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On Campus: Fully healthy, Crystal Lake Central grad Alex Baker embracing fun in final season

Loyola University's Alex Baker, a Crystal Lake Central graduate, finished first in the 3,000-meter run at last weekend’s Wisconsin Alumni Classic.
Loyola University's Alex Baker, a Crystal Lake Central graduate, finished first in the 3,000-meter run at last weekend’s Wisconsin Alumni Classic.

When Alex Baker crossed the finish line first in the 3,000-meter run at last weekend’s Wisconsin Alumni Classic, it was a reminder of where he had been.

“I’ve definitely been coming along,” said Baker, who beat Loyola University Chicago’s school record in the event by more than 5 seconds at 8:20.44. “I got to see all my hard work pay off and get back to the level I was.”

The Crystal Lake Central grad, now a redshirt senior, was encouraged by the victory after working to regain his form from a serious left ankle injury two years ago.

“My sophomore year was so good,” Baker said. “I had a breakout season.”

During that season, the distance specialist posted top-10 times in school history in the 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 events.

While preparing for his junior season in an August training workout, he sustained an injury that cost him nearly 12 months away from the track.

“We were doing a hill workout on this hill that we hadn’t been to before,” he said. “Some spots on the hill were patchy and had holes. I was almost done with the workout. Coming down the hill, my foot stuck in one of the holes. I fell and rolled over it and almost tumbled down the hill.”

Baker sustained torn ligaments that immediately sidelined him for the cross country season. While rehabbing the injury, he had an episode with bone swelling in the ankle.

The coaching staff decided to redshirt Baker for the indoor and outdoor track seasons as well.

“It was very up and down,” Baker said. “I spent a lot of time cross training, on the bike and swimming. It’s not quite doing the sport you want to do. What got me through was knowing I was doing this all for a reason. It was humbling.”

As the miles added up in training, the ankle slowly got stronger.

“There wasn’t a defining moment, but eventually it got used to the wear and tear,” he said.

He scored in both the 5K and 10K at last year’s Missouri Valley Conference outdoor championships. This weekend, in what could be his final collegiate race at the MVC outdoor meet in Terre Haute, Ind., he will focus on the 5K. He has the fourth-best time (14:19.43) in the conference this season.

“It makes me sad thinking about it,” Baker said. “I just want to go out and have fun with it.”

Madda makes noise: After winning three titles at last weekend’s Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference outdoor track and field championships, Wisconsin-Whitewater junior Celeste Madda (CL Central) won the league’s prestigious Judy Kruckman Scholar-Athlete Award.

The honor followed Madda winning the 100-meter dash (12.16 seconds) for the second year in a row and claiming the 200 title in 24.6. She also helped the Warhawks win the 4x100 relay crown in 47.37, which ranks among the top 10 nationally in Division III this season.

Along with her athletic achievements, Madda was recognized for earning a 3.85 grade-point average as a health and human performance major and working as a volunteer with Fairhaven Senior Services and at after-school programs in Whitewater.

Winona winner: Winona State senior Samantha McLean earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference all-tournament honors while helping the D-II Warriors win the league tournament.

McLean, a Crystal Lake South grad who plays second base, batted .385 in last week’s tournament with three RBIs and two runs scored. The Warriors (45-5) clinched the championship on a walk-off grand slam to advance to this week’s NCAA Central regional as the top seed.

Winona, which has won 15 games in a row, is ranked No. 5 in this week’s National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll.

For the season, McLean is batting .325 with 17 RBIs and 19 runs scored.

Minot State standouts: Junior designated hitter Celestino Rodriguez (Marian Central) and junior outfielder Michael Borst (McHenry West) were among five members of the D-II Minot State (N.D.) baseball to earn All-NSIC recognition this week.

A first-team member, Rodriguez ranks second in the conference in home runs (nine) and RBIs (43) this season and has tied the program’s D-II era career records in homers (28) and RBIs (122). He is batting .331 this season for the Beavers (31-15), who set a program record for single-season wins while claiming their first NSIC title in school history.

Borst was chosen for the second team after posting a team-high .355 average, ranking second in the NSIC in runs (school-record 51) and eighth in hits (59).

Miller makes first team: Marian Central grad Emily Miller has earned first-team All-College Conference of Wisconsin softball honors Monday and was named the league’s Batting Champion.

The freshman outfielder is batting .486 for D-III North Central College (31-10) and set school records for hits (70) and doubles (24) in a season while starting all season as the team’s leadoff hitter.

Miller batted .509 in conference games and had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

Her .486 average is the second best single-season effort in school history. Miller also had a 20-game hitting streak this season.

Top tennis honors: Milwaukee School of Engineering senior Brad Phoenix (Crystal Lake Central) and sophomore Curt Norton (Cary-Grove) earned All-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference men’s tennis honors as doubles players this spring.

Phoenix was part of MSOE’s No. 1 pairing, which posted a 5-3 record in conference play. Norton played at No. 2 doubles this season, where he helped post a 7-1 league record.

• 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.

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