Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Two-sport athletes on the fast track to success, in college and after college

By Genna Hilgenbrink

There are football players, basketball players, and track athletes, but every so often, there’s an individual who is more than one. Two-sport athletes are of a different breed at Hillsdale College. They endure the rigorous academics while attending physically exhausting practices for two sports, sometimes all even in the same day. These athletes have learned to balance team time with study time, basketball workouts with track meets or even compromising precious sleeping time for study time. It is a challenge that few attempt, let alone accomplish. Being a Division II athlete for one sport is no easy task, but two? Impressive.
NCAA Division II athletics prides itself in promoting the life in the balance, where a student can get the most out of a college education while competing, athletically, at a high level. However, select students at Hillsdale College have undertaken not one sport, but two, in addition to the challenging academic standards this school demands. In fact, Hillsdale College was ranked 60th in the nation and 7th in the Midwest by Forbes for academic difficulty. However, any student on campus can tell you that it’s a tough institution, but ask those who play two sports at Hillsdale to get new perspective, athletes like Katie Bildner and Will Danko.
 During the school year, there are only a couple weeks of rest for Katie, a senior who played four seasons for the Charger women’s basketball team, and is now entering her third and final track season this spring. The forward in the winter and jumper in the spring from Comstock Park, Michigan, enjoys the challenge.
“I really like playing 2 sports! But I would say that the hardest part is how hard it is on your body to do the workouts for both teams at the same time,” she said. “My post season for basketball overlaps with track season. We are expected to do both workouts.” The women’s basketball season typically ends near the first week of March, only three week before the start of outdoor track season.
Through her career, however, there were rare instances when Katie had time off. She usually has about one week after school starts in the fall, and maybe a week or two after basketball is finished that are not filled with lifting, practices, or games.
Training for basketball and track were not the same for Katie. In order to manage, she had to give priority to one over the other. Basketball, being a team sport with many games during the season, requires lifting, conditioning, individual workouts in the fall, followed by games in the winter, more lifting and conditioning in the spring, and individual workouts in the summer. Jumping, being an individual event with fewer meets throughout the year would require less attention than basketball but still holds a major part in her year. Actually, Katie was on scholarship for basketball, so naturally, it took some priority, regardless, Katie also only started track at Hillsdale as a sophomore. Despite the work load, and missed classes, Katie managed to get the most out of her four years at Hillsdale by committing herself to not one, but two Division II level teams at Hillsdale College.
Although Katie will be graduating this spring, she looks forward to one last season in outdoor track.
 “It was nice knowing I still had another season of athletics left when basketball ended,” she said. “It helped ease the pain knowing that I had something to look forward to!” After Katie finishes her 2012 outdoor track season, she will join an elite group of graduates who competed in two sports through her career.
Will Danko, is another one of these few athletes who took on two sports in their years in college and in his four years at Hillsdale he found a way to be very successful academically. Danko is a football player and track sprinter who will also be graduating in the spring and has been accepted into the University of Michigan’s pharmaceutical school, where he will continue his education in the fall.
When asked how he manages his intense studies while competing in two sports at Hillsdale, Danko said: “My sleep suffers more than the school work. I always find a way to get my work done, it's just a matter of what time I'll be getting to bed at night.” Sacrificing sleep rather than his studies got Danko into the seventh-ranked pharmacy program in the country according to U.S. News and World Report.
Danko was named to the GLIAC All-Academic Team in both football and track during his career, and thanks to his 3.6 overall grade point average, earned a spot on the prestigious GLIAC Academic Excellence Team in the Fall of 2011. In 2010 Danko’s  4x100 relay team was the GLAIC runner-ups and through his four years William was one of the fastest players on the football team and played defensive back. Over the past four years, Danko has tended to focus on football heavily. He says, “I came to this school as a football player initially and joined track during my sophomore year here.”  He goes on to say, “Football definitely takes up more time and energy overall, but track training requires a lot more patience and fine-tuning of the small things during training.” However, in the winter Danko gets the best of both worlds competing in both track and football having four to five lifting/agility football practices, while having two to three track practices in the same week.
Since he will be graduating in May, Danko is happy to have one more season left in his college career with track. He says that, “Track is a little more chill than football, so it should be an easier transition into after-college plans”. He will have a major transition come fall, with beginning pharmaceutical school at the University of Michigan, but with all of the practice he has had balancing school, sports, and sleeping, he will be in good shape to take on pharmacy school.
Two more current Hillsdale College students have also achieved great things in two different sports, as well as the classroom. Amanda Geelhoed completed her athletic career with the Charger volleyball team in December 2011. In addition to winning three conference titles and one regional championship in volleyball, she spent most of the 2009-10 season as Bildner’s teammate on the women’s basketball team. The two of them, who each hail from the Grand Rapids area, were shooting partners in practice, so they could easily relate to one another’s two-sport experiences.
Geelhoed immediately entered the frontcourt rotation when she joined the team in December 2009, and actually set a school record during her one season. She went 7-for-7 from the field in a 74-69 win over Lake Superior State on Jan. 30, 2010. She holds the record for most field goals made in a game without a miss.
Geelhoed has also earned Academic All-GLIAC status, and will graduate in May with an overall GPA above 3.0.
Nate English was a linebacker on the Charger football team from 2007-10, and has been a significant part of the throwers on the indoor and outdoor track teams in his career. He hit a high point in his athletic career in March 2012 when he earned his first career All-American honor, finishing eighth overall at the 2012 NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships with a shot put throw of 16.82 meters. It was an appropriate cap to an athletic career that started right here in Hillsdale, competing for the Hornet football and track teams, where he was a state champion shot putter.
English is also one of the athletic department’s top student-athletes, joining Danko on the GLIAC Academic Excellence list in 2011-12. The math major is carrying an overall GPA of 3.670 into his final semester at the college.
All of these athletes have shown great endurance through their four years at Hillsdale College. It is not an easy task managing the demands of two sports while attending a rigorous institution like Hillsdale. The skills they developed over the past four years will serve them well as they move onto the next phase of their lives.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Charger softball team takes pride in its home field

The Charger softball team took matters into their own hands when it came to sprucing up their home field. Work on the dugout was no easy task in the chilly weather, but with hot drinks in hand the team came together to make it happen. Freshman, Emily Pillivant, and, Junior, Kate Hoop worked to paint the sides of the visitor dugout while, sophomores, Mary Depner and Kelsie Prendel teamed up with, Senior, Jenifer Berlet to cover the back side of the dugout giving it a  revived Charger blue color scheme.

Landscape was another story for the team’s project. Coach Joe Abraham took the important task of leveling out the infield to prevent any pits or hills in the dirt. Flat dirt will surely be appreciated by the infielders; the smoother surface will lessen the chances of bad hops during play. On the outskirts of the field the team joined forces to remove a stubborn shrubbery. Later, heavy machinery was brought in to finish the job.

The end product was certainly an improvement. With the bench back in its rightful place and some finishing touches completed, the softball field is in much better shape than before. In their upcoming season this spring, the Charger softball team will take the field with pride.

words by Genna Hilgenbrink
                                                                                                                photos by Erin Porter

Monday, January 30, 2012

A few feet away, or a thousand miles away, fans supported the Charger volleyball team loudly and proudly

By Genna Hilgenbrink

We are all familiar with the energy that emits from a home crowd and resonates throughout the gym during a high stakes volleyball match. We all know of the anxiety that arises at match point when the crowd stands ready to celebrate another Charger win, and we are certainly no strangers to the cheers, the smiles, the laughs, and the excitement that takes place during a home volleyball game, but did we know that when the team was half way across the country, and we were ushered into a theatre to watch our team play, that we would have the exact same experience? Well that is precisely what happened when our Charger volleyball team traveled to California to represent Hillsdale College in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

The Charger volleyball team fought through the season and won the GLIAC tournament for the third year in a row. With that victory, the team earned the right to host the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Tournament for the third time in the past six years. After going undefeated at regionals, beating Missouri S&T, Northern Kentucky, and University of Indianapolis, the volleyball team traveled to California to compete amongst the Elite 8. Once there the team faced fellow regional champs Wheeling Jesuit and Cal State-San Bernardino.

The Hillsdale volleyball team may have been playing on the opposite end of the country, but the fan base was stronger than ever at home. Each night the Chargers played, parents and students alike gathered in an unlikely location, the Phillips Auditorium on campus, to cheer on their team. The matches, streaming live online, were projected on a big screen in the theatre. But don't try to tell the fans it was a mere projection. They acted as if the event was live right in front of them. Fathers called out to their daughters when they were up to serve. Students celebrated after each kill, and the entire crowd stood at match point.

The intensity from the fan base was stronger than ever, the students and parents cheered out to the projection screen, making you wonder if they actually thought their player could hear them. Topping off the night, the crowd gathered together and did the "rollercoaster", leaning, cheering and celebrating in unison as one big mob. There was simply no difference between the intensity of the crowd in a live game or in these projected games.

These nights in the Phillips Auditorium were a heartwarming spectacle that demonstrated the strength of the Charger volleyball fan base.

Although they didn't bring home the national championship, it was clear to anyone that the fans were very proud of the team's performance. Losing to Cal State and coming home finishing in the top four in the country, the Charger volleyball team had an impressive season that is one for the record books, not only by their performance, but by the way they brought together a remarkable fan base who supported them the whole way through.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A game that didn't count meant everything to these Charger basketball players

by Brad Monastiere

Fans could hear the familiar squeak of basketball shoes moving against the finished wood court. They blended seamlessly with the constant bounce-bounce-bounce of the basketball being dribbled against the same court. The dueling sounds form one continuous melody.

They’ve heard these sounds before. But they didn’t sound like this.

The basketball players have shot countless shots against the backdrop of the clear backboard. Sometimes there were a lot of fans behind that glass. Sometimes there weren’t. They have spotted the blue blur of their teammates cutting in and around other players, looking for a pass or a shot.

They’ve seen the backboards before. But they didn’t look like this.

The basketball players ran out into opposite corners of the court, brand-new loose-fitting warm-ups flapping in the wind. Their eyes were wide, strides sure and plenty of hop in the step.

They’ve anticipated the start of a game before. But it didn’t feel like this.

As athletes, you live for the combination of sights, sounds and feelings that make up your internal and external being as you get ready to enter into competition with others. For the players on the Hillsdale College men’s basketball team, the night of Friday, November 4, 2011 spun a web of emotions and sights unlike any they’ve ever seen or felt before.

The Chargers played on one of the ultimate stages that night, in the Breslin Center, taking on Michigan State University in an exhibition contest for both teams. Technically, this game would not count in the standings for either team. But don’t tell the players on the Chargers that this game wasn’t special.

Most of the players on the team grew up in Big Ten country. Tyler Gerber from Ohio. Derek Schell, Matt Clarke and Brandon Pritzl from Wisconsin. John Bagge and Nick Washburn from Illinois. The team’s big contingent of players from Michigan, like Brad Guinane, Tim Dezelski, Tony Nelson and Brandon Crane. Brent Eaton hailing from the basketball-mad state of Indiana. They appreciate the tradition of a program like Michigan State. They grew up admiring the toughness coach Tom Izzo preached in his players. They spent Saturday afternoons appreciating the explosive athleticism of players like Jason Richardson, the gritty leadership of Drew Neitzel and the big-time-players-make-big-time-plays-in-big-games quality embodied by players like Kalin Lucas.

Now, it was them. It was Brent, Timmy, Wash and Gerbs taking that same court, playing the same program they saw on ESPN all the time. It would only be human nature to feel a little overwhelmed by the moment, even for nervy and bold college athletes.

The Izzone was constant noise, as if played on a loop, ebbing and flowing with every subtle action on the court. You can’t expect to replicate the look of nearly 15,000 fans in your peripheral vision in practice, where all these guys see are static wooden bleachers and the occasional splash of blue.

As the game started, the spectacle of the arena was not lost on these intelligent, self-aware players. The Chargers played a little tight, trying to adjust to the overwhelming size and blinding speed of the Spartans (that’s something else you can’t replicate in practice). The movements weren’t smooth, the passes had that pulling-the-string feel to them at first, and the shots bounced roughly off the rim. MSU cruised to a 25-9 lead early in the first half. Then, a funny thing happened. The basketball players started playing basketball.

This group of Chargers are at their best when they’re relaxed, taking makeable shots, and moving the ball quickly and crisply. Gerber, the soul of this team, drained a 3-pointer. Brad cleverly made his way inside for a layup. Suddenly, Hillsdale was on a 12-2 run, it was a six-point game, and members of the Izzone started looking around nervously, wondering what exactly, was going on.

The rest of the story does not play out like the film “Hoosiers.” There was no miracle victory. The Spartans exercised their physical dominance and turned it into an 80-58 win over Hillsdale.

After the game, the players sat on the bus, absorbing all they saw and felt on this night, when Izzo himself climbed up the entrance to address the team. He commended the team on their skill and effort, and made sure they understood how hard the Spartans prepared to play this game. MSU’s preparation intensity was a direct compliment to the Charger program, and the players understood this. Some of the players took to Twitter to express their emotions and admiration for Izzo. Others kept it simple, stating that this was the best basketball experience of their lives.

The 2011-12 season carries high hopes for the players on this team. Not many Division II squads get to experience things like the trip to Greece in August, followed a few months later by a game on the grandest of stages. Experiences like this bond a team together. When you combine the bond, the skill, the drive of these players, this game at Michigan State University will rank a little further down the list of the greatest basketball experiences of their lives.

They will have great nights on the court in the future. But they won’t be like this. They’ll be better.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tears, pride, respect for Charger senior football and volleyball players

By Genna Hilgenbrink

An athlete’s collegiate career is gone in the blink of an eye and when the final home game approaches it is a reason for applause and congratulations.

This past weekend was Senior Night for both the Charger volleyball and football team. Seniors lined up along with their parents and loved ones to be recognized for their hard work and dedication for the past four years.

Mothers shed a tear and fathers held their head proudly as each senior’s accomplishments were announced. As they were read off, many of them were recognized for earning All-American, or All-GLIAC honors. This was truly a moment of glory for each individual senior before they played their last home game of the season.

The Charger volleyball team celebrated seven seniors, and the ceremony was separated over two days. On Friday October 28th, Brogan Wells, Morgan Podkul, Ashlee Crowder, Amanda Geelhoed, and Apryl Schmucker were recognized. Lining up with their family members before the national anthem, one by one their accomplishments were acknowledged.

The ceremony started off with two-year captain, Brogan Wells followed by Morgan Podkul, who earned GLIAC All-Academic honors three times in her four years. Just after Morgan, was the two-time All American Ashlee Crowder, preceding a distinctive team leader Amanda Geelhoed. The ceremony concluded with Apryl Schmucker, an offensive leader who leaves Hillsdale ranking fourth in school history for career assists and sixth in service aces.

The evening continued with a 3-0 sweep of Ashland University to clinch the GLIAC South Division title.

The following day, the remaining seniors were recognized. Another two year captain started off the evening. Rachel VanderWall a GLIAC All-Academic stood proudly next to Clara Leutheuser as their accomplishments were read off. Clara, another athlete who has earned many honors in her four years, was a two time All American, winner of the GLIAC Commissioner’s Award and recipient of the President’s Scholar-Athlete Award.

Once again, following the ceremony the Chargers swept their opponent, Lake Erie College, 3-0.

Saturday was also Senior Night for the Charger football team. The team did not celebrate seven, but 17 graduating seniors. Although the mothers were still teary eyed, and the fathers still proud, the ceremony lasted substantially longer than that of the volleyball team in order to recognize all 17 players.

Hard work and dedication are what got these seniors to where they are today and, the ceremony recognized just that. Among the 17 seniors were eight members of the GLIAC All-Academic team, showing dedication not only as an athlete on the field but as a student in the classroom. 

Among the graduating seniors was Nick Hixson, a member of the All-GLIAC Second Team and two year captain. Also in the group was Nick Meinert, a four-year Charger basketball player who came back his fifth year to join the football team.

In the last home game of the season, the Charger Football Team beat Northwood University 14-10.

These athletes have been playing their sport for the majority of their lives. Their final home game can be emotional, but most importantly something to be proud of. Having endured their sport for many years, they have proven themselves capable of working hard, a skill that will later be necessary in their lives after Hillsdale.