De Smet product Durron Neal may get an opportunity to strut his stuff as a potential elite wide receiver sooner than expected at Oklahoma.
When Sooners coach Bob Stoops recently pulled the scholarships of three players -- including junior wide receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks -- and suspended them indefinitely, Neal’s name immediately began to surface as a potential key member of this fall’s Oklahoma offense.
One of the nation’s more celebrated recruits last winter, Neal could wind up being a key target of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones in Oklahoma’s wide-open attack. Landry, an all-America candidate, threw for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2011.
Neal is the No. 9 freshman wide receiver in the nation and the No. 62 overall impact freshman, according to Rivals.com. At De Smet last year, Neal led the Metro Catholic Conference with 28 touchdowns, including 15 as a receiver. He caught 35 passes for 825 yards and rushed for 716 more. He was the Post-Dispatch All-Metro offensive player of the year and the Suburban Journals area-wide male athlete of the year.
“I’m very excited that I get a chance to come in and contribute early,” Neal told The Oklahoman in late May “I don’t believe in pressure. When your number is called, that’s when it’s time for you to step up.”
And now, he may get that chance “sooner” than expected.
BALL MAY FALL IN MID FIRST ROUND
Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball (Timberland) is a consensus first-team all-American heading into the season, and he’s among the top Heisman Trophy candidates. But his NFL draft prospects are somewhat lacking -- if you consider a mid-first round projection to be “lacking.”
NFLDraftScout.com has Ball projected to go 17th. Ball is the second-highest rated running back, behind Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina. USC quarterback Matt Barkley is listed No. 1. The questions about Ball’s pro future concern the wear and tear his body has absorbed in college, plus whether or not he has the size to be an every-down back in the NFL.
As a junior, Ball led the nation with 1,923 yards rushing, and he scored 39 touchdowns, helping the Badgers win the Leaders Division of the Big Ten. Wisconsin beat Michigan State 42-39 in the Big Ten title game but lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl (45-38). Ball ran for a combined 301 yards in those two games.
Wisconsin hosts Northern Iowa in its Sept. 1 opener.
MCKENDREE LOADING UP FOR DIVISION II DEBUT
McKendree University has added three more basketball recruits for its first foray into NCAA Division II play next season.
Among the signees is senior William Kirksey (Lafayette), who has transferred from Central Missouri, a Division II school in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Kirksey also played two years at Southwestern Illinois College.
The 6-foot-8 Kirksey averaged 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds and about 10 minutes per game last season at Central Missouri. As a sophomore at SWIC, he averaged 13.2 points and six rebounds and shot 52 percent. As a senior at Lafayette, Kirksey posted 15 points and nine rebounds.
“Will is a tremendous low-post player,” McKendree coach Harry Statham said. “We believe he will provide outstanding scoring and rebounding. Will is also a solid defender. He should be an immediate help to our program.”
McKendree's other two signees were 6-1 guard Mike Digregorio (Morton Grove, Ill.) and forward Arthur Williams (Cairo, Ill.).
Digregorio comes from Lincoln Land Community College, where he sat out last season with a injury. He was a three-year starter for Notre Dame High in Niles, Ill., averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 assists as a senior two years ago.
The 6-7 Williams appeared in 22 games as a sophomore at Vincennes (Ind.), coming off the bench for a team that won 28 games and was a top 10 NJCAA Division I program. Williams averaged 18 points and nine rebounds as a preps senior at Cairo.
McKendree earlier signed forward Matt Murphy (Jerseyville) and guard A.J. Schmidt (New Albany, Ind.). McKendree, which was 18-12 last season, will become a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference for the 2012-13 seasons.
FAHEY TABBED FOR HALL OF FAME
Washington University women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame during ceremonies last weekend in Knoxville, Tenn. Fahey is the first representative of an NCAA Division III school to be inducted and is part of a 2012 class that includes Nikki McCray (player), Pamela McGee (player), Inge Nissen (player), Robin Roberts (contributor) and Dawn Staley (player).
Fahey has guided Washington to a Division III-record five national championships, including four straight titles from 1998-2001. She also has led Washington to a Division III-best 10 final four appearances en route to a 617-112 record. Included in that career mark is an 81-game win streak, the second-longest victory streak in NCAA women’s basketball history.
Fahey has coached for 26 seasons at Washington.
LU-BELLEVILLE FOOTBALL BUILDS TOUGH FIRST-YEAR SKED
Lindenwood-Belleville will play a 10-game schedule in its first season of intercollegiate football, starting with a home game at 1 p.m. Sept. 1 against NAIA opponent Avila (Kan.). The schedule is made up of predominantly NAIA schools, but LU-Belleville also will face a pair of NCAA Division II opponents.
“We will be testing ourselves all season with a schedule that is undoubtedly one of the toughest a first-year program could put together,” Lynx coach Jeff Fisher said. “We will have our hands full with a young team, but it will prepare us to understand what level we must be able to play week in and week out to be successful in the NAIA.”
Lindenwood Stadium, formerly Township Stadium, will be home to LU-Belleville following a $2.3 million makeover. Seating capacity will be 4,129.
Other opponents on the Lynx schedule are NAIA schools Iowa Wesleyan, Robert Morris (Ill.), Central Methodist (Mo.), Haskell Indian Nation (Kan.), Culver-Stockton (Mo.), Valley City (N.D.) State and St. Francis (Ind.), plus NCAA Division II foes Oklahoma Pandhandle State and Kentucky Wesleyan.
STLCC COACHES GET HALL OF FAME NOD
Former Meramec women’s soccer coach Jeff Karl and current STLCC men’s basketball coach Randy Albrecht have been inducted into the Region XVI Hall of Fame.
Karl, the NJCAA soccer career wins leader, retired in December 2010 with victories. Karl’s teams developed from a regional force into a national powerhouse during the 1990s, once stringing together 22 consecutive winning seasons.
Meramec won national championships under Karl in 1991 and 1992 and reeled off 35 consecutive wins during the 1991-93 seasons, an NJCAA record.
Karl attributes the program’s success to recruiting from area high schools with strong winning traditions. Many of Karl’s players came from soccer-rich high school programs in south and west St. Louis County, plus northern Jefferson County.
“We recruited very hard the local talent that was in the area, and you have to have some talented people at multiple positions, and we had that at the time,” Karl said.
Albrecht, who has coached at STLCC for 35 years, has won 713 games.
“We’ve always had enough talent to be competitive,” Albrecht said. “I never thought jumping around was a good asset, and I’ve never sought many other opportunities. The grass isn’t always greener.”
Albrecht was named to the STLCC-Meramec Hall of Fame in 2003, the Missouri Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2004 and the NJCAA Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. His teams have made nine trips to the NJCAA national tournament.
BOTTGER TO BE HONORED – TWICE
Bob Bottger, who served for 21 years as Meramec’s athletics director, will be inducted into the National Alliance of Two-Year Colleges Athletic Administrators Hall of Fame on June 25. The next day he will be inducted into the National Association of College Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame. Bottger has held leadership posts with both national organizations.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Bottger said of the upcoming inductions. “I worked with a lot of good people for a long time. It’s a nice reward after 41 years (in athletics).”
Both induction ceremonies will be in Houston.
Before coming to Meramec, Bottger seved as an athletics administrator, plus swimming and tennis coach at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Iowa. He was inducted into the NJCAA Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in 1993.
OPEL’S POWER WAS A MIZZOU PLUS
Dane Opel (Edwardsville) led Missouri’s Big 12 tournament champion baseball team in home runs (11) and RBI (46) while batting .283. The Tigers (33-28) were ousted from the NCAA Tournament in the Tucson Regional, losing to eventual champion Arizona (15-3), beating New Mexico State (6-2) and falling to Louisville (11-3).
Opel was especially effective in the march through the Big 12 tournament, going 6-for-11 with six RBI in Missouri’s last three games. Missouri (4-0) was undefeated in winning the double-elimination event for the first time.
Opel’s breakout season followed a sophomore year that saw him hit just .209 with one home run and eight RBI.
At Edwardsville, Opel was one of the more celebrated sluggers in Southwestern Conference history. He built a .431 career average with 31 home runs, including 18 his senior season in 2009. Opel’s 31 homers are the most by a Southwestern Conference player since 2000.
LOCAL PRODUCTS SPARK GREENVILLE
Junior sprinter Philita Johnson (East St. Louis) helped power the Greenville College women’s track team to a third-place finish in the National Christian College Athletic Association National Championships in Joliet. Johnson, who won the 400 meters, later competed in the NCAA Division III national championships in Claremont, Calif., but did not place.
Sprinters Dezman Woods (Alton) and Bobby Williams (Alton) ran the third and fourth legs of Greenville’s 1,600 relay team that finished second in the NCCAA Championships. Woods is a freshman and Williams a sophomore for the Panthers, who wound up third in the NCCAA team standings.
AROUND THE AREA
• Webster University completed what was arguably the finest baseball season in school history with a No. 8 ranking among NCAA Division III schools. The Gorloks qualified for their first D-III World Series en route to fashioning a 36-14 record that included a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
Webster opened the season unranked, but SLIAC and regional championships, coupled with a 1-2 showing in the Division III World Series, propelled the Gorloks to their spot in the final American Baseball Coaches Association poll. During postseason play, Webster beat No. 11 Kean, No. 22 DePauw and No. 27 Washington. The Gorloks’ World Series losses came to No. 1 Marietta and No. 2 Wheaton.
• Freshman Michael Hester (Hazelwood Central) was a member of the 1,600-meter relay team at Kansas that qualified for the NCAA championships last weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. The Jayhawks relay team finished fourth in one of the preliminary races but needed second place or better to advance past the first round.
• Washington senior outfielder and pitcher Brandon Rogalski (Mount Pleasant, S.C.) capped his career with a second-team all-America honor from the American Baseball Coaches Association and third-team all-America notice from D3Baseball.com. Rogalski, the University Athletic Association player of the year, batted .433, which ranked 18th in the country among Division III players.
• Missouri Baptist (39-16) was No. 18 in the final NAIA baseball poll. The Spartans have won three straight American Midwest Conference titles.
• Missouri-St. Louis sophomore Louisa Werner (Dresden, Germany) was No. 7 in the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest Regional singles rankings. Werner finished the year 20-4.
• Drury junior outfielder Matt Borgschulte (Parkway Central) is playing summer ball for the Southern Ohio Copperheads of the Great Lakes Collegiate League. Borghschulte hit .271 for Drury (29-22), with a team-leading nine home runs.
• Principia senior basketball player Lindsay Sydness (Wellesley, Hills, Mass.) was recognized by the NCAA for leading all Division III players in blocked shots. Sydness blocked 5.6 per game and was one of three D-III performers to record two triple-doubles.
Sydness led the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in scoring (16.4), rebounding (10.9) and blocks. She shared Principia’s Howard L. Mitchell award with soccer player Alicia Girbes-Pierce as the school’s outstanding senior female athlete. Cross country and track standout Drew Clark was the male recipient of the honor.
• Catcher Marla Schulte (O’Fallon) and infielder Kerri Yanousek (Collinsville) have signed letters of intent with McKendree’s softball program.
Schulte batted .418 with 24 RBI for an O’Fallon team that won its second straight Southwestern Conference championship and third straight regional title. Yanousek, who hit .406 for Collinsville this spring, was a key component in the Kahoks’ success the past three seasons. Collinsville has averaged 20.3 wins per year since 2010.
• The SWIC men’s basketball program has signed sophomore Mat Piotrowski (Port Republic, N.J.), a 7-foot-1½ talent who played just 16 minutes a freshman at Boston University. He is the son of Tom Piotrowski, who played at LaSalle and in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers.
• Principia will be upgrading a number of its athletics facilities this summer, including the dugouts on the baseball field, installing new lights for the softball field and outdoor tennis courts, constructing a new cross country course, upgrading the Hexberg Tennis Center and continuing improvements started last year at Hay Gymnasium.
• Blackburn has hired three new coaches. Paula Cummings, the athletics trainer, is also the new softball coach. Zach Wilhelmi, the admissions counselor, is taking over the golf program; and Brandi Mullink, a teacher in the North Mac School District, is the new volleyball coach.
• SIU Edwardsville has added three wrestling recruits in John Anderson (Tinley Park, Ill.), James Accettura (Elmwood Park, Ill.), and Bryce Vrbenec (Oswego, Ill.), and all are expected to contribute immediately. Anderson was a two-time state qualifier for St. Rita likely to compete at 125 or 133 pounds at SIUE. Vrbenec, who reached state twice while wrestling for perennial power Montini Catholic, will fit in at 141 or 149 in college. Accettura wrestled at 170 at Elmwood Park.