After closing the books on the most successful year in Elmhurst athletics history, the Bluejays' biggest challenge over the summer will be creating enough space in R.A. Faganel Hall's display cases for all the new hardware.
Elmhurst teams brought home an unprecedented four College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) Championships, a second-place national trophy in wrestling, a regional championship trophy for the Final Four volleyball team and the massive 60-pound Gagliardi trophy for the NCAA Division III Football Player of the Year.
“This was certainly our most successful season in school history,” said Elmhurst Athletic Director Paul Krohn. “Our teams delivered great performances both at the conference and national level, and it was exciting for our fans to follow our squads in the postseason.”
The excitement began early in the year, with the Elmhurst volleyball and football teams capturing CCIW titles and making deep runs in their respective NCAA Tournaments.
The volleyball team won its first CCIW title since 2004 with a perfect 7-0 conference record. The Bluejays won the league’s postseason tournament to earn its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and then blazed a path through the NCAA regional, upending Fontbonne, Wisconsin–Whitewater and Washington University in St. Louis en route to the team’s first regional title under Head Coach Julie Hall.
The volleyball team downed Salisbury in the national quarterfinals before bowing out to the eventual national champion, St. Thomas, in the Final Four. Postseason honors rolled in for the Bluejays with six players earning all-conference honors, three earning all-region honors, and two (Megan Reynolds and Kaitlyn Wilks) receiving All-America honors. Hall was honored as the CCIW and Midwest Region Coach of the Year.
While the volleyball team was knocking off teams at Faganel Hall, the football team was turning in its best season ever at Langhorst Field. The Bluejays won a share of their first CCIW title since 1980, set a school record for wins in a season (10), advanced to the NCAA Playoffs for the first time and earned a pair of top-10 national rankings. Elmhurst knocked off Coe College in the opening round of the playoffs before falling to St. Thomas in the second round. Nine Bluejays earned all-conference honors, seven scored all-region honors, and three (Charlie Homoky, Peter Stamos and Scottie Williams) earned All-America honors. Williams went on to win the highest individual honor at the NCAA Division III level, becoming the first Bluejay to receive the Gagliardi trophy for outstanding player of the year.
On the heels of the fall season's successes, the Elmhurst wrestling team took its turn in the spotlight. The Bluejays quickly established themselves as national contenders by taking home second place at the NWCA Division III National Duals in January. The Elmhurst team then dominated at the CCIW Championships, winning its third consecutive conference title and six individual crowns. Five Bluejays moved out of the NCAA Midwest Regional and qualified for the NCAA Championships in Iowa.
At the NCAA Championships, the Bluejays delivered their best-ever national finish with all five wrestlers earning All-America honors and the squad taking home a second-place team trophy. Joe Rau and Mike Benefiel both won individual national titles, while Ryan Earley finished fourth, Miguel Venecia finished fifth and Dalton Bullard finished seventh. Head Coach Steve Marianetti was named the Division III National Coach of the Year, while Assistant Coach John Jung was honored as the National Assistant Coach of the Year.
“To cap this season with a second-place national finish is just unbelievable,” said Marianetti. “This team did an amazing job. Not just at the NCAA Championships, but all season long. I could not be more proud of the way we competed.”
As the weather warmed, the Elmhurst men’s tennis team battled its way to a CCIW Championship after going a perfect 5-0 against CCIW opponents. The team won both matches at the CCIW Championship—capturing its first conference title in 59 years. The team was regionally ranked throughout the season and narrowly missed out on an NCAA Championship bid. Four Bluejays earned all-conference honors, with Alex Harbert and Will Jung receiving first-team recognition. Head Coach Anthony McPherson was named the CCIW’s Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
“It truly was an incredible year for Elmhurst athletics,” said Krohn. “The volleyball and men’s tennis teams return the majority of their squads for next season, and we’re welcoming some new head coaches, too. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year.”