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Fundamentals will be key to success for Oilers

By BRIAN LESTER Rob Keys stood in front of his team after practice Wednesday afternoon and pulled out a piece of paper that had included his thoughts from the day's practice. He pointed out the dropped passes, the missed tackles, the inability to be on the same page on every play. He reminded his players that the list he rattled off are things that will need to be fixed if they are going to start the year 1-0 instead of 0-1. "You have to be fundamentally sound," Keys said. "That has been the foundation of this program from the beginning. When you aren't fundamentally sound, when you don't do the little things like catch passes, be on sides on defense, be on the same page when the play is called and do your job, it doesn't matter what kind of ability you have. You can't win." The Oilers have more than enough ability to win football games. That isn't even a doubt. And each day, Keys watches as the offense and defense take turns showing off glimpses of their potential as they prepare for next Saturday's season opener against Hillsdale College at Donnell Stadium. "There is no doubt we have good players on both sides of the ball," Keys said. "There are going to be bad days for the defense and bad plays for the defense. There are going to be bad plays for the offense and bad days for the offense. You can't expect one side to dominate the whole time. If you did, there is an issue on one side of the ball." I like the direction the Oilers are headed in, though, as they inch closer to the start of the season. They have worked together as a team and they have taken a business-like approach to every practice. They are aggressive, driven and motivated. Sure, not everything is perfect, but the Oilers are working to be as perfect as they can when the games start to count. "Every single day it's about how much better we can get as a team," Keys said. "That has been the focus from way back. It's about getting better as individuals, as a position group, as an offense and defense and collectively as a team. As the season progresses, we have to get better every week to win games." The Oilers want to win every game. They want this to be their season, the one everyone remembers forever. The potential is there to make 2014 a special year for UF football. But potential only goes so far. Potential has to become production on Saturdays this fall. If it does, the sky is the limit. "It's not about how talented you are or how much potential you have," Keys said. "It's about how productive you are and how you play on Saturdays. You can practice great Monday through Friday, but if you play bad on Saturday, it doesn't matter. Our guys understand that. They have a lot of experience. They understand what it takes to win in the (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). We've definitely made strides from day one to now." And come next Saturday night against Hillsdale, the Oilers hope to take the biggest stride of all, and that is the one that leads them into the win column in their season opener. Follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993

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UF volleyball team takes aim at another successful season

By BRIAN LESTER
STAFF WRITER Two straight winning seasons. Back-to-back trips to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. Life is good again for the University of Findlay volleyball team, which is ready to take another step forward after its first 20-win season since 2006. The Oilers are coming off a 20-12 season that ended with a 3-2 loss to Northern Michigan in the first round of the conference tourney. UF did lose one of its top hitters in program history in Danielle Taflinger, a two-time All-American, but head coach Wick Colchagoff has good reason for optimism. “Last year’s seniors helped re-establish the winning tradition,” Colchagoff said. “We also had a lot of underclassmen who got valuable playing time. The offseason went extremely well and we feel really good about the season ahead.” The Oilers only have three seniors, including honorable mention all-GLIAC selection Amanda Calhoun. The veteran setter dished out 1,089 assists a year ago and also came through with 209 digs. Samantha Granger is entering her fourth year as a starter. She played at outside hitter her first two season but was a defensive specialist last year. Granger tallied 213 digs for the Oilers. The other senior is Heather Schwyn, who saw limited time as a defensive specialist last season. UF’s cast of underclassmen includes former Carey standout Hannah Tong. The talented outside hitter came on strong during the second half of the season and was even named the GLIAC Player of the Week. Tong finished third on the team in kills (184) and also made 32 blocks. Junior middle blocker Julie Lyons turned in a stellar performance last year despite getting injured. She finished with 169 kills and is expected to be even better this year as she will take on a key role in the Oilers’ offensive attack. “Julie had a monster season up until she got hurt,” Colchagoff said. “Hannah did some tremendous things for us and has only gotten stronger. We are expecting big things out of them.”
Andrea Roach, a junior right-side hitter, racked up 131 kills last year and has put in a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason. Junior defensive specialist Becca Shoemaker will play a pivotal role defensively after coming through with 195 digs. Shoemaker excelled during the spring in scrimmages. Freshman defensive specialist Megan Wendel, who won two state championships at Marion Local, is expected to step in and play right away. The Oilers are expected to be in the mix for a conference championship, and one thing that will benefit them as they begin their quest is the consistency they have started to establish. The Oilers didn’t have a lot of ups and downs and only lost more than two matches in a row twice last year. “We didn’t have those stretches where we come off a big win and then get upset,” Colchagoff said. “The mentality for us now is to go out and play our best against the best and still play at a high level against teams that are less skilled. We want to be competitive in every match.” The Oilers were 11-8 in the GLIAC and gave NMU all it could handle before falling short in the postseason. A lesson was learned that night. “I think what that experience does is let our team know the importance of finishing in the top four and getting a home match in the first round,” Colchagoff said. “It was a match we could have and probably should have won. We came up a couple of points short, and if we were at home, that probably would have been a couple of points along the way.” The GLIAC will be just as rugged this year. Grand Valley is the defending league champion and Ferris State won the NCAA Division II regional and played in the Elite Eight. The Oilers, who hope to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament this season, open the season on Sept. 4 in a tournament hosted by Rockhurst, which won the West Division of the Great Lakes Valley Conference last year. “We definitely try to play a very competitive pre-conference schedule to get ready for the GLIAC,” Colchagoff said. “There are plenty of places I could get us to play where we could get four or five wins in a weekend, but that wouldn’t prepare us at all for what is ahead in the conference.” Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993

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Seven starters back for UF women’s soccer team

By BRIAN LESTER STAFF WRITER

University of Findlay women’s soccer coach Crystal Dye feels good about her team as it heads into a new season.

After all, the Oilers have seven returning players and all seven are starters. Dye is hoping that experience translates into success on the field as UF takes aim at its first winning season since 2010.

“It’s been a little up and down in the preseason, but things have gone well overall,” Dye said. “I feel good about this team because I think we have a great opportunity to be successful.”

The Oilers missed out on the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament a year ago, finishing 8-8-2 overall and 4-6-2 in the conference. They are picked to finish ninth in the league this season.

Dye believes consistency will be the key to success for the Oilers, who opened last year at 4-1 but never carried that momentum through the rest of the season.

“I think we are a very tight-knit team and we are playing well together,” Dye said. “That is a great thing to help us find that consistency. We continue to get better at it each day.”

Senior forward Eryn Weber will be vital to the Oilers’ success. She is the leading returning scorer and a first-team all-GLIAC selection. Weber scored nine goals and dished out five assists last season.

Senior midfielder Danielle Hart is also back and is coming off a year where she scored two goals and tallied five assists.

Kirsten Fruchey, a senior midfielder/forward, also returns after scoring four goals a year ago.

Those three accounted for 15 of the Oilers’ 29 goals.

Junior Kendall Kwiatkowski (midfielder) and senior Emma Owens (midfielder) should provide a boost to the offense this season, although Owens is currently hurt. Kwiatkowski scored two goals last season.

The Oilers did out-shoot the majority of their opponents last season but were unable to cash in a lot of their scoring chances.

“We out-shot almost every team we played, but on the other end, we didn’t win some of those games. The finishing part hurt us,” Dye said. “We’ve worked a lot on finishing opportunities.”

From a defensive standpoint, the Oilers are counting on sophomore Kate Prewitt to lead the way. The second-year defender is also a captain for the Oilers.

“She played in the middle last year,” Dye said. She has that mentality of being the instructor out there. We’re expecting her to have a great season.”

Senior Samantha Edwards, a Kalida grad, and junior Katelyn Anderson also return to help anchor the defense. Anderson battled an injury last year but is healthy again and could be a difference maker.

In goal, Samantha Trimboli returns. She started in five games and gave up 16 goals while making 40 saves. Trimboli is being pushed in practice by freshmen keepers Bre Parish and Madison Moore. Parish is a Riverdale graduate.

“Sam has a lot of experience, but the two freshmen are giving her a run for her money,” Dye said. “It’s great to have that competition in practice. All three are fighting for time.”

The Oilers will be tested early as they host Lewis out of the Great Lakes Valley Conference and travel to Lee, which owns four NAIA national titles. Lewis finished 8-7-2 last year while Lee, in its second year at the NCAA Division II level, went 14-42.

The highlight of the GLIAC schedule is a Sept. 28 battle at home against defending national champion Grand Valley State, the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The Oilers beat the Lakers 3-2 two years ago. It was GVSU’s only league loss that season.

Dye said her team is ready for the challenges ahead this year as it tries to earn a trip to the conference tournament. UF opens the season on Sept. 6 at St. Joseph’s. GLIAC play begins on Sept. 26 at Malone.

“I definitely think we have a chance to be one of the better teams in the league,” Dye said. “Getting into the playoffs is the big thing. If we can get in and win a game, anything can happen at that point.”

Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993

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Oilers picked to finish second in GLIAC South Division poll

By BRIAN LESTER STAFF WRITER

Fresh off its third consecutive winning season, the University of Findlay football team will enter the 2014 campaign as one of the top teams in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Oilers are picked to finish second in the South Division, racking up 30 points and one first-place vote. Ohio Dominican, the defending division champion and a 2013 NCAA Division II playoff participant, tallied 36 points and six first-place votes.

UF finished behind ODU in the standings last year and lost 41-21 to the Panthers in the regular season. The two teams do not play each other this year.

Grand Valley State, which marched all the way to the national semifinals a season ago, is once again the favorite in the North Division. The Lakers racked up 49 points and seven first-place votes. Ferris State is picked second with 42. Saginaw Valley State received the other first-place vote. The Cardinals are slated third in the division.

The Oilers are coming off an 8-3 season, including a 6-3 mark in the GLIAC. They won their final four games, not turning the ball over once during that stretch, and won seven of their final eight overall after a 1-2 start.

UF is heavy on experience as it enters the fourth year under head coach Rob Keys. The roster features 18 seniors and a junior running back who was a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Award, the D-II equivalent of the Heisman.

Daiquone Ford rushed for 1,789 yards and 24 touchdowns before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in week 10. He helped fuel an offense that cranked out 504.5 yards per game, the eighth-best average in the nation.

The Oilers struggled at times defensively and ranked last in the GLIAC, giving up 262.8 yards per game. But they finished strong, holding their last four opponents to under 30 points. Harold Jones-Quartey is one of the key players back for the Oilers on defense after racking up 92 tackles and picking off a pass in three of the last four games.

While the Oilers will enter the year hoping to contend for their first GLIAC title and D-II playoff berth in program history, Keys said on Monday that his team has a long way to go to get to where it wants to ultimately be as a team.

“We are miles and miles and miles away,” Keys said. “The first practice is something to build on. I hope we can be consistent every day in practice. We have a long way to go, but I think our guys have the mindset and focus to do what it takes to get there.”

GLIAC Preseason Poll North Division 1. Grand Valley State (7) 49 2. Ferris State 42 3. Saginaw Valley State (1) 35 4. Michigan Tech 30 5. Hillsdale 26 6. Wayne State 21 7. Northern Michigan 12 8. Northwood 9 South Division 1. Ohio Dominican (6) 36 2. Findlay (1) 30 3. Ashland 27 4. Lake Erie 16 5. Walsh 16 6. Tiffin 14 7. Malone 8

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Oilers get down to business as camp opens for 2014 season

By BRIAN LESTER
STAFF WRITER Rain delayed the start of camp for the University of Findlay football team on Monday, but that was the only hitch for the Oilers as they began preparation for a season of lofty goals and high expectations. As clouds gave way to sunlight on a cool August evening, creating ideal conditions for practice, the Oilers hit the turf of Donnell Stadium ready to go to work. “The whole month of July and start of August, we didn’t get a drop of rain,” fourth-year UF head coach Rob Keys said. “Every day was perfect. I played a lot of golf in that time. But we get to the first day of practice and it’s lightning and pouring down rain. Our schedule dramatically changed, but the thing about our guys is they are a resilient and adaptable bunch.” The Oilers were supposed to practice at the Armstrong Athletic Complex, but the wet weather forced a three-hour delay and a change of venue.
It didn’t matter. The Oilers took a business-like approach to the three-hour practice, running plays and doing various drills as they did their best to maximize their time. “It’s been a long time coming to get back out here,” senior quarterback Verlon Reed said. “We have to clock in every single day and do everything we need to do, whether it’s film, getting in the weight room, and especially on the field.” Reed is one of 18 seniors on an Oilers team that went 8-3 a year ago and came within a victory of clinching a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in program history. Reed, a transfer from Ohio State where he played wide receiver, played in seven games at quarterback a year ago for UF before injuring his thumb. He threw for 1,791 yards and 11 touchdowns, helping to fuel an offense that cranked out 504.5 yards per game and averaged nearly 40 points (37.9) per game. Reed, an honorable mention All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection, will be pushed in camp by former Ada standout Mitchell Faine and Jesse Slone. “I’m definitely more comfortable with the offense and I have a stronger bond with my teammates now,” Reed said. “Everyone is comfortable out on the field with what we are doing and I’m able to fly around and do my job without thinking too much.” The fact that he Oilers do have veteran leadership at each position has made a world of difference in terms of how practices are run. It also didn’t hurt that junior running back Daiquone Ford was back on the field. Ford tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 10 last season but still managed to finish third in the country in rushing average (178.9) as he was named a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Award, the D-II equivalent of the Heisman. Ford looked like his old self as he ran the ball during practice and also provided leadership to the younger running backs. The Oilers, coming off their third consecutive winning season, weren’t perfect on day one, but Keys didn’t have too many complaints. “I like the way practice went for the first day,” Keys said. “The energy was high and we kept a good pace and had good tempo. That is a good sign. I saw flashes at times on both sides of the ball. The key is to be consistent in practice every day.” UF has a lot to cram in this week as NCAA rules have shortened the amount of time a team can practice before school starts. Camp ends Sunday and the Oilers begin classes Monday. Keys will get his first look at his team in full pads on Friday. “We’re putting a lot of emphasis on being all-in and doing a lot of timing work right now,” Keys said. “Friday and Saturday will be big for us. Once they are in pads, we can go through the film with a fine-tooth comb and start to look at the pieces more and figure out what we need to do to be ready to play on game day.” The Oilers are 25 days away from the season opener as they will battle GLIAC opponent Hillsdale College at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Donnell Stadium. They will enter the season riding a four-game win streak.
And while there were plenty of encouraging signs on day one, the Oilers are a long way from accomplishing their ultimate goals, which includes contending for a conference championship. “It’s going to be a grind, and we have to continue to work hard to reach our full potential,” Reed said. “We don’t want to look ahead. Our main focus is Hillsdale right now. But we also know what the bigger picture is. We just have to take it one game at a time.” Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993

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Senior class ready to lead way for UF football team

By BRIAN LESTER Senior offensive lineman Damon Howe looked around Donnell Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon and smiled for a good reason. He is one of 18 seniors on a University of Findlay football team that has high expectations. The start of the season is still four weeks away, but it's hard to ignore the excitement that surrounds this team a year after it went 8-3 and nearly clinched a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in school history. As Howe talked duirng an interview on photo day, he thought back to his freshman year and the hopes he and his classmates had back in 2011. "When we were freshmen, we talked about what it would be like when we were seniors. That this was going to be our team," Howe said. "We waited our turn and now it's our team. All of the things we talked about, all of the things we dreamed about, all of the things we worked for, it's time to do it now." Big dreams and big expectations are what this season is all about. But for the seniors, it took one big leap of faith to even get to this point. The seniors were recruited at a time when the UF football team was in a bad place. The Oilers were 1-10 in 2010. They invented a new way to lose every week. Rob Keys was hired to take over the program in December, and the only thing he had to sell to recruits was a vision. It was a tough sell. But the recruiting class of 2011 believed in that vision as crazy as it might have been. They took a gamble and hung their hopes on the words of a football coach. Words can often ring hollow. In this case, they didn't. Wide receiver Lloyd Henry was one of the believers. And as big of a part as he has been to the rise of the Oilers over the last three years, even he is still in awe of what he and his classmates have accomplished up to this point. "Wow. We started from the bottom for real," Henry said. "We came to a program that was 1-10 the year before. We went 6-5 that next year, then 7-3 and then 8-3. Now, this is the year that should be our year. Our expectations are high. We are looking past the sky. There are no limits." The Oilers have won 21 games over the last three years. They have knocked off a few Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference powerhouses along the way, including Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State. UF also beat Wayne State in Key's first season, stunning the Warriors 43-42 in overtime in Detroit. Wayne State went on to play in the national championship game. UF has made great strides, but as big as those have been, the seniors expect to make even more in 2014. "It's definitely a big-time 180 from where we were when we started," senior defensive back Harold Jones-Quartey said. "It's exciting to see. I'm excited to see what kind of product we are going to put on the field this year." Keys is excited as well. He has poured a lot of time and effort into turning the Oilers into a contender for a GLIAC championship and playoff berth. But he won't take all of the credit. "It's a testament to the coaching staff. Our guys have worked hard since December of 2010 and January 2011 to get to this point," Keys said. "We're out here today and you look at the players we have. The program has come a long way in three years. At the same time, the players are still hungry, they understand we still have a long way to go. We play in a competitive league and we have to play at our best every week." If the Oilers bring their best each week, anything is possible. This team has the potential to be great. It's just a matter of staying focused and getting the job done week in and week out. Howe told me one of the reasons he chose to come to UF was because of the coaches. He talked about how fired up the coaches were about turning the Oilers into winners. Now, he and his senior teammates are fired up about putting an exclamation point their careers. "We want to do something special," Howe said. "We've never had a GLIAC championship here and have never had a playoff appearance. We want to leave our mark on the program." The seniors have already made a heck of a mark, both on and off the field, and four years after making a leap of faith, they hope to make a leap to a championship. Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993

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Oilers have potential for a special football season

By BRIAN LESTER Eight days remain until camp begins for the University of Findlay football team. And if you think expectations were high the lastt three years under head coach Rob Keys, they will be even higher this year. The Oilers closed their 2013 season as one of the hottest teams in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, winning four consecutive games and not turning the ball over once during the run. That streak is a part of a stretch where the Oilers, after a 1-2 start, won seven of their final eight. If UF wins just one more game a year ago, it is a playoff team. That is how close the Oilers were to making it to the postseason for the first time in the NCAA Division II era of the program. But as Keys told me after the season finale last November, he didn't get into coaching to go 8-3 and not make the playoffs. He didn't get into coaching to win eight games and not win a conference title. And I'm willing to bet his players aren't playing football just to go 8-3 either. The Oilers have enough talent and depth to be a contender for a GLIAC crown and postseason berth. They also have plenty of motivation. But if the Oilers are to meet their expectations, if they are to take this program to a level it has never seen, consistency is the key. You can't have flashes of brilliance here and there on a Saturday afternoon and expect to win. You have need 60 minutes worth of flashes of brilliance. The offense has to be able to capitalize on more scoring opportunities and punch that ball into the end zone every chance it gets. Too often last year, the Oilers left points on the field. The defense also struggled at times, getting burned for big plays far too often, but I think the 41-21 debacle against Ohio Dominican on national television last October was blessing in disguise. That loss beat up the pride of the defense, and from that night forward, they vowed to be better. And they were, holding each of the last four opponents to under 30 points. If they can limit the big plays that cost them a few wins last year and be consistent, good things are ahead for a defensive unit that showed a lot of promise in the spring. I expect the Oilers to come to camp ready to go, ready to work their tails off to be the best possible team. They will come to camp ready to win each day.  The players know what kind of potential they have this year, and if they take care of business like they expect to, they will see that potential turn into results on the field in what could very well be a special season. Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993

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