The color of the fall leaves are slowly starting to change and so are Pioneer athletics.
The start of this year marks the Pioneers’ continued progress toward becoming a NCAA Division II program from an NAIA program.
Being in the second year of this four year process has major implications on Pioneer athletics, however, as it means there is no longer a postseason entry into the NAIA National Championships.
Therefore, seniors will end their collegiate careers without a shot at the “Ship,” while incoming freshman must wait another few years before they can try for a championship.
Senior baseball player Cullen Bahler hasn’t been feeling the effects of no postseason, but it has altered his thinking to keep himself focused.
“I’ve been really working hard this summer and off season trying to get drafted,” Bahler said. “Our senior class has some real talent and going Division II we’re going to need that.”
Senior Jordan Lindesmith made the decision not to return to the basketball team this year after learning about the switch to Division II and the probationary year that would be imposed because of it.
[pullquote]It affected my feeling about what the season would mean. You want to ultimately win games, but everyone’s goal is to make it to the national tournament and win a championship,” Lindesmith said.[/pullquote]
Emily Soriceli, sophomore soccer player, transferred to Malone from Southeastern University in Florida despite the probationary year.
“Although there is no national championship in the picture this year, we are turning our focuses on winning the Christian Nationals and leaving it all on the field every game,” Soriceli said. “This year’s regular season games are a chance for us to show our future Division II opponents that we aren’t just any NAIA school transferring into another division.”
John Thompson, the Pioneers JV baseball coach, says there shouldn’t be a problem keeping his guys passionate about the upcoming season.
“It comes down to pride and playing the game of baseball, a game that our guys love. Every player has a competitive spirit, passion for the game and a strong desire to win,” Thomspon said.
Hurdler and 4×4 relay teammate Melissa Wohlheter’s feelings differ from those of Thompson’s even though she is a strong competitor.
“It’s been harder to get motivated this year because there isn’t that light at the end of the tunnel,” Wohlheter said. “The whole point of working hard is to get somewhere, and this year there isn’t really anywhere to go.”
Although some players may be less excited for this upcoming season because of no official championship the general mindset of each ‘team’ is to have an outstanding season to let future competitors know what they will be up against.
Tim Giesel, junior goal keeper for the soccer team, is looking forward to the upcoming season. He said it will be a good time to work on team camaraderie and team play for next year when the Pioneers will enter into a stronger Division II schedule.
“No, it hasn’t been hard for me to maintain the same drive and desire as last year. The feeling I have is the same as any other season: let’s make a statement to future divisional opponents,” Giesel said.
Motivation comes within and from leaders on each respected team. Senior softball player Kristen Atzenhoefer is one of the leaders on the team and is more than motivated for this upcoming season.
“The fact that I’m a senior and after this year I’m done with softball is enough motivation in itself,” Atzenhoefer said. “But also that there is a bunch of new freshman and as an upper classman I want to show them that working hard and coming together as a team can bring great success.”
This upcoming season can be viewed as an “off year” or it can be viewed as an opportunity. The athletes of 2011 have chosen to make the most out of their season to ensure the most success going into Division II play in the years to come.
Matt Anderson is a staff writer for Aviso AVW.