The summer started early for the College of DuPage softball team this year.
For a team that has grown accustomed to competing in the NJCA national tournament, an early exit in the regional tournament came as a bit of a shock. Even worse it came at the hands of conference rival Rock Valley.
COD went into the regional playoffs as the No. 2 seed behind Rock Valley. While it was ranked one spot ahead of Rock Valley nationally at No. 4, they were only the second seed in the playoffs because of a worse conference record.
The two teams first met in the regionals Saturday and it took extra innings before Rock Valley notched a victory. After beating up on Madison Community College Sunday, COD met with Rock Valley again but were again beaten, this time 3-0.
The season is a little bitter sweet for coach Ryan Connell. Although the Chaparrals finished early, Connell notched his 200th career victory this season compared to only 88 losses in his six seasons as head coach for COD. While the 200 wins are an accomplishment for Connell, he is happier with what those victories represent.
"It's a great mark for the program," Connell said. "It shows we are constantly doing the right things. We are making sure that our girls are going on to four-year universities. If I'm winning games, it gets us looks."
The most important thing, Connell said, is to find a four-year program for his players after they finish their time at COD. As much pressure as he said his team feels to play well every year and make it to the national tournament, the main goal is to find a school where the players can continue playing.
Despite missing COD nationals for only the second time in 17 years, Connell is confident that the team will reload and be better than ever next year. The Chaparrals will be returning multiple key players from this year's team, including Karen Caithamer. After redshirting her first year with COD because of a broken thumb just days before the team's first game last year, Caithamer was the centerpeice to the 2013 team.
Connell said his star is the total package and will be one of the key players on the 2014 squad.
While Caithamer will supply much of the team's power, Connell hopes next year's team can return to the program's history of speed. This year the team stepped away from its usual spot atop the country in stolen bases, but with more speed next year he hopes to use bunts, slap hits and stolen bases like he has in the past.
With four key sophomores returning, Connell is confident the team will get back to where they belong.
"We are going to be back to our national ways next year, I can feel it," he said.
Legendary cross country coach Al Carius will be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame this September. Carius is being recognized for his 48-year coaching career at North Central in addition to his own athletic accomplishments while at the University of Illinois.
While coaching at North Central, Carius has led his team to 15 national titles, 39 consecutive CCIW championships and set the national record for lowest point total and largest margin of victory at the national championships. Both records still stand today.
The list of accomplishments and accolades for Carius is seemingly endless. Already a member of nearly every other hall of fame for track and cross country coaches, Carius' name is used for the Program of the Year award given out to the cross country and track and field program with the highest point total after the three nationals.
Joining Carius at the Hall of Fame awards will be Donovan McNabb, Tony LaRussa and Eddie Olczyk among others.