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The Northern Review's 'ONU Athletics Year in Review': 2017

With 2017 coming to an end, we looked back on the year in Ohio Northern athletics. (Northern Review illustration/ Grant Pepper)

With the sun about to set on 2017, it’s time to reflect on the year in ONU athletics. 2017 featured three NCAA Tournament appearances, four individual national championships (and two national runner-up finishes), and four OAC team titles. 12 Ohio Northern athletes earned All-America honors in 2017.

Although it is a bit difficult to hand out awards based on the calendar year, as it splits the school year and therefore will include last year’s winter and spring sports and this year’s fall sports, we decided to give it our best shot nonetheless.

The Northern Review gave out awards for the teams and athletes that shone the brightest in 2017, highlighted all 12 All-Americans that were honored, and also made New Year’s resolutions for 2018. Here you go, Polar Bear faithful -- the 2017 Year in Review:

OAC Champions

  • Women’s basketball, 2016-17
  • Women’s track & field, 2017
  • Men’s cross country, 2017
  • Women’s soccer, 2017




  • TJ Storer (Baseball): Named second-team All-American by It was Storer’s second straight season earning the honor, as he was a third-team All-American in 2016. Storer, the closer, led the nation in saves last year and currently owns the single-season and career save records at ONU through three years.
  • Ian McVey (Men’s cross country): Earned All-America honors by placing 10th at the National Championship race this fall. The top 40 runners earned All-America honors. McVey’s PR time of 24:37 at the national meet was the third-fastest time in school history.
  • Christiaan Williams (Football): Named second-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association. Williams led the OAC with 269 rushes for 1,623 yards and 2,016 all-purpose yards. He also ran for 407 yards against Capital on Oct. 7, which is a single-game school record.
  • Matt Molinaro, 2x (Men’s track & field): Earned All-America honors by finishing second in the 800-meter run at the indoor track & field National Championships. The top three runners in each respective event earned All-America honors. Molinaro earned All-America honors once again at the outdoor National Championships two months later, as he finished third in the 800-meter race. Molinaro is currently a three-time All-American.
  • Kase Schalois (Men’s track & field): Earned All-America honors by finishing third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the outdoor National Championships.


  • Britt Lauck (Women’s basketball): Named first-team All-American by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and second-team by Lauck was also named first-team All-Region and first-team All-OAC after leading the 30-1 Polar Bears in assists. She surpassed the career 1,000-point mark in the team’s Elite Eight loss, making her one of 14 Polar Bears ever to reach that plateau.
  • Amy Bullimore (Women’s basketball): Named honorable mention All-American by the WBCA. Bullimore led the team in rebounding last season and averaged 20 points and eight rebounds per game in Northern’s tournament run.
  • Hannah Reich (Women’s soccer): Named first-team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches, making her the first player in program history to earn first-team honors and just the third player ever to earn All-American status. Reich started in 79 of her 80 career appearances and led the Polar Bears as a defender, as she was a pivotal piece to this year’s team that set a school record for shutouts in a season with 14. She was also named OAC Defender of the Year this season.
  • Maddy Reed, 2x (Women’s track & field): Earned All-America honors by finishing third in the pole vault at the indoor National Championships with a vault of 12’ 7.50’’. She then earned honors again at the outdoor National Championships two months later by setting two personal records to finish third in the event. Her career-best height of 4.10 meters was the seventh-best vault in Div. III history at the national meet.
  • Emily Richards, 4x (Women’s track & field): Earned All-America honors by winning both the one-mile and 800-meter races at the indoor National Championships (both events occurred on the same day). She became the first ONU athlete to win titles in two events at the same NCAA Championship meet, and the first Div. III athlete to do it in five years. Richards repeated history two months later at the outdoor National Championships, where she won 1,500-meter and 800-meter races in the same day. In total, Richards earned All-America honors four times in 2017. She is a six-time All-American.
  • Megan Nieszala (Volleyball): Named honorable mention All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The senior libero led the 29-6 Polar Bears in digs this season with 591, as she finished her career fourth all-time in school history in that category. This was Nieszala’s second consecutive year receiving All-America honors.
  • Chelsea Huppert (Volleyball): Named honorable mention All-American by the AVCA. The sophomore middle hitter led the OAC in blocks, was second in the OAC in kills and third in the conference with a .331 hitting percentage.



Best Team: Women’s basketball

The women’s basketball team lost just one game in their 2016-17 season -- their last -- as they made the deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history. They finished 30-1, losing in the Elite Eight after hosting the first two weekends of the tournament at King Horn. Before 2017, Northern had not made it past the second round of the national tournament. They broke the program’s single-season win record, which was previously 27, and their senior class will go down as the winningest in school history. Lauck and Bullimore were both given All-America honors, while then-sophomore Jenna Dirksen was given All-OAC honors. Coach Michele Durand was named OAC Coach of the Year for the third time in her career after leading the Polar Bears to their first undefeated regular season in school history.

READ: Too little, too late: Northern's historic run ends in Elite Eight

Honorable mention: Despite these daunting accolades, this was a tough pick to make. After all, the women’s soccer team made it to the Elite Eight as well, and both teams won the OAC regular season and tournament titles. The women’s cross country team also proved to be dominant, as they also featured two All-Americans. However, what set women’s basketball apart was their 30-game win streak to start the season. Simply put, it was unprecedented -- and will likely be untouched for a long time.


Male Athlete of the Year: Matt Molinaro

Molinaro earned his second and third All-America honors in 2017 after dominating the 800-meter race at the national level. He finished second in the event at the indoor National Championships and third at the outdoor National Championships. Molinaro won six individual OAC titles in 2017, as he won the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races at the indoor OAC Championships, as well as a distance medley relay title alongside Andrew Harden, Alec Lunney and Corey Briggs. He also won the 800-meter and 1,500-meter outdoor OAC titles and was a part of the championship 4x800 team, prompting the junior to be named the 2017 OAC Men’s Outdoor Distance Runner of the Year. Molinaro was also named the Outdoor All-Great Lakes Region Male Track Athlete of the Year, and the junior broke the long-held school record for the 800-meter dash, which was formerly held by three-time national champion Jimmy O’Brien.

Honorable mention: Although this might seem like an easy selection, there were several other individuals who made their case in 2017 as well. Sophomore running back Christiaan Williams recorded a monstrous season on the gridiron and set himself up to be one of the most decorated backs in program history by the time he’s done in Ada. Junior closer TJ Storer lived up to his preseason All-American expectations on the mound, as he led the nation in saves by the end of the regular season. But Molinaro’s resume -- especially at the national level -- is unmatched. With one more year on the track, Molinaro will likely cement his name among the all-time greats in Northern track lore -- if he’s not already there.


Female Athlete of the Year: Emily Richards

In her third year, Richards established herself as the most decorated runner in the history of Ohio Northern women’s track & field. She won four national championship trophies in 2017 (across three different events: the 800-meter, 1,500-meter and one-mile), was named an All-American four times, and broke six individual school records (she was also a part of three record-breaking relay teams) between the indoor and outdoor seasons. Richards now owns six indoor school records (and is on one record-breaking indoor relay team) and three outdoor school records (and is on three record-breaking outdoor relay teams).

READ: Broken records, pro dreams, and Emily Richards' quest for track immortality

She went on to compete alongside Molinaro at the Music City Distance Carnival, where she qualified for the U.S. National Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento in June with a personal record 800-meter time of 2:00.62. In Sacramento, Richards advanced to the championship heat on the final day of competition, where she finished eighth. She finished second among collegiate runners in the race, behind six-time Div. I national champion Raevyn Rogers of Oregon -- the other six runners were professionals. Richards entered the final race with the 32nd fastest time in the world in the 800-meter dash.

READ: Summer Exclusive: Inside Emily Richards’ U.S. Championship experience

Honorable mention: As one might expect, this was a fairly easy selection. It is hard to be any more dominant in one’s sport than Richards was in 2017, winning national championship races more-than-comfortably and repeatedly beating Div. I runners on the national stage in Sacramento. However, this shouldn’t overshadow the accomplishments of some of Ohio Northern’s most exceptional athletes last year; Hannah Reich was the first ever first-team All-American in the women’s soccer program and Richards’ teammate Maddy Reed earned All-America honors twice in the pole vault. But just like Richards’ collegiate races, the senior just garnered too big of a lead for anyone else to catch her.


Best Game: Women’s soccer Sweet 16 vs. #2 William Smith

On a brutally cold November afternoon in Geneva, NY, 14th-ranked Ohio Northern and second-ranked William Smith went to overtime in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. To that point, Northern had just eight shots the entire afternoon, with only four on-goal. But 30 seconds into overtime, freshman defender Sidney Leshnak cleared a William Smith attack and pushed the ball up to fellow freshman Jenna Fuller, who beat the William Smith keeper to score the game-winning goal. Fuller threw her hands in the air as she ran towards her teammates, and William Smith stood stunned in defeat on their home field. Not only was this a thrilling finish to an intense defensive battle, as the goal occurred just 30 seconds into overtime, but it was also the play that propelled Northern to their first Elite Eight in program history.

Honorable mention: Other games/matches that received consideration: the women’s basketball team’s overtime win at Wilmington on Jan. 25, where Lauck’s jumpshot with six seconds remaining took the lead to keep ONU’s undefeated season alive. Another match of note was the volleyball team’s five-set win over DePauw in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Polar Bears held off a righteous Tiger comeback to advance to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2009.


Best Individual Performance: Christiaan Williams’ 400+ yards vs. Capital

On a windy, rainy October night at Dial-Roberson Stadium, Williams set a single-game school record by rushing for 407 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-21 win over Capital. Williams totaled just 29 rushes on the evening, which means that he averaged over 14 yards per carry against a porous Crusader defense. The sophomore shattered ONU’s previous single-game record of 307 yards, which was set by future six-year NFL running back Jamal Robertson in 2000. “We just kept giving him the ball and he had a great night,” head coach Dean Paul said bluntly after the performance. Williams’ performance likely provided an essential boost when his All-American status was being considered two weeks ago.

Honorable mention: Other performances that received consideration: When sophomore goalie Meagan Grierson stopped three of Otterbein’s five penalty kicks in the OAC Tournament semifinal to propel Northern to the OAC Tournament Championship for the third year in a row. Grierson would later be named OAC Goalkeeper of the Year for the second straight year. Another notable performance was Megan Nieszala’s 45-dig performance against Aurora on Sept. 9, which was just nine digs away the school record set in 2006.


Most Improved Team: Men’s basketball

The men’s basketball team was just one win away from a regular season OAC title last winter, going 16-10 (14-4 in the OAC) in head coach Rich Bensman’s first year at the helm. Although Northern lost the last game of the regular season at Marietta, giving the Pioneers the regular season title, this was a drastic upturn from the recent past, as the last time that ONU had finished second or better in the OAC was the 2005-06 season. With the team’s nucleus generally the same as the year before (there were no seniors on the 2015-16 team), last year was an eye-opening improvement. Northern shot 49 percent from the field, as opposed to 45 percent the year before, and 42 percent from three-point range, as opposed to 36 percent the year before. The Polar Bears gave up an average of 77 points per game last season, down from 82 the year before. But the most important change was this -- ONU won 14 conference games last year, up from nine in 2015-16 and seven in 2014-15.

Honorable mention: Although men’s basketball exhibited the most drastic improvement from 2016 to 2017, several other teams also took a major step up. Women’s soccer had their winningest season in program history this year, winning 20 games after emerging victorious in just 15 games the year before. While Northern had qualified for the OAC Tournament final the past two years as well, this year was the first time they had won the trophy since 2012. The men’s tennis team also took a step forward under first-year head coach Mike Bonnell, as the Polar Bears went from six wins last year to 11 wins this year (although their OAC record remained at 3-5).


Freshman of the Year: Katie Wade

While Wade had to earn her spot as Northern’s new starting setter after the graduation of All-American setter Ashley Borchers the year before, Wade clearly proved her worth early and often in 2017. In fact, without Wade’s inane ability to not only adapt quickly to the college game, but also excel at the next level, one might wonder whether ONU would have been able to pick up where they left off in 2016 and make their deepest NCAA Tournament run since 2009. Wade finished the season ranked fifth in the country in assists per game, and her 1,369 assists placed her second all-time among freshmen in school history. She was named OAC Freshman of the Year and Great Lakes Region Freshman of the Year in 2017, leading Northern’s offensive attack.

READ: ‘Setter U’: Wade the latest in lineage of dominant ONU setters

Honorable mention: Making this selection was difficult, as Wade found herself among many talented freshmen to make their mark in 2017. Cameron Marous of the men’s lacrosse team was named OAC Freshman of the Year after scoring 36 goals last season, which was second on the team and 10th in the OAC. Marous led the team with 60 points in his freshman season as an attacker. Nate Barcaskey of the wrestling team was named first-team All-OAC after leading ONU with a 30-8 record (6-0 in OAC), including 18 pins, during his freshman campaign. Barcaskey also placed sixth in his weight class at the NCAA Regionals. Jenna Fuller of the women’s soccer team was named OAC Freshman of the Year in 2017 after leading the team in goals scored, assists and points this season. She hit the game-winning shot in overtime during the Sweet 16 to help Northern make their first Elite Eight appearance in school history. However, at the end of the day, Wade’s regional honors and nationally competitive statistics put her ahead of the crowd.


Coach of the Year: Mark Batman

After two straight years of falling in the OAC Tournament championship game and failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Batman and the women’s soccer team got over the hump this fall by doing just that. The Polar Bears advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history this year, make it to the Elite Eight before falling to Hardin-Simmons (Tex.). After losing 4-0 in their first game of the season, Batman maneuvered his lineup and made some defensive changes that led to Northern’s dominance in their last 25 games -- where they allowed just eight goals and only lost once, in their final game. The Polar Bears recorded a school record 14 shutouts this season, and they were able to make their deepest tournament run in program history while relying heavily on the production of underclassmen (five of the team’s top six scorers were freshmen or sophomores and Grierson was a sophomore as well). Batman was named OAC Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.

READ: After rough start, 17th-ranked ONU finds way defensively

Honorable mention: Volleyball coach Kate Witte took a team that, albeit experienced, featured seven underclassmen in the team’s top-nine rotation, and qualified for the NCAA Tournament Regional Final for the first time since 2009. Witte’s club showed resiliency, losing to conference champion Otterbein twice (in the regular season and the OAC Tournament title match) before sweeping them on their home floor in the NCAA Regional Semifinal. Cross country and track & field coach Jason Maus coached five All-Americans and two OAC champion teams (women’s track & field and men’s cross country) between the two sports in 2017, and was named Great Lakes Region Female Coach of the Year after guiding the women’s outdoor track & field team to their first OAC title in seven years and their highest national ranking in program history. Maus and his staff were also named OAC Coaching Staff of the Year on the women’s side for both indoor and outdoor track & field last spring. Maus and his staff were named OAC Men’s Coaching Staff of the Year in cross country this fall as well, after Northern claimed their third straight conference title. While Witte and Maus’s resumes were loaded, Batman’s marked improvement on the season before are what put him above the rest.


New Year’s Resolutions

Do we know what will happen in 2018? No. But here’s what we think will.

Molinaro will win a national title

In his junior season, Matt Molinaro entered both the final heat of the indoor and outdoor 800-meter National Championship races with the fastest time in the country, but finished second and third in those races, respectively. Although he has competed in the 800-meter national final four times in the past two years, he has yet to break through and win the event. We believe that, with another year of improvement and opportunity, 2018 will be the year it happens.

Volleyball to the Final Four

In 2016, the volleyball team made it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, although they fell in the first round. In 2017, they advanced to the Regional Final, just one win away from a Final Four berth. Although their region is tough, as they compete with perennial powerhouse Wittenberg, we believe that another year of experience will help push these young Polar Bears into the national semifinals in 2018 for the second time in program history.

Lightel will break career wins record, Hollar will break steals record

Softball pitcher Kirsten Lightel needs 21 more wins to break the career record at Northern -- she has 46 but needs 67. In her first three seasons, however, she has yet to surpass the 17-win mark. To break the record, she will need the help of her teammates’ bats and could also benefit from some extra games (like an NCAA Tournament berth). We believe she can pull it off. Lightel is also 108 innings away from pitching the most career innings in school history, which is a much more attainable record, as she has pitched an average of 144 innings in her first three years. Lightel’s fellow senior teammate, Jenna Hollar, will also be chasing records this spring. Hollar has 83 stolen bases in her first three years, just 11 away from the career record at Northern. We predict that Hollar will break this record easily, within the first month of play. All this being said, it should be exciting to watch these two chase records on the diamond this spring.


Want to revisit some of our best work from 2017? Here were some of our most-read sports stories:

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