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Holy Cross men’s and women’s basketball teams prepare for a new season

The Holy Cross women’s basketball team went 15-15 overall (10-12 in conference play) last season. They were just one win shy of setting a win’s total record in program history. The goal for this season?

“[Best season in program history], that is the minimum expectation,” said head coach Tom Robbins. “One more win, and we would have had it last year, and we have most of our players back, and the freshmen we are adding, they move us forward.” 

Robbins will have a smaller than usual team this year, just ten players in total. However, the quality of his squad is what gives Robbins his confidence. He does admit that the lack of depth is a potential weakness, though.

“We keeps us [from our goals] is injury… we do not have a huge margin for error, we are going to sustain injuries like anybody does, but if we have any long-term, multiple game injuries out of our players, that is going to be hard for us to overcome.”

Though the squad has just one senior in guard Jayda Miller, junior guard Lauren Morris and junior forward Neva Longhofer have also stepped up and have helped prepare the team during the offseason. 

The Saints will look to spread the floor with their shooters like Morris and Miller. Then, they will use a two-man game down low, utilizing athletic guards who can attack the rim, with bigs crashing the boards for rebounds. All in all, Robbins would like to shoot from the two more often than from range.

“I like a 2/3 to 1/3 balance between twos and threes… that’s a little more conservative than what a lot of the NAIA has been trending toward; a lot more teams are 50-50 these days.”

Robbins is incredibly excited about his freshman players. Elizabeth Edmonds, a starting-caliber player, occupies the center potion that Sara White left vacant. Audrey Tallent is an incredibly dynamic freshman guard. And sophomore guard Jordyn Smith, who is an incredible passer, should see starter minutes as well. 

Defensively, the team will look to clog passing lanes in the half-court and trap the opposition in a full-court defense. The Saints will then try to funnel the opposition into mid-range shots. Ideally, they will force them to shoot off the dribble late into the shot clock. 

Instrumental to that will be Grace Adams, a sophomore forward whom Robbins said can 1-5. Robbins thought back to last year when the Saints won a game by holding the opposing team to zero points for about six straight minutes in the fourth quarter. Adams was the primary reason for their dominance.

“They thought the best thing to do was take guard and go right at her because our matchups, Grace ended up happening to guard [their lead player], and they thought that was their advantage, and Grace shut her down every single time.” 

In contrast to the women’s team, the Holy Cross men’s basketball team took a bit of a step back last season. The men’s team went 13-17 overall with an 8-14 conference record. For a team that had made the NAIA National Tournament the last two seasons, last season was disappointing.

Nevertheless, head coach Mike McBride is confident his team can return to their winning ways. For McBride, that means focusing on the little things.

“To be honest, we talk very little about [outcome-based goals] because [they] are always a byproduct of what you are doing day in and day out, so our expectation is that we are growing closer and more unified as a team daily, that our level of intensity and execution rises daily and if we do that then those outcome-based expectations and goals become a byproduct of our daily improvements.” 

Helping to improve the team every day are senior leaders Jalen Martin, Beau Ludwick and Mick Sullivan.

A 6’4” forward, Martin missed most of the previous season due to injury, playing in only two games. Now that he is healthy again, McBride expects him to be a significant part of the Saint’s defense. 

“[Jaylen] has great length, so we think he can be a versatile defender, we think he can guard inside and out, he has really improved skill-wise, we think he has become a much-improved shooter, so that is a dynamic we really need obviously with the loss of Ryan Black,” McBride said.

The Saints will play a traditional man-to-man defense, with adjustments as needed. They’ll tend to avoid switching defenders, preferring the pre-game matchups. Martin’s ability to guard one through five brings a unique skill set to the Saints, who struggled defensively last season.

Ludwick, a 6’2” guard, is expected to be another key defensive player. His skill set allows him to draw top perimeter shooting assignments night in and night out.

“He is great one-on-one on the ball, and he has as good a vision and instinct off the ball as anybody we have, so we think he can really be outstanding,” McBride said.  

Sullivan, the team’s starting center, is once again expected to be a force for the team on offense. He will feature in the low post, looking to dominate the paint, grab rebounds and find shooters on the outside when he inevitably draws multiple defenders. McBride said that having Sullivan back and healthy, along with the additions of freshmen forwards Tommy Snyder and Joe Kelly, has led to a new strategy for the team offensively. 

“We have the guys we think that can make those, but we do want to play with that inside-out mentality. We are really emphasizing playing inside, attacking the paint both with post-play, with cutting, and with driving, so I think having a much more inside-dominated approach is maybe a little different than what we had last year,” McBride said. 

The seniors are certainly not alone in guiding the team. Last year’s standout freshmen, Justin O’Neal and Nash Hostetler are coming off sensational seasons. And McBride only expects them to improve. 

“We expect a lot out of those two in terms of production and what they do and bring to the game each night… we also think they both of these guys have great leadership potential, and I do not want to wait until they are senior for that to emerge,” McBride said.

The women’s team will begin their season on the road in Huntington Indiana when they face Huntington University. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. Friday. The men will have a home opener to start the season when they play host to East-West University Monday at 6 p.m.

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Holy Cross women’s soccer finishes regular season with a shutout defeat

The Holy Cross College women’s soccer team concluded its regular season Wednesday when they faced off against Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

The Saints came into the game hoping to move up in the conference standings. A win-along with a Judson and Saint Xavier loss this weekend could have moved the Saints into sixth in the conference standings, making the bracket in the conference tournament a little bit easier. 

Instead, the Saints took a tough road loss to finish their regular season.  Holy Cross struggled to generate offense in the first half, attempting only one shot, while Olivet took seven. The Saints were also only able to generate one corner kick to Olivet’s three. 

Olivet capitalized on their chances early. Sara Loichinger assisted Melea Miller midway through the first half to give Olivet a lead they would not lose.

The Saints’ hopes of catching up to Olivet were dashed almost immediately in the second half, with the Tigers’ Alaina Bahr scoring an unassisted goal in the 46th minute. Almost 15 minutes later, Marissa Anderson would score the third goal, also unassisted. Her goal put Olivet up 3-0, which would also serve as the final score.

The Saints finish their regular season with an overall record of 6-5-7 and a conference record of 5-5-3.

While the Saints certainly could have used the win to progress in the standings, the loss is not overly damaging. Thanks to a 5-1 win against Roosevelt University back on Oct. 12, the Saints have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lakers. So even if the Lakers win their regular-season finale on Friday, Holy Cross has the edge.

The only question remaining for the women is who their opponent will be. The Saints are firmly locked into the No. 8 seed, meaning they will be on the road no matter what. It also means the Saints will face off against the top-seeded regular season conference champions. 

There are currently three teams who could wind up as the conference regular season champs: the Cardinal Stritch Wolves, the Olivet Nazarene Tigers and the Saint Ambrose Fighting Bees. Stritch and Olivet are currently tied at 31 points apiece. Ambrose is just behind with 29 points.

Olivet finishes its regular season against CCAC foe Calumet, with the game kicking off at 11 a.m. CT. This matchup would be shocking if Olivet did not win. Calumet is last in the conference at 0-11 in CCAC play with just one goal for and 83 goals against.

Stritch is playing host to St. Francis Illinois, a playoff team looking to move up in the standings to snag a home playoff game. Considering that Stritch boasts a 9-3 record against St. Francis with six consecutive wins against them, the Wolves will likely win their matchup too.

St. Ambrose also plays on Saturday but faces a non-conference foe. They will not play their final conference matchup until Nov. 1, when they take on Calumet, which should also be a relatively easy win.

Given that all three of these games would seem to be reasonably easy wins, St. Ambrose is the least likely Holy Cross opponent, as they would need both Olivet and Stritch to lose, along with a win, in order to move into first with 32 points.

The likely scenario is that Stritch and Olivet both win, giving them 34 points apiece, meaning it would come down to tiebreakers. The CCAC bylaws state that the first tiebreak in a conference standings tie is a head-to-head result. Since Olivet won against Stritch 3-1 in early October, Olivet is likely to become the regular season champion.

It also means that when the conference tournament begins on Nov. 5, the Holy Cross Saints will pick up right where they left off — facing the Olivet Nazarene Tigers in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu

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‘Disciplined’ Saints scrap out 1-0 win over St. Francis

The Holy Cross men’s soccer team completed a road trip sweep Wednesday night, defeating St. Francis 1-0, days after a 2-1 triumph at Governors State. The Saints are now 2-1-0 in conference action and 4-2-1 overall since a season-opening blowout loss to Bethel. With the victory, Holy Cross now carries seven points to place 4th in the CCAC standings. The Saints started 0-3-2 within the conference last year, so head coach Omar Gallo is pleased with the early success in 2022.

“It’s always important to start strong, and anytime you get wins on the road, it allows you to have more confidence for your home matches,” Gallo said. “Anytime you can get the results on the road — especially a W — it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders as you continue to move forward.”

The match began unfavorably for Holy Cross, as the Saints were pitted against a strong wind in the first half. St. Francis outshot Holy Cross 11-6, but sophomore goalkeeper Claudio Fuentealba recorded four saves to take a scoreless tie into halftime.

As the second half began, Gallo directed several key changes that opened up the offense. Senior midfielder Marcos Hernandez and sophomore midfielder Archimed Sabu were moved toward the middle of the field. The Saints also focused on feeding the attack through the center and attacking midfielders along with the striker. When it all came together, Holy Cross turned the tables and outshot St. Francis 12-9 in the second frame.

In the 67th minute, Holy Cross struck for the game’s only marker. Sophomore forward Kevin Vidana found the back of the net for his first collegiate goal. Though the official assist was attributed to freshman midfielder Tristan Alfaro, Gallo cited sophomore defender Martin Von Thun and his throw-in as the spark plug. 

“This year, we haven’t been able to capitalize off [Von Thun’s long throws]. Sure enough, the goal came off a long throw from Martin,” Gallo said. “What impressed us the most was Kevin’s discipline to be in the right position at the right time. The ball came out to where he wanted him to be, and he took an unbelievable strike.”

Both teams played with a high sense of urgency and intensity on a chilly evening in Joliet. By the time the Saints wrapped up their 1-0 victory, the stat sheet included 36 total fouls and 7 combined yellow cards. Four of the previous six Holy Cross-St. Francis matchups had ended in draws, so the Saints’ frontman expected and embraced the physical nature of the contest.

“I don’t think there’s any problem with having our guys play at a level that involves a bit more intensity than usual, as long as we’re disciplined and doing what we need to do to get the result in a professional way,” Gallo said. “That’s what you want from your players — to rise to the occasion. The physical component is one of the pillars of the game, and we’re able to compete at that level this year, so it’s not a problem for me.”

Just like the women’s team, the Holy Cross men will return to South Bend on Saturday for an Alumni Day battle with St. Xavier. The Cougars are scuffling early in CCAC play with just one goal scored in three conference games. They were also beaten 11-0 by Rio Grande back on August 25. The Saints will then wrap up September and the homestand with a non-conference date with Calvin College on Tuesday.

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Holy Cross women earn draw with St. Francis

The Holy Cross women’s soccer team wrapped up a two-game visit to the Chicago area by tying the University of St. Francis, 0-0.

Tuesday night’s result marked the Saints’ fifth draw of the year, but this one was especially crucial in the context of conference play. Holy Cross dropped its first two CCAC matches at home, but has now secured four points in two road games after a Saturday win at Governors State. 

St. Francis entered the contest on an offensive power surge, having netted eight goals in its previous two outings to obtain a record of 6-1. However, Holy Cross was up to the challenge, holding the Fighting Saints to less than two goals for just the second time this season and outshooting the opponent 25-16. For Saints head coach Omar Gallo, Tuesday’s defensive statement was all about adjustments.

“The game plan was to defend in a mid-block, but what I appreciate the most about this women’s team is their ability to improvise and adapt with the flow of the game,” Gallo said. “St Francis’ front six is unbelievable in the attack, and, with them putting three in the back, our girls identified that immediately. We had to change our style defensively and went into a high-pressing mode, eliminating their buildup from there.”

Though little squeaked through the Saints’ cohesive back end, whatever did was managed well by sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Primack. The Illinois native made six saves en route to her fourth shutout of the season and second consecutive clean sheet. As Holy Cross prepares to enter the heart of conference play, the netminder is on her game.

“The best way to describe [Primack] is consistent,” Gallo said. “The goalkeeping position is all about confidence, and right now she’s riding the wave of her confidence. When she was called upon in these last couple games, she stepped up and made some key saves.”

Further up the pitch, the Holy Cross offense pressured St. Francis with a season-high 25 shots attempted. In the Saints’ first two CCAC losses, they were outshot 54-27 by Cardinal Stritch and Judson. Since that troubling start, they have outdone Governors State and St. Francis by a margin of 44-33 in the shot department. Senior midfielder Lauren Cernak has spearheaded the turnaround, posting a team-best nine shots on Tuesday. She also scored and assisted twice in the week leading up to the St. Francis match. Coach Gallo set a six-shot goal for her on Tuesday, and Cernak exceeded expectations.

“The conference knows who [Cernak] is, so she’ll be manmarked at all times,” Gallo said. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to find ways to be creative and put her in situations where she’s had success in the past. She’s been able to buy into that over the last couple games, and setting a target for her really paid off.”

Holy Cross now carries an overall record of 2-2-5 and a conference mark of 1-2-1. The Saints currently sit in 9th place among the CCAC’s 14 teams, but the remaining nine conference matches yield ample opportunity to climb. With September nearing its close, the Holy Cross women are poised to emerge from the pack.

“What I enjoyed about my team is that they were frustrated after the game because they wanted to win,” Gallo said. “It shows me that I have a group who’s hungry right now.”

Looking ahead, the Saints return to South Bend to host CCAC foes in St. Xavier (Saturday) and Indiana University-South Bend (Wednesday). St. Xavier, much like St. Francis, carries a dynamic offense into the contest after a 5-2 victory over Governors State. The Cougars have been vulnerable on the back end, though, allowing multiple goals in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, IU-South Bend is off to a brutal start, allowing 50 goals and scoring none in an 0-7-0 opening.

“We have to build off the momentum of our defensive work that we’ve had the last two games,” Gallo said. “If we do well defensively, we should put ourselves in position to get a W. Though the results have been great on the road, there is a sense of urgency to get three points on Saturday.”