Viking Teams Prepare for Fall Season
CHICAGO (August 28, 2009) – Several North Park University sports teams expect to compete for titles in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW), and others are looking to build on continued improvement they showed last season.
The team most likely to compete for a conference title is the men’s soccer team, who played one of the toughest schedules in the country last year. “Our conference has become so competitive,” explains head coach John Born.
With the absence of recent graduates Isaac Lee and Joe Chybowski, (both named All-North Central Region and All-CCIW players last season), as well as All-CCIW second team selections Nathan Ryan and Kevin Gathje, Born expects a few underclassmen to emerge as leaders. Among them is sophomore Kristoffer Grahn, who also captured All-Region and All-Conference honors in 2008. “He’s just a phenomenal talent,” says Born.
The women’s soccer team also expects to vie for a CCIW conference title berth, says Coach Troy Edwards. He notes, “Expectations are the highest they have been in awhile for the Vikings.”
The team will have to overcome several challenges to meet those expectations. “We face the teams we beat and tied in conference last year on the road this year, thus making our CCIW schedule a very tough one,” Edwards says. They Vikings will also have to play Wheaton, who lost the national championship match last year and is ranked No. 2 going into this season.
The North Park team will be young, with more new players than returning team members. Defender Lauren Ernst is the lone senior. Key returners include Sarah Wilson (who made the All-CCIW team last year), Katie Jesurun, Stephanie Olson, and Sarah Hansen.
As for the football team, head coach Scott Pethtel says more than 100 players reported to camp—the largest squad North Park has ever seen.
Multiple reasons account for the turnout. “The recruiting effort has been enhanced,” Pethtel says. “I believe people see the positives of attending North Park and being part of a growing program. . . . They feel the program is moving forward, and they’re excited about what’s happening,”
He is counting on experience to help move the team forward. “We’ve been able to retain a good number of the guys who were on the program last year,” Pethtel says. “That’s a real benefit.”
Although he looks for the team to improve on the field, he notes, “We’re not going to define ourselves by the scoreboard, but by our effort and by our character and by representing the University well.”
The women’s rowing program will be led by Kaitlin Jackson, who will return as captain for her second straight year. She will be joined by Kara Bladel, now in her third year of rowing for the Vikings. Both women were named 2008-2009 College Rowing Coaches Association National Scholar Athletes and were members of the varsity eight-person crew. Jackson also was named a Mid-Atlantic All-Conference Athlete last season.
North Park will co-host the 4th Annual North Shore Channel Challenge on October 4 at its home course in Skokie. Teams from Augustana, Washington University (St. Louis), Michigan State, Northwestern University and Ohio University will compete.
New volleyball coach Timothy Walenga looks to build on a team that has experienced a turnaround under his predecessor. Coley Pawlikowski turned the Viking program from a 5-23 team in 2006 to a 19-12 squad in 2008.
Walenga also has a history of building successful programs. During his tenure as head coach at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., the Stars broke 30 school records and recorded their best winning percentage since 2004. Teams he coached at the club level have placed in the Top 10 at the Junior National Championships for the past three years.
“For the North Park program to be successful, it’s going to be about finding the right-fit athlete,” Walenga said when he was hired. “So I’m going to connect with the right coaches with the players that are looking for a great Christian private school education.”
Walenga is looking to returners Mallory Bieritz, Vicki Foxall, and Caitlin O’Connell to help the team build on last season’s success.
The CCIW is considered one of the nation’s strongest Division III athletic conferences and that holds true for cross country. “Our schedule is always very competitive,” says Tracey McGarry, coach for the men’s and women’s teams. “Every year, we have to run against some of the best teams in the country.”
McGarry says the teams return strong performers. Junior Chris Roe turned in the third fastest 8K time in school history. Junior Ahsan Khan also is expected to set the pace for the team.
The team’s 2008 CCIW finish was the best since 1995. “We going to build on that,” McGarry says.
Senior Sara Dwight posted a North Park Top 25 all-time performance last year, and McGarry believes Dwight will continue to improve as the returner has every year.
The coach adds that the women are an evenly paced group. “Every race we could have someone different from the team leading.”
The team will host the Ted Hedstrand Invitational at Montrose Harbor on September 19. The women will run a 5K and the men will compete in the 8K.
For more about Viking sports, visit our newly redesigned Athletics section.