A study by Basketball Times ranked the men’s basketball program 21st best in the country based on winning percentage, number of NBA players, graduation rate, the University’s U.S. News & World Report academic reputation, the program’s history with NCAA rules compliance and the overall quality of the head coach as evaluated by his peers. Basketball Times has conducted an evaluation every five years since 1997, and Xavier is one of only nine basketball programs ranked in each survey. The others are Arizona, Connecticut, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Murray State, North Carolina and Syracuse.
Aubree Smith remembers the day her family got the frightening news about her older sister Alex. The sophomore volleyball player at Xavier was suffering extreme pain from a severe back injury, and the family feared the worst—that an old spinal injury had resurfaced and she could be paralyzed.
“I was a senior in high school,” says Aubree. “I was at lunch and I started crying.”
Luckily, the injury turned out to be a herniated disc—painful, but not career-ending. Alex had surgery in October 2010 and spent the rest of the season recuperating. When she was ready to start training again, though, she turned to the one person she knew was good enough to push her and get her back into shape—her sister.
Aubree had already committed to playing volleyball at Xavier. She did that when she was 14. So, shortly after graduating from a suburban St. Louis high school, she was on the road to Xavier with two missions—kickstart her college career and get her older sister back in shape.
It turned out to be a grand reunion. Aubree and Alex have played on the same volleyball team since they were in grade school. They played together on select club teams and on their high school team. So it seemed fitting that they should carry that forward to Xavier.
“They are two of our best players,” says coach Michael Johnson. “With any set of teammates who have played together a long time, they develop an awareness, an unspoken understanding of where the other is on the court. With Aubree being the setter, it helps us that she and Alex have had that chemistry of connecting with each other for a long time.”
It’s not often that coaches get sibling players, and when they do, it isn’t guaranteed to work. Siblings can bring, well, sibling rivalry onto the court, where it can damage team chemistry. But in the case of Aubree and Alex, Johnson learned quickly he had nothing to fear.
That’s because these two sisters are close. Very close. Almost like twins. They’ve shared the same bedroom since birth, gone to the same schools and have the same friends. They finish each other’s sentences. They like the same things. They understand each other deeply, and they respect each other even more.
And it shows on the court. Aubree, a setter, puts the ball in just the right spot for Alex, a hitter, to slam it across the net. It’s like a duet. And it’s intuitive. Aubree is the one who signals how the play will go. It’s unspoken, maybe a head tilt or a shift of the eyes.
“Aubree will set the ball knowing where I will be,” Alex says. “Aubree trusts me to be there.”
That word, “trust,” is the key to their relationship and their play.
“I can see where she is and can see if she’s ready. I’ll set her on a perfect pass to hit the ball,” Aubree says. “I know where the other girls are going to be, too, but it’s unique with Alex.”
Alex and Aubree believe their relationship with each other and ability to talk openly about issues has helped bring the whole team closer together.
Johnson says the team prides itself on being a family, and “Alex and Aubree have a lot of sisters on the team besides each other.”
“I know if she’s in a funk,” Aubree says. “Maybe the team sees how open we are, and it opens the door for them.”
“They see how they can be close with each other,” says Alex. “With volleyball, it’s about team chemistry. If you’re angry with each other, you won’t want to play. But volleyball is such a fun sport, and it’s more fun when you’re playing with each other.”
That’s not to say the sisters don’t ever get mad at each other. In high school they would carry grudges, but in college, they’ve learned to drop it, to not say what they might have said a few years ago. “We won’t be mad at each other on the court,” Alex says.
That commitment to each other helped bring Alex back to form the summer after her surgery. Aubree took a freshman English class that summer and began training early with Alex. Aubree needed to learn the team’s offensive strategy. Alex needed to get back in shape.
“I hadn’t had any reps or hitting, and if I wanted to be a starter again, I had to get better quickly,” Alex says. “I needed her here.”
It worked. By the time the season got started, Alex was ready, and Aubree proved herself more than capable as a starting setter. She earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, made the All-Rookie Team and was a seven-time Rookie of the Week—an A-10 record.
Alex was named to the First Team All-Conference and holds the school record for hitting percentage.
With an additional year of eligibility because of her back injury, Alex is looking forward to another season on the team—and another year playing with her sister. It will be their last. Together. But it will be good. Aubree setting it up high so Alex can slam it home.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of Xavier football.
It was a turning point in the history of the University. Agree with it or not, one thing can’t be argued: Xavier produced some quality players—and people. We tracked down some of them to see what they’ve been doing in the years since they left campus.
[divider]Tim Dydo ’74 [/divider]
A quarterback takes risks. A placekicker doesn’t. And that is what Tim Dydo spends his days doing as a financial consultant with Country Financial in the northern Chicago suburb of Libertyville, Ill.—figuring out who’s a quarterback and who’s a kicker; that is, who likes to take risks with their investments and who likes to play it safe.
Dydo, an honorable mention All-American quarterback during his time at Xavier, also keeps a steady hand in football, serving as a wide receiver and defensive backs coach for the last 15 years, first at Libertyville High School and now at nearby Vernon Hills. He also likes to keep track of his former players who went on to college and the NFL, including Kevin Walter of the Houston Texans; Evan Spencer, a wide receiver at Ohio State; and DaVaris Daniels, a wide receiver at Notre Dame.
Dydo almost didn’t make it to Xavier. He was recruited out of high school by several Ivy League schools, including Brown. One of the assistant coaches there was Dick Selcer, who continued to recruit Dydo when he got the head coaching job at Xavier for the 1970 season. Dydo ended up throwing for 3,690 yards, second-most in school history to Hall of Famer Carroll Williams. He helped the Musketeers to wins in the final three games of the program’s history, with wins over Northern Illinois, Villanova and Toledo to end the year 5-5-1. But Dydo, who was inducted into the Xavier Hall of Fame in 1992, sounds wistful nearly 40 years later. “It was not enough to keep the program,” he says.
[divider]John Shinners ’69 [/divider]
Athletes and the media have always had a tenuous relationship. Except with the Shinners family. They seemed to love them both. After a standout career at Xavier, John Shinners became a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints and spent eight years butting heads with players in the NFL. After retiring in 1977, Shinners followed in the footsteps of his father, a former minor league baseball player who began the Hartford Times-Press in 1933. In 1954, he became the co-owner of the Menomonee Falls News in Wisconsin, and in 1969 he bought several weekly newspapers in the Milwaukee area. “That is the environment I grew up in,” says Shinners, a liberal arts graduate. Shinners eventually became president of Shinners Publications before selling the company in 1997. He now lives in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., works as a business consultant and does work with a local radio station. Shinners was the 17th overall pick in the NFL draft—a move that even surprised him. “Being drafted in the first round was exciting,” he says. “I was not highly recruited out of high school, let me put it that way. I never thought I would play professional football.” He was playing golf with NFL quarterback Billy Kilmer when he learned he got traded to the Baltimore Colts prior to the 1972 season. There, he got to snap the ball to Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. He then played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1973-1977 and was roommates for several years with quarterback Ken Anderson. In all, Shinners played in 97 games in the NFL, 66 with the Bengals.
[divider]Bill Howe ’74 [/divider]
The last game in Xavier football history saw Bill Howe reach a personal milestone. “I got an interception that set a school record for career interceptions,” Howe, a defensive back, says of that home win over Toledo the day after Thanksgiving in 1973.
That team was 3-0-1 in its last four games, all at home, to finish the year 5-5-1 overall. It was the only non-losing team that Howe played on at Xavier. “We put up a lot of offensive numbers and we needed them because of our defense,” Howe says with a laugh.
But Howe says it was team play and not individual milestones that stays with him nearly 40 years later. “It was a good lesson in teamwork. Football helps you deal with people and get along with people, since you spend so much time together,” he says. “For the most part your best friends are in that college environment.”
Howe received his bachelor’s degree from Xavier, a Master of Law in taxation from New York University and a JD from the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He has been practicing business and tax law since 1978 and for nearly 20 years has been with Cincinnati’s DeVita and Howe, where he is a partner.
Howe enjoys tennis, classic rock and spending time with his family at a favorite vacation spot in Destin, Fla. He and his?wife, Janie, have five children and one of them, Patrick, was a long snapper for Ohio State and ended his college career in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
[divider]Mark Pfeiffer ‘73 [/divider]
Mark Pfeiffer knows the drill, so to speak. He tells people what he does for a living and then sits back and waits for the groans and bad jokes. “What a painful job.” “That job’s like pulling teeth.” “Your job must be filling.” Truth be told, the former Xavier wide receiver is part of a family business that many people want to have no business with. He has a doctorate in dentistry and has an office in Fort Thomas, Ky., that he now shares with one of his four sons. Their motto: “We cater to cowards.”
Pfeiffer never ventured far from his roots. He played football at neighboring Covington Catholic High School and is in the school’s Hall of Fame. “I am still married to my high school sweetheart. I wanted to stay local,” says Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer clearly remembers the first game of his junior season. The game was against Marshall, which lost 37 players in a Southern Airways plane crash in 1970 after returning from a game at East Carolina University. In its first home game after the crash, Marshall beat Xavier, 15-13, for the first win for the new program. A few years ago, Hollywood turned the game into a movie.
But that’s not what Pfeiffer remembers the most about football at Xavier. It was the people. His teammates. Like Ben Ballard who was the best man at his wedding. That’s what made Xavier football special. And still does.
[divider]Mike Dennis ’73 [/divider]
A little romance helped Mike Dennis end up at Xavier. A football standout at St. Mary’s High School in Sandusky, Ohio, Dennis was recruited by Navy, Penn, Case Western and Toledo, among others. But none of the others stood a chance.
“I met a girl down there on my visit to Xavier,” he says. “She lived near Toledo.”
So is that girl now his wife? Does the story have a fairytale ending? “No,” he says with a laugh. She was just a girl. But she was enough to land the center at Xavier.
Dennis was also attracted to the Xavier program by Dick Selcer, the head coach in 1970-1971 who later went on to be a longtime assistant coach in the NFL. “He was an excellent salesperson and very charismatic,” says Dennis.
Dennis graduated from Xavier with a bachelor’s degree in physics and then got a master’s degree in radiological physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1974. He followed that with a doctorate in medical physics/biophysics from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Science in San Antonio in 1979, and he is now an associate professor of radiology at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.
He has a son who is an engineer in Arizona, an older daughter who has a doctorate in bioengineering and a younger daughter who has a nursing background and is a captain in the Air Force.
[divider]Herman “Buck” Motz ’54 [/divider]
Herman Motz collapsed in his home on Sept. 8, 2011. It was his 82nd birthday. “I was passed out,” he says. “I had a bleeding ulcer and was in the hospital for a week.” After 14 pints of blood, Motz was released and cleared to attend a ceremony honoring his 25 years of coaching high school football in Denver. Thomas Jefferson High School, where he prowled the sidelines as head coach from 1976-1989 and accumulated an astonishing 135-30-1 record and two state championships, was naming its football field after him.
“It is kind of strange,” he says. “You expect someone has to be dead for such recognition. But it was really great. A lot of the players came back that day. It was just wonderful.”
Motz, who taught Latin, English and even some sciences at Thomas Jefferson from 1967-1992, was in ROTC when he graduated from Xavier with a degree in business administration. As he finished up his military commitment in Fort Collins, Colo., “I met the most wonderful girl. She was from Pueblo [Colo.]” Motz married her and never left the state. That was 56 years ago.
Interestingly, Motz came to Xavier despite two challenges: He didn’t play high school football because his school in Newtown, Ohio, didn’t have a team. And his mother wanted him to attend medical school. “I told my mom I was going to a school where I can get a different education. She didn’t like it very much.”
With football and teaching now behind him, Motz has become a master gardener and volunteers at the Denver Botanical Gardens. “I work inside with our wildflower collection,” he says. “We have 48,000 species.”
[divider]Steve Bailey ’68 [/divider]
His playing days are long gone. But Steve Bailey of Cincinnati is still involved in football on and off the field as president of the local chapter of the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame.
Bailey has been impressed with the credentials he has seen over the years from these young men, be it their status as first-team all-state players on the field or their leadership as student council presidents off the gridiron. Each year the organization at the national level has a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
Bailey, a partner with The Drew Law Firm, also finds time to get on the field as an assistant coach for the varsity football team at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, where his son, Steve, is a center.
Bailey, who’s been called Beetle since eighth grade, played at Newark Catholic in Ohio. “I came to Xavier as a running back,” he says. “Those were the days that you went both ways. I got redshirted my second year and then became a cornerback. I started three years.”
And, like many of his teammates, once he came to Cincinnati he never left. “I came here and loved the city. Playing football at Xavier opened doors for me. The first law firm I went to, the managing partners were guys who followed the football program. When I applied, I got a return letter in two days that said come on in.”
[divider]Carroll Williams ‘69 [/divider]
As top executive for the Golden Eagle Mediation Group and Victory Coach Inc. for the past 15 years, Carroll Williams’ South Florida consulting service has focused on offering team-building exercises and self-esteem classes for individuals, athletes and corporations. “I counsel people about gaining confidence.”
As starting quarterback at Xavier, Williams didn’t lack in confidence. He set 12 school football records and, in his junior year, led the University team to an 8-2 season, its best in 15 years. Williams was selected to the All-Catholic All-America Team that year and was also chosen as the 1965 Catholic College Player of the Year.
Williams played professional football for five years in the Canadian Football League, with the Montreal Alouettes and British Columbia Lions. He then returned to his hometown of Miami to begin a three-decade career as an educator, high school principal and coach with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system.
In his role as life coach, Williams works with people on organizing, prioritizing, and developing positive chemistry. A client “may want more success, more money, closer relationships, a deeper meaning in life [or to] break down prior actions to get to the root of those processes and behaviors that get in the way and set goals relating to self-esteem, relief of anxiety and confidence building.
“Many believe that there is a price to pay to get what you want. This price can be poor health, unbearable stress, strained relationships or lessened productivity. The unfortunate consequence of hanging onto this belief is that it hinders focus on individual goals.”
[divider]Bob Pickard ’74 [/divider]
Bob Pickard wants to set the record straight. He has heard and read that he scored the first touchdown in the history of the Pontiac Silverdome as a member of the Detroit Lions in 1974. Pickard shakes his head. Nope. His claim to fame was that he caught the first pass in the first exhibition played in the domed stadium. Pickard played in 14 games for the Lions and caught eight passes for 88 yards and one touchdown in 1974, his lone season in the National Football League.
But Pickard said it was providential that in his only season in the NFL, his wide receiver coach was Raymond Berry, who was a Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts. “He was my boyhood idol,” says Pickard. “It was the highlight of my life. He is such a quality person.”
Berry, a committed Christian, would give note cards to Pickard with Bible verses and other motivational sayings. “He wrote some of them when he was playing. I still have those cards to this day,” he says.
Years later, Pickard’s son, Brian, was an all-state wide receiver at Dublin [Ohio] High School and went on to play at the University of Kentucky under head coach Guy Morriss, who, ironically, played on the offensive line for the New England Patriots when Berry was the team’s head coach. Apparently the Berry doesn’t fall far from the tree either.
Off the field, Pickard has built a life as president of Interior Supply Inc., a business he started in the late 1980s that now has locations in seven cities in Ohio. The company sells building material such as drywall and ceiling supplies—materials that weren’t in high demand when the real estate bubble burst. But, as any good wide receiver would, Pickard knew where to find the openings.
“We have been able to weather the tough times,” he says. “We have done pretty well.”
Some things never get old, like making it to the Sweet 16. Each trip offers its own unique sights and sounds, and this year we recorded a few things we overheard.
“He just kind of wilted, like a flower.” —Joe Sunderman on Dez Wells hurting his toe
“When we played in the Hoosier Dome, the basket looked this big. And it was just floating there. It was like the ball wouldn’t even fit in it.” —Byron Larkin on playing in a dome
“To Kenny Frease. Four years and three Sweet Sixteens. Who else has done that? I love Kenny Frease.” —Joe Sunderman, raising a coffee toast at breakfast on game day
“Wayland Street goes nuts when Xavier wins. The cops came last time. They’re like, ‘Settle down.’ We’re like, ‘We’re in the Sweet 16, we can’t settle down!’” —Arthur Havey, junior
“Oh, you’re the tall guy. Remember me, from yesterday? I was like, ‘You’re so tall!’” —Waitress of Atlanta’s Metro Café Diner to Joe Sunderman
“If any of the Muskies has a toothache, there should be plenty of help available.” —Retired dentist and Xavier graduate Earl Schuh ’52 on the 100th annual dental convention that coincided with the NCAA playoffs in Atlanta (Laura Bush was the keynote speaker.)
“Feed the King!” —Kevin Lavelle encouraging the Musketeers to pass the ball to senior Kenny Frease
“He’s full of wisdom. He says a lot of things that are philosophically deep. I don’t know where he gets it.” —Zach Boothe on Tu Holloway’s Twitter account
“We’ve got a one-of-a-kind gnome. It’s fun.” —Susan Griffin on D’Artagnome, Xavier’s traveling garden accessory
“We fight for the same jobs, the same girls, but in the end we’re not that different.” —Atlanta telecom salesman Luckey Helms ’06 on the crosstown rivalry with UC
To relive more Sweet 16 memories, check out the “Let’s Go X” blog at xavier.edu/postseason.
Xavier’s golf program has garnered national attention in the last few years with the success of two of its graduates. Jason Kokrak won five college tournaments for Xavier and qualified for the U.S. Open as a 22-year-old in 2007.
After finishing his communication arts degree in 2008 he joined the eGolf Professional Tour, where he worked his way to the position of leading money winner. He then graduated to the Nationwide Tour. Last year in the Nationwide he was the 4th money leader ($338,092) and the Tour’s longest hitter, with a punishing 318.6-yard average drive.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Kokrak is known for his authority on the range. But his short game isn’t bad either, and two wins within five weeks at the end of the 2011 Nationwide season clinched Kokrak a berth on the 2012 PGA Tour. He opened his rookie season with a 75th place finish (and a memorable 362-yard drive) at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Then, in February, he battled to a 9th place finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, ahead of Tiger Woods. He’s earned $217,528 so far this year.
Also, Andy Pope, a 2006 communication arts major, is playing on the Nationwide Tour. He recently finished 28th at the Chile Classic Presented by Pacific Rubiales.
And those two may soon be joined by another Musketeer on the professional circuit, Sebastian MacLean, a senior who recently won his fourth college tournament at Myrtle Beach. MacLean is Bolivian, a fifth-generation descendent of a Scottish sea captain who sailed to Peru in the mid-1800s, met a wife and never went home. MacLean seems to have retained his ancestral predilection for the sport, and he plans to enter the PGA Latin America Tour this year, where he will try to play his way into the Nationwide and eventually the PGA Tour. That’s not MacLean’s only goal, though. He’s also aiming to represent Bolivia at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Hours after a spring cloudburst, Doug Steiner walks over to a puddle in the parking lot of the Maketewah Country Club, plants his feet in the water and looks up.
“The front door is going to be right…here,” he says.
In front of him are two empty tennis courts and 15 acres of tangled undergrowth. But the director of Xavier’s golf programs sees something else entirely: An indoor golf facility, designed to give Xavier’s golfers a year-round practice area just two miles from campus.
“My players will have exactly what they need to be good,” he says. “That’s a good feeling for a coach.”
He’s been building this dream for two years now. There were times when he wondered if it would be realized, but now the plans are drawn and the shovels hit the soil as soon as contracts are finalized and signed.
“Ah, it’s goose bumps for me,” Steiner says, shaking the ice in his soda and touching his arms. “Truly. It’s pure excitement, paired with relief.”
Steiner’s journey to this parking lot puddle began two years ago when he lost a top recruit to Purdue University, which had an indoor facility.
“All the big programs in this part of the country started building them,” Steiner says. “Kids want to go where they can practice all year round.”
Xavier’s golf program is already highly regarded. Golf Digest ranks it 19th best in the country and No. 1 in the Midwest. It has produced many successful players, including Jason Kokrak (see sidebar), who plays on the PGA Tour and beat Tiger Woods this February at Pebble Beach, and Andy Pope, who plays one step down on the Nationwide Tour.
But Steiner knew if Xavier was to keep pace with other programs, it needed the facilities to attract the best players. So he and his staff started dreaming. “We were drawing things on napkins in the early stages,” Steiner says. They visited facilities at other universities and began raising money. Steiner’s initial goal was $200,000. When he met that, he aimed for $400,000. After 15 months of fundraising, he had $850,000. Maketewah Country Club, Xavier’s new home course, chipped in the rest of the money for a $1.3 million building, slated to be finished in time for winter practice.
“It’s become a necessity now,” Steiner says. “Ten years ago, it might not have mattered. Now it matters if we want to be great.”
It matters to Korey Ward, a tall freshman at the driving range, knocking balls 175 yards in fluid strokes with his seven-iron. An Ohio Amateur Champion, Ward chose Xavier for its golf program, education and proximity to home. He can’t wait to have a year-round practice facility, especially on days like today when pools of rainwater cover the driving range.
“We’re all very excited about it,” he says. “It will give us a chance to practice in the winter. It will be pretty spectacular, from what I hear.”
Judging by the plans, Ward won’t be disappointed. The tri-level, 10,000-square-foot building includes men’s and women’s locker rooms, a 3,500-square-foot putting green, four covered hitting bays and a Cobra-Puma fitting center. It will also have a kitchen, conference room, trophy room and study lounge. And a short game area behind the building allows players to practice their putts, chips and wedges.
“It’s kind of like our own clubhouse,” Steiner says. “My dream is that a player, on a snowy day in February, can take a two-minute drive and stay all day. They can putt, chip, drive, make something to eat and study for class.”
Steiner says Xavier’s recent successes and talented young recruits bode well for the future of the golf program. As he talks, he checks his phone for news updates—Kokrak just teed off at the PGA Transitions Championship in Florida.
“One of my dreams as a coach was to have a guy make the PGA tour,” Steiner says. “My next dream is to win the Masters. What would it be like to have a Xavier guy win the Masters? It would be big. It’s possible.”
More immediately, Steiner is looking forward to the new building that will elevate the golf program among its competitors and even within the University. “It gives us a home,” Steiner says. “This will be our Cintas.”
If exercise is an addiction, then swimming was Bryan Krabbe’s gateway drug. Krabbe’s mother, a nurse, is responsible.
She instilled healthy eating and fitness habits in her kids from an early age, and enrolled Krabbe and his sisters in swimming lessons. Krabbe developed a taste for the sport. He swam through high school at St. Xavier, and in college he dabbled in water polo.
It wasn’t until he was getting his master’s in nutrition at the University of Cincinnati that Krabbe started running. A friend training for a marathon turned him on to it. Krabbe, now a student in Xavier’s PsyD program, started jogging with her. “Nothing extreme,” he says, at first. “It was difficult. I ended up getting a lot of shin splints. I wasn’t used to that long-distance stuff.”
But it got easier, and soon he was training for marathons himself. “It gave me a goal,” he says. “A reason to exercise.” The more he ran, the faster he became. In 2004, he qualified for the Boston Marathon. “That was enjoyable,” he says. But before long, even marathons lost their luster. He hankered for a bigger challenge.
“One of my friends suggested triathlons,” Krabbe says. “He knew I was a swimmer and had been running. But I didn’t have a bicycle.” So he went out and bought one. “That might be fun,” he thought. “Something different.”
He started cycling with people, building up his distance. He entered some shorter triathlons, and then, in 2006, he signed up for the Ironman race in Madison, Wis., an exercise binge that packages a 2.4-mile swim with a 112-mile bike ride followed by a full marathon. Did he ever doubt he could do it?
“I didn’t really think about it that much,” he says. “That helped.” Two other things helped, too: the knowledge that a friend had done it, “and maybe some arrogance on my part.” The race began and 11 hours and 23 minutes later, an exhausted Krabbe crossed the finish line. It was a memorable high.
“This peace overcame me,” Krabbe says. “This huge sense of accomplishment and confidence that I can do pretty much anything I put my mind to.” The feeling went beyond fitness. It also inspired Krabbe to get his doctorate in psychology at Xavier, where he is, fittingly, president of the Student Health Advisory Council.
Madison didn’t kick Krabbe’s exercise habit, though. Six triathlons later he had shaved one hour and 40 minutes off his Madison time, finished second in his age group and qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. He went there to join the world’s top endurance athletes in the 2011 race. “Being there, seeing the professional athletes, it was a dream come true,” he says.
With all that behind him, it’s hard to imagine any higher fitness aspiration for Krabbe. But he’s signed up for another triathlon this summer, one he hopes to win. He’s also helping friends and fellow Xavier students get hooked on exercising. Maybe not a triathlon right away, he says, but how about a 5K? Go on. Just try it.
In Chris Bergstrom’s universe, there’s no better place to unwind after a stressful day than at a hockey rink.
“You get on the ice,” he says, “and you don’t think about anything else.”Well, almost. It was on the ice three years ago that Bergstrom thought of a business idea that redirected his life. He was coaching Xavier’s club hockey team and a thought came to him: “I should start my own equipment company and forget everything else.”
The next morning he began searching the web for companies that make hockey sticks. He sent some emails and finally got a response from a factory owner—in northeast Pakistan. Turns out Pakistan is a hotbed for hockey sticks manufacturing. Who knew?
Bergstrom ordered 125 sticks and so was born his fledgling company, Enforcer Hockey. The carbon composite sticks weigh less than a pound and come with three flexibility options and eight blade curve options. They’re grouped into four series—the Vandal, Player, Venom and Sniper—all with wild graphics along the shaft of the sticks. “We wanted to have a product that’s visually appealing,” he says, “but is also a good-quality stick.”
Bergstrom cuts out the middleman by selling them online for about $100 apiece—about half the going rate of brand-name hockey sticks.
“There’s a huge market of recreational players that are in the $100-per-stick price range,” Bergstrom says. “That’s the market that we’re really going for.”
Bergstrom also distinguishes his company by offering the longest warranty on the market. Slap shots, cross checks and pucks flying faster than most interstate speed limits can all snap a stick in two. That’s why major companies offer only 14-day warranties. Bergstrom’s warranty is 51 days, and his research shows that 98 percent of his sticks are still intact.
Bergstrom began selling sticks without a business background, so the 2005 athletic training major kept his day job as a pediatric assistant in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. And he’s still playing recreational hockey, always taking the ice with one of his sticks. “It’s the best kind of marketing,” he says. “I’ve actually sold a lot of my sticks to the guys that I play with.” He’s not ruling out expanding his product line, either. “Once we get a grip on the sticks,” he says, “maybe we’ll do gloves, too.”
Brandt Bernat took notice when he got an email in March 2010. It was forwarded from Xavier’s club volleyball president Mike Czopek. The return address: prison.
Neither student had received a letter from a prison before. The email was a request from the recreation coordinator at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Ky. “We have just recently started a varsity volleyball team here,” it read. “I was hoping your team would be interested in taking a road trip to Louisville one day to play a match.”
“We thought it might have been a joke or a scam,” Bernat says. But the email listed three Bible colleges that already visited Luther Luckett, so Bernat and Czopek started calling around. How was it? Did they feel safe? Would they do it again?
“Everybody we talked to loved it,” Bernat says. “They were planning on going every year. It was a great time and a learning experience.”
Bernat and Czopek took the idea to the rest of the team, who saw the community service value of playing at the prison. “Club sports are supposed to dedicate a certain number of hours to service,” Bernat says. “Our team enjoys going out and doing stuff. It’s not something we feel obliged to go do.”
So the team scheduled a scrimmage. In November 2010, still unsure of quite what to expect, they piled into their cars and drove south on I-71 to La Grange, Ky. “When you first pull into the parking lot and see three layers of barbed wire fence and watchtowers all across, you get this sense that this is something you never imagined you’d be doing yourself,” Bernat says. “You’re walking into a prison to go play a team of inmates. You’re a little scared at first.”
Getting into Luther Luckett was a bit like going through security at an airport. “When you walk into the prison, you have to check in, go through a metal detector and run your bag through a baggage check,” Bernat says. Cell phones aren’t allowed, nor are cameras or any sharp objects. Team members could only bring a couple snacks, a water bottle and no more than $20 in cash. They exchanged their driver’s licenses for numbered wristbands at the front desk, and then walked through three barricades to the gymnasium. It was empty.
Half an hour later, 50 inmates filed in, filling 12 rows of courtside bleachers. The prison team followed. The Xavier squad was on edge. How were the inmates in the stands going to react? The prison team had Xavier right where they wanted them.
“For a team that’s coming in for the first time, we know that our best chance of winning a set is the first set,” says Damon Romel, the Luther Luckett recreation coordinator who formed the prison team and invited Xavier to play. “The guys come in and they’re nervous. They’re not sure about their surroundings.”
The first set was close—Xavier won by seven points—but with growing confidence, the Musketeers swept the remaining four sets. The Xavier team quickly realized the inmates in the stands were rooting for them. “They were cheering for us,” Bernat says. “That helped us calm down.”
Still, the level of competition surprised Bernat. “They were better than we originally thought,” he says. “Some of these guys had never played volleyball before coming here. They really work hard.”
Then came Bernat’s favorite part of the experience—a mixed-team scrimmage. “That was a lot of fun,” he says. “It gave us the opportunity to talk with these guys. Going back and forth at the net, we were all laughing and having a great time.”
After the matches, several inmates spoke about how a series of wrong decisions landed them in Luther Luckett, but now they were working to create a better life when they get out. The Xavier team, who had been scared coming into a prison, left with a better understanding of the people who inhabit them.
“We saw that these guys are really trying to put in the work to better themselves so that when they get out they can better their families and society,” Bernat says. Now the president of Xavier’s club volleyball team, Bernat hopes to make the Luther Luckett scrimmage an annual event. The team made a second visit last fall.
Romel enjoys watching the transformation of outside teams who play the inmates. “It’s good for them to come in and actually get a feel for what it’s like to be behind the fence,” he says. “At that point they start to realize, the guys in here are for the most part pretty much just like them.”
So far the prisoners of Luther Luckett have only won one game against an outside opponent—Wittenberg University. That doesn’t bother Romel. “I’m not as concerned about us winning,” he says. He’s more interested in the way volleyball lets his players momentarily escape their day-to-day confinement.
“When people are willing to take the time to go in and play volleyball with them, it makes them feel better,” Romel says. “For a little while they have a little sense of freedom. All they have to worry about is volleyball.”
Bethanie Griffin’s success isn’t singular among the Musketeers. Xavier swimming has been lapping up victories recently—thanks to solid training, talented new recruits and what head coach Brent MacDonald considers the right blend of individual attention and team spirit.
The team’s family atmosphere begins on Day One. “When they walk on campus as freshmen, they pretty much automatically have 40 new friends,” MacDonald says, which is markedly different from his own college memories. “I remember friends going to college who barely knew their roommate.”
With 40 total swimmers, Xavier’s program is smaller than most other universities, and more inclusive. “Everyone who is on the team is a part of the team,” MacDonald says. There is no traveling squad of elite swimmers; the whole team practices, travels and competes together.
The season begins with the fall semester, and ends at the A-10 championship meet in February. The team practices almost every day in between, and for eight days over the Christmas break, they are in Florida for intensive training. “You get a chance to swim
outside,” MacDonald says. “The weather’s nice. You can put a lot more stress on your body.”
Good team dynamics are important, but swimming is often a solitary sport, and Xavier’s coaches help each swimmer develop individually. “At our level, you’re not getting the same kid over and over again,” says MacDonald, who has been coaching at Xavier since 2007 and head coach since 2008. “Every swimmer is different.” The individual attention has paid off—under MacDonald’s, tutelage Xavier swimmers have broken every school record except the men’s 50-yard freestyle.
MacDonald says recruiting new swimmers is made easy by the welcoming nature of the squad. “Once they get on campus, our student-athletes do a great job of showing them what it’s like to be a part of a team,” he says.
Xavier’s swimmers also shine in the classroom. “How they compete is important, but it’s also important that at the end of four years, they’re ready to graduate and get a job,” says MacDonald. As a result, the men’s and women’s collective GPAs are high, and Xavier is a regular recipient of the Team Scholar All-American award from the College Swimming Coaches Association of America.
Given the team’s past success, the future looks rosy for MacDonald. “We have a lot of young talent on our team, especially on the women’s side,” he says. “We’re poised to take the next step and get a lot faster this year.”