The words “Thunder Struck” decorated orange t-shirts worn by fans in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum last March 15. During Wheaton College’s spring break, rows of fans still managed to make it out to the “Summit City” to support the Wheaton Men’s Basketball team in the final four round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament — their first visit since the 1950’s. To get them to the final four, senior guard Aston Francis broke two records. He scored a season-high 62 points to break the Division III Tournament single game scoring record. Then, he scored a total of 1,052 points, to reach another benchmark — the Division III single season scoring record. In the end, the Thunder lost in the semi-final round to the tournament champions, UW-Oshkosh.
As the Thunder turn the page and enter a new season, they are doing so without some key players, including Francis — the 2019 winner of the Jostens Trophy and the Bevo Francis Award. But Head Coach Mike Schauer is adapting his game plan to match his roster.
After claiming their fourth conference title in the past five years, the Wheaton Women’s Basketball team is looking to continue their streak in the 2019-20 season. Here are some storylines to keep your eye on as the season unfolds.
“Defense wins games”
Head Coach Kent Madsen emphasizes daily at practice the importance of protecting the basket. Last year the Thunder led the conference in scoring defense. The Thunder held their competitors to 32.5 field goal percentage (FG%), averaged nine blocked shots a game — another conference high — and swiped the glass more than most of the teams in their conference, averaging about 30 defensive rebounds a game. However, since last year the Thunder have lost 6’2” forward Devin Kyler, who excelled in blocking and defensive rebounds.
For the first time in five years, both of Wheaton’s varsity basketball programs qualified for the national tournament.
After two disappointing losses for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Wheaton’s chances of qualifying for nationals did not look bright. However, several things happened that allowed both of the Thunder Basketball teams to qualify for the national tournament.
Last Friday, the Wheaton Men’s Basketball team suffered a tough 94-87 loss to North Central College in the CCIW Championship Tournament semifinal game. When asked about the team’s thoughts on national tournament hopes, senior Astin Francis said, “Friday night it really didn’t look too great for us, but after North Central won on Saturday we felt much better about our chances to get in.” Any hope of entering into the tournament rested on calculated wins and losses of other teams in the conference.
Wheaton was selected to the NCAA DIII Men’s Basketball National Tournament on Monday. “We feel like we have been given a second chance and want to make the most of it,” Francis said. “We are really excited to keep playing.”
The Thunder will face Hanover College at 4:30 p.m. (CST) on Friday, March 1. Hanover is 21-6 on the season, but both teams are currently unranked in the most recent poll of the top 25 DIII teams by D3hoops.com.
Wheaton is anticipating a fresh wave of energy to carry them into the game “We feel confident that if we play well, we can beat anybody,” Francis said. “Hanover is a good team, but we will be ready for the challenge.”
The Wheaton Women’s Basketball team was more successful in the CCIW Women’s Championship Tournament by winning their semifinal game against Elmhurst College. However, in a neck-and-neck matchup against Illinois Wesleyan University last Saturday night, the Titans came out on top with a final score of 69-68.
An 18-point, fourth-period drive by IWU allowed them to pull ahead of the Thunder who led the majority of the game. Even after the loss, Wheaton’s national tournament goals remained alive Still the 21st ranked team in the nation after Saturday’s loss, the Thunder proved themselves to be a strong tournament selection.
“Our team couldn’t be more excited to get an at—large bid to the tournament,” junior forward Hannah Frazier said. “It’s such an exciting atmosphere, and we’re going against the best competition in the country so we know we have to be ready and play at our best.”
The Thunder women will be traveling to Iowa to face Hope College this Friday. Hope is currently ranked number 10 in D3hoops.com’s most recent poll. They have an overall record of 23-4. “Hope is a really good team with a historically successful program,” Frazier said, “but that’s gonna be the case with most teams we see in the national tournament.”
Both of Wheaton’s basketball teams will have live streams of their games available on the Wheaton athletics website.
Anyone at Wheaton or with access to a computer could look up any fact they would want to know about Wheaton senior Aston Francis and his skills on the court. However, basketball is more than just numbers to Wheaton’s star player.
“I started playing when I was four or five, but I’ve been around it all my life. I played soccer and baseball and everything when I was really little, and as I grew up I really started playing just basketball and baseball in high school,” Francis said.
Francis’s dad was his athletic director and coach when Francis was in high school in Tyler, Texas. During his childhood, Francis’s dad would point out different plays on TV which allowed Francis to watch basketball in a different, more critical way as he grew into a basketball player himself. “We butted heads a little bit when I was younger,” Francis said. “When I was a junior and senior I matured a little bit because I knew where he was coming from. It made our relationship a lot stronger, and I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to play for him growing up.”
Francis also noted that his skills drastically improved when he was a junior in high school. Thoughts of playing in college turned into plans to play in college. One of Francis’s high school crosstown rivals was a now Wheaton senior: Trevor Gunter. Wheaton’s Head Coach Mike Schauer was recruiting Gunter during his senior year and ended up watching a game where Gunter and Francis played each other.
“[Shauer] ended up recruiting me,” Francis said, “and then I actually enrolled at Texas A&M to just be a student but changed my mind last minute and was able to go to a junior college. Coach Shauer kept recruiting me and then I came up after that freshman year at TJC.”
Tyler Junior College is located in Tyler, Texas and Francis attended TJC during his freshman year of college. Academically, Francis noted that the school was not entirely challenging, but the majority of players that he played against and with were DI-bound.
“The level of play was pretty high and very athletic,” Francis said, “so I had to get bigger, faster, stronger really quick to be able to compete with those guys.”
At TJC, Francis said that he averaged four-five minutes of play per game and did not get the same amount of play time that he gets here at Wheaton, but introducing a rigorous weight-lifting regimen changed Francis’s game and took it to the next level.
“It definitely made me work hard,” Francis said. “I think I was really fortunate to go to TJC because my work ethic changed a lot while I was there.”
Then Francis’s journey as a basketball player brought him to Wheaton College. Coming in as a sophomore during the 2016-17 season, Francis noted that he made fast friends with some of the freshmen, specifically Jay Spencer and Spencer Peterson. As he played, practiced and spent more time with the entire team, Francis found himself identifying with the entire team and knowing more of his teammates at a personal level.
“It’s definitely been good socially because I’ve met some people through basketball that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Francis said. “I’ve formed some really long-lasting relationships especially with the guys on the team, the coaches and even the guys in the training room.”
As a member of the Thunder Men’s Basketball team, Francis said that beating Augustana College and Whitworth College last year were two games that were especially special to him looking back. “We played super well as a team, went into their place and beat them and got some national exposure,” Francis said. The Wheaton Thunder Men’s Basketball team lost to Augustana yesterday night with a final score of 93-83. Francis’s 38 points were not enough to overcome the top ranked team in the CCIW.
“Being at Wheaton has helped me to find the correlation between my faith and competing; they aren’t separate. They work together,”
Francis hopes to continue playing basketball as long as possible and would take the opportunity to play professionally if it became a possibility. However, after he can no longer play himself at a competitive level, Francis sees himself following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a coach because he loves the game wholeheartedly.
“Being at Wheaton has helped me to find the correlation between my faith and competing; they aren’t separate. They work together,” Francis said. “I definitely still have a ways to go, but I think I’ve gotten better at seeing that I am a Christian first and an athlete second, so I need to show that while I am on the court.”
Francis and the Wheaton Men’s Basketball team will host their final home game of the season, and of Francis’s collegiate basketball career, on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in King Arena against Millikin University.
Traditionally, all Winter Olympics sports are played exclusively on ice or in the snow. Hockey, figure skating and curling appear 24/7 on NBC during the Winter Olympics. The creation of basketball, in 1891 by YMCA instructor James W. Naismith, was for the purpose of playing a sport indoors when the weather was too cold. It’s remained this way ever since. So how come this traditional winter time activity is set to be played in the summer Olympics?
“To me it would make sense to have basketball be in the winter,” said senior captain Jennifer Berg. “However, it could be that more people want to watch basketball in the Summer Olympics to get their basketball fix, since they normally watch it only during the winter months.”
One side of the discussion acknowledges that because the NBA competes in the winter, the season would have to be put on hold for professionals to compete, making the eight-month competition even longer. “I think they play it in the Summer Olympics because that is the NBA and many other leagues’ off-season,” said Wheaton Men’s Basketball senior Aston Francis. “Obviously, in the Olympics, we want to see the absolute best players in the world competing. In the winter, this wouldn’t be possible because virtually all of the best players would have to pass on the Olympics because of their obligation to their league team.”
There’s still an argument to be made for bringing basketball to the Winter Games. The Winter Olympics had only 15 sports in PyeongChang 2018, while the most recent Summer Olympics (Rio 2016) had 39 sports represented. With the Summer Games presenting more well-known sports, it’s a valid argument to say that there would be enough room for basketball to make the switch to the season it’s traditionally played in. The switch would also allow more countries to be represented in the Winter Olympics, leading to increased global investment in an otherwise rather exclusive event. Though basketball has yet to appear in the Winter Olympics, the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics will see the first appearance of three-on-three basketball. Seeing as winter is basketball season, be on the lookout for the Wheaton Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams. The women’s team has a game this coming Sunday at home at 5 p.m. against North Central, followed by the men’s team at 7 p.m.
After a roller coaster season, the Wheaton Women’s Basketball team was eliminated from the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament when Washington University beat the Thunder 75-57 on Mar. 2, 2018.
WashU simply outplayed the Thunder during the last four minutes of the first quarter, and the Bears came back onto the court with fast and efficient plays in the third quarter. Going on a 13-2 run at the end of the first quarter was a great way to start for the Bears; unfortunately, it meant that Wheaton had a long uphill climb to make it a closer game.
Wheaton was able to gain some ground on WashU in the fourth quarter by outscoring the Bears 17-14, but the deficit was ultimately too much to overcome.
Wheaton’s team stats seemed pretty even with WashU in terms of fast break points, second chance points, steals, turnovers and bench points. However, WashU scored 38 points in the paint while Wheaton scored 24 points in the paint.
Wheaton’s individual standouts in their final game included junior Devin Kyler who scored 12 points and added eight rebounds to her season total to make her Wheaton’s 14th-ranked all-time rebounder with 586 career rebounds. Senior Kelly Lawson finished her collegiate basketball career with a double-digit scoring game (11 points) which moved her up to Wheaton’s 21st all-time scorer with 976 career points.
Wheaton sophomore Hannah Frazier scored 10 points against WashU, and her 102 season total of free throws this year is Wheaton’s 10th-highest single season total of all-time. On March 13, Frazer was named to the All-Central Region Second Team by D3hoops.com.
The Men’s Basketball season ended before spring break, but Wheaton junior Aston Francis received high honors as an individual player this week. D3hoops.com named Francis the Central Region Player of the Year. This marks the sixth time that Wheaton College has had a player receive the honor, which is the most of any program in the central region. Francis was also named to the 2017-18 National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-Central Region Team.
After beating Carthage College and losing to Illinois Wesleyan University, Wheaton got an at-large bid to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championship starting this weekend.
Last Friday, Feb. 23, Carthage gave Wheaton a strong run for their money in the first three quarters of the game. Junior Devin Kyler started Wheaton off on the right foot by sinking a fast three-pointer less than 30 seconds into the game. The Thunder maintained their lead through the first seven minutes of the game, but the Lady Reds were able to gain the lead before the second quarter.
The second and third quarter Carthage played well enough to stay with the second-ranked Wheaton team. The Thunder came back from a six point deficit with two minutes left in the first half to gain a three-point lead with little more than 30 seconds left in the half. After getting a defensive rebound with 11 seconds left, senior Kelly Lawson scored a three-pointer in the final seconds to extend Wheaton’s lead to five points. Carthage gained ground in the third quarter, and the game was tied at 49 points going into the final ten minutes of the game.
Wheaton outscored Carthage 20-5 in the final quarter thanks to a strong closing effort by senior Maggie Dansdill, who scored all six of her game points in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Hannah Frazier also sunk a three-pointer early to swing the momentum Wheaton’s way as they pulled farther and farther away from the Lady Reds to end the game with a 15-point lead and a final score of 69-55. Wheaton then advanced to the CCIW Championship game against IWU on Saturday, Feb. 24.
IWU came into the tourney ranked 16th in DIII women’s basketball and the No. 1 ranked team in the CCIW. IWU started the game off strong and scored twice as many points in the first quarter as Wheaton (12-6), but Wheaton came back in the second quarter to have a two point lead at the end of the half. After extending their lead to seven points, an IWU player fouled Wheaton sophomore Hannah Frazier. During the final three and a half minutes of the half, Wheaton was able to score 10 points to IWU’s one free throw point to gain major ground.
The third quarter was very back-and-forth, and IWU was able to gain a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Wheaton came out onto the court in the fourth quarter looking like they could complete an upset, but IWU sunk a three-pointer with less than five minutes left. Dansdill sunk a free throw to put Wheaton up by four points, but IWU scored eight-straight points and had a four-point lead with 16 seconds left in the game. Kyler sunk a three-pointer with two seconds left, and Wheaton called a timeout with the score 60-61 and one second left. IWU scored a free throw to end the game and make the final score 62-60. IWU earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Wheaton was able to earn an at-large bid on Monday, Feb. 26 and will advance to the postseason for the 12th time in team history. This Friday, March 2, Wheaton will travel to Holland, Mich. to play Washington University at 5:30 p.m.
With a loss to Augustana University in the semifinal of the CCIW tournament, the Wheaton men’s basketball team’s season ended.
Throughout the entire first half, the game was within a few points. Augustana took the early lead but only led by, at most, four points, and Wheaton was able to gain a lead on Augie with less than six minutes left in the first half. Junior Aston Francis sunk a three-pointer with 6:55 left in the half to put Wheaton within a point of Augustana. After an Augie turnover and foul, junior Luke Peters made a free throw to tie the game.
Soon after, Francis stole the ball and sunk a layup after a fastbreak, putting Wheaton up by two points. At this point in the game, Wheaton was staying right with the top-ranked Vikings team.
A combination of an untimely offensive dryspell and Augustana’s strong offensive start helped the Vikings separate themselves from Wheaton by 14 points with ten minutes left. Then Wheaton turned their game around and scored nine unanswered points, six of which were free throws. Immediately after Augustana scored two points to extend the lead back to seven, Wheaton answered with seven points to tie the game.
During the final minutes of the game, Wheaton simply could not get shots to fall through the net when they needed points. Augustana was able to sink their free throws and few important layups to extend their lead to eight points. Unfortunately, this meant that Wheaton lost to Augustana with a final score of 72-64 and ended up being the only CCIW team to qualify for the CCIW tournament but not nationals.
Francis was named a finalist for the Jostens Trophy on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The honor was created by the Rotary Club of Salem and honors the most outstanding players in NCAA Division III men’s and women’s basketball. The three criteria which determine the finalists and the winner are: basketball ability, academic prowess and community service.
Francis was already honored as the 2018 CCIW “Fred Young Most Outstanding Player,” has a 27.4 points per game average this season (a Wheaton single-season record), has scored the fourth most total points in DIII men’s basketball (712) and leads DIII men’s basketball in total three-pointers (121, also a school record) and three-pointers per game (4.65). Since the award’s conception, Wheaton has had more finalists for the Jostens Trophy than any other school (10).
Both of Wheaton’s basketball teams finished their regular season play this week.
Wheaton’s men’s basketball team was unable to close out the regular season on the right foot after two conference losses to North Central College and Carroll University.
Against North Central, the Thunder started out strong with a fast two-point lead, but throughout the remainder of the half North Central was more successful offensively than Wheaton was. In the second half, the Cardinals maintained their double-digit lead over the Thunder, except for a few minutes in near the middle of the half. Wheaton made three of their 26 three-pointer attempts fall through the hoop. Junior Aston Francis led the team with 20 points and eight rebound but was 1-13 from outside the three-point line.
Against Carroll University, Wheaton started out with a five-point lead early on but fell behind Carroll as the first half continued. Wheaton came back to tie and gain leads on Carroll three different times throughout the remainder of the game, but Carroll ultimately came out on top at the end. Against Carroll, the Thunder scored eight three-pointers out of their 23 attempts, an improvement from their last game. In contrast, Wheaton was much less successful at the free-throw line, making eight of their 19 free-throw attempts.
The Thunder are ranked fourth in the upcoming CCIW Championship Tournament. They will play the number-one seed of the tournament, Augustana College, at Augustana College at 7:00 p.m. on Feb. 23. If Wheaton wins, they will advance to the championship to play the winner of the Illinois Wesleyan University vs. North Central College game on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m.
The Wheaton women’s basketball team competed in their last regular season game on Saturday, Feb. 17. The Thunder’s 67-30 victory over North Central extended their win streak to 15 games.
Already fourteen points ahead by the end of the first quarter, the Thunder were able to give their main starters more rest during this game before the conference championship games this weekend. Sophomore Hannah Frazier was able to score 12 points during the 18 minutes she spent on the court while junior Devin Kyler and senior Kelly Lawson both played for at least 25 minutes and scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Wheaton women are ranked second in the conference. Illinois Wesleyan University, ranked 20th in the country by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, won the title of “CCIW Champions” because they had the best overall and conference record during the regular season. However, Wheaton could still earn the title of “CCIW Tournament Champions” if they win the CCIW Tournament.
The Wheaton women’s basketball team will face the number-three seed Carthage College tomorrow, Feb. 23 at 5:00 p.m. at IWU. IWU will play the fourth-seeded Elmhurst College at 7:00 p.m. on the same day, and the CCIW Championship game will be on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m. at IWU.
On Saturday, Feb. 10, the Wheaton Women’s Basketball team tipped off against the North Park University Vikings. The Thunder put down the Vikings 68-40, improving their season record to 19-5 and their CCIW record to 12-2. Wheaton currently has a 13-game win streak, the longest win streak since they won 14 straight games in the 2004-2005 season.
Offensively, the Thunder were on fire, leading the entire game and having five players scoring eight or more points. As a team, Wheaton shot 40.7 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from behind the arc. They also had a 72.7 percent success rate from the free throw line.
Sophomore Hannah Frazier lead the team with 13 points. Senior Kelly Lawson contributed 11 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Frazier and Lawson gave the Thunder three assists each. Senior Maggie Dansdill got 10 points, while sophomore Kristi Demski went three-for-four from behind the arc to add in nine. Senior Jennifer Berg sunk eight points to round out the Wheaton players with eight or more points.
Frazier’s efforts against North Park earned her CCIW Women’s Basketball Player of the Week for the third time this season. For the season, she’s averaging a team best of 15 points per game, ranking fourth for the conference.
On defense, Frazier led the team with six defensive rebounds. Dansdill and junior Devin Kyler both had four defensive rebounds. Kyler also contributed two blocks and two steals. Berg tallied two defensive rebounds and one block. Lawson and sophomores Jill Berg and Erica Van Dusen each contributed three defensive rebounds.
Wednesday, Feb. 14, the women extended their win streak to 14 games after beating Carroll University 62-39. Dansdill lead the Thunder in scoring with 14 points, also adding 4 rebounds.. Frazier scored 12 points, including two three pointers and five rebounds. Lawson matched Fraziers efforts with five rebounds of her own and four points. Jill Berg also contributed eight points. Kyler lead the team in rebounds, gaining 8.
The Thunder look ahead to extend their winning streak against North Central in their next game. After that, they’re off to the CCIW basketball tournament, where they are currently ranked second. Wheaton will tip -off against the Cardinals Saturday, Feb. 17, at 5 pm in King Arena.