Illinois Tech finds home in NACC


The Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference announced the addition of Illinois Institute of Technology to the league membership beginning the 2018-19 academic year.

"We are very pleased that IIT will be joining the NACC," said NACC commissioner G. Steven Larson. "We feel they will be great fit in terms of their mission, core values, geographic location, academic prowess, and athletic competitiveness as they reach full NCAA Division III status."  

Founded in 1890, Illinois Tech is a private, technology-focused research university located in Chicago. The university has an undergradute enrollment of 2,789 according to the most recent information it has provided the U.S. Department of Education.

Less than four months ago, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference announced IIT would play baseball as a WIAC member starting in the spring of 2018. That affiliation will be short-lived.

"The members of the NACC are pleased to welcome Illinois Tech," said Rebecca Sherrick, Aurora University president and chair of the NACC Council of Chief Executive Officers. "We look forward to many years ahead of intercollegiate play in Division III of the NCAA. Illinois Tech brings an impressive array of academic and athletic strengths to our conference of Illinois and Wisconsin colleges and universities."

Currently completing its third of four provisional years with the NCAA, the Scarlet Hawks are expected to become full NCAA Division III members beginning the 2018-19 academic year.

"Illinois Tech is proud to join the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference," said Illinois Tech president Alan W. Cramb. "An Illinois Tech education makes it possible for students to excel in scholastics, entrepreneurship and innovation as well as athletics. And this new partnership will significantly increase opportunities for our talented students. We are especially excited that our student-athletes will now get a chance to compete in NCAA Tournaments and conference championships. This is a great day for Illinois Tech."

In the NACC, the Scarlet Hawks will sponsor the sports of baseball, men's basketball, women's basketball, men's cross country, women's cross country, men's soccer, women's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis, men's indoor track and field, women's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, women's outdoor track and field, men's volleyball and women's volleyball.

Illinois Tech also sponsors women's lacrosse and men's and women's swimming and diving and will begin men's lacrosse in the spring of 2019.

"The opportunity to complete in the NACC will be a great boost to our program," said Illinois Tech athletic director Joe Hakes. "As we have transitioned the athletic department to NCAA Division III, it is apparent that conference membership plays a big part in how we grow and develop. The NACC's lineup of members will provide us with standards of achievement that will help us gauge the progress of our programs. We look forward to being good, contributing members to the conference and look forward to new rivalries and colleagues."

Beginning in 2018-19, the Scarlet Hawks will immediately be included in league schedules and championships in cross country, tennis and track and field. Since conference and many nonconference schedules have been set for baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball, conference committees will be meeting to explore if Illinois Tech can be added into the 2018-19 schedules, but the new member will be included in 2019-20 at the latest.

The addition of Illinois Tech is the first since Milwaukee School of Engineering joined the league in 2007 and the first change to conference membership since Maranatha Baptist left in the summer of 2013.

The NACC began its first season of competition in the fall of 2006. The conference consists of 12 private colleges and universities from the shared-border states of Illinois and Wisconsin, all of which are NCAA Division III members.

The NACC sponsors championships in 18 sports. Men's championships include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, tennis, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. Women's championships are sponsored in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field and volleyball. Men's volleyball will become the 19th championship sport next year.

Beginning July 1, 2018, the NACC will consist of Alverno College, Aurora University, Benedictine University, Concordia University Chicago, Concordia University Wisconsin, Dominican University, Edgewood College, Illinois Institute of Technology, Lakeland University, Marian University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Rockford University, and Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Westfield State pitching: A family affair


For the past 44 years, Westfield State University has been a family affair for the Sullivans. 

Currently, senior Julia Sullivan is an all-New England player for the Owls softball team as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman, but it is a legacy at Westfield State that begins with her mother Kristine (Kelly) Sullivan '77 and father Robert Sullivan '81, and continued with her brother Mike '14, who pitched for the Owls baseball team.

Julia was named the athletic department's Peter Mazza Award winner this week, an ideal candidate as the recipient must excel in academics, athletics ability, sportsmanship, character, service, leadership, and personal development.

As a junior, Julia was named to the ECAC All-New England team as a utility player, (having been a standout at both first base and pitcher).  She was a first-team all-MASCAC selection as a junior, and was also selected as a second-team All-Conference pick as a freshman designated player.

For her career, she's played in more than 100 games for the Owls with a .361 batting average, 23 doubles, five triples and three home runs. She's scored 65 runs and driven in 59.



As pitcher, she has started 45 games and amassed 23 wins while pitching more than 300 innings with an ERA of 2.90.  She nearly threw a perfect game last week.

"She's doing everything well," said Owls coach Colleen Bannister. "She has worked really hard, studies really hard.  She's in the nursing honor society, she's actively making her community a better place, and she has an ERA in the two's and is hitting .350.  That's a huge feat."

A nursing major from West Barnstable who attended Sandwich High School, Sullivan has maintained high GPA while playing softball, and working overnight shifts as part of the nursing practicum. She's active in the athletic department as part of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and works as game day staff in the offseason.

 "In the spring, I think I actually do better academically because I have to focus more with splitting time between softball and Nursing," said Julia. "I was a little nervous about doing both, as some schools had told me that there was no way to balance Nursing and softball, but it has been more than enjoyable and I'd encourage others who are thinking about athletics and Nursing to look at Westfield State."

"I haven't had a problem with it" she said. "I think I manage my time well, and my coaches have been very accommodating with my schedule, and a Marsha Scanlon in the Nursing program has been great and always been accommodating with scheduling."

"My decision came down to Westfield and UConn," said Sullivan. "Ultimately, I wasn't going to have to pay $45,000 a year for school and I wouldn't have played softball.  So, no loans, softball, and the Nursing program gave me everything that I wanted to do here at Westfield.

Mike Sullivan

"I didn't even tour Westfield, I had been here so much with my family during baseball games.  We'd come out twice a week when Mike played."

Mike pitched in 35 games for the Owls over four years, enjoying a strong sophomore season out of the bullpen with a 2.08 ERA in 17 innings, and posted a 3-0 record with one save as a starter as a senior while working to a 3.09 ERA.

"My experience was 100 percent positive," said Mike about his four years at Westfield State. "Almost all of my good friends still come from the teams that I played on at Westfield, and I have experiences and memories that will last forever.  I can't say enough good things about things about Westfield, as I think I am a better person and a better ball player because of going to Westfield State."

"I knew my dad played at Westfield, but it wasn't until high school and we started going to see the Owls play at Mass Maritime did I start to think about seeing myself play in that jersey," said Mike.

"I knew my parents went to Westfield, but I never visited campus until Mike started looking at schools," said Julia. "I think it was the only state school that we both looked at," said Julia. "And it had a big impact on me when Coach [Richard] Lenfest, the athletic director, called me from the bus when the team was in Florida when I was a senior and talked to me about coming to Westfield State to play softball."

"Dad used to tell us stories about him and his roommates in college, but until I came along when Mike went on his tour, I pictured it very differently," said Julia.

"We've been blessed for the past seven years to watch both of our children play college sports, and getting to watch it at our alma mater has made it even better," said Bob.

"It's been great, and really given us a chance to reconnect with the school," noted Kris, who added that she has been getting together with college friends twice a year for nearly the last 40 years.

"Seven years in a row we got to spend a lot of time together as a family on the spring Florida trips, and it's been great to get away and support the baseball and softball teams," said Mike. "Having family there to support us was huge, and that year that we overlapped in school when I was a senior and Julia was a freshman was awesome.   We'd be together on the bus to games, we'd cross paths in the Woodward Center going to practices, and it was great for my parents to be able to make one trip and see us both." 12728

Pitching might be in the family DNA. 

Bob Sullivan pitched for the strong Owls baseball teams of the late '70s.  He pitched to a 2.70 era with a 2-0 record as a senior in 1981.  He and Kris met as residence Hall advisors on campus. "Kris was my boss," he said.
"My dad pitched, my brother pitched, my dad encouraged me to pitch," said Julia. "I actually pitched in Little League baseball until I turned 13, which is when I started pitching in softball.  For a long time I wanted to be the first woman in the NFL and play football too, but my mom wasn't having any part of that."

 "We always played catch as a family in the yard," said Bob.  

"I have had a frustrating year pitching," said Julia.  "Sometimes it's nice to just play first, because it's less stress than pitching is. But I love pitching, I wouldn't change it."
Who is the best athlete in the family?

"Because Julia's humble, I think she'd say my dad was the best athlete," said Mike.

"I'm the best," said Julia with devilish grin. "I'm smarter than (Mike) too, but he won't admit that.  But softball is different than baseball too, because as a starter you just can't pitch as often.  I probably throw as many innings in a year as he did in his career just because the games are different.  But we have to keep Mike humble"

"But she's a hard-throwing lefty, and I was a soft-throwing right hander, so I'd never tell her this, but she's the better athlete" said Mike.  "Then again, my dad has run the Boston Marathon, so maybe he is."

Let's look to Dad to settle the argument. "That's easy," said Bob, with a diplomatic smile. "Julia's the best female athlete in the family, and Mike is the best male athlete."

"The Sullivans are one of the most supportive families I have ever seen," said Bannister.  "The whole family comes to Florida the week that we play down there, they come to every game all the way from Cape Cod, and they don't miss a pitch.  Mr. Sullivan coaches a summer team so that kids have a place to play, and during the season he communicates with all the other parents on the team who might not be able to be at a game.  They have definitely made our softball family tighter."

What's Julia's experience with softball at Westfield State been like? 12727

"It's been awesome," said Sullivan. 

"The opportunity I got due to fall ball - I immediately felt like I belonged here.  Molly Dunbar was a senior, and since her sister Emma is in my class, she immediately took us under her wing. I have learned a lot from softball, time management, team work, working well together with other people." "Julia has stepped up and been a leader for us," said Bannister.  "She makes things happen, she doesn't watch them happen.  Her competitive nature has helped us to build a culture of winning."

Sullivan and her teammates have their work cut out for them as they enter this week's Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament as the second seed.

"I'm O.K. with being the number two seed in the MASCAC tournament," said Sullivan.  'Maybe it's the best spot.  I know we have the capability to win the tournament if we play well and play together, we can do it, and I want it to be a big upset."

It might be an upset; but knowing the Sullivans, it wouldn't be a surprise.

Springfield back on top in men's volleyball

In front of a sold-out Blake Arena, the Springfield men's volleyball team captured the 2017 NCAA Division III national championship on Sunday afternoon in four sets over SUNY New Paltz. Set scores were 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-21 in favor of Pride.

Playing in a Division III national championship for the eighth consecutive season, Springfield wrapped up the year with a 29-2 record, including a 27-1 mark against Division III opponents. The loss concluded New Paltz's season with a 27-9 record.

Sunday's match proved to be a rematch of the 2016 NCAA Division III championship, and Springfield defeated New Paltz for the third time this season to claim the national title. Springfield has now captured 10 Division III national championships as a men's volleyball program, including winning four NCAA Division III championships after claiming the crown in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Springfield's Luis Vega (Corozal, Puerto Rico) was named the Most Outstanding Player of the championship for the third time in his career as he recorded a match-high 17 kills to go along with four blocks and four digs.

Teammates Luis Garcia Rubio (Bayamon, Puerto Rico) and Kyle Jasuta (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) joined Vega on the All-Tournament Team as Garcia Rubio totaled 43 assists, eight digs, and three blocks and Jasuta registered a career-high seven blocks. Ricardo Padilla Ayala (San Juan, Puerto Rico) notched a team-best nine digs and Sean Zuvich (San Pedro, Calif.) totaled 13 kills, eight digs, and four blocks.

Springfield got Walnut and Bronze back after a two-year absence, winning the 2017 Division III men's volleyball title.
Springfield athletics photo

"I think someone would look at the stat sheet and say it wasn't the cleanest match of volleyball that could be played; it sometimes turned into more of an emotional battle than a technical battle," said Springfield coach Charlie Sullivan. "New Paltz plays so hard and they always come at you with everything they have, and that's part of the reason they got so much better as the second half of the season went on."

All-time men's volleyball champions

The NCAA has sponsored a Division III men's volleyball championship for six seasons.
2012 Springfield
2013 Springfield
2014 Springfield
2015 Stevens
2016 SUNY New Paltz
2017 Springfield

For New Paltz, Jake Roessler led the way with 12 kills, while Anthony Bonilla added 11 kills. Matthew Grace posted 41 assists leading the offense, Robert Nolan produced 16 digs, and C.J. Borfitz added a team-best four blocks.

New Paltz raced out to a 6-2 lead when Bonilla converted out of the backrow in transition and Sullivan wasted little time calling a timeout. Jonathan Rodriguez Lopez (Bayamon, Puerto Rico) would finish out of the middle to bring Springfield within 11-9, but the visitors answered with three-straight points, thanks to a pair of Pride attacks errors, and Sullivan burned his second timeout of the frame. Woessner ripped an ace to push the Hawks advantage to 18-14, and Springfield would climb within one twice, the last coming at 23-22 on a huge backrow kill by Vega, only to have a two Pride miscues give New Paltz the 25-22 win.

Vega and Rodriguez combined for a block at 2-1 in the second set, but the Hawks responded with four-straight points to build a 5-2 cushion. Springfield would answer back, using a pair of blocks from Garcia Rubio to fuel a 7-2 surge and earn a 9-7 lead. An ace from Vega allowed the Pride to gain a 16-14 edge, but three-consecutive Springfield errors made Sullivan call a timeout trailing 17-16. Vega elevated for a solo stuff to put Springfield back on top, 20-19, and New Paltz burned a timeout of their own when Jasuta painted an ace along the back line at 22-20. Zuvich pounded a kill in system for set point at 24-21, and the Pride took a 25-22 win following a Hawks service error. New Paltz was limited to a -.174 hitting percentage thanks to the Pride totaling 6.5 team blocks.

The third set started as a back-and-forth affair with 12 ties in the early going as New Paltz took a 15-14 edge into the media timeout. Springfield then used a Vega backrow kill to kickstart a 4-0 run that was capped off by a solo stuff from Padilla Ayala as the Hawks called for a timeout at 18-15. The visitors would make it a 18-17 game when Bonilla finished in transition, but the Pride produced a 3-1 burst to regain a three-point edge on a Padilla Ayala kill, forcing the visitors into their final timeout. After Woessner buried a ball in the middle to make Sullivan call timeout with a 23-22 edge, Zuvich ripped a ball cross court for set point and Padilla Ayala blasted a kill off the block for the 25-23 win. Vega was dominant in the frame, totaling eight kills on 15 errorless attempts.

Borfitz put away an overpass kill for a 5-3 lead to begin the fourth set, but a 5-1 push fueled by a three kills from Vega put the hosts ahead 8-6. After Padilla Ayala crafted a kill out of the backrow for the 10-8 lead, Springfield committed three-straight attack errors and Sullivan called for another timeout. Even at 13, the hosts rattled off three-straight points, with a Jasuta closing for a solo stuff as New Paltz called for a timeout at 16-13. The Hawks would get as close as 16-15 when Bonilla blasted a back row ball, but out of a timeout, Springfield responded with a 5-2 push to gain some breathing room following a Hawks attack error. Vega would later elevate for a crafty kill for set point and three points laster, New Paltz committed its 18th service error of the match sealed the Pride's 10th overall national title.

"It just turned into a couple of rallies here and there," Sullivan said, "and I thought our guys were great about staying calm and composed and at the end I think we played our best volleyball, which was really good to see."

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