As students return to campus and classes resume for the start of the 2012-13 academic year, Heidelberg University’s fall athletes are preparing to build off of their accomplishments in 2011.
Under the direction of sixth-year head coach Mike Hallett, the Berg posted an 8-2 (7-2 OAC) record in 2011 – the eighth most wins in a season since 1993. Hallett’s squad returns 18 starters from last year.
Sophomore quarterback Mike Mees will lead the Heidelberg offense, which ranked first a year ago. Mees compiled 1,720 yards through the air, completing 109 of 221 passes for 17 touchdowns while rushing for another two. Complementing Mees in the backfield will be sophomore Cartel Brooks. Brooks ran for 759 yards in 2011, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and accounting for seven of the Berg’s touchdowns last season out of the backfield. Preseason second-team All-American Quentin Rembert anchors an outstanding offensive line.
Defensively, Heidelberg returns Academic All-American senior linebacker Craig Sykes, senior linebacker Dawson Gore and three defensive backs, senior Justin Suddeth and juniors Chadd Williamson and Chase Bauer. Sykes was the leading defensive player during the 2011 season, accumulating 88 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks for 40 yards and four interceptions. Gore was not far behind Sykes with 82 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.
“We are not preparing differently than last year, but there are different questions to be answered,” said Hallett. “I am really excited about the depth we have in our returning student-athletes. They will do a great job in mentoring a talented incoming class.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl team, which defeated Fort Valley State. Heidelberg will be honoring the members of the 1972 team later this season.
Reigning OAC coach of the year Jason Miller enters his 13th season at Heidelberg. His team has won three consecutive regular-season conference titles and has advanced to the NCAA Regionals for five straight seasons. After a 32-7 campaign, Miller and company have their sights set on a deep postseason run.
The team will be led by a trio of seniors - setter Rachel Ferguson, middle hitter Marian Bevington and outside hitter Jacki Street. Ferguson led the team with 777 assists. Bevington finished last season with 360 kills and surpassed the 1,000 kill milestone in the final game of the season.
The team lost three key seniors from a year ago, including two-time OAC player of the year Jackie Reinhart. "You can't fill their shoes with one or two people,” said Miller. “Everybody is going to need to put a toe in to fill the void."
Reinhart will serve as a graduate assistant this season.
Five first-year students join the squad this season. The quintet, which Miller describes as “intelligent and athletic,” will seek to make in immediate impact on the court.
Just two years removed from the first regular season OAC title in school history, men’s soccer head coach Brian Haley looks forward to the challenge of moving the team back to its customary position, challenging for championships. To do so, he will rely on 13 returning student-athletes to mesh with 12 newcomers.
Senior goalkeeper Ryan Smith and junior Erik Furst anchor a stout defense which only allowed 1.31 goals per game last season. “Erik and Ryan are two of the best at their position in the league. They serve as terrific mentors to our younger players,” said Haley.
Offensively, sophomore Hamid Shariff looks to build off of a successful first year, where he netted five points. Senior Cole Tonti will guide many incoming students as they learn Haley’s system. “We’ll look to Hamid’s speed and athleticism to create more scoring opportunities this season,” said Haley. “We need to be more assertive with the ball in the midfield, allowing our forwards to excel up front.”
“With a new group comes a new attitude,” said Haley. “We have recruited not only good players overall but positive students looking to work hard. Our strong non-conference schedule will prepare us well for the OAC schedule.
“We had a young squad last year that gained invaluable experience,” said Haley, who is entering his 24th year. “With nine starters returning, we are eager to show what we can do.”
After some setbacks in the 2011 season, the Heidelberg women’s soccer team is focused and determined to bounce back in 2012. A youthful squad will look to all-conference senior goalkeeper Molly Schriber and top scorer junior Kelsey Hogan to lead the way.
That leadership will be a necessity for the seven returning sophomores and 12 freshmen. “We will be a team of youth but our sophomores gained valuable game experience. We look for them to carry that knowledge and experience into this season,” said sixth-year head coach Nick Spell.
Also returning for The Berg in 2012 is senior forward Bethany Mattern and senior goalkeeper Brittany Labry, who has seen significant time and has made some key saves. Senior Rachel Johann will also be back on the field after sitting out last season because of injury.
Heidelberg will have a lot of scoring potential with most of its offense returning and will need to make the most of its chances while the youthful defense finds its identity. “There will be pressure on the offense to help the defense while they work to understand our system,” said Spell. “I feel confident that we have a great class of players who are determined and passionate about our goals.”
Entering her third season at Heidelberg, cross-country head coach Briana Hess will have a nearly perfect split of new and returning student-athletes. The men’s team will feature 10 returning runners and 11 new student-athletes. The women’s team welcomes seven new and seven returning runners to the 2012 team.
The women’s team will look to the leadership of senior Bobbi Custer and junior Sophie Goobic. Custer and Goobic led the 2011 team to a seventh-place finish at the OAC meet and 26th place at the NCAA regional meet.
“Sophie and Bobbi have trained hard this summer,” said Hess. “We have freshmen women who have great potential and I'm excited to get them on campus with our returners.”
A trio of returning seniors, Gareth Graver, Kevin Neal and Dustin Kuess will help pace the 2012 men’s team, which finished fourth at the OAC meet and 12th at the NCAA regional meet.
“Our men have some work to do, as we lost two of our top performers to graduation. I look for Brad Palocko to step up and fill some big shoes as a freshman,” Hess said. “We also have many other new guys who could do great things for our team.”