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ONU sports teams fight to reclaim OAC trophies

Last year, the Ohio Northern men and women’s athletic programs lost the Ohio Athletic Conference All-Sports Trophies after holding the awards for five and four straight years, respectively. Both teams finished second; the men lost by a single point and the women came 2.25 points short.

After each gender won two of the three available conference championships in the fall, both the men and women currently sit in first place in the 2011-12 standings. Teams are doing their part to ensure Ohio Northern stays at the top of the standings.

The men’s swimming and diving team is no stranger to success, having won seven straight OAC titles, but what makes the squad different this year is its national success.

Then ranked 16th in the country, the Polar Bears defeated then No. 12-ranked Case Western by a 158-136 score, handing Case its first loss of the season.

Now ranked 11th, the team’s only loss came against top-ranked Kenyon, a team that won an NCAA record 31 national championships from 1980 through 2010. The Polar Bears, led by senior All-American Michael Schultz, almost completed the upset, falling 133-110.

The men will travel, along with the women’s team (11-3 overall, 5-0 OAC) to the OAC Championships at the University of Akron from Feb. 16-18 in hunt of the team’s eighth straight league championship.

The women’s basketball team is also experiencing a breakout season. Last year, the Polar Bears ended in the OAC Tournament semifinals as seventh-seeded John Carroll upset third-seeded ONU 71-70.

That loss left a bad taste in Northern’s mouth as the team has come out playing with a vengeance this season.

With at least five more games left to play, the women’s hoops team has an 18-3 record, including 12-2 in the OAC. That is already the most wins the team has had since 2007- 08 when it finished 19-7.

If the squad wins two more games, it will be the first time reaching 20 wins since the 1987-88 season when ONU finished 23-4 and advanced to the third round of the NCAA playoffs.

One of the team’s three losses came at Mount Union in early January. Ohio Northern will be looking to exact its revenge when the seventh-ranked Purple Raiders arrive at the ONU Sports Center this coming Saturday for a 3 p.m. game.

Experience will not be Ohio Northern’s downfall, as the Polar Bears are led by senior Kara Dysert (12.6 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game) and junior Morgan Dumbaugh (13.5 points per game).

Another group of athletes that came into the 2011-12 season looking for revenge is the wrestling team. After losing to Mount Union 25-10 in the regular season, the team had a disappointing third-place finish at the OAC Championships.

This year, the Polar Bears were able to upset 14th-ranked Mount Union by a 20-19 score to conclude a five-meet span where ONU went 4-1 against opponents ranked in the top 30 nationally.

Now up to No. 12 in national rankings, Ohio Northern is two wins away from a regular season conference title. But the OAC meet is looming in the distance, on Feb. 25, where the team will be looking to improve upon its third-place finish a year ago.

Despite graduating three-time All-American and one-time national champion Luke Miller, the team still has a wealth of talent. Junior Kyle Kwiat is already a two-time All- American himself, and has finished fifth at nationals two consecutive years. With a 27-1 record, he is ranked third in the 174-pound weight class by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

Senior Billy Painter is also ranked third with a 22-6 record at 165 pounds, while senior Mick Letcher (21-4 at 157 pounds), sophomore Michael Pawlitz (28-6 at 197 pounds) and freshman Cody Lovejoy (23-14 at 285 pounds) have also eclipsed the 20-win mark and hope to achieve a berth to nationals by winning their weight class at the OAC meet.

In the current All-Sports Trophy race, the men have a slim 0.5 point lead over Mount Union, while the women hold a slightly more comfortable 3.75 point lead over Otterbein.

As was seen last year, every point will matter in the winter and spring seasons during the hunt to reclaim the title.