Crystal Lake South graduate Dennis Gardeck spent the past four years at West Virginia State University with head football coach Jon Anderson and defensive coordinator Nick Benedetto.
When it came time to use his final year of eligibility, Gardeck chose to remain with the two familiar faces, despite moving nearly 1,100 miles in the process.
“After last season, I thought it was best for me to move on,” said Gardeck, a linebacker who piled up 282 tackles and 18 sacks at NCAA Division II WVSU. “I wanted to grow more as a player. I feel like I stagnated between my second and third seasons.”
When Anderson left WVSU to become head coach at D-II University of Sioux Falls (South Dakota) and brought his defensive coordinator and South grad Benedetto with him, Gardeck decided to join them.
Gardeck, a graduate transfer, made an immediate impact at strong-side linebacker last weekend for the Cougars.
He posted a school-record five sacks and led USF with 10 tackles in a 26-7 victory at Minnesota Duluth, the nation’s eighth-ranked team. On Tuesday, he was named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
“We have some (strong-side linebacker) blitzes, but there’s also a third-down package where I’m on the line playing a stand-up defensive end,” he said of USF’s 3-4 alignment. “I’ve had a lot of success there.”
Gardeck credits his transition as a pass rusher to working in practice against USF right tackle Jesse Springer, a four-year starter, and 6-foot-7 left tackle Trey Pipkins, an all-conference honoree last season.
“Our tackles are tremendous,” Gardeck said. “Going up against them has really helped me.”
Saturday’s victory, which ended Duluth’s 22-game home winning streak, allowed USF to jump eight spots in the national rankings this week to No. 9.
Playing for Anderson, who spent 11 years as a USF assistant coach, and Benedetto, a former standout USF defensive back, required an immediate change.
Gardeck moved to the strong-side spot after playing weak-side linebacker at West Virginia State, where he redshirted in 2013 with a knee injury.
“I started out just working for playing time,” Gardeck said. “Every practice was the most important practice. Then, some things came pretty quickly. There are definitely some similarities in the defense, but there are also a few differences.”
Despite being on the opposite side of the field, Gardeck helped USF hold Duluth to 210 yards of total offense.
Another major change for Gardeck was moving to a program with a strong history. While WVSU was 10-23 over the past three seasons, USF won four national titles in NAIA before transitioning to NCAA D-II in 2011. Since 2012, the Cougars are 48-12 and won the NSIC championship last season.
“Every day, we have something to uphold,” Gardeck said of the program’s history. “We have targets on our backs.”
Pacing the Racers: Murray State outside hitter Rachel Giustino (Marian Central) was honored Monday as the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week in volleyball.
Giustino led the Racers (6-1) to a 3-0 record and the Chattanooga Classic tournament title over the weekend. She averaged 6.3 kills and 4.3 digs a set in three matches. In a 3-1 win against Chattanooga to close the tournament, Giustino posted a career-high 28 kills along with a season-best 19 digs. She has five double-doubles this season.
Sophomore libero Alex Kaufmann of Marian Central also made the all-tournament team for the Racers. She posted 14 digs against Chattanooga, whose coaching staff includes fellow Marian grad Abby Gilleland, a first-year assistant with the Mocs.
Streveler dominates Drake: Marian Central grad Chris Streveler, the senior quarterback at South Dakota, was named Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week after accounting for six touchdowns in the Coyotes’ 77-7 season-opening win against Drake.
Streveler, who played only one half, was 17-for-24 passing for 248 yards and five TDs. He also rushed for 53 yards and a score.
Streveler, the 2016 MVFC Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Minnesota, has accounted for six touchdowns twice in 11 career starts for South Dakota. His 27 career TD passes rank seventh in program history.
Dion stars at SEMO: Freshman libero Ally Dion (Huntley) earned all-tournament honors last weekend at D-I Southeast Missouri’s Redhawks Invitational.
Dion helped SEMO finish 3-0 and win the team title with a five-set victory against previously undefeated Evansville. She finished the match with a team-high 14 digs. For the weekend, She had 34 digs and nine service aces. Dion is averaging 2.64 digs a set for the Redhawks (4-2).
Nolan nets new honor: For the second week in a row, Cincinnati junior outside hitter Carly Nolan was named to an all-tournament team.
A Crystal Lake South grad, Nolan earned all-tourney honors at the crosstown Xavier Tournament, where she had a team-high 62 kills in three matches. She leads the American Athletic Conference in kills per set (4.25) and is second in points scored per game (4.62).
Nolan posted a double-double in all three Xavier Tournament matches, including a career-best 24 kills against Western Michigan.
Quite a catch for Loras: Richmond-Burton grad Brad Boelkow was the leading receiver for D-III Loras College in the team’s 41-9 season-opening football win last weekend against Elmhurst.
Boelkow, a junior wide receiver, led the team with six receptions and 64 yards for the Duhawks (1-0).
Last season, Boelkow caught seven touchdowns for Loras.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.