North Central had plenty on the line when it took the field against Wheaton College on Saturday.
With a victory the Cardinals would clinch an outright CCIW championship, clear their last major hurdle on their way to a potential undefeated regular season and deliver some payback to their conference rival after a late-season loss last year. After proving they were up to the test by winning 35-16, North Central players on both the offense and defense have been recognized as a CCIW Player of the Week. Quarterback Spencer Stanek and linebacker Nick Slezak were given the award after the dominating victory.
Stanek led the offensive onslaught and in doing so won his conference record fifth Player of the Week award on the season. The senior went 21 of 29 for 242 yards and threw for all 5 touchdowns his team scored.
The season-long stats are beginning to pile up for Stanek. Saturday's game was his fifth consecutive game with a completion percentage of at least 70 percent and his eighth consecutive multi-touchdown game.
Most importantly, he helped his team get to 9-0 on the season and 6-0 in conference, sealing up an outright conference title. With the championship the Cardinals earned the CCIW automatic NCAA Division III playoff bid. While they went to the playoffs last year with the conference bid, they did so only by tiebreaker after the loss to Wheaton forced a three-way tie for the conference title.
Slezak helped lead a defense that kept the Thunder offense to less than 100 total yards in the second half. The senior from Glenbard South led the team in tackles with 12, 9 solo, topped the defense in tackles for loss with 3 and deflected a pass. He leads the defense on the season in all three of those categories.
The defense was most dominant when it counted the most. The Cardinals held Wheaton to only 5 first downs in the second half and 1 of 7 on third-down conversions. Wheaton could only scratch out a field goal in the second half after going to halftime down by 1.
After winning the Little Brass Bell trophy back from the Thunder, North Central will return home for its final regular-season game of the year. It will host Augustana on senior day at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Bluejays volleyball team followed an undefeated conference season with a run through the CCIW Tournament and a championship. With the title Elmhurst earned its bid to the Division III playoffs and has been selected as one of the host teams for the regionals.
The No. 5-ranked team in the country will host its second consecutive regional championships, which will begin with matches Thursday night at R.A. Faganel Hall on the Elmhurst campus. The Bluejays' first game will come Thursday night when they play Dominican University.
Also in their regional is Webster University, Hope College, DePauw University, Otterbein University, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Washington University in St. Louis.
Helping the Bluejays in their run through the playoffs will be the six newly named all-conference players. Seniors Marci Novak, Megan Reynolds and Kaitlyn Wilks earned first-team mentions along with junior Sam Szarmach. Senior Hannah Lessen was named to second-team all-conference, and freshman Hannah Nimrick received honorable mention.
The awards continued to roll in for Elmhurst. Novak earned the CCIW co-Most Outstanding Player award and coach Julie Hall won her second consecutive Coach of the Year award.