At 5-foot-10 and 314 pounds, Isiah Ziegler is used to moving opponents just based on his size.
This season, the sophomore defensive tackle at North Central College has unlocked a new skill.
“Our coaches do a great job of teaching us how to use our hands, and that’s a big thing for me,” said Ziegler, a Dundee-Crown graduate. “I’ve started using my hands more, which is something I never did in high school. Now that I’m learning to do that, it’s kind of shocking to see how good I can be.”
After compiling 14 total tackles as a freshman, Ziegler has made big strides this fall with 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Last week, Ziegler was chosen for the All-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin second team.
Ziegler is joined along the defensive front by fellow starter Dan Gilroy, a sophomore defensive end from Cary-Grove, who has 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks among his 29 tackles.
The duo, and the rest of the North Central defense, will be a key factor at noon Saturday in an NCAA Division III second-round playoff game in Alliance, Ohio, against Mount Union, which has won 12 national titles since 1996.
The Cardinals (10-1) are ranked No. 5 this week by D3Football.com, while Mount Union (10-0) is No. 1.
North Central, which is 13th nationally in scoring defense and total defense, has the benefit of getting contributions from a number of players.
“There’s no individual person that has any crazy stats compared to the rest of our defense,” Gilroy said. “There aren’t people flying around trying to do other people’s jobs, which is nice. Offenses can’t really game plan for tendencies against any certain guy.”
An ankle injury and an October loss to CCIW champion Wheaton provided hurdles for Gilroy and the Cardinals. While nursing the ankle injury, Gilroy has been able to build on his pass-rush skills.
“I’m trying to add a couple of different moves to what I can do,” he said. “I’ve been focused a lot more on being able to hit different moves.”
On Oct. 5, North Central’s 3-0 start was interrupted by a rivalry game loss to Wheaton, 35-21.
Gilroy said the team wasn’t sure if the playoffs were possible after the defeat. But since then, the Cardinals have won seven games in a row, including last weekend’s 51-15 first-round playoff demolition of Wabash.
“I’m most proud of how close we’ve gotten, especially in the seven weeks since Wheaton,” Gilroy said.
History at St. Francis: Marengo grad Taylor Conroy and her University of Saint Francis cross country teammates made history last week at the NAIA national meet in Vancouver, Washington. With three runners finishing in the top 50, the Fighting Saints placed fourth as a team, the highest national finish in program history.
Conroy, a senior, placed 48th as an individual in the 5K race in a time of 18 minutes, 54.4 seconds.
Saint Francis, whose previous best national finish was 12th, posted a score of 238 at the meet. Michigan’s Madonna University won with 111 points.
Olson sisters shine for UCF: Cary-Grove grads Erin and Amber Olson combined for 46 set assists to help Central Florida (24-7) win the American Athletic Conference volleyball tournament and an automatic NCAA tournament berth last weekend with a 3-2 victory against Cincinnati.
Erin Olson, a senior, had 25 assists in the title match, and Amber, a sophomore, added 21 for the Knights, which also won the AAC regular-season title. The sisters have combined to average 11 assists a set this season while providing 4.35 digs a set.
Krutwig named to all-tournament team: Loyola Chicago men’s basketball center Cam Krutwig (Jacobs) was named to the Cayman Islands Classic all-tournament team Wednesday after he posted 22 points and eight rebounds as the Ramblers beat Old Dominion, 68-61.
Krutwig, a junior, scored 16 points Monday in the tournament opener – a 66-55 loss to South Florida – putting him over 1,000 career points at Loyola.
He averaged 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in the three-game tournament for Loyola (4-4), which finished 1-2. For the season, he is leading the team in scoring (16.9 points), rebounding (6.8) and field-goal percentage (65.4%).
SEMO earns NCAA spot: Huntley grad Ally Dion and her Southeast Missouri volleyball teammates earned a spot in the NCAA tournament last weekend by sweeping Morehead State, 3-0, to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship.
Dion, a junior defensive specialist for the Redhawks (23-10), ranks second on the team in digs a set (2.25) and third in service aces (34).
Hanlon’s honor a Xavier first: Xavier University redshirt freshman Lauren Hanlon (Marian Central) is the first player in school history to make the Big East Conference All-Freshman Team.
Hanlon, after missing most of two seasons with injuries, led the Musketeers (11-17) with 255 kills this fall. She reached double-digit kills in 15 matches this season, including a career-high 19 in September against Lipscomb. Hanlon was twice named Big East Freshman of the Week this season.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.