetrotters stopped at the Orthopaedic Capital Center on Jan. 19.

10. Top of the Charts: Grace set a Guinness World Record with its 379-person Knockout game on April 8.

The award recipients and top stories were chosen by athletic director Chad Briscoe and the Sports Information Department.

Husband, Wife Coaching Staff Find Balance

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Jay and Heather Johnson are competitive people.

Jay recounts stories from early in their marriage—stories of not-so-casual grocery cart races from the store to their car that often involved one of them being knocked over and races to see who could put the case on their pillow first when changing the bed sheets. “We just can’t be on opposite teams,” Jay said.

It is a good thing they are both on the Lady Lancers’ softball coaching staff.

The Johnsons came to Grace College last season after being gone a decade and a half. As one of the most decorated athletes in Grace history, Heather was no stranger to the softball program. In fact, she was elected into the inaugural class of the Grace College Lancer Hall of Fame in 2008 with a record 86 wins and 0.92 ERA over her career.

What is unique about this tandem, though, is Heather is the head coach and Jay is the assistant. Although they are in circumstances that could potentially pose problems for others, the coaching duo has excelled. “We’ve had a lot of people ask us how we work together, but there’s never been any major disagreement with us coaching together,” Heather said.

So how do they work together? The Johnsons came to Grace with the foundation already laid, having already coached and worked together. “After 15 years and running four businesses together, you know what buttons to push and what not to push,” Jay explained. Jay has always helped with Heather’s previous coaching jobs, but not to the extent he has at Grace.

It does not take much to see the differences between the two coaches. Heather has the administration, organization and detail-oriented side, while Jay brings the vision and vocal leadership. “He’s the one pushing people in the weight room, while I’m the one sitting down and talking with them,” Heather joked.

Yet their differences allow them to complement each other. There are times when Jay’s intensity is necessary and times where Heather’s laid-back approach works better. And the softball program is better because of it.

Still, everything does not always run perfectly. Heather explains that sometimes she needs to take charge as head coach. “As a wife, you want to let your husband take the lead, but he’s still my assistant. Sometimes you have to take it back and make adjustments when it’s yours.”

It is not as hard as could be expected for Jay to follow Heather. He says, “I respect her as my head coach, but also my wife.” In turn, Heather praised his humility. “He always wants to do what’s right and accepts correction very well.”

The most difficult thing Jay and Heather have to deal with, however, is at home. With three kids, the Johnsons must balance time at softball with time with family. “In a sense we often leave home unmanned, but we have a great support group of friends that help us,” Heather said. “We talk about softball all the time at home, but we have to set apart time at home with no softball so our home is not overshadowed by softball.”

Nevertheless, the Johnson family is intertwined with the softball program. The entire family, kids and all, have gone on three trips this spring with the softball team. It seems the Johnsons’ kids have picked up on college life fairly quickly. “It’s funny to hear them talk about college all the time,” Heather said. “How many 5 or 7-year-old kids talk about their future majors or roommates?”

Jay summed up their relationship as a divine arrangement. “God knew what he was doing when he brought us together.”

By Zane Gard

This story was published in the April 29 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

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.

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.”

By Sports Information

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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.

Lancer Baseball Will Thrive in 2011

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and it’s not because I love discount chocolate.

Major league teams’ pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida for spring training this week. Lancer baseball, however, has been practicing since January 23. Gotta love northern Indiana.

I know from two years of playing for Grace that the first month of practicing in the confines of the Robert and Frances Gordon Student Recreation Center is the toughest part of the entire season. Taking ground balls off a rubber floor and hitting baseballs off a tee for three hours every day isn’t fun, no matter how much you love the game.

Spring fever sets in pretty quick.

This Thursday, however, Grace baseball gets to shake free of the slush and play their first games this weekend in Toccoa Falls, Ga. I’ve been asked provide a little bit of an insider perspective on the upcoming season. As a former player (I was one of the best sunflower-seed-spitters on the team), I’ll try to provide some insights into what looks to be a very promising upcoming season.

The Lancers return most of their starters from last season, in which they won 21 games, the most wins in recent memory. Pitching is the biggest key for any team, and seniors Michael Clark and Brad Heintz look to provide experience and leadership to what should be a solid starting rotation.

Offensively, the Lancers should also be very fun to watch. Juniors Nate Wottring and Josh Petry will look to continue on their successful offensive performances over the last two years and will benefit from added protection in a lineup which should be strong from top to bottom.

Overall, the Lancers have every reason to be optimistic this spring. They’ve got all the pieces in place—the solid pitching, good defense, and timely hitting that is required to win in the game of baseball, and I know that the coaching staff looks at this year with great optimism and renewed excitement.

There will always be a few issues to iron out early on due to the limited practicing options indoors, but a winning season is certainly not a far-fetched concept. Grace baseball would love to reach the 30-win plateau and after looking at their schedule, that goal is challenging but very much within reach. I see this team winning 25 to 30 games.

In the MCC preseason poll, Grace was left out of the top six, but look for them to be in the mix when the dust clears in late April. I think the Lancers have the needed experience and talent to turn some of those one and two-run losses into late inning wins, which could vault them into the top five.

It may sound crazy right now, but I predict a top-six finish and a record-breaking season. But hear me when I say this: That type of year will only come about if the pitching and defense remain solid. That’s the biggest key. The offense will come for this team regardless.

I look forward to watching this team come together and light up the Miller Field scoreboard. Besides, what’s better than spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the ballpark?

On a side note, Coach Dittmar grills a mean hot dog.

By Will Thrasher

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

Bracketology: Three Games Away from Glory

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Tick, tock, tick…

The Lancers men’s basketball team only has three games left in their regular season, and it’s over. So where do they stand?

As of right now Grace is sitting third place in the MCC at 9-4 and 19-8 overall. Pretty good, right?

Sure, but there is still a lot of work to do.

This next week will decide where the men’s team will spend their postseason. Grace plays three ranked teams over the next week with this Saturday’s game at home against No. 36 Spring Arbor (won), then Tuesday at home against No. 13 University of Saint Francis and ending on the road next Saturday against No. 6 Indiana Wesleyan.

Those three games will decide if Grace can win their first regular season conference championship since 1992 and if the Lancers will go to Branson for the NAIA national tourney.

There are two ways to get to Branson for the Lancers. One is to win the MCC tournament. Win the tourney, and you’re going to Branson as an automatic qualifier. If the Lancers don’t win the conference tourney, there is another way to still be dancin’ in Branson: at-large bids to round off the field of 32.

There are 11 and possibly 12 at-large bids (added if Ozarks win the MCAC tourney). The Lancers right now stand at No. 17 in the nation, making us No. 6 in the at-large poll of 11. If you’re not familiar with NAIA Division II basketball, there are 20 automatic bids by either winning the conference tourney, winning the regular season race (happens only in conference with 10 teams or more) or earning one of the 11 or 12 at-large bids. These at–large bids are handed out after the conference tourneys and are based on the final poll done by the raters on March 2. This simply takes all the teams that have automatic bids and counts from the poll down with the teams left until you have the 11th or 12th at-large team. That gives you the field of 32 that gets to go to Branson.

Now, let’s get back to the Lancers, who are in an interesting position right now. Saint Francis is a game ahead of Grace, Huntington is a game behind, and Spring Arbor is a game and a half behind. Grace could even become the MCC regular season champs if they win the tournament and ice-cold Indiana Wesleyan (they’ve lost two in a row) goes 1-2 or worse. (Remember, we play them in our last game). A regular season championship would undoubtedly give the Lancers an at-large bid, and even if they don’t win the tournament, their last three games will be crucial for the MCC tournament seeding.

This is how I see it for the Lancers: Winning the MCC tourney and not worrying about the at-large spots would be nice. On the other hand, winning three games would most likely put us in a good spot for an at-large to go to Branson, as would a 2-1 record coupled with a win in the first round of the MCC tourney.

Anything less than that, and Grace will have to go farther in the MCC Tourney to compensate for the losses in regular season play. Whatever the case, the immediate emphasis has to be on these last three games for the Lancers.

They need to “Come Together,” as their team motto states, to give themselves a chance to play for an NAIA Division II national championship.

By Aaron Minglin

This column was published in the February 11 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.

Face-off: Should Grace Get a Football Program?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

This is for discussion purposes only in light of the Super Bowl last Sunday. Grace College is not currently considering starting a football program.

YES – Why not?

First off, football is king in America. The Super Bowl, after all, is the most-watched game on television and arguably the biggest sporting event in the world.

Not only is football popular throughout the States, but a football program would also align perfectly with the direction Grace College is heading. Grace is starting the new three-year program where they hope to become a larger campus. They want new dorms and more buildings for classes.

Football will help supply the kids and therefore fill the dorms, bringing in approximately 100 extra athletes. These 100 athletes, by the way, won’t be receiving full rides. The available scholarships will attract them to the school, but Grace will still make money off of tuition.

And believe me, even though this is basketball country, it’s not going to be difficult to find football players in our football-saturated region. Recruiting is the easiest part. Fort Wayne is considered by many to be one of the best high school football cities in the state. North of Indiana, we’ve got Michigan, one of the most prestigious football states because of the University of Michigan. And to the right, we’ve got Ohio. Sure, it may be one of the most boring states in the Union, but it’s an amazing football state. And lastly, we’ve got Pennsylvania relatively close, home of the greatest NFL franchise ever. Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Six to four, Green Bay.)

Starting a football program would also help Grace in the long run because of the facilities it needs. Let’s face it: the Gordon Rec. Center can be a headache because of all of the athletic teams that need to practice combined with students who want to utilize it.

So, say we got a football field, football complex or a field house. Not only does that help football, but it helps all athletic programs because Grace would get a new weight room, maybe a track (which means more track and field athletes, which means more money for Grace) and more room for conditioning. A football team would consequently benefit all other Grace athletic program.

In comparison to all other divisions, building an NAIA football program is very similar financially. According to the NAIA, the cost is close to the same with NCAA Division I, II and III programs. NCAA Division II institutions (the closest comparison to NAIA) spend an average of 3.5 million dollars on athletics without football programs and 4 million with football programs.

NAIA programs, on average, cost around 1.5 million without football and around 2.5 million with football. While the NAIA is still around, and, dare I say it, while Grace is still part of the NAIA, Lancer athletics should take advantage of being an NAIA school.

Lastly, a football program (if run well) makes more money than it spends. It would rake in more tuition, create an excitement on campus and improve athletic facilities.

By Michael Blevins

NO – Grace College football: undefeated since1948.

What most students do not realize is that up until now, what is often only seen on a t-shirt for kicks actually has a reason behind it.

Would it not be exciting to tailgate at Grace football games in the fall? Absolutely.

But let us eliminate the “cool factor” for a minute. What really goes into having a football program, and exactly how realistic is a stadium full of towel-waving Lancer football fans?

After throwing in costs of a new stadium, practice field, coaching salaries, player scholarships, and a host of other fees, expenses, and equipment, it becomes clear that this is no small paycheck. Still, the expenses go beyond startup costs.

In fact, the cost of running an average institution’s football program in the NAIA is $1,277,792, a tab that a small school should not be messing with. It certainly wouldn’t be money well-spent—not right now.

Instead, Grace could buy an outdoor track. It could get lights for Miller Field. Or it could build an indoor practice facility for baseball, softball, tennis and soccer teams.

If, however, Grace were to get a football team, it would only be the first task of a difficult phase-in process. Because there is no football in the MCC (only three teams), Grace would be slated to join the Mid-States Football Association. Of the eight teams Grace would face, the average distance between the schools is 144 miles (compared to 62 miles within the MCC), significantly complicating travel plans and expenses.

It is easy to see that Grace does not currently have the facilities to have a football team. Are 100 football players going to be able to use the Gordon Student Recreation Center as a weight room? No. And how many top recruits are going to come play when practices or games might have to be held at Lakeview Middle School until a stadium is finished?

Yet the creation of a football team goes beyond athletics. Not only would Grace be adding over 100 athletes, but they would be adding over 100 students—students who would need a new dormitory, more parking and possibly even bigger dining commons. When Marian University started to explore the possibilities of a football program, it was only after a 40 percent growth in five years that enabled them to.

What it boils down to is a classic case of want versus need. In the NAIA, only 92 out of 290 schools have football teams. Sure, having a football team might create a “buzz” on campus that could lead to some students wanting to come to Grace, but there is far more hanging on this decision than a slight increase of enrollment.

Don’t look forward to grilling hot dogs before any Lancer football games just yet. Before any program could ever be created, the administration of Grace College would have to make a huge financial commitment, and one they should put on hold.

Perhaps Grace football should stay undefeated for awhile longer.

By Zane Gard

These stories were published in the February 11 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.

Branson Bound? Still Work to Do

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Honestly, it’s refreshing to merely be talking about Branson. After the roller coaster ride that transpired over Christmas break, I thought the Grace men’s basketball team was done for.

Following Grace’s stellar 10-2 start to the season, the Lancers dropped four in a row over break. That made them 10-6 overall and 1-2 in the MCC, not NAIA national tournament caliber.

And of course, embarking on the heart of their conference season, the Lancers had to face nightmare Goshen College on Jan. 6, a team that swept Grace two years in a row and embarrassed them on Sports Center’s “Top-10 Plays” last season.

If Grace would had lost to Goshen on Jan. 6, I believe their Branson hopes would have died. That would have put Grace on a wretched five-game losing skid and 1-3 in the MCC. Teams built for the NAIA’s don’t do that.

And they didn’t. It was ugly, but Grace pulled off a 73-66 win against the Maple Leafs, snapping their four-game losing streak against Goshen.

Then they rocked Taylor 70-42 on Jan. 8. Then they beat Spring Arbor 69-60 on Jan. 11 after falling to the Cougars three times last season. And then they capped off their four-game winning streak with a season-changing 85-80 victory against then-No. 5 Saint Francis, their first victory against a top-10 team. Just like that, the Lancers turned their season around — or at least got it back on track.

They fell to now No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan on Jan. 18, an acceptable loss (if such a term exists), which left them 6-3 midway into MCC play and flirting with second place – pretty solid for a team that could have booked their hotel in Oakland City, Ind., three weeks before.

It looked like Grace was going to continue tearing through the conference season after securing their sweep against Bethel on Jan.25, a beautiful 87-82 victory anchored by Duke Johnson. But then came Marian University on Jan. 29.

In what I would consider a must-win, especially since it was at home, the Lancers folded against Marian, 75-63, making the remainder of their conference season, well, interesting – especially if they have their eyes set on Branson, which they should. I’ll say it now. With this much talent, anything less than Missouri in March is going to be a bust.

According to Aaron Minglin, a rater for the MCC and NAIA, the Lancers 1) Need 20-21 wins, 2) Need to finish at least 4-2 in their last six games and 3) Need to win a game or two in the conference tournament in order to secure an at-large bid. Of course, Grace could always earn an automatic bid by winning the regular season or conference championship, but those are long shots.

Finishing 5-1 or 6-0 in the conference also seems improbable because of their difficult road games, not to mention finishing their campaign with games against Saint Francis and IWU. Plus, in the MCC, you are going to lose games. Marian swept us, for gosh sakes.

It’s certainly not going to be easy, and the Lancers have their work cut out for them. But at the same time, who would have thought we would even be having this conversation a month ago?

And so it begins…let the Branson drama unfold.

By Stephen Copeland

This story was published in the Feb. 4 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board, when the Lancers still had six games remaining in the season.