By Kristen Keller
The top six teams in the Missouri Valley Conference are battling to keep their spots and make it to the conference tournament in Springfield, Missouri, Nov. 22 to 24 as the teams enter the midway point of the season.
The MVC has traditionally placed multiple teams in the NCAA tournament, doing so 10 times in the past 12 years, according to Ryan Davis, the assistant commissioner for communications at the MVC.
University of Northern Iowa
The Panthers of Northern Iowa is one of only three schools from the MVC to ever be ranked in the NCAA, and this year, they reached as high as No. 17 in the AVCA poll. This group of women were the only team from the MVC to be ranked at any point of the season, receiving votes in the most recent poll released on Oct. 8.
Currently, Northern Iowa is undefeated in conference play with a record of 9-0, and sit at 13-6 overall for the season. They also lead the conference in kills per set with 14.87 and assists per set with 13.97, which also ranks the group eighth nationally.
As it gets closer to the end of the season, the Panthers will look to junior outside Karlie Taylor, who currently leads the MVC in kills per set with 4.9. Northern Iowa is also led by redshirt-junior setter Rachel Koop with 807 assists.
Illinois State University
This group of women rallied together to currently rank second in the conference with a record of 7-1. Not only are they third in the conference, but the Redbirds rank No. 1 in the conference for overall hitting percentage with a .240.
Leading Illinois State’s offense is freshman middle Marissa Stockman. This young player leads the conference with a .364 hitting percentage. Along with that, she tallied 72 blocks and 147 kills overall.
Stockman is not the only player making an impact for the Redbirds. Sophomore setter Stef Jankiewicz currently sits at third in the conference for assists with 758 while senior libero Courtney Pence heads the defense, racking up 393 digs so far this season.
The Bradley Braves sit in fourth currently with a conference record of 6-2. Although the team only sits in third place, it leads the MVC in four different categories and is ranked fifth nationally in digs per set.
Senior libero Yavianliz Rosado sets the tone for the Braves’ defense with 5.62 digs per set, which ranks her second in the conference in that category. Also leading this Bradley team is senior outside Erica Haslag, who currently has 283 kills on the season, and senior setter Hannah Angeli, who controls the offense with 720 assists on the season.
“Our big goal for this season is to rebuild and make the conference tournament,” said Bradley head coach Melissa Stokes. “Once you get to the conference tournament, it becomes a whole new season. Anyone can make a run for it.”
Sitting at 5-3 in conference play, the Crusaders sit at the top of the conference in almost every category. Overall, the team holds a record of 18-5.
Sparking up the Crusaders’ lineup is sophomore middle Peyton McCarthy. She currently leads the MVC in total blocks with 95 and blocks per set with 1.25. Sophomore Rylee Cookery leads the backrow defense with 416 digs, which is also good enough to lead the conference.
Brittany Anderson, a sophomore setter, sets the offense up for this young team, earning 897 assists for the season. With those numbers, Anderson ranks eighth nationally for assists in Division 1.
Currently holding a record of 5-4 in conference play, Drake lands the No. 5 spot in the conference. When it comes to team statistics, the Bulldogs rank second in the conference for total team kills.
One of the main contributors to Drake’s offense is senior outside Cathryn Cheek, who leads the team with 227 kills and 46 blocks. Setting up the team’s offense is junior Paige Aspinwell with 528 assists. While Aspinwell and Cheek take care of the offense, sophomore libero Kylee Macke contributed 341 digs so far this season to lead the defensive effort.
Missouri State University
The reigning MVC champions moved themselves up to the sixth spot in the conference standings. Following a slow start to the season, the Bears are making a comeback as the season begins to dwindle down.
Leading the way for this young team is freshman outside hitter Amelia Flynn. She currently leads the team in kills with 235 and is second on the team in digs with 182. Freshman setter Chloe Rear also contributes to the offensive efforts, recording 657 assists during her first season of play. On defense, senior libero Emily Butters shines for the Bears, recording 387 digs on the season, which is good enough for a fourth place ranking in the conference.
By Nicholas Hennion
Northwestern University’s soccer struggles continued Saturday night as the Wildcats failed to find the back of the net in a pivotal Big Ten matchup against Penn State, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw.
Entering the fixture on a three-game losing streak, the Wildcats are now 0-4-2 for the team’s last six contests. A win on Saturday would have moved the Wildcats into a tie with Penn State’s Nittany Lions in the Big Ten standings.
Even though the Wildcats offense produced no goals, head coach Tim Lenahan saw positive steps from his side.
“For most of the game, our side was the protagonist,” Lenahan said. “Up until overtime, we really dictated the tempo.”
Even in a scoreless game, the Wildcats created plenty of quality scoring chances. Junior Sean Lynch and sophomore Tommy Katsiyiannis generated quality opportunities in the first half for the Wildcats, who held the opposition without a shot on target in the opening frame.
The best chance for either side came in the 58th minute for the Wildcats. Forward Jose Del Valle fired a shot from a tight angle that rebounded to Bardia Kimiavi, who then forced Penn’s State keeper to make another save. A third shot on target from midfielder Connor McCabe earned the Wildcats one of its six corners.
The overtime frame proved to be difficult for the Wildcats, who were outshot 7-3 during those 20 minutes of play, though nobody scored. Lenahan said the Wildcats seemed to lose focus and weren’t very sharp.
“I think we lost our discipline and we played tired,” Lenahan said. “You want to stay disciplined and find your chances, but we were pretty well outplayed in overtime.”
The man of the match for the Wildcats was certainly goalkeeper Miha Miskovic, who recorded his seventh shutout of the season. Miskovic finally faced a shot on target in the 71st minute of the match and ended the night with four saves.
The sophomore said the team’s defense was solid all night in terms of denying Penn State quality opportunities.
“The guys in front of me didn’t allow many shots [tonight],” Miskovic said. “I do my part, and they do their part to help earn a clean sheet.”
Lenahan said having a year under his belt has proved beneficial for Miskovic, who currently sits tied for 3rd nationally with his seven shutouts.
“He’s been terrific for us [all year],” Lenahan said. “He sometimes toes the line between calm and too casual. I know it’s part of his personality, but I like the calm, I don’t like the casual.”
After starting in only four games last season, Miskovic has seen his save percentage rise 12 percentage points from 64.3 percent to 76.5 and his goals against average fall to under a goal per game.
Even with Miskovic recording seven shutouts, the Wildcats find themselves under .500 for the first time this season. Northwestern has not recorded a winning season since 2014.
Northwestern will have its first chance to get back to .500 Tuesday against DePaul University with its next Big Ten matchup Friday at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
By Patrick Engel
Chris Zorich knows the narrative that surrounded his three-month coaching search. He heard the criticism of his long hiring process and Chicago State’s lack of a men’s and women’s head basketball coach during the entire spring and summer evaluation periods. The first seven words he spoke while standing behind a podium Wednesday acknowledged it.
“This has been a long time coming,” Zorich said, grinning.
And he doesn’t care one bit about the criticism, because he says he’s found his ideal coaches.
By Chris Kwiecinski
The unthinkable happened to the Big Ten coaches on May 14, 2018: tradition was changed. The natural order was shattered. Comfort became the uncomfortable.
In reality, the U.S. Supreme Court just legalized sports gambling across the nation.
This was a metaphysical thorn in the sides of all 14 Big Ten coaches. It was also one of the first topics addressed on the first day of Big Ten Media Days, and it carried over across both July 23 and 24. But, that’s because it just cost coaches a competitive advantage.
“Avoid it like the plague,” Harbaugh said of what he told his players gambling. “Don’t walk away from that, run.”
It almost seemed like Harbaugh was talking to himself.
By Robbie Weinstein
Indiana offensive lineman Wes Martin is so strong, Hoosiers safety Jonathan Crawford doesn’t like to watch him lift. In fact, the redshirt senior is the undisputed strongest player on the team. Even among the many towering athletes at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Martin stands out.
Martin’s former head coach at Milton-Union High School in Ohio says the 6-foot-3, 316-pound offensive lineman—known by many as “Big Wes”—is the largest student to ever come through the school. Many children from Martin’s hometown of West Milton look up to him, and he represents them each time he steps on the field at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium.
“Wes will do anything any kid needs,” said Mark Lane, Milton-Union’s athletic director and former head football coach. “You’ll hear young kids who are in our elementary school today still talk about Big Wes. That’s what everybody says here at Milton, ‘Big Wes, Big Wes.’ Some of those little kids might not even know his last name, because all they know him by is Big Wes.”
By Nick Mantas
Day 2 of Big Ten Media Days featured coaches with different realistic goals. Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer is searching for another national title while Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith is looking to win a single game in the Big Ten conference this year.
Our reporters weighed on on both coaches and how one team is looking to heal after a death in the off season.
Py Patrick Engel
Scott Frost should have been here three years ago.
Something just seems right about him standing behind a podium with “B1G” stickered onto it, sporting a Nebraska lapel pin with a matching red tie and stating that his move to coach his alma mater was the right decision.
Monday morning at the Marriott in downtown Chicago, it happened. Finally. And it was nothing like the Big Ten media days debut of his predecessor, Mike Riley. Nebraska hired the then-62-year-old Riley in 2015 instead of Frost, who was the offensive coordinator at Oregon at the time. Riley crooned through an answer about having “one more big adventure” left in him when asked why he took the Nebraska job after 12 years at Oregon State. It embodied his 16 minutes of uninspiring remarks that carried a sense of an inevitable middling tenure.
By Nick Mantas
Big Ten conference head football coaches stepped up to the microphone to face the media and talk about their upcoming seasons. The Medill Reports sports team was at the 2018 Big Ten Media Days as well.
By Chris Kwiecinski
Michigan will play Notre Dame for the first time since 2014 on September 1, renewing a rivalry between two of the winningest programs in college football.
Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh, who played in two games against the Fighting Irish as a player, said any continuation of the series against Notre Dame will come down to whether or not the two programs are willing to schedule more games.
“It’s one of those things where both parties are willing to put it on their schedule,” Harbaugh said.
By Daniel Comer
The next big thing in college athletics is simmering beneath the city streets of downtown Chicago, tucked away in a basement full of computer science majors whose sweaty palms and beady eyes indicate they’ve been battling for hours.
Athletes or not, this team of Robert Morris University (RMU) esports players is poised to challenge conventional thought and shake up the future of college athletics, one scholarship “athlete” at a time.