When Crystal Lake Central graduate Neil Groat planned his baseball future as a youth, it included a number of options, except one.
“Growing up in Crystal Lake, I didn’t think I’d ever spend any time in Arkansas,” the 30-year-old Groat said.
Since graduating from Central, Groat has spent all of the past 11 years in Conway, Ark., at NCAA Division III Hendrix College, where he became the baseball team’s head coach this spring.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a head coach at such a young age,” he said.
Groat spent four seasons as an infielder at Hendrix and the past seven years as an assistant coach and the team’s recruiting coordinator, where he learned plenty about the team’s roster.
“I’ve recruited every kid in our program, so those relationships I’ve had with them sometimes go back to their junior year in high school,” he said.
Familiarity with the players has helped Groat’s transition into his new role.
“I think they were pretty happy (when I was hired), but maybe they lied,” Groat joked.
Being a former Hendrix player also has helped in the transition at the school, which Groat said has students from 42 states and 11 countries.
“Hendrix is very intense academically,” Groat said. “The average ACT score is 29. Our student-athletes put in some serious classroom time. I did that. It gives me a level of understanding about what they’re going through.”
Although winning on the field is a priority, Groat said seeing his players succeed academically is just as important.
Groat recalled telling one former player and his family during recruiting that the athlete could earn a Hendrix science degree and go on to medical school while playing baseball.
Four years later, that player informed Groat on the day he was accepted to med school.
“That was pretty cool,” Groat said.
Hendrix is 4-6 this season, its first in the Southern Athletic Association.
Groat said his team will have “a workman’s mentality. We want to be blue collar.”
Groat credits that style of play to two of his former coaches at Central, Jeff Aldridge and Rich Czeslawski.
“They are Central alums and really helped instill in our teams that we were playing for a school and not for ourselves individually,” Groat said. “That’s something I really appreciate now that I’m coaching at my alma mater.”
Roosevelt paces CCAC: Roosevelt University’s women’s basketball team is among a record five schools from the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference to qualify for the NAIA Division II national tournament.
Jacobs grad Maria Tamburrino, a junior forward, earned first-team All-CCAC recognition after averaging 14.3 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds. She scored a team-best 17 points in the CCAC Tournament championship game to lead the eighth-ranked Lakers (27-6) to a 69-64 win against Cardinal Stritch (26-7), which got eight assists from Crystal Lake South grad Caitlin Mize.
Tamburrino and the Lakers, who also won the league’s regular-season title, is a No. 2 national seed and will face Friends University on Wednesday. Sixth-seeded Cardinal Stritch opens play in the 32-team national tournament Thursday.
Junior guard Liz Bart (Cary-Grove), who ranks fourth in NAIA with 97 made three-pointers and averages 11 points a game, helped Olivet Nazarene (23-8) to a No. 6 seed and a first-round meeting Wednesday with Concordia of Michigan.
St. Xavier (24-6), a No. 5 seed, will face St. Thomas on Thursday. Hampshire grad Chrissy Heine averages 8.2 points and 3.6 rebounds for SXU.
Purdue Calumet (21-9) also advanced to postseason play.
Irish standouts: Cary-Grove grad Carly Loeffel won All-Big East Conference honors in the pentathlon while helping Notre Dame win the league’s women’s indoor track and field team title last weekend.
Loeffel, a sophomore for the Irish, compiled 3,915 points, 12 behind the event champion, Pittsburgh’s Elizabeth Kline.
Loeffel’s second-place finish helped ND post a school-record 141 points as a team to win the meet.
Fellow C-G grad and Notre Dame men’s middle distance runner Eddy Gibbons scored in two events, helping the 4x800 relay team to a fourth-place finish in 7:33.77 and running to seventh in the 1,000 in 2:31.90. Gibbons helped ND’s men’s team place second behind Connecticut.
Gibbons ran a personal-best time of 2:26.04 in the prelims, the second-fastest time of the meet.
Czlapinski best in Midwest: Marengo grad Becca Czlapinski swept the Midwest Collegiate Conference’s top two women’s bowling awards last month, winning the league’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors.
A freshman at NAIA St. Ambrose University, Czlapinski finished the regular season with a 187.6 average in 49 games. She produced four top-25 finishes for the Bees, including a top-five finish and two top 10s in tournament play.
Record-setter Udrenaite: D-III Concordia Chicago track and field athlete Kamile Udrenaite won the shot put and set a school record in the 20-pound weight throw at last weekend’s Northern Athletics Conference women’s indoor track and field championships. Udrenaite threw the shot put 38 feet, 6¾ inches for the victory. The Crystal Lake South grad finished third in the weight throw by topping her own school record with a toss of 47-1.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.