Two weeks can be an eternity in a season.
When the regular-season ended, North Central's softball team was sliding into the CCIW playoffs and promptly lost its first two games to be eliminated. Now, the Cardinals prepare to host an NCAA super-regional series on Friday.
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Despite their lackluster finish to the season, the Cardinals were selected to the NCAA Tournament and were sent to Pella, Iowa, for their regional games. North Central took care of business, winning all three games in the regional, including a 5-0 opening-game win against host team Central College.
"Last week we just got back to where we were a few weeks earlier. You go through some peaks and valleys through the season and maybe we are on a path right now where we will be accelerating," coach James Kulawiak said.
The biggest difference was a step up in their defensive play over the weekend, Kulawiak said. The improved play was noticeable in the previous week's practice, the coach said, partly because of a boost in confidence by just making the tournament.
The Cardinals will host St. Thomas (Minn.) in a three-game series starting at 4 p.m. Friday on North Central's Shanower Family Field. The second game will be at 1 p.m. Saturday with a third game, if necessary, at 3:30 p.m.
Kulawiak said he knows this next round will be tough, even with the help of playing at home. St. Thomas is a strong offensive team that will cause problems over a three-game series, Kulawiak said.
The two teams have already met once this year, but it happened in the first week of the season while both teams were playing in Florida. North Central beat the then-No. 11-ranked Tommies, 4-3. While it won't be easy, Kulawiak likes how his team is looking.
"They are in a good mindset, I think they have recouped from the weekend," he said. "I think they still are pretty refreshed, I like the spunk and pep in their step they showed today."
The Wheaton College men's soccer team finds itself in an unusual situation. Despite its conference dominance over the last seven years, they will be searching for a new coach.
Since taking over in 2007, coach Michael Giuliano has coached the team to a combined nine CCIW regular-season and tournament championships. During his time the team has won nearly 70 percent of its games and he was named CCIW coach of the year three times.
However, Giuliano announced he would be stepping down from his position following the fall 2014 season.
Giuliano will join his wife in a move to Georgia to work at Greater Atlanta Christian High School. Wheaton athletic director Julie Davis said the search for his replacement will begin this summer.
Coach Kate Heidkamp got what she wanted out of her softball team, even if the Eagles couldn't keep their season going.
After reaching the NCAA playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, Heidkamp said her team was ready to finally get its first victory. Not only did the Eagles get one, but they reached the regional championships, needing just one win to advance to super-regionals. However, Benedictine lost both games to UW-Whitewater. The team was on a 15-game win streak leading into the championship and finished the season 34-13.
The CCIW announced its all-conference baseball selections and eight local players earned the honor. North Central led the way with four players: Sam Klein and Kris Singh named to the first team and Joe Paparone and Ben Krusen to the second. Elmhurst earned two of its own with Ben Havel and Dave Wolak. Seniors Justin Swider and Trey Martin were named from Wheaton. Martin also earned the school's first Pitcher of the Year award.