Category Archives: Men’s Basketball

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.”


Morrell family builds strong bonds through sports


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.

Dominating seasons end for men in NCAAs, women in NCCAA’s


by Tiffany Stubbs

The men’s and women’s basketball teams both had successful 2015-2016 seasons. After almost six months of hard work and dedication, the season has finally come an end after some very big successes for both teams.

After losing in the regular season conference championship to the College of St. Scholastica, the Eagles finished the regular season with a 20-5 overall record and 12-4 mark in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC). Northwestern locked up the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Heading into the tournament, the men were determined and experienced. To advance to the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight year in a row, they played flawlessly and beat the No. 1 seeded St. Scholastica on Scholastica’s home floor 93-70.

In the NCAA tournament, the Eagles lost to the No. 7 seeded St. Norbert 77-58. The Eagles fought hard the whole game but came up short in the end.

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Cousin duo brings family and hot shooting to the court

by Shelby Eden

Cousins Clay Elrod and Jessica Cole average just around 20 minutes per game for their respective teams, but the two guards waste no time in putting the ball in the hoop, as they both average in double figures in scoring and are among their team’s leaders in three-point shots made.

College is not the first time Elrod and Cole have shared basketball memories and success together. With both of their families originally living just outside of Des Moines, Iowa, Cole and Elrod grew up playing basketball together at their grandma and grandpa Elrod’s home or at the Cole family’s outdoor court.

Cole (3) lays the ball in near teammates Taryn Tumbleson (22) and Courtney Cunard (34) (photo by Hannah Beebe).

Cole (3) lays the ball in near teammates Taryn Tumbleson (22) and Courtney Cunard (34) (photo by Hannah Beebe).

“We would always scrimmage out on the court between the families and with each other,” said Cole. “We would play outside on late summer nights with a light shining on the court.”

Elrod added, “Growing up, we played basketball all the time together. We would always play 3-on-3 with the cousins and would be outside shooting hoops almost every day together.”

Elrod and Cole have taken what they learned as kids on the cement court in Iowa to the hardwood of Northwestern where they are making themselves known. Although neither of the cousins has been regular starters for their teams, they both bring a shooting spark off the Eagle bench. Elrod, a six-foot, six-inch guard with the ability to hit three pointers and finish baskets at the rim is currently averaging 10.9 points per game.

Cole is hitting 11 points per game with 30 total three-pointers, which ranks her second on the team in both categories. On top of that, she’s been starting the past few games for the Eagles due to Tiffany Stubbs’ injury.

There is no shortage of athletes and especially basketball players in either family. Elrod’s dad, Tim Elrod, is the current director of alumni relations at Northwestern as well as a former Eagle basketball player. Elrod’s three younger siblings are also avid hoopers. For the Cole family, both of Jess’s parents played collegiate sports: her mom ran track, and her dad played football. Additionally, two of her three younger brothers play basketball and football at Southeast Polk High School in Iowa.

The Elrod family eventually moved to Elk River, Minnesota, where the cousins have enjoyed bringing their family together over basketball this season. Last year, Elrod played and attended school at Bemidji State University, an NCAA Division II school.

“It’s cool because our families are able to come watch both of us play sometimes, and I see more family this year than I did last year for sure,” said Elrod.

Cole added, “Playing together here is great because our families can come to the games and watch both of us, and our grandparents love it. It’s really special.”

Along with the family involvement comes friendly competition. Currently, the cousins have a contest, which is encouraged by their grandparents, of who can score more points in their respective games. It all started when the Eagles played Martin Luther on Jan. 9, and both Cole and Elrod had their best games of the season.

“Clay started trash talking, and it just went from there; I just was not going to take it,” said Cole.

In a game against Martin Luther College, Elrod hit 22 points in 25 minutes of play, connecting on eight of 12 shots from the field and sinking four three pointers in six attempts while Cole had 19 points in 19 minutes and shot seven of 10 from the field.

Elrod said of the contest, “Yeah, we have that scoring competition between us, but Jess has been winning it lately, so I give her that. But we’ve always grown up competitively, so we’ve always kind of had competitions between us. It’s been kind of fun that we’ve been able to continue that in college as well.”

Elrod (23) shoots a free throw against Northland College (photo by Claire Gronseth).

Elrod (23) shoots a free throw against Northland College (photo by Claire Gronseth).

Along with the competition, Cole and Elrod share a respect for one another’s playing abilities.

“I think that Jess is a great shooter. I love watching her hit the three ball, said Elrod. “I think sometimes she’s got better handles than she thinks she does.  She can really cross people up sometimes, and that’s fun to watch, too.”

“As a player, Clay is confident in his abilities and is a great shooter,” said Cole. She also said with a laugh, “He’s cocky and is into his hair more than anything else.”

The cousins are not the only ones who enjoy having one another at Northwestern. Their respective coaches are also impressed with their basketball abilities and calm demeanors.

“Clay works really hard, but is a laid-back guy as well. He is easy to get along with and puts the team first,” said the head men’s coach, Tim Grosz. “As a player, he’s a very skilled offensive player and can score in a variety of ways. He can shoot and is also very good at driving the ball and finishing at the rim: he’s a sixth starter in that way.”

Aaron Kahl, the head women’s coach, said, “Jess brings a quiet energy to the team. She has a great calmness about her but is also a great competitor with deceptive quickness and a knack for being able to score.”

Elrod’s statistics per game
(through Feb. 6):
Games played- 21
Field goal percentage- .500
3 point field goal percentage- .386
Free throw percentage- .769
Rebounds- 3.5
Assist- 1.0
Steals- .3
Blocks- .2

Cole’s statistics per game
(through Feb. 6):
Games played- 21
Games started- 3
Field goal percentage- .455
3 point field goal percentage- .427
Free throw percentage- .808
Rebounds- 2.2
Assists- 1.3
Steals- 1.5


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