It's probably no surprise to see Mark Hulse shining for the Pepperdine men's volleyball program. It just took awhile to occur.
The fact that Hulse's older brother, Tom, ended his career last spring as one of the top blockers in Pepperdine history might have made it easy for Mark to head west as well. But after also enjoying a standout prep career at Evanston, he chose Rutgers-Newark as his college destination and played there during the 2006-07 season.
"It wasn't anything personal about Rutgers but the program was on a decline," said Hulse. "Once the head coach left, I was almost right out the door with him."
After some wrangling, which included Hulse unofficially pledging not to attend a school in Rutgers' conference, the school granted Hulse a free transfer, making it unnecessary to sit out a year.
But upon his arrival, Hulse saw two obstacles to getting onto the court. The first was simply the high caliber of competition.
"I didn't think I'd play that much; I thought I'd maybe travel (on road trips)," said Hulse, who ended up playing in every one of Pepperdine's games. "But after a few weeks (in preseason), they started throwing me into the lineup in drills."
Also weighing on Hulse was a switch to middle blocker from setter, a position he had excelled at since he began playing the sport as a high school freshman. But the Waves were stocked at setter, with reigning national Player of the Year Jonathan Winder closing out his career in 2008 and a highly-touted freshman in the wings for 2009. Pepperdine head coach Marv Dunphy was upfront with Hulse about the position change, but that didn't make it any easier.
"It was a big learning curve at first but I just tried to pick up as much as I could," said Hulse. "I was a little nervous about it at first but the coaches had confidence in me. They told me just to block the ball, play defense and serve hard."
The 6-foot-8-inch Hulse did exactly that, as he easily topped the Waves with 146 blocks and ranked third on the squad with 29 service aces. Once the move was made, Hulse realized that his setting background likely made the transition easier.
"As a setter, you tend to have a pretty good volleyball sense," he said. "The setter is in every part of practice and is involved in the entire game. There's a back and forth between everyone that other positions don't have."
Hulse's off-court transition to the other coast was lessened by the fact that Tom took a job after graduation in nearby Santa Monica. The younger Hulse had shied away from following in Tom's shadow, but he still enjoys having him nearby.
"Since everyone already knew him, I kind of already had my foot in the door when I got out there," said Hulse. "It's kind of cool having family around."
Hulse feels his indirect route to Pepperdine was for the best. He wanted to create his own identity after high school and wasn't sure if he had faced stringent enough competition in the Midwest.
"It just would have felt weird going to the same school as him (Tom) out of high school," said Hulse. "And I'm not sure I would have played as much (as a freshman) if I had gone to Pepperdine. I might have been in over my head."
Hulse definitely isn't now. Winder will be the Waves' only personnel loss for next year and if the new setter can acclimate quickly, the team should be serious contenders to earn the school's sixth national title, the last of which came when Tom Hulse was a sophomore in 2005.
Winning the top prize would be one way Hulse would love to follow in his older brother's footsteps.
"We got a nice trophy this year but I'll take the ring any day," he said.
Kent State second baseman Doug Sanders (St. Edward) has led the Golden Flashes (31-18, 14-7 in conference) in hitting virtually the entire season, and heads into the final week of the regular season with a .389 average. Among his team-high 72 hits are 19 extra-base hits, including six home runs, 10 doubles and a team-high three triples.
Batting from his customary No. 2 slot in the lineup, Sanders continued his hot hitting in a three-game series at Akron over the weekend. In the opener Friday, Sanders had a double in four trips, and he was 3-for-4 with a walk and an RBI in an 11-2 win Saturday. In the series finale Sunday, a 19-5 win, Sanders had three more hits in five at-bats, including his sixth home run of the year.
Sanders began his college career with a two-year stint at Elgin Community College and stepped right into the starting lineup upon arriving at Kent State in 2007. As a junior, he started 55 of 59 games and finished with a .265 average. He was fifth on the squad in hits (61), runs (41) and RBIs (29) and sixth in total bases (79).
Northwestern sophomore second baseman Nicole Pauly (Palatine) has earned Big Ten Softball Player of the Week honors twice in the last three weeks. She was the outright winner on April 21 and shared the award with Iowa's Katie Brown last week.
Pauly, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2007, was a first-team all-conference pick in her first college season and a second-team choice this year. She'll head into NCAA Tournament play batting .318, with a team-high 13 home runs and 41 RBIs. She has started all 50 games for Northwestern (37-13, 18-2 in conference) and also paces the squad with 11 doubles.
The Wildcats, who shared the regular season title with Michigan, captured their first conference tournament crown since the current format was installed in 1995 with a 1-0 win over Iowa Saturday. In tournament play, Pauly was 3-for-10, including a two-run double in Thursday's 8-0 win over Ohio State. She had one hit in four plate appearances in Friday's 12-0 semifinal triumph over Minnesota and went 1-for-3 in Saturday's title game pitcher's dual.
In the last week of the regular season, Pauly helped lead the Wildcats to a share of the Big Ten title in two wins against Michigan State. She was a perfect 5-for-5 with a home run, three doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored against the Spartans, including her 13th homer of the year May 4.
The Horizon League held its Outdoor Track and Field Championships last Thursday and Friday at Youngstown State, with several local products performing well for their respective schools. In the team competition, Wisconsin-Milwaukee claimed the men's crown, and the host Penguins won the women's title.
Among the standouts for Illinois-Chicago's third-place men's team was junior Mike Savegnago (West Chicago), who won the decathlon with 6,104 points and Friday's pole vault. His top jump of 16-¾ set a championship record and qualified him provisionally for regionals. He also was third in Friday's high jump with a best effort of 2.0 meters.
Valparaiso junior Chris Honig (Glenbard South) won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9:29.51 and Loyola senior Sam Romanowski (Lake Zurich) topped the 10,000 meters field in 31:55.82. Honig came back the next day to take fourth in the 1,500 in 3:56.15.
Loyola senior Joe Mahalick (Joliet Catholic) finished third Friday in the 800 (1:53.29). He won the event at March's conference indoor meet.
Loyola's men also got points from sophomore Jamar Johnson (Lincoln Park), fifth in the long jump (6.8 meters) and triple jump (13.43 meters), sophomore Donte Prisby (Andrew), fourth in the 400 in 49.16, and sophomore Matt McCabe (Benet), eighth in the 1,500 in 3:59.25.
Besides Savegnago, Illinois-Chicago also got strong outings from senior Joe Bailey (Thornwood), fourth in the hammer throw with a career-best of 49.94 meters, junior Alex Sutphen (Hoffman Estates), fourth in the 10,000 (32:23.62), senior Mike Pawelek (York), fifth in the decathlon (4,772 points), and freshman Lewis Brown (Bolingbrook), fifth in the 800 in 1:54.45.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior Lynn Koepke (Crystal Lake) helped the Panthers to their team title by taking third in the 100 (11.09) and 200 meters (22.19).
On the women's side, Loyola enjoyed the most individual success, led by senior Amanda Domich (Dundee-Crown), who won her third straight outdoor conference 10,000-meter crown in 36:44.15. She held off junior teammate Genevieve Binnie (Homewood-Flossmoor), who finished second in 36:53.87.
Another Rambler winner was junior Jessie Morgenthal (Wheeling), who surpassed freshman teammate Danielle Locascio (Barrington) by more than 16 seconds to win Thursday's 3,000-meter steeplechase in 11:22.75.
Loyola junior Pam Staton (Grant) was second in the 800 meters in 2:12.27, and four Loyola runners were in the top nine in Friday's 5,000, including Domich in fourth (17:41.71), Raymond sixth (17:51.43), Binnie seventh (17:55.55) and Rack ninth (18:18.10).
Only four women had top-eight finishes for eighth-place Illinois-Chicago. The highest was a fourth-place effort in the triple jump (11.86 meters) from senior Idara Essien (Wheaton-Warrenville South).
Additional points came courtesy of freshman Sara Welch (Plainfield Central), fifth in the pole vault (2.95 meters), along with junior Danyelle Somerfield (Hinsdale Central) and sophomore Monique Bostert (Glenbard East), who were eighth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and discus, respectively.
The only other top-eight finish among former Chicagoans was from Butler sophomore Rachel Juszczak (St. Charles North). She tied for eighth in the high jump with a top leap of 1.5 meters.
Northern Illinois junior Brian Livingston (Niles North) was recently named the Mid-American Conference Men's Tennis Player of the Year. That honor improves upon the first-team all-conference selection he won as a sophomore in 2007.
Livingston, who was also named to the MAC All-Tournament team, finished this year with a 24-6 singles record, including a 17-2 mark in dual meets. His spring season was particularly strong, as he won 17 of 19 matches.
Livingston also teamed with Adam Ford to comprise NIU's No. 1 doubles team. The duo sported a 20-8 record, including 13-5 in dual matches and 3-2 in conference.
Livingston has been the Huskies' No. 1 singles player since midway through his freshman season in 2006, when he tallied a 22-13 record and was named team MVP and conference Newcomer of the Year.
Temple's Colin Madison (Willowbrook) capped a busy freshman year last week by finishing fourth in the shot put at the 2008 Atlantic 10 Outdoor Track and Field Championships. His top throw of 48-11½ was only 4½ inches from the runner-up position and he was the top finisher among all freshmen.
Madison has been training virtually non-stop since arriving in Philadelphia last summer for preseason football workouts. As a true freshman for the Owls, Madison worked his way into the lineup midway through the season, starting four straight games at left guard, culminating with a matchup against Penn State.
Once football season concluded, Madison joined Temple's track and field program. The highlight of his indoor season was a second-place finish in the shot put at the Atlantic 10 indoor conference meet, with a top throw of 49-11½.
Madison was a three-sport standout in high school, adding wrestling to his exploits in track and field and football. He won the Class AA state title in the shot put as a junior in 2006.