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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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Saints soccer splits with Trolls on the road

This weekend both the Holy Cross Men’s and Women’s soccer teams went on the road to Palos Heights, Illinois, facing conference foe Trinity Christian College.

The women’s team played the Trolls first, with the match being very even through the first 30 minutes. Trinity found the edge early, with Brianna Uhl assisting Selah Hopkins in the 33rd minute, giving the Trolls a 1-0 edge over the Saints.

A Holy Cross penalty inside the 18 would give the Trolls a penalty kick opportunity just a few minutes later. Trinity selected Uhl to take the kick, and she converted it, giving the Trolls a 2-0 lead with nine minutes left in the first half. That score would hold heading into halftime.

The second half began much like the first, with the two teams going back and forth, trading shooting opportunities. Like the second half, though, it was the Trolls who would find success on their shots, with a goal by Trinity’s Demi Scibetta in the 63rd minute.

That would be the last goal scored in the game, with the final score Saints 0, Trolls 3.

The Saints attempted 10 total shots (five each half), but only two of those attempts were on net. Trinity took 17 shots and was able to put 12 on net. The loss dropped Holy Cross to 2-4-2 in conference play and kept them at eight points in the conference. The Saints now sit in ninth in CCAC play with just five games left in the season.

The Saints’ next game will be against Roosevelt University on Oct. 12 at 2 p.m. at Saints Field. The Lakers are currently 3-2-2 in conference play and sit above Holy Cross College in ninth. This game is vital for the Saints, as a win would tie them with Roosevelt and give them the head-to-head edge. A loss would put them back six without a rematch.

The two teams have met 10 times since Oct. 6, 2012. In the meetings, the Saints are 3-5-2. The Saints have had a much stronger showing in their last five matches, going 2-2-1 with an even goal differential.

The Men’s team kicked off their games against the Trolls at 3:30 p.m.The first 64 minutes of the contest were a scoreless affair. The first goal came in the 65th minute, off a pass from senior midfielder Axel Valenzuela to junior defender Victor Sellu. The goal put the Saints up 1-0.

The following (and final) goal was also a Saints’ score, with senior midfielder Elmin Ejup scoring unassisted in the 80th minute. The Saints would ride out the next 10 minutes despite three Trinity Christian corner kicks.

Sophomore Claudio Fuentealba earned a shutout on the game, playing all 90 minutes and saving both Trinity shots on goal.

The win improves the Saints to a 5-1-1 CCAC record and a 7-4-1 overall record. Holy Cross now has 16 points and sits third in the conference table. The men’s team also plays Roosevelt University next. The game is at 2 p.m. Oct. 11.

The men’s team has a historically poor record against Roosevelt University. Since 2012, they are just 4-8. In the last five games, the Saints are 2-3 and have been outscored 6-7.

The Roosevelt matchup carries less weight than it does for the women’s team. In the men’s league, the Lakers are 4-3 with just 12 points, ranking them seventh.

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Saints women’s soccer falls to Judson

On Sept. 14, the Holy Cross women’s soccer team played their second home conference game of the season, facing off against the Judson Eagles. 

Judson wasted no time, scoring quickly in the ninth minute of action. The goal came off a rebound, and freshman goalkeeper Taylor Primack was able to block the initial shot. However, the ball lingered just outside the six-yard box where Judson’s Alex Wawrzyniak was able to chip it in. 

Almost nine minutes later, Judson scored again. This time, Wawrzyniak placed an exceptionally thorough ball to teammate Alondra Blanco, setting her up for a 1-1 with Primack. Left with no other option, Primack attempted to challenge for the ball, but Blanco was able to chip the shot up and in. 

Holy Cross replied before the half, with senior midfielder Lauren Cernak scoring on a corner kick, making it a 1-2 game. Cernak was not entirely done, however. In minute 62, Cernak was able to field a long airborn pass from Abby Craig. Cernak then drove hard to the goal, beating the keeper and launching the ball into the empty net.

With the score tied 2-2, both teams began to get increasingly physical, leading to an altercation in minute 66. It resulted in a caution for junior midfielder Kassidi Puthoff and an ejection for Judson’s Wawrzyniak (Violent Conduct One). After receiving the red card, Wawrzyniak walked off the pitch and into the Holy Cross forest, where she watched the rest of the match.

The ejection gave Holy Cross an advantage for the rest of the match. The game remained even until 80:58, when Kelly Leon had an exceptional drop pass to Natalia Ruiz, freeing her up to score what would ultimately be the gaming-winning goal for Judson. 

The game remained a physical, competitive match with Holy Cross unable to take advantage of being a man up on Judson. The Saints ultimately fell 2-3.

Head coach Omar Gallo took longer than usual to address the players after the loss, talking incredibly soft. The message? Stay positive. 

“Anytime you are in these situations, you have got to find a positive out of that negative situation,” Gallo said. “Being down two goals and battling back shows that we can deal with adversity, and that’s something we have got to continue to focus on.”

The loss sends Holy Cross to an overall record of 1-2-4, with a 0-2 record in conference play. Currently, the Saints are tied for last place with five other teams, including Governors State and IUSB. Though two hard-fought games have resulted in 0 points, Gallo is not disappointed by the results.

“We know that Stritch and Judson are going to be two of the top teams in the conference, and we’re there,” Gallo said. “Both games were lost by one goal, but we are not discouraged by these results. We are in these games, we just got to play to the final whistle.”

There is absolutely a sense of urgency, especially with the Saints’ next game against Governors State — an opponent they are tied in the standings with. 

“Going into Governors State, yeah, there definitely is some urgency,” Gallo said. “We have got to get three points on the board on Saturday.”

The game against Governors State might be just what the doctor ordered for the Saints. Historically, Holy Cross has dominated the Jaguars. The last time the two teams met, Holy Cross won 5-0.

The two teams will meet Saturday, Sept. 17 in University Park, Illinois. The match kicks off at 6:00 p.m.

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.