Category Archives: Sports

Gisler’s miraculous rebound leads to 1,000 points

Senior Will Gisler and Head Coach Tim Grosz

By Beth Moller

The University of Northwestern — St. Paul has a new member on the men’s basketball 1,000 point club. Senior Will Gisler reached the milestone during the December 10 game against North Central University. Gisler’s strong season also included being named to the All-Tournament Team during the Eagles’ Christmas-break tournament hosted by UW-Platteville and a UMAC Player of the Week award for his performances on Dec. 30 and 31. During that week he averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds per game. As Gisler has matured as a basketball player, he has become a strong presence on the Eagle’s team. Head Coach Tim Grosz said, “He’s gotten better in every phase. Defensively, he’s improved a lot since his freshman year. He’s more confident and has worked at his game and improving his shot, specifically his 3-point shot.” Gisler has also matured as a leader. Grosz added, “He’s become more of a vocal leader and a leader by example. The seniors are doing a great job investing in the younger guys, and they started a Bible study.” Not only are Gisler’s stats impressive, but this season is, according to Grosz, a miracle for Gisler.

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UNW seniors look back on four incredible seasons

UNW basketball senior members celebrate their UMAC tournament win (pictured left to right: Cody Sprenger, Will Gisler, Porter Morrell, Peter Maring, Aaron Youngberg; photo courtesy of Cody Sprenger).

UNW basketball senior members celebrate their UMAC tournament win (pictured left to right: Cody Sprenger, Will Gisler, Porter Morrell, Peter Maring, Aaron Youngberg; photo courtesy of Cody Sprenger).

UNW basketball senior members celebrate their UMAC tournament win (pictured left to right: Cody Sprenger, Will Gisler, Porter Morrell, Peter Maring, Aaron Youngberg; photo courtesy of Cody Sprenger).

by Beth Moller

With a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament, the University of Northwestern — St. Paul will bid farewell to their five seniors: Captains Will Gisler, Porter Morrell, and Cody Sprenger, as well as Peter Maring and Aaron Youngberg. During their four years as members of the team, the men’s basketball team achieved great things including four Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Tournament titles, three UMAC regular season titles, and the unforgettable Sweet Sixteen run in 2015. They also experienced an impactful missions trip to Spain last summer. The seniors ended their UMAC career in fine fashion winning a four-overtime game against the St. Scholastica Saints before falling to UW Whitewater in the NCAA DIII tournament.

Head Coach Tim Grosz spoke highly of his senior group. “They are really amazing athletically, academically, and spiritually. They are excellent students and are great representatives. We will miss the seniors on the court and off the court, especially their leadership, but we have a strong program and there are guys who have been waiting their turn that will be back next year,” he explained. “The JV team had their best season ever this year as well.”

The UMAC Championship game that saw four overtimes is arguably the best game in UMAC history and is also the longest Northwestern basketball game ever. Grosz said, “An official came up to me and said it was the best game he’s seen all year. I felt bad for St. Scholastica because their guys really fought but someone had to lose.” The seniors fought hard to secure the victory. In the 60 minutes of game time, Gisler was on the court for 58 minutes, Morrell for 59 minutes, Sprenger for 47 minutes, Maring for 56 minutes, and Youngberg for 57 minutes. “I trusted them to do what was best for the team and take a break if they needed it,” Grosz explained. “They kept playing well.” The seniors accounted for a combined 109 points of the Eagles’ total of 112 points.

The seniors fought through fatigue and remained focused on their game plan as the game continued. Maring said, “The team did a good job of fighting and never losing hope. It would have been easy to get discouraged when St. Scholastica kept hitting big shots, but we just kept playing our basketball.”

“Really nothing changed for us collectively from the end of regulation to the end of the fourth overtime. We just wanted to play our hardest, play for each other, and treat every possession like the game depended on it,” Gisler explained. “Down the stretch the game did depend on each and every possession. As the game got longer and longer, I think we all became more and more confident. It was great that we had a group of veteran leaders in that situation because I don’t think our team got flustered through the ups and downs; I think we remained collected and loose.”

“As the game went on we applied more pressure and took a lot more jump shots, especially in the fourth overtime. We always had energy and remained focused on the task,” Morrell added.

In addition to many big team successes, the seniors also were recognized individually. This year Morrell and Gisler reached the 1,000 point mark with Sprenger close behind finishing his career just shy of the milestone at 905. All five were recognized by the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference at various points in the season as well. During the season, Gisler and Morrell were recognized with “Player of the Week” awards, and they all received recognition at the end of the year. Morrell earned All-Conference First Team recognition and Sprenger and Gisler were named to the All-Conference Second Team. The three of them scored a combined 54 percent of the Eagles’ points this season. In addition, Maring was named to the UMAC All-Defensive team and Youngberg was named Northwestern’s representative on the All-UMAC Sportsmanship team.

Despite their individual success, they are quick to turn the attention back to the team. “To be recognized is reflective of the team,” said Morrell. “Literally all five guys on the court could score, and we play team basketball. It reflects all of us as a team.”

Gisler added, “I’m certainly appreciative to whoever may be granting me that recognition, but ultimately I know every guy on our team is equally deserving of that recognition and even more.”

Starting five seniors was a unique situation for the Eagles. Youngberg explained, “Starting all five seniors was a ton of fun this year. We are such a close-knit group of friends, and getting to start out each game together as a group and play big time minutes together just brought us closer. Our chemistry on the court was excellent, especially in the second half of the season, and you could tell that from the balanced attack we brought to every game. Any given night it could be any one of us that was the leading scorer, rebounder, or lock down defender.” All five seniors played at Northwestern since freshman year as well.

“It was really special to start five seniors,” said Sprenger. “We’re all good friends; they are some of my best friends. We see how important it is to work together, and I hope it was something the younger guys can look up to.”

As this chapter of their life has closed, the five seniors look to bright futures. Gisler has one year of school remaining as he works to complete a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Minnesota. Morrell and Sprenger finished up their classwork in December, but will graduate in May along with Youngberg and Maring. Morrell plans to seek a career in logistics trucking or athletic administration, Sprenger and Youngberg plan to pursue teaching careers, and Maring will be attending chiropractic school at the Northwestern Health Sciences University starting this September.

Although the on-the-court success is memorable, the seniors all agree that what they will remember most is the time spent with each other and their other teammates. Gisler said, “What I will take away most from this year and these past years playing at UNW is definitely the chances I’ve had to get close with the guys on the team and develop relationships that will extend way beyond the few years of playing basketball here at Northwestern.”

“[A few takeaways are] enjoy what you do, being with the guys, going to practice every day, the successes and adversity,” said Sprenger. “The more I remember to enjoy it, the more I take away from it. Always remember to do your best and God will do the rest. Everyone having the same beliefs and foundation is so crucial and beneficial. Our friendship wouldn’t be as strong without basketball successes and adversity. I can’t say enough good things, and I’m extremely thankful. Hopefully the best is yet to come.”

“The basketball memories that I will remember the most are just hanging out with the guys on the team, especially the other seniors,” Maring explained. “All of the seniors have been really good friends for most of our time here at Northwestern. Some of us didn’t get much varsity time until this year so it was really cool to see how far we have all come.”

Morrell said, “I’ll remember things off the court like road trips, bus rides, and funny little memories. Freshman year the five of us weren’t that close, but this year we’ve especially became close and have tried to hang out together just the five of us more often. All four years the team has been really tight knit.”

“On the day to day level, [my favorite memories] will be the community that we had and spending time with [my] best friends every day,” Youngberg explained. “It was an incredible experience pushing each other to be better each and every day in basketball, in life, in relationships, and whatever else we may have been dealing with. Those are the things I will remember forever.”

As Northwestern athletes seek to “Compete with Purpose,” Youngberg summed up it up well. “There are many things playing basketball at UNW has taught me, and the biggest would be that God can use anything to make His name great and glorious,” he explained. “He uses a game like basketball to bring people to Him that wouldn’t be reached in a different setting. It’s encouraging that He uses things we enjoy to bring His Kingdom to earth, and all we have to do is let His joy and grace shine through us while we play. All we can do is bring what we’ve got and let God do the rest.”

 

UNW Cheerleading: An opportunity to show school spirit

cheerleading

by Lili Naylor

“Let’s go Eagles!” This phrase, along with many others, is heard among the shouts and chants throughout Northwestern – St. Paul football and basketball games. The Northwestern cheerleading team is comprised of 20 women and 1 man.

During the season, cheerleaders practice twice a week and cheer at games. They attend all home football games as well as many men’s and women’s basketball games. During these games, you can see the cheerleaders yelling cheers, stunting, and tumbling.

 

cheerleading

The UNW cheer team keeps UNW football and basketball game audiences energized with their spirit (photo courtesy of the UNW Cheerleading Facebook page).

Cheerleading has a large impact on school spirit. Cheyenne Nightingale, junior elementary education major and co-captain, stated, “It’s important for cheerleading to be incorporated into the athletics here at Northwestern because we can bring positive school spirit to the games. Our athletes want to feel supported, and we try our best to do that for them. I think it’s important that we stay positive whether we are winning or losing and that we are respectful to members of the other team.”

 

Cheerleading has also blossomed new friendships. Nightingale reported, “Within the cheer team, we have sort of created our own community. We worked together and we have a ton of fun. It’s so great being able to laugh and grow alongside one another. We tried to start every practice talking about what’s going on in our lives and ending them with prayer so that we could stay connected, and so everyone would feel comfortable with each other. It’s great that we can confide in each other.”

This year, the team experienced a huge change with the addition of another man on the team. This addition made the team co-ed. Nightingale remarked, “It’s really awesome having men on our team this season. It made it possible for us to do two-man stunts, which always impresses the crowd. I hope more guys can join the team in the future so we can do more two-man stunts.”

The team will not be cheering at any more games for any sports this school year. Looking to next year, Nightingale says, “I want the cheer program to grow, which it has. Each year, our numbers increase tremendously. We reached 28 members this season, and my only hope is that we are able to grow more next year.” The cheerleading team is open to everyone at Northwestern. Nightingale states that they “try to work the practice schedule around everyone else’s schedule so that anyone and everyone can join.”

Morrell family builds strong bonds through sports

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by Beth Moller

Through senior Porter Morrell’s four years of high school basketball and four years of college basketball, a certain group of fans has faithfully been sitting in the stands. Those fans are some of Morrell’s family members: his parents, three brothers and grandparents. “My family tries to come to every basketball game they can,” said Porter Morrell.  “Sometimes my brothers have other events going on, but my family comes to every event they can make.  They even traveled to Wheaton, Illinois, my freshman year even though I was injured and unable to play in the game.”

Family has been a major part of Porter Morrell’s journey in basketball. Throughout high school he played with his older brother by his side. Tucker Morrell, a 2016 UNW graduate, was a two-sport athlete in high school, playing baseball and basketball. He chose to play baseball at UNW and pitched the team to their first win against St. Scholastica since 1998 in his final regular-season game pitched as an Eagle. The bond between these two brothers runs deep. “I would say my biggest fan is my brother Tucker. He has been ever since we played our last game together in high school,” explained Porter Morrell. “The support he shows coming to every game and telling me what I need to do better every game is one of the biggest blessings he has given me.”

Tucker Morrell (left) and Porter Morrell (right) after the Eagles won the UMAC in 2015. The very next game Morrell would hit the game winner against St. Thomas and give the Eagles their first NCAA tournament win in school history for any sport (photo courtesy of the Morrell family).

Tucker Morrell (left) and Porter Morrell (right) after the Eagles won the UMAC in 2015. The very next game Morrell would hit the game winner against St. Thomas and give the Eagles their first NCAA tournament win in school history for any sport (photo courtesy of the Morrell family).

Tucker Morrell said, “One of my favorite things to do since I graduated high school has been watching Porter play. Watching his senior year and four years of college has been amazing. He became so good his senior year in high school, and it’s truly been a blessing to have him close by, playing college ball where I can watch all his games. I have only missed a total of four or five of his college games.” The brothers were homeschooled and played sports for Elk River High School.

Porter Morrell, a sports management major, chose Northwestern over several other schools, although UNW was not always his first choice. He said, “I definitely believe the Lord brought me to UNW. I was not planning on coming, but the more I looked into Northwestern, the more I wanted to be a part of this campus and basketball program.” He has rewarded Northwestern with his decision to play basketball as an Eagle: in 53 games played, he has scored 395 points, posting an impressive 81 percent at the free throw line. He has also been a leader to teammates and is one of the team captains this season. After graduation, he plans to use his sports management major to work in athletic admissions or pursue a career in logistics trucking.

Porter Morrell’s decision to attend UNW ultimately brought his brother, Tucker Morrell, to UNW as well. Tucker Morrell said, “Porter definitely influenced my decision to come to UNW. I spent two years at Anoka Ramsey Community College, and when I was getting close to being done with my second year he was telling me about how great UNW was: how it was a great campus, had great professors, great coaches and all the great friends and friendships he had made.” In 2015, the brothers played on the Eagles baseball team together. “[Porter] told me that he would play baseball for one more year if I came, and told me about this 18-plus-year drought UNW had had against St. Scholastica and that we could beat them if we played. He 100 percent convinced me, and I went for it.”

But perhaps the moment of Porter Morrell’s years at Northwestern that UNW fans best remember is what he considers his favorite UNW basketball memory. “The best memory I have had was the game-winning [three-point-shot] in the NCAA tournament versus St. Thomas my sophomore year,” explained Porter Morrell.  The buzzer-beating shot caused an unexpected upset of St. Thomas and gave Northwestern their first NCAA tournament game win in school history. Porter Morrell added, “I was able to share it with my two younger brothers and my parents in the gym.  However, my favorite part of it was the video on Snapchat I have from my older brother Tucker when I hit the shot.  The look on his face in that video says it all for me.”

The moment is memorable for Tucker Morrell as well. On a spring training trip to Florida with the UNW baseball team at the time, he remembers it as one of the best memories of his life. “My favorite [UNW sports] memory is watching UNW versus St. Thomas in the NCAA tourney. Our whole baseball team was watching in a little conference room and when he hit the game-winning three we all went wild,” he explained. “There were hugs, high fives, screaming, yelling. For five minutes we were jumping up and down. After he hit it I just wanted to talk to him, and what was probably 30 minutes seemed like 2 hours. It is probably the best memory in my lifetime so far.”

Although he is a senior, things that Porter Morrell has learned through UNW basketball will go with him as he finishes college. He said, “There are a lot of things that basketball teaches student athletes, including discipline, hard work and teamwork. However the best lesson I have learned is that you can give your best and still lose.  If you play your best and still lose, you have to find a way to make your best better.  It is the same with life, you have to find ways to make sure you do your job better than anyone else, that’s the only job security you have.”

Morrell should feel good looking at the stat sheet dropping 36 in the Eagles’ first conference game against the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Eagles finish in Final Four, Peterson player of the year

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by Tatyana Breitkreuz

The University of Northwestern — St. Paul women’s volleyball team has had one of their best seasons in Eagle history. Starting off with a four home-game winning streak, the Northwestern women were set up for a successful season.

Coach Beth Wilmeth, who received her sixth UMAC Coach of the Year honor, led her team to 34 wins and only four losses this season, including a 3-2 home victory against the number-one ranked Cal Lutheran University in the NCAA Division III Regional Tournament.

“Last spring our players took time to map out team standards,” said Wilmeth. “They didn’t back away or make excuses, but set very high expectations for themselves. We’ve seen an incredible work ethic and discipline in our program, and that has been matched with a spirit of selflessness — all key ingredients to our success.”

For the first time in school history, Wilmeth and her team took to the court at the Elite Eight, playing Eastern University of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Northwestern fans stormed the court after the shocking 3-2 win, ending in a group prayer and looking ahead to their upcoming competition.  The next day, the Eagles made an appearance at the NCAA DIII Final Four.

“Being able to spend extra time with the team and get to play on almost the biggest platform we could was so much fun,” said junior Lindsey Peterson.

From right to left Abby Vander Galien (7), Jackie Doering (2), Leesa Hulstrand (22), Lindsey Peterson (1), Toria Gillson (6). Northwestern capped off their best season in school history with a trip to the Final Four in the DIII National Tournament. No Northwestern sports team had ever advanced past the Sweet 16, but both the volleyball squad (2015) and men’s basketball team (2015) made it to that point before falling (photo courtesy of unweagles.com).

From right to left Abby Vander Galien (7), Jackie Doering (2), Leesa Hulstrand (22), Lindsey Peterson (1), Toria Gillson (6). Northwestern capped off their best season in school history with a trip to the Final Four in the DIII National Tournament. No Northwestern sports team had ever advanced past the Sweet 16, but both the volleyball squad (2015) and men’s basketball team (2015) made it to that point before falling (photo courtesy of unweagles.com).

“The Final Four was surreal in many ways,” said Wilmeth. “It changes your perspective on what it takes to get to that level. We were prepared and ready for the moment when the opportunity happened.” The Eagles ended their successful season as they challenged Calvin College in a thrilling match that resulted in a Northwestern 0-3 loss. One concept that Wilmeth reiterated to her players throughout the season was that what they become is more important than what they achieve.

Junior Leesa Hulstrand shared how her team made a strong effort to compete for something greater than themselves.

“At the Final Four, we had a bigger platform to show that we were a different team because our ultimate goal was not an earthly scoreboard, but to make a heavenly impact,” said Hulstrand.

“The Final 4 was such a fun experience, but the heart of our program is more about the process and the growth that the Lord is doing in us,” said Wilmeth.  “I’m really proud of watching our players enjoy the moment while not letting it become our identity. We wanted to plant seeds by being uncommon.”

With a successful team effort has come outstanding individual performances. Northwestern has welcomed seven freshmen on their team this year along with three seniors, four juniors and four sophomores. Peterson (Sheffield, Iowa/West Fork) has had an impressive year, leading her team with 607 kills with an average of 4.78 kills per set. She has been a tenacious offensive and defensive player for the Eagles, being named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) DIII National Player of the Year and a First Team All-American.

Peterson shares that she owes all of her success to her coaches and teammates because they have put an immense amount of time into pushing her to become a better player and individual.

“This year was one of my best college years, though every year has its own unique way of being great,” said Peterson. “I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything without my team’s constant love, intentionality and encouragement.”

“Lindsey had an incredible season and is such a hard worker on our team,” said Wilmeth.  “She is very-deserving, and to be named National Player of the Year is something that’s hard to put into words — a huge accomplishment.”

Along with Peterson’s exceedance within her volleyball career has come her development into a mature role model and Christ-follower.

“Who she is today as a leader and person is so different than when she first came to Northwestern,” said Wilmeth. “It is fun to see the Lord honoring her in her desire to honor Him.”

Senior Shanay Gondor (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Washington) was also nationally recognized, receiving Honorable Mention All-American. This was Gondor’s last year playing for the Eagles, totaling an outstanding career record of 572 kills, 29 assists, 82 digs and 295 blocks.

Lindsey Peterson is junior Kinesiology/ Pre-Therapy major. She won player of the year (photo courtesy of unweages.com).

Lindsey Peterson is junior Kinesiology/ Pre-Therapy major. She won player of the year (photo courtesy of unweages.com).

“My time in the volleyball program has been extremely influential in shaping me as a woman,” said Gondor. “I’ve been stretched and given leadership roles that have transferred into greater confidence outside of the sport.” The senior has been impacted by the work God has done in and through those who competed before her and those who will follow after her.

“I’m probably not even aware of all the ways God has used volleyball to reveal more of Himself to me,” said Gondor. “It has been a great four years, and the legacy of the program and the experience I’ve had is a testimony to those who have worked to maintain the culture before me.”

Other outstanding performances include sophomore Freya Hanson (Otsego, Minnesota/St. Michael-Albertville) who recorded an impressive 282 kills, followed by Hulstrand (Eden Prairie, Minnesota/Eden Prairie) with 176 kills in her three-year college career.

Every season is unique with its mixture of players, but this year stood out as one of the best in Eagle history.

“This season taught us that hard work, love and unselfishness pays off,” said Hulstrand. When we work together for a common goal, anything is possible.”

“Our team’s willingness to be pushed and to handle challenges has been met with a tone of excitement and joy,” said Wilmeth. “Certainly some days it was a grind when there was hard work to be done, but the players were intentional to keep it fun.” A strong work ethic, discipline, selflessness and leadership are what Wilmeth believes what enabled her team to reach such great heights this season.

“I am so excited for next season,” said Hulstrand. “This season has set the standard for next year.”

“We’ve seen an incredible work ethic and discipline in our program, and that has been matched with a spirit of selflessness — all key ingredients to our success,” concluded Wilmeth.

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