No GLVC baseball tournament, either

I wrote in my Monday column that the Great Lakes Valley Conference won’t be returning to Evansville’s Ford Center with its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in 2015 (or 2016). I wasn’t able to squeeze in that the GLVC baseball tournament also is gone from Evansville.

Bosse Field and the USI Baseball Field hosted that tourney the past two years. Next year it’s going up to Westfield, Indiana, north of Indianapolis to a place called Grand Park. Apparently, it’s a huge complex of baseball, softball and soccer fields and would allow the GLVC to play its tournament games at the same time at the same venue. USI knows all about Grand Park, having played (and beaten) the University of Indianapolis there at the end of the 2014 regular season.

One more note: Indianapolis is nowhere close to being closer to most of the GLVC schools, unlike the basketball venue, which will now be at Family Arena in St. Charles, Missouri (with seven GLVC schools in Missouri, that could easily be used as a reason for the move from Evansville). I’m just saying. Then again, it’s baseball, which doesn’t have nearly as large a following as basketball.

Brothers and the City of Brotherly Love

On Sunday I’ll have a story about the USI men’s soccer team’s annual Gold Game to raise awareness of childhood cancer. Two people participating in that game, against Kentucky Wesleyan, will be sophomore John Rohling and coach Mat Santoro, both of whom knew children who died of cancer. Santoro’s story involves his younger brother Andy, who died of brain cancer when he was 5 years old. Andy had a twin brother, Tim, who is alive and well and the head coach of the North Carolina State women’s soccer team. He and Mat grew up competitive, Mat said, and remain very close. But they aren’t competitive as head coaches. Mat said a lot of that is because he coaches men while Tim coaches women. “We are really just supportive of each other,” said Mat. “But I’ve got to be the biggest NC State women’s soccer fan outside of Raleigh.”

That’s just one problem. Since both grew up in Philadelphia, one would assume they would both be Eagles football fans. Not Tim. “For some reason he’s a Dallas Cowboys fans,” said Mat. “When you’re from Philly, you’re not supposed to be a Dallas Cowboys fan.”

Hearing that, I immediately brought up one of my favorite recent movies, “Silver Linings Playbook,” with its father (played by Robert De Niro) and son (played by Bradley Cooper) who are huge Eagles fans, and the father’s best friend, who’s a rabid Cowboys fan even though he’s also from Philly. Santoro said he loved that movie. In fact, he said he used to live near the area in which they filmed it. “We were not more than 10 minutes away from there,” he said. “I know that area really well. We’ve eaten in restaurants in that area.” Then he recalled “Invincible,” the 2006 film set in the 1970s about Eagles fan Vince Papale. Papale, who has lost his wife and his job, somehow earns a spot on the Eagles’ roster during an open tryout and goes on to inspire the team and the city of Philadelphia. “I love both those movies,” said Santoro. “Those are Philly movies.”

The Guys love coach Hillyard

Johnnie and Josh Guy are sophomore brothers — fraternal twins, actually, who look almost identical — on the USI men’s cross country team coached by Mike Hillyard. He’s trained many a cross country and track all-American, and half the Guys — Johnnie — already has two such honors from last spring’s NCAA Division II outdoor track nationals. In my story I just posted online here, Hillyard thinks the Guys are going to contribute mightily to USI’s cross country success this season.

They already believe he’s contributed to their past and, especially, future success.

“He knows what workouts to do and what time of year to do them,” said Johnnie. “He’s pretty good at listening to how you feel. He’s really good at listening to your input. He’s really good about giving you advice. He’s helped me with race strategy a lot. He was really great in helping me (cope with) the altitude in Colorado (at the track nationals last spring).”

“He’s really good getting to know people on a personal level,” said Josh. “He cares about every runner whether you’re a conference or national favorite or the conference meet will be your last race of the season. He’s very optimistic. He tells you you can run a certain time.”

“And you start to believe,” said Johnnie, who said Josh’s being at USI was a big reason why he transferred from Purdue in the middle of the last school year. “I talked to him on the phone a lot. He let me know what the program was like, what coach Hillyard was like and how great everything is here.”

Both had visited USI together when they were still in high school, at North Harrison in Crawford County in Southeastern Indiana. Josh decided to attend USI while Johnnie thought Purdue would be a better fit. But he changed his mind once he got up to West Lafayette.

Johnnie thinks the Eagles are national caliber this year.

“I think we definitely have a shot at the podium at nationals,” he said, referring to a top-three finish. “Our team is probably deeper than it’s ever been. There will be a lot of competition for the top seven spots (on the team) at nationals. I think everybody is ready for the challenge.”

“I think our pack will be pretty close together — there should be a pack of Eagles running together,” said Josh. “As long as everybody can stay healthy and take care of their bodies, we should be in good shape.”

Dissing USI women’s soccer

Now that I’ve got your attention, it’s not quite that bad. I note in this Sunday’s preseason preview of the USI women’s soccer team that the GLVC’s coaches picked the Eagles to finish ninth in the league. Of course, the Eagles beg to differ, particularly sophomore forward Madi Vellky, the team’s leading returning scorer from last season.

“I usually root for the underdog,” she said. “Now I can look for (opponents) to underestimate us. They’ll say, ‘We won’t have to play our best.’ But we’ll still show up — and we’re not gonna be ninth.”

Johnnie Guy and Michael Jordan

My latest column, on USIs’ recent track and field triumphs and the reason behind them — coach Mike Hillyard — is here. But there’s more that I couldn’t get into the piece.

Freshman Johnnie Guy, who was named an NCAA Division II all-American twice after finishing seventh in the 10K and eighth in the 5K at the Outdoor Track and Field Championships, spurned USI at first. Coach Mike Hillyard recruited him hard at North Harrison High School. But Guy wanted to major in engineering, so he chose Purdue, which has one of the finer engineering schools in the country. But Guy grew disillusioned with the school, transferred to USI — where his twin brother Josh was already a student and a runner on Hillyard’s team — after the fall semester at Purdue and the rest is (continuing) history. By the way, Johnnie is still majoring in engineering.

Hillyard insists he has done little to help Guy, saying he’s already highly motivated. “He’s very confident,” said Hillyard. “He’s very quiet and reserved, but very confident.”

As for Michael Jordan, the senior who earned all-American status by finishing third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the nationals, his future may involve running on the U.S. national team. At least, that’s his goal. “I want to be contender for the U.S. team in 2015, 2016,” he said. “In the long run, the NCAA (finish) is just a small step toward my goal. In four years I hope I can think of this (finish) as just a disappointment rather than a transition step.”

 

Another All-American

Johnnie Guy is just a freshman, but he’s already managed to get himself on an exclusive list at USI — that of all-American in track and field (he’s the 13th male in school history to earn the honor). When he transferred to USI from Purdue last fall, coach Mike Hillyard was excited about the addition, and Guy has proven him right. Finishing seventh in the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Nationals on Thursday night was impressive enough (the top eight finishers are named all-Americans). But the fact that Guy not only did it as a freshman but also in his first race at altitude (Pueblo, Colo., where the nationals are taking place, is 4,700 feet above sea level) makes his feat even more remarkable.

I figured if he finished among the top 20 it would be a triumph and something to build on over the next three years. He came in with the 12th-fastest time in D-II, at 29 minutes, 40.81 seconds. The North Harrison High School graduate finished in 30:50.97, which, again, is pretty amazing considering the race was at altitude and he’s a flatlander from Southern Indiana.

But he’s not finished. On Saturday night he’ll compete in the men’s 5,000 meters, starting at 9:30 CDT. He comes into that race with the 18th-fastest time, at 14:17.48. If Guy earns all-American honors in that race, who knows where he’ll end up by the time he’s a senior. National champion, maybe. Or perhaps national champion times two or three.

Track nationals and USI’s other runners

Michael Jordan has the best shot at winning a national championship when he competes in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Friday (my story is now online here), but USI also has four other runners who will participate in the meet at Pueblo, Colo.

Freshman Johnnie Guy seems to have the best chance at earning all-American status, which is finishing eighth or better in the final. He’ll be competing in both the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters. He has run the 18th-fastest time in Division II at 5,000 and the 12th-fastest time in the 10,000. Trouble is, he’ll also be running against several runners who train at altitude while he, of course, trains here in Evansville. Plus, he’s only running his second 10K. “MJ (Jordan) has talked tome about not really making your move more than once because of oxygen debt,” said Guy.

Senior Lauren Minor is making her first trip to nationals. She’ll be running in the women’s 3,000 steeplechase and is ranked 16th nationally. “I need to stay within the top four in the (preliminary race) and make it to the next day,” she said. “I’d like to be in the 10:40s range. I think that’s something I can do right now.”

Freshman Tyler Schickel will run in the 1,500 meters. His time ranks 15th nationally. His goal? “Anything below a sub-3:50,” he said.

Junior Erika Wilson is making her second appearance at nationals. She’s running the 10,000 and has a time ranked 21st nationally.

The schedule (all times CDT): Men’s 1,500 meters preliminaries, Thursday, 6:25 p.m.; women’s 3,000 steeplechase prelims, Thursday, 7:40 p.m.; men’s 3,000 steeplechase prelims, Thursday, 8:10 p.m.; women’s 10K final, Thursday, 9:10 p.m.; men’s 10K final, Thursday, 9:50 p.m.; women’s 3,000 steeplechase final, Friday, 8:15 p.m.; men’s 3,000 steeplechase final, Friday, 8:35 p.m.; women’s 5K final, Saturday, 9:05 p.m.; men’s 5K final, Saturday, 9:30 p.m.

Anyone interested in watching them race, simply click the video link at www.gousieagles.com on the day of the race.

Jordan’s health redux

Michael Jordan, USI’s all-American runner, suffered yet another health scare recently. To go with the back spasms that contributed to his poor finish in last fall’s national cross country championship and the appendicitis and subsequent appendectomy he endured a year ago while flying home from the Mt. SAC Relays in California, he bruised his left kidney in the GLVC Outdoor Track and Field Championships on May 3. He was going over a hurdle in the 3,000-meter steeplechase — his strongest event and the one he could win a national championship in on Friday night at the D-II Championships — when he was accidentally kneed in the back by another runner. He ran in the 1,500 meters the next day but didn’t feel well. Then he began urinating blood. Fortunately, coach Mike Hillyard got him to a hospital, where doctors discovered some internal bleeding and diagnosed a bruised kidney. Forty-eight hours later, Jordan was fine. He insists he’s still OK.

Regional watching

Get hot in the postseason and there’s no telling how far your team can go. Bellarmine is the latest example of that. The Knights, seeded sixth in the six-team Midwest Regional taking place at Drury University in Springfield, Mo., beat top-seeded Ashland University 13-10 in the opening game of the regional on Thursday. That means that Bellarmine is still undefeated in the postseason after winning four games and the GLVC tourney title last week.

Not to take anything away from Bellarmine, but USI coach Tracy Archuleta still believes his team was just as good as any team in the GLVC tourney. It’s just that the Eagles faltered when they couldn’t afford to falter and lost two games at Bellarmine at the end of the regular season, keeping them out of the tournament. I still think USI had the pitching to go far, although with only six pitchers that might have been difficult if it had fallen into the losers’ bracket. But we’ll never know. Instead, sit back and watch what happens when a team that ended the regular season only five games over .500 (by comparison, USI finished 12 games over .500) gets on a roll.

USI not going to NCAA tournament

Because it missed the GLVC tournament, the USI baseball team will not be going to the NCAA tournament. One indicator was USI’s dropping from third in the Midwest Region rankings to eighth this week (only six teams receive a regional berth), a sure sign that the Eagles are not going to make the eight-team regional field. Then Ray Simmons, USI’s sports information director, confirmed that  the NCAA no longer gives regional berths to teams that don’t qualify for their conference tournaments. Which makes perfect sense. I have to admit I was leery of the Eagles getting in without being able to get in the first postseason tourney. They screwed up what started out as a great season. They won 11 of their first 12 games. Then they lost their next seven and nine of their next 10, and that pretty much was that. Now they’re working as the grounds crew at Bosse Field and at their own field for the GLVC tournament, merely spectators for the second straight year at a tournament their school is hosting. It must be humbling, if not aggravating.