Sunday, January 29, 2012

The rumors of this blog's demise have been greatly exaggerated, if not warranted

Wow, has it really been nearly two months since I posted? What in the world is wrong with me? I should have my System membership card voided, if there was such a thing. As usual, I have no good excuse for neglecting all my favorite teams that employ the most exciting style of basketball since Dr. James Naismith first hung a peach basket from that balcony in New Jersey in the late 19th century.

Just now I feel terrible about it and I'm here to right some wrongs, namely giving all the teams, coaches, players and fans the information during the rest of the season. And just because I haven't been writing doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention. I still follow each of these squads zealously.

OK, is all forgiven? Good, I'll jump right in with the updates


What makes my absence even more inexplicable is the success the original System team has enjoyed so far. The Pioneers extended the best start in school history with a thrilling 98-92 victory Saturday over Lake Forest, which previously was unbeaten in the Midwest Conference. In fact, the Foresters had won 15 consecutive games since losing their season opener.

Grinnell (15-1, 11-1 MWC) jumped to an 85-67 lead midway through the second half before withstanding a late rally by Lake Forest (15-2, 11-1).

The only blemish so far for the Pioneers came on the road at Carroll on Jan. 14, a 109-106 loss. They have six regular season games remaining, including trips to Ripon and St. Norbert, always tough in the conference, and a rematch with Lake Forest in the friendly confines of Darby Gymnasium in the season finale Feb. 18.

Dating back to the first Grinnell season on record in 1900-01, no team ever has won more than 19 games, which came in 2002-03 with System creator David Arseneault. The 19-6 mark that season is the best of his career at the school.

Hopefully, I haven't been gone so long that you've forgotten Coach A currently is on sabbatical from his position, taking some time off to write a book on the evolution of The System. He turned over day-to-day control of the program to his son, Dave, and even though the games before the Christmas break counted against his dad's career record, Dave has been in charge all season.

I e-mailed him back before the holidays for an update on the team, and I foolishly neglected to get it out until now. Here is what he had to say about this year's team:

DAVE ARSENEAULT: "In the first part of the season our defense has been nothing short of spectacular. It still sounds crazy to hear those words come out of my mouth, especially since we’re giving up 98ppg, but everybody is buying into to getting after it defensively so that we can wear the opposition down. Back in the day, the teams I played for just wanted to outscore people. This current squad takes it personally when another team scores. Even though the game might not be quite asthetically pleasing (at least from my perspective since I like to see points scored), you can't argue with the results.

"As with any ball club, there are still plenty of areas we can improve. Most notably, we need to improve our offensive aggression after a live turnover. I suppose if we continue to 'D' up like we have been then we should get plenty of practice working on what we do on a live steal.

"It’s hard to say what the break will do to us. I’m a little nervous, given that we’ve been playing so well and you hate to take a break when you’re on a roll, but I still think it will be nice for everybody to get rested and healthy before we start the majority of conference play. The break also gives us a chance to watch a lot of film. Without classes and homework, the guys have a lot more time and energy to watch film. This should help us make significant strides over the month of January.

"I anticipate that everybody has taken care of business in the classroom. Additionally, I know that Dad and I have focused on distributing the minutes evenly to keep people fresh, both mentally and physically for the stretch drive."

Good stuff there. Even with all the success, there have been a few hurdles along the way. Guard Matt Skelly missed seven games with a broken hand before returning after Christmas, and there was a tremendous comeback in a home game against Illinois College on Jan. 10. Grinnell trailed by 22 points at one point in the first half before rallying for a 115-113 victory. Even after my years of following the Pioneers and The System, I'll never become accustomed to the lopsided nature of that game stats: Illinois College shot 71.7 percent ON THE ROAD and still lost. Unreal.

Grinnell returns to action Tuesday at home against Knox College, looking to improve on that terrific start. And, finally, I plan to be back with updates.


One of those oddities when you follow teams as closely as I do is that it is easy to fail to see the big picture. I have had a sense that Glenville State has played a bit unevenly this season, never really hitting its stride while going through the brutal schedule in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (22 games).

Then I pull up the standings to check for this update, and there the Pioneers sit on top of the conference with an 11-2 record, a half-game ahead of Concord. Coach Bunky Harkleroad's team has won five games in a row -- and seven of its past eight -- to move to 13-4 overall, certainly much better than "uneven" or any other adjective I foolishly would put on them.

The Pioneers won again Saturday by overwhelming Wheeling Jesuit 99-72 and finish out a four-game home stand Wednesday against Davis & Elkins. In the latest victory, Tenisha Wilson, Beth Deren and Ginny Petties each scored 15 points, and Mishae Miles added 13. Wilson and Miles led the way with 10 rebounds apiece, and point guard Danielle Woodmore had 12 assists

For the season, Wilson is scoring 19.1 points per game, and Miles has been a double-double machine. She averages 14.8 points and 11.5 rebounds for Glenville State. Deren has made 54 3-pointers, including five Saturday.

Coach Harkleroad also e-mailed me some thoughts on his season around the holidays, including an update on Tiffani Huffman, a guard who injured her shoulder in the second game of the season:

BUNKY HARKLEROAD: "Things are going well for the most part. When we shoot it OK and play hard without fouling good things have happened. On the other hand both of our losses have been almost identical ... our opponents have been 53-for-72 from the free throw line and we’ve shot it poorly in both those games. I’d like for us to continue to be aggressive and force tempo but do it without fouling. Sometimes that’s hard to do when playing The System.

"Also, when we keep things simple and execute our fast break we tend to get great looks at the basket. What I’m saying is this, when we play fast and make good SIMPLE decisions we’ve been very successful and shown some great signs. When we don’t execute our basic READS and when we foul too much it’s too predictable and the outcome isn’t good. Make sense?

"Huffman had surgery and will not be back this season, she was really doing a great job when she went down. Miles and Wilson have been great so far, Mishae has been amazing. Mishae is on a partial scholarship and is probably the best bargain in D-II sports period. Wilson is her usual self and plugging along. Both of them are great fits here and are just good players, that sums it up with them.

"I think we have a shot to be in the mix at the end. Been a lot of bad luck around the league and a lot of talented players graduated. I think the league is down a bit and there are really going to be a lot of teams with a great shot at winning."

A big thanks for Coach Harkleroad's time. Glenville State has nine games left, including trips to Concord and West Virginia Wesleyan, its two close pursuers in the WVIAC. Best of luck to them.


Good things also are happening for coach Doug Porter and the Tigers, who were ranked 14th in the most recent NAIA coaches' poll. This despite losing starting point guard Danielle Pipal to a season-ending injury suffered in the final of the Holiday Inn Express Invitational at Warner University just after Christmas.

ONU has won nine consecutive games, including three in a row to open play in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. One of those was a 119-89 thumping on the road at longtime rival St. Xavier, a nemesis of the Tigers for years. On Saturday, ONU handled Robert Morris 115-73 back home at McHie Arena.

During the winning streak, the Tigers are averaging more than 107 points and outscoring their opponents by nearly 33 points per game. In the three CCAC games, those numbers jump to 118 points per game and an average scoring margin of nearly 38 points.

Coach Porter continues to do all this within the strict confines of The System, with 18 players regularly seeing quality run in each game and no one averaging more than Denita Phelps' 15.4 minutes. Pretty amazing.

Danielle Tolbert leads the way with 12.3 points per game, with Holly Schacht (11.0) and Phelps (10.0) also averaging in double figures. Liz Bart has made a team-high 48 3s and makes a team-high 40 percent from beyond the arc.

The Tigers go on the road for four consecutive games -- three in the CCAC -- before returning home Valentine's Day to play St. Xavier again. That is part of eight games remaining on the schedule, and here's hoping Coach Porter and his team keep it going.


The Jets, coached by Andy Hoaglin, are having a great season, moving into a tie atop the Michigan Community College Athletic Association's Western Conference with a 101-62 victory over Kellogg CC on Saturday. Kelsey White made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points, Nicki Wurster added 20 points and Alyssa Havens finished with 18 for Jackson (17-3, 7-1 MCCAA). Chabis Goble came through with 18 rebounds.

Early in the second half, a 40-point lead led to Coach Hoaglin dropping the press in favor of a 1-2-2 zone to keep the score down. The Jets lead all of NJCAA Division II by scoring 103.2 points per game and have won seven of their past eight games. The only loss was by the score of 118-99 to Kalamazoo Valley, which was ranked No. 3 in the most recent Division II poll before a loss Saturday to Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan was ranked 15th until a loss losing 98-94 to Jackson. Got all that?

Coach Hoaglin and his team are having a great run this season. Earlier, in a 145-73 victory over Ancilla, the Jets set a school record for points and 3s (26), all while putting up 80 points in the first half. Pretty impressive.

They begin the second run through the conference Wednesday at Glen Oaks. I hope Coach Hoaglin and Jackson keep it going.


Remember last season when the Silver Streaks were breaking records often for either 3-pointers made or attempted, all during a tremendous run to the Elite Eight and a 28-7 finish. Well, coach Evan Massey's team is a bit of a different this season, but still just as effective.

While Galesburg still runs The System, the 3s are a bit harder to come by this season through a combination of different defensive looks and personnel. The defense is just as good, if not better, and the Streaks are one victory away from at least a share of the Western Big 6 Conference title. They are 23-4 overall and 6-3 in the conference, with a trip to United Township on Thursday the final regular season WB6 matchup.

There still are a handful of non-conference games, however, including a Galesburg victory Saturday over Bloomington by the score of 80-56. The Streaks ran away in the second half by outscoring Bloomington 51-30 and set another school record in the process: nine different players made a 3.

That included one from Jessica Lieber, a junior who has taken a leadership role with this team. On Saturday, she finished with 17 points, 10 assists and six steals, just a wonderful effort. Sadee Hamilton added 15 points and Chloe Anderson scored 10.

After the game against United Township, Galesburg finishes up with two games outside the WB6, including a trip to Dunlap next Saturday and a home game against Washington on Thursday, Feb. 9. I hope Coach Massey and his team continue to roll.


A new System team from Grinnell's conference has hit its stride despite a disappointing effort Saturday against Illinois College. A season after finishing 6-17 overall and 5-13 in the Midwest Conference, the Prairie Fire had a great chance to improve to 5-7 in the conference, leading IC by 16 points at halftime on the road.

But Knox faltered a bit in the final 20 minutes and lost 103-91, with Illinois College shooting 76 percent after the break. It was a tough loss for coach Emily Cline, but she still has brought her team a long way.

The Prairie Fire fell to 4-13 and 4-8 in the MWC, with a trip to the birthplace of The System next up Tuesday. As much as I love Grinnell, I have to root for Coach Cline and her team in that one (before changing to following the Pioneers in the men's game).

Good luck to them the rest of the season.


The Cardinals, coached by Mike Curta, have had their struggles this season, as well, but are coming off a feel-good victory Friday. They won 97-86 on the road after reaching four of their five Formula goals, improving to 7-15 in the process.

I wish Coach Curta and Eisenhower the best of luck down the stretch.


Coach Keith Freund has his team rolling again this season, sitting 12-1 overall and 8-0 in the Conference A-IV on Long Island following a 72-44 victory Friday on the road at Clarke. The Vikings were up 46-16 at halftime and cruised from there.

North Shore has a one-game lead over Island Trees in the conference heading into their game Tuesday at North Shore. Earlier this season, the Vikings won that matchup on the road 67-55, rallying from a one-point deficit following one quarter.

I'll stay on board and let you know how North Shore does this week.


The Aggies, coached by System newbie Brad Vanden Boogaard, fell to 3-17 overall and 0-6 in the Heartland Conference with a 107-84 loss Thursday to Newman. Still, it appears the team is getting accustomed to the style of play needed to be successful.

There have been some great games for OPSU this season, including a 125-111 victory over Henderson State on New Year's Eve. The Aggies finished 20-for-45 from behind the 3-point line in that one.

They are off until traveling to Arkansas-Fort Smith next Saturday, and here's hoping OPSU continues to improve.


Coach Kevin Moore's team improved to 9-4 with a 94-77 victory Wednesday over Jefferson Township. Zach Heeman had 28 points for Mount Olive and Tyler McEvoy added 16.

On a side note, Coach Moore and his team were featured in a posting about their move to The System for this season, and he was kind enough to give the blog a little love. Pretty sweet, right?

A huge thanks to him for that, and continued success this season. The Marauders host Montville on Tuesday in their next game.


Another new System team, the Dolphins are coming off an upset of Bellevue College last Wednesday, a 101-93 victory to live Shoreline to 11-8 overall and 5-3 in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.

Avery Scharer had 21 points and 15 assists before fouling out, Joe Bodman added 20 points and 12 rebounds and Jordan Lupher scored 13 points for the Dolphins. Earlie Dixon, Earl Thompson and Will Acromite all added 10 points each as Shoreline put six players in double figures.

The Dolphins lead the conference in scoring (but of course!) with 104.4 points per game and next host Skagit Valley College to begin the second trip through the NWAACC. All the best to coach Greg Turcott and his team.