The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Athletics see improvements from last year

    The UW-Eau Claire athletics program entered the spring season with high expectations. Several of the teams boasted young, unproven rosters, but still came away successful.

    Women’s basketball
    The women’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Division III National Basketball Championship Tournament, but has since graduated four seniors. The team improved from 23-7 in the 2007-2008 season to 24-6 in the 2008-2009 season, and once again were selected to compete in the national tournament.

    Like last year, the team once again won its first round match, this time against DePauw (Ind.), but failed to advance past the second round after losing to the regional host, Illinois Wesleyan. In 2008 the Blugolds lost to the regional host, Simpson College (Iowa).

    The similarities with last year’s team don’t end at the season’s results – this year’s team also has a large number of seniors. Seniors Ashley Anderson, Heidi Arciszewski, Missy Fremstad, Pam Kaye and Heather Witt all had their Blugold careers end on the courts in Bloomington, Ill., when the team lost to Illinois Wesleyan.

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    Men’s basketball
    Coming off a disappointing 12-15 record in 2007-2008, the Eau Claire men’s basketball team made numerous improvements. The Blugolds improved their scoring from 72.4 points per game in 2007-2008 to 74.8 points per game in 2008-2009. The difference may seem small at first glance, but the 2.4 point increase coupled with a 1.4 point per game drop in opponent scoring meant the Blugolds outscored their opponents on the season for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.

    The men were unable to make it to the Division III National Championship Tournament after losing to UW-Oshkosh 60-75, in the WIAC Tournament. The team is, however, relatively young – the only players leaving are seniors Dan Beyer and Mark Tiefel. Beyer will leave some big shoes to fill, as he was the team’s leading scorer at 14.1 points per game and leading rebounder, averaging 6.8 per game.

    Women’s hockey
    Entering its ninth season as a sport in Eau Claire, the women’s hockey team looked to improve on a disappointing 12-13 finish to the 2007-2008 regular season, and they did just that. The team finished the regular season with a 12-10-3 record, and once again competed in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) Playoffs.

    The team was paired up with Lake Forest (Ill.) for an opening round rematch of last season’s thrilling two-overtime game that saw the Blugolds come up short. This time, the game ended in regulation, but once again with the Blugolds coming up short. The 0-4 loss ended the season for the women, and the Blugold careers for senior and assistant captain Lauren Havard and senior Margaret Campbell.

    Men’s hockey
    For the first time since the 2003-2004 season, the men’s hockey team finished at or above .500 on the season. After winning the first six games, and seven of the first eight, the men faltered a little, losing three consecutive games. The Blugolds quickly rebounded and took five of the next six games. Unfortunately, as the season neared its end, the Blugolds found themselves on the losing side more often than not.

    After their fast start that saw the team win 12 of its first 17 games, the Blugolds finished the regular season with six loses, a tie, and only one win before making the NCHA playoffs. In the playoffs, the Blugolds found themselves paired with rival UW-Stout in a best of three series.

    Earlier that season, the Blugolds faced the Blue Devils twice, losing both. The struggles continued as the Blugolds lost the first two games of the series – 3-5 and 1-2 – and were eliminated.

    The men’s hockey team was one of Eau Claire’s more veteran squads. The team featured 10 juniors, and seven seniors. Those seniors – Sam Bauler, Dan Fina, Sean Garrity, Andrew Johnson, Greg Peterson, Bryan Plaszcz and Jesse Vesel – will end their careers after helping the Blugolds record one of their most successful seasons of the past 18 years.

    Track and field
    As the spring outdoor season began for Eau Clare’s track and field teams, the expectations rose. Senior Sam Johnson won the national title in the 35-pound weight throw, setting a school record, recording the season’s longest toss of the season, and only falling just over three feet shy of the Division III record of 68-3 3/4 feet. Numerous other Blugolds took top-10 finishes in the national championships too. The men’s team finished in the top five at the WIAC Championship and the women’s team took second.

    Through the outdoor season, the men’s team accumulated several awards and accolades en route to its sixth place finish in the WIAC Championships last weekend in Oshkosh. On the women’s side, senior Liz Kooistra set a school record of 55.12 seconds in the 400-meter dash. The record time would have set records at the stadium where the National Championships will be held, Marietta College (Ohio), the WIAC Championships, and would have tied for fifth in last season’s Big Ten Outdoor Track Championships.

    Men’s tennis
    The UW-Eau Claire men’s tennis team began the season losing two of its first three matches. The team then won 23 of its next 28 matches dating back to February. The season did, however, come to a disappointing conclusion as the Blugolds lost their final two matches.

    The 24-9 finish was good enough to earn the Blugolds an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III Championships. The bid is only the second in the history of Eau Claire men’s tennis, with the first coming in the 1995-1996 season, when the team was eliminated after winning only one match. The entire team, with the exception of senior Steve Lantz, should return next season to build off this year’s success.

    “We certainly took on a big challenge this year,” coach Tom Gillman said. “We had a lot of challenges coming into the season and the men on this team really handled it. I think the difficulty of our schedule (has) really helped our team grow and figure out ways to handle the tough matches.”

    Women’s tennis
    Like the men, the women’s tennis team was also in the running for an at-large bid, but did not make the cut. The beginning of the season saw the women lose three of their first four meets. The Blugolds then turned things around and won seven consecutive games. Following another 1-3 stretch Eau Claire turned in another winning streak, this time spanning six meets.

    The team’s season ended following a 1-1 finish in the WIAC Championship last weekend and the team was not chosen to participate in the national tournament. The team, however, does not have any seniors, so most of the players should be back next season.

    The UW-Eau Claire wrestling team finished the season with a 14-20 overall record, but had some bright spots. Senior Josh Holforty took third place in the 197-pound weight class at the NCAA Championships on March 7. The high finish put an end to Holforty’s 34-8 senior season and gave him his second consecutive All-American recognition. Over his career, Holforty compiled a 109-35 overall record.

    Holforty isn’t the only mainstay the wrestling team will be bidding farewell to. Head coach Don Parker announced his retirement after 32 seasons at the position. In his tenure, which began in 1977, Parker coached one national champion, 15 All-Americans, and 19 conference champions. Parker will be replaced by one of his former athletes – Derek Sikora, who won the national championship in 2006.

    Women’s golf
    Since the end of September, the Eau Claire women’s golf team hasn’t finished outside of the top five. The Blugolds took second at the WIAC Championship in early October. The Blugolds hosted the Blugold Pre Division III Championship Invitational on May 2 and 3, and took first place out of the 11 teams competing.

    The strong performances by the team earned them an at-large bid into the NCAA Div. III National Championships, their ninth consecutive appearance. Last season the Blugolds finished No. 13 in the tournament, but had their best finish in 2005 when they tied for third place.

    “I expected us to be able to make it to the national championship,” coach John Means said. “I was hoping that by the end of the year we’d be able to compete with the best in the country and we did by beating the No. 1-ranked team in the country in Stevens Point.”

    Men’s golf
    The men’s golf team entered the 2008-2009 season with a young team. The roster includes only two juniors, with the rest of the team made up of four freshmen and four sophomores. It wasn’t until Oct. 6 that the Blugolds recorded their first top-five finish when they took first place in the Ronnie Eastman Invite in La Crosse. Since then, the Blugolds have recorded three top-five finishes out of their four matches.

    Following last season’s national championship title, the Eau Claire softball team came in with perhaps the highest expectations of all. The team lost four players from the year before to graduation, including Jill Janke, who hit the game-winning home run in the championship game. Still, the softball team had several key players returning for another season.

    The Blugolds won 27 of their first 35 games and looked to be in great position to defend their national title. As the season wound down, however, the Blugolds lost their final six games, including a pair of games in the WIAC Championships.

    Despite the recent struggles, the team was selected to compete in their fourth consecutive championship tournament.

    “Actually I was completely expecting us to be left out (of the tournament),” said Huntington, who said she learned of the at-large bid Monday morning while monitoring the NCAA’s Web site. “When our name came up on the screen, I was in pretty much a state of disbelief.”

    The fifth-seeded Blugolds will match up against Iowa’s Coe College, a fourth seed, at 10 a.m. today at Illinois Wesleyan University, one of several host sites for the tournament’s first round.

    When Gillman was describing his expectations for his team, he described what every team feels from year to year.

    “Every year is different,” he said. “Sometimes, on paper, you think you’re going to be amazing and you’re not or you think going to be not as good as you are.”

    -Staff writer McLean Bennett contributed to this article

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