For the Wheaton College women's soccer program, success has been almost a constant throughout the last decade. However, with 13 new players this year's trip to the NCAA Division III semifinals was anything but guaranteed.
Despite the new faces the Thunder will face off against Emory College on Friday for a chance to play in the championship game Saturday. The route used to get there isn't exactly what coach Pete Felske expected at the beginning of the season.
"I think one of the biggest weaknesses in the beginning of the season was our defense," Felske said. "We were giving up some soft goals and some bad-timed goals. We have put more emphasis on taking our job a little more seriously, We got a little more physical and we kept at each other and it made us better."
That same defense has gone on to allow only 2 goals so far in the playoffs. If the Thunder defense was a weakness, then the offense was an obvious strength. Led by junior Leah DeMoss (St. Charles North) and her team-high 52 points, Wheaton looks to push the tempo of the game and put the pressure on the opposing team. DeMoss said they plan on using that same strategy in the semifinals.
Since winning their quarterfinal Nov. 17, the Thunder have had nothing but time to prepare for their next game. Felske said he and his staff tried to keep the down time business as usual for his team. The Thunder has practiced every day just like it did through the regular season.
Although the time leading up to their matchup against Emory may be longer than Felske would have liked, the turnaround time for a possible championship game is immediate. DeMoss said it has been difficult keeping focused on the game at hand with their season-long goal looming just 24 hours later, but it's something the team leadership has been keeping them focused on.
With the two biggest games of her collegiate career ahead, DeMoss said the Thunder hopes to put the pressure on Emory with an early goal and force it to play at Wheaton's pace.
"I think that if we can play the way Wheaton soccer plays I don't think we need to worry about adjusting," DeMoss said. "If we can play the way we can play, then Emory needs to worry about us."
The North Central men's basketball team has climbed in the rankings this week to No. 5 in the D3Hoops.com Top 25 poll.
North Central moved up from its preseason ranking of 6 after a 4-0 start to the season. The Cardinals' most recent win came Saturday against Carroll University. A jump in the poll hasn't been the only accolade the Cardinals have received. Junior forward Landon Gamble was named this week's CCIW player of the week.
Gamble is averaging more than 13 points and 4 rebounds a game so far this season and led the team with 25 points in the win against Carroll.
Perfection has been far from a close call so far for the Cardinals. Their closest game to date was decided by 7 points, with the other three all double-digit victories. North Central's perfect record will hit the road for the first time this season when the Cardinals travel to Trine University (Ind.) on Saturday, then to Kalamazoo College (Mich.) on Sunday.
While the Cardinals appear to be the early favorite in the CCIW, they are not the only Top 10 team. Illinois Wesleyan jumped in this week, reaching No. 7.
The season for the two remaining CCIW football teams came to an abrupt end Saturday with both Elmhurst and North Central losing.
Elmhurst's most successful team in program history ended with a loss to St. Thomas 24-17. The Cardinals ended their season with a disappointing 30-14 turnover-filled loss to Linfield College.