Pioneer Basketball Ready to take the Court
Men's Basketball is in a season of transition after a 26-10 record and a run to the Elite 8 at last year's national tournament. While the team was voted #2 in the HAAC this season, gone are starters Rustin Dowd (Third-team All-America), Jacob French, Lukas Weigel, and Justin Collard. Key returners include seniors Luke Thomas (14.3 ppg), David Clark (6.5 ppg), Conner Langrehr (11.7 ppg), Brandon Newton (6.5 ppg) and junior Nick Syrie (9.1 ppg).
Last season the Pioneers struggled to find consistency as nine players started at least seven games. Despite injuries and lineup shuffling, MNU still finished third in the HAAC and advanced to the conference tourney title game. While MNU knocked off #7 Cal State-San Marcos and #10 Oklahoma Baptist to advance to the Elite 8, a loss to #2 Lindsey Wilson ended the season. Coach Rocky Lamar is excited about the new season.
"We have a great nucleus returning," he says. "Five returning players who all got plenty of starts last season is a reason for optimism. Luke Thomas in the post and Nick Syrie in the back court are as talented as anyone in the country, and with the rest of the talent on our squad, we should pose a tough night for anyone."
Women's basketball returns most of last year's 30-3 squad as the two-time defending HAAC and HAAC Tournament champs. HAAC coaches voted the team #1 for this season. After losing post player Kiley Herold to graduation, MNU is still loaded. Defending HAAC Player of the Year and second-team All-America Kelsey Balcom (12.8 ppg) is rejoined by three-year starting guards Navia Palu and Rachel Boan (9.0 ppg) and two-year starter Daria Sprew (9.3 ppg). Key reserve Megan Balcom (8.6 ppg) returns after a great freshman season, and Kendra Flemming (9.0 ppg) is trying to recover from a leg injury in time for the stretch run. Seniors Marlianne Louzeiro, Kassidy Ritchel, Brooke Rinehart and CJ Wesemann return with junior Shadequa Longus. Transfers Kyleesha Weston (Colorado) and Martyna Kudziela (Western Illinois) should see heavy minutes as well.
Last season the Pioneers were the model of consistency. The starting five did not change except on Senior Night, and MNU rattled off a school-record 20-straight wins from mid-December to early March. Climbing as high as #9 in the national ranking after winning their second straight HAAC tournament title, a first-round knockout at nationals has motivated the Pioneers.
"We have senior leadership combined with talented depth this year," says head coach Jon Lewis. "The additions of the transfers has only made us better, and everyone is hungry to improve even more."
MNU volleyball clinched its second-straight HAAC title and third-straight appearance at the NAIA national championship in December with a #6 ranking and 21-2 record (7-0 HAAC). Taryn Salum is a four-time HAAC Setter of the Week, and Vladi Kopanarova is a two-time HAAC Hitter/Player of the Week. Zoradia Heredia is leading the team with 245 kills, 241 digs, and 23 aces. Britney Grittman leads MNU with 91 blocks. Two-time All-America honoree Linjun Ji is having another great all-around season, and the Pioneers are riding a 19-match winning streak in the HAAC dating back to 2011
After seven games, Pioneer football is 2-5 in a brutal first-half schedule. With five of the first six games against ranked opponents and just one home game to date, the Pioneers will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Greg Gates (91.5 rushing yards per game) and Joe Camacho (HAAC leader in tackles) have been bright spots, and kicker Michael Brewer is a two-time HAAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Catch up on the outcome of post season and tournament play at www.mnusports.com .
Women's soccer (13-3-3) is having its best season in program history. The team recorded its twelfth victory of the season over previously-undefeated Avila, and secured a fourth-seed in the HAAC tourney. Kalyn Pfaff leads the offense with 12 goals, while Ellaisa Marquis has seven goals and eight assists. Midfielders Kelli Reid (10 assists) and Misty Olsen (six goals, six assists) have been strong in the middle. Senior keeper Breanna Oddo and senior defender Kara Quinn have anchored a defense which has eight shutouts on the season.
Men's soccer (12-3-2) has clinched a conference tournament home game as the #1 seed and co-champions with Baker and Benedictine. Defender Aurelien Norest was named HAAC Defensive Player of the Year and HAAC MVP. Head coach Kevin Wardlaw was named HAAC Co-Coach of the Year. Senior keeper Chris Ericksson has 10 shutouts, good for second in the nation. Lucas Machado, Eddie Morales and Jonathan Babcock have been named HAAC Players of the Week.