0 Friday, December 07, 2012

Eagles athletics carries storied tradition

by Guest Writer

Written by Will Binder and Lane Robles

The Eagles’ athletic programs are quickly forging a reputation for excellence in the Heartland Conference.

Oklahoma Christian University has earned seven Heartland Conference runner of the week awards between the men and women’s cross-country teams.

Seniors Geoffrey Njonjo and Nick Stoots led the younger Eagles with four total awards—three to Njonjo, one to Stoots. Stoots was initially unaware he had earned the Heartland honor.

“I didn’t realize I won it until coach told me,” Stoots said. “He was like, ‘You’re the fastest runner from this conference,’ and I was like ‘Oh my goodness, that’s awesome!’”

Stoots admits he was unsatisfied with his previous times, but everything aligned for his award-winning performance.

“The previous races before that one I was doing horrible,” Stoots said. “I was not running to my full potential. That race was just perfect conditions; the practices leading up to that just felt great, the weather that morning of the race was perfect, and I just got into the frame of mind to keep pushing and finally got to it.”

Sophomores Roberto Diaz and Jacqueline Hallam, alongside freshman Tara Lewis, earned an honor apiece. Diaz is all smiles this season for his award, as well as the team’s performance.

“It was just an honor to know all my hard work over the summer paid off,” Diaz said. “I’m happy I got the recognition for it—I just can’t help but smile. It’s one of those things that just makes you happy; knowing you did something productive for the team, you stepped up when you needed to step up.”

Both Hallam and Lewis attribute their success to their work ethic. Lewis in particular pointed to a more intense summer regimen as the reason she has improved, and earned both the women’s cross-country runner of the week and student athlete of the week awards.

“It feels great,” Lewis said. “I put in a lot of hard work, and I’m glad that I got rewarded for it. I worked really hard over the summer—and yeah, training this year, seeing how far we could go definitely helped.”

Hallam noted she felt encouraged by the acknowledgment—both for her work, and for the good light it sheds on the team.

While a more intense workout routine certainly played its part in Hallam’s success, she points to her consistency as the deciding factor.

“The basic elements of any sport,” Hallam said. “Dedication, time, hard work from training up to twice a day most days in the week and not slacking off, pays off in the long run.”

Oklahoma Christian’s cross-country program earned more than weekly honors, however. Seniors David McWilliams, Brayden Barrientez and junior Trevor Martin became members of the NCCAA Scholar-Athlete list after nationals.

In order to receive the award, a student athlete must have junior or senior hours and have a GPA of at least 3.4 out of 4.0.

The Eagles will lose three of their top runners to graduation before next season, but to Stoots, it doesn’t hurt their chances.

“I think the team still has a possibility of stepping it up even more next year and making it to nationals again,” Stoots said.

Diaz sees Stoots as a key runner in next season’s group. Though top competitor Malone will not lose a single runner for next season, the challenge does not deter Diaz’s faith in the Eagles’ ability to overcome.

“I think we’re going to have an incredibly talented team,” Diaz said. “There’s going to be new standards to set—we’re all young kids. Nick’s going to be the oldest guy, and he’s going to play a huge role in our success next year; I think we’re going to have a good, solid five that will round us in to hopefully getting another title.”

Oklahoma Christian’s basketball teams are showing they deserve to compete in Division II this season as well.

Reinke leads the team with a total of 72 rebounds and 144 points, averaging eight rebounds and 16 points a game. Junior Kendre Talley follows behind with 87 points. Senior Brandon Troutman and sophomore Willie Harper tie at 80 points to round out the Eagles’ top scorers.

The Lady Eagles basketball team is primed for a spark as well—leading their opponents in free-throw percentage and nearly matching them in total points per game.

Senior Katy O’Steen became the first Heartland women’s basketball player of the week since Oklahoma Christian made the move to Division II.

“It was kind of a surprise to me,” O’Steen said. “I would have never thought I would be the first basketball player to receive honors in the Heartland. I was very excited and honored.”

O’Steen leads the team with 152 points and 61 rebounds. This is O’Steen’s last season, and she readily expresses gratitude for how her teammates drive her to succeed.

“We have such a great group of girls,” O’Steen said. “They encourage and motivate each other and myself so much that it makes me want to work hard for them. I couldn’t get anywhere without them and it’s been such a blessing playing with them.”

While the basketball programs are exceeding expectations individually in Division II, the tennis team is putting the final touches on their training for the regular season.

Though the tennis season will not start until February, the Eagles are prepared and ready to go, according to senior Martin Poboril. Poboril received the NCCAA men’s tennis player of the week honor in October, following an impressive showing in the U.S. Tennis Association-Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division II South Central Regional in Abilene, Texas.

Though the honor came unexpectedly for Poboril, his mentality is still centered on the team’s cohesion and preparedness for the upcoming season.

“It was kind of a surprise when I got it, but it feels great,” Poboril said. “I think that we’re just ready—really ready to start the season.”

Since winning the NAIA national title last season, Poboril pointed out the team has grown even closer.

“It’s not just all about me, it’s about the team,” Poboril said. “We’re more together, all of us now. We are just more of a team.”

Poboril, sophomore Bruno Tiberti, freshman Josip Smoljan and junior Paulo Roessle all earned spots in the ITA’s NCAA Division II fall men’s rankings as well.
Oklahoma Christian will need their experienced team, as former NAIA powerhouses Azusa Pacific and Fresno Pacific also make the move into Division II. Though the two schools were not included in the fall rankings, they will be eligible at the beginning of the spring season.

The men and women’s golf program has once again held their reputation to a high by performing well both as a team and individually.

With five All-Americans, the men’s golf team completed their victory for the NCCAA National Title in a dominating fashion. The Eagles claimed the program’s third national title at the Hombre Golf Club by a massive 52 shots over runner-up Union University.

“It was a good feeling winning nationals as we went into the tournament with this being our only goal,” sophomore Alasdair Dalgliesh said. “There were a few good teams there that could compete, but the depth of teams was not great. I still feel like if there were some better teams there that we would have beaten them the way we played.”

All five Eagle golfers—seniors Vilhelm Bogstrand and Logan Herbst, freshman Sam Johnston and junior Jared Consoli and Dalgliesh—finished in the top 10 and earned All-American honors. Bogstrand achieved his third career individual title.

“Winning the individual title at nationals was definitely one of the highlights of my college career,” Bogstrand said. “It was one of my goals for the season, and it felt really good being able to accomplish it. My game felt good that week, and I was able to put three good rounds together.”

The Lady Eagles too have had one of their program’s most successful seasons.

Despite being a young team, the women’s golf team has stamped their mark.

The women came second in the NCCAA tournament with sophomore Anna Arrese Cortadellas and junior Catherine Odgers being named All-Americans for their top performances.

To add to the vast amount of individual awards this season, the men’s soccer team too can boast great success. Oklahoma Christian men’s soccer players freshman Ricardo Chinchilla, sophomores Domenico DeGrazia and Tommy Guernsey made the All-Heartland Conference second-team honor list.

All of the head coaches in the Heartland Conference voted on which players they thought to be worthy of the conference team.

“These guys all had great seasons,” Head Men’s Soccer Coach David Scott said. “It’s nice for them to be recognized in our first season in the league and it’s an honor for them to be rewarded for all their hard work this season.”

Chinchilla made a major impact this season, acting as a versatile and creative attacking midfielder.

“The award represents a lot for me,” Chinchilla said. “It is a pleasant reward that means all the hard work and sacrifices during the whole semester have paid off. It also motivates my spirit to work harder every time and to improve my game so I can be helpful to the team.”

DeGrazia, of Caracas, Venezuela, led the Eagles in both goals (eight) and assists (seven). He also finished second in the Heartland in points with 23, third in goals and top spots in assists and shots with a staggering total of 61.

“It is always good to have that type of award that recognizes the work you do as a player,” DeGrazia said. “It motivates me to keep working hard and try to do my best at every practice and every game for the rest of the years I have left in the program. Hopefully it will also motivate the rest of the team to realize that with hard work we can achieve great things.”

The Eagles will be looking to improve on their successes of this season and DeGrazia believes it to be an absolute possibility.

“I do believe that if we keep working on improvements we will do better as a team the coming seasons,” DeGrazia said. “I have no doubt that the talent is there. I believe we could have more than two or three all-conference OC players in that list.”

Sophomore Sammy Guernsey was also honored for his contributions this season and was one of two Eagle players, along with DeGrazia, named to the All-NCCAA Central Region second-team honors list.

The newer Eagle generation is heaping on the individual honors, continuing an Oklahoma Christian tradition of excellence.

A top sprinter, three Eagles basketball legends, a four-time All-American in tennis and the most successful Oklahoma Christian golfer are being inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame at a banquet hosted in their honor Feb. 8.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden will be the keynote speaker for the event.

Bruno Buccolo is a four-time first-team NAIA All-American selection (2005-2008) and a four-time PING All-America. Buccolo holds school records for career-scoring average, freshman-scoring average, junior-scoring average and best 36-hole score.

Mike Gipson led the Eagles basketball team in scoring for three straight seasons, from 1963-64 through 1965-66.

Gibson finished his career with 1,472 points, holding the university’s scoring record until 1980. Gipson served as a professor of biology at Oklahoma Christian from 1970 to 2009.

Gabriela Lancman helped lead the Lady Eagles to the program’s first two NAIA national tournament appearances in 2000 and 2001.

Jarred Merrill was the top post- player in Eagles basketball history, earning NAIA player of the year honors as a senior.
He finished his career leading the Eagles with 2,189 points and second on the career-rebounding list with 1,120. Merrill was the first Sooner Athletic Conference player to record 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.

Sarah Reese is one of only five Eagles women basketball players to earn NAIA All-American honors at least three times. Reese is sixth on Oklahoma Christian’s career scoring list with 1,707 points and fifth on the single-season scoring (661) and career rebounding (996) lists.

Damon Sims was one of the top sprinters in Oklahoma Christian history. The six-time NAIA All-America honoree won the NAIA championship in the outdoor 200 meters in 1994.

Sims still holds Oklahoma Christian records in the indoor 200 (21.72 seconds) and 400 (48.09 seconds) and the outdoor 200 (20.85 seconds).

“Bruno, Mike, Gabriela, Jarred, Sarah and Damon represent the best of OC athletics,” Oklahoma Christian Athletic Director Curtis Janz said. “They were stars in their respective sports and brought honor to themselves, their teams and their university. We are proud of what each of them accomplished during their time at Oklahoma Christian.”

Photo by: Nick Conley and Henoc Kivuye






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