Benedictine looking for dream ending to dream season

 
 
Updated 3/17/2016 6:22 PM

These may be uncharted waters, but already Benedictine University has made a huge splash.

The sole unbeaten team in all of men's college basketball with a program-best record of 30-0, coach Keith Bunkenburg's Eagles are the first unbeaten to reach the NCAA Division III semifinals since 2009.

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"It's the first time we've ever been to a Final Four in Division III in the history of our school," said Bunkenburg, a St. Patrick High School graduate.

"Our students, our alumni, our administration and faculty have been great supporters of the program and our whole campus is excited about us going and having this experience, and it's been awesome," he said Wednesday.

Ranked No. 2 in the country by D3hoops.com -- No. 1 Augustana fell to St. Thomas (Minnesota) in a March 12 quarterfinal -- the men from Lisle face No. 15 Amherst College (Massachusetts) in a 4 p.m. Friday semifinal at the Salem Civic Center in Virginia. The championship game is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday, broadcast live by the CBS Sports Network, locally on Comcast Channel 418.

Benedictine has little to no history with 25-5 Amherst or top 8-rated semifinalists 32-1 Christopher Newport (Virginia) and 28-3 St. Thomas. Amherst won the 2013 and 2007 national championships and St. Thomas won in 2011.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bunkenburg, the Eagles' 21-year coach, said Benedictine played Christopher Newport in sectional play in 1991, before any of these players were born.

"There are moments where I kind of pinch myself and wonder how we got here," he said.

"Number 1, it's a talented group," he continued. "We have kids that are good basketball players, you can't take that away. Then the other thing is, they care about winning more than about individual statistics. They don't care about who gets the most points, who gets the most shots. Ultimately it's about winning the game."

This unselfishness has produced five players averaging double figures in scoring -- forwards Luke Johnson and Adam Reynolds, guards Tahron Harvey, Michael Blaszczyk and John Dodson -- with sixth man Tim Reamer at 9.8 points a game.

Benedictine also is the top rebounding team in the nation, averaging 47, and by allowing 64 points a game ranks third in the country with a 21-point scoring margin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This week 6-foot-9 Wheaton Academy graduate Johnson, averaging 14.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3 blocks, was selected on D3hoops' Central Region First Team. Glenbard East graduate Harvey, who averages 13.5 points and 5 assists, was a third-team pick.

"Luke's got a chance to be player of the year in Division III," Bunkenburg said.

Blasczcyk, out of Naperville Central, averages a team-high 14.6 points with 52 3-pointers, including 6 in the Eagles' 93-73 quarterfinal victory over Alma (Michigan).

"We run a motion offense, so what we do a really good job of is we're very patient, get a lot of touches within our offense, and we've done a great job of shot selection," Bunkenburg said. "We've turned maybe a good shot into a great shot. That's really been huge for us."

The huge year rolls on.

"Up to this point it's been a great season. Obviously, we've got the record for most wins in a season, winning our league (Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference), winning our conference tournament, making the Final Four. It's kind of what you dream of as a coach, as a team," Bunkenburg said.

"We're here to win two more games, but up to this point it's been unbelievable, and our kids have handled it so well."

Skip pass

Lake Park hosts its own version of March Madness on March 22. The school's Hoops for Heart 3-on-3 coed basketball tournament takes place at both East and West campuses, 64 teams at each location, three to four players per team.

Since 1998 Hoops for Heart always had its heart in the right place -- donating funds to the American Heart Association -- but turned the corner in 2004 with the advent of the tournament. Over the years Lake Park has raised $80,419.82.

The one-year record was $16,124.23 in 2011. Last year Hoops for Heart raised $15,481.31, so obviously the goal is to eclipse $16,000 with Tuesday's festivities, capped by the student tourney winners playing teams of staff members.

The charitable aspect certainly is grand, but Hoops for Heart is also important for another reason, said Jeff Henrikson, chairman of Lake Park's physical education department.

"I think the biggest thing is the awareness piece," he said. "This is more than raising money for the Heart Association, it's raising awareness about heart disease."

Henrikson noted that last fall a Lake Park student resuscitated and stabilized a teacher during lunch period before emergency personnel arrived.

"We think a large part is because the kid had the wherewithal to say, 'Hey, I know what to do here.' That piece right there is most impressive," Henrikson said.

Speaking of heart

Glenbard District 87 will present its Distinguished Service Awards at 7 p.m. March 21 at Glenbard East's Rider Hall, in Lombard.

Among the 10 recipients of the 2015-16 awards is Glenbard West athletic director Joe Kain, who added that fellow honoree Debbie Redmond, Glenbard West bookstore manager, has done "an amazing job" with daily athletics-based stuff.

Glenbard South's Bob Dobosz also is among this years recipients. In the past people like Chad Hetlet, Pete Mastandrea, Alby Zander and Glenbard West athletic assistant Deb Zartmann have been honored.

"It's a pretty cool event. It's neat to be recognized," Kain said.

On Fire

On Feb. 18 we wrote about Naperville North's Louis Pisani and Neuqua Valley's Liam Kirstein, senior managers for their respective boys basketball teams, lifelong friends and teammates with DuPage Valley Special Athletes.

On Monday the Chicago Fire and Special Olympics Illinois announced the 2016 Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All-Star Team, and Pisani was among the seven athletes selected, one being an alternate.

Ethan Harvey, a Naperville North sophomore and varsity soccer player, tried out with Pisani and will join him as a Unified Partner.

Louis' mother, Kish Pisani, said the group will travel with the Chicago Fire to Dallas in July and will play in August against a Unified team from Orlando.

Skates, spikes and roller blades

Hannah Bosman is a girl for all tracks -- long, short, composite.

The Timothy Christian senior recently traveled with Metea Valley senior Brandon Molenda and Glenbard West freshman Ethan Cepuran, among other United States athletes, to compete in the Long Track Speedskating Junior World Championships in Changchun, China.

On skates since the age of 3 and a speedskater since she was 6 aside from a two-year break, the sixth of seven Bosman children also is a five-time track state qualifier for Timothy Christian, advancing to Charleston in three events as a junior. The Oak Brook teenager squeezes in cross country during the fall.

Charleston is not quite as exotic as Changchun, China, though much less risky to luggage. Though the United States contingent arrived in China on March 6, several of the skaters' crucial items such as skin suits and skate blades didn't arrive until two days before the three-day competition began Monday.

Along with off-ice training, the high schoolers saw the sights.

"It was a great experience," said Bosman, whose chaperon was coach Eric Cepuran.

Ethan's older brother and the long track director at Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, where Becky Bosman drives her daughter two or three times weekly to practice, Eric Cepuran also is engaged to the eldest Bosman child, Leah. A family affair, but let's get back on track. China.

"It was really cool to see China," Hannah Bosman said. "It was very smoggy there, some things were really cool and other things were not so cool. There's not many traffic laws there so driving was crazy. But it was a great experience."

She could also describe the Buddhist temple, the open-air market and "different kinds of meat, mainly pork or chicken -- stuff that we usually eat but it tasted different there."

On the ice Bosman competed in four races ranging from 500 to 3,000 meters, plus team sprint and the frenetic, 4,000-meter mass start event. She recorded a personal-best time of 1 minute, 23.53 seconds in the 1,000, though her 12th-place finish in the mass start exceeded her seed and "was probably one of my best races," she said.

These athletes practice for years to gain national and international titles in hope of attaining the grail, an Olympic spot. Bosman has known Molenda and Ethan Cepuran for years. Along with the Pettit facility they also train at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, where they'll bump into Wheaton's Nancy Swider-Peltz, the former Olympian, and her two skating children, Jeffrey and fellow Olympian Nancy Jr.

"I've been skating with them since I started speedskating, I've known them my whole life," Bosman said. "They're both really great skaters. Brandon's a sprinter, his best event is the 500. Ethan is really good at the longer distances, his best event is probably the 5000-meters."

In this sport there's no rest for the weary. Bosman is considering attending the College of DuPage so she can be closer to the Pettit Center.

"I'll still be training, and I'll probably be training harder," she said.

It's always something. Like this weekend's U.S. Short Track Age Group Nationals in Verona, Wisconsin, outside of Madison. Bosman, Cepuran and Molenda will all be there.

"We'll see how they all do," said Becky Bosman, who must be a contender for mom of the year. "For them it's the icing after going to China. The short track, this is for fun."

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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