Women's basketball, softball play for conference tournament titles

The Mount Mercy women’s basketball team and the Mustang softball squad narrowly missed national tournament berths this season, while the baseball program made a strong push for its first Midwest Collegiate Conference regular season title in 17 years.

The women’s basketball team, which reached the 20-win mark for the 20th time in school history, posted its highest win total since the 1994-95 campaign. The Mustangs finished 24-9 overall and 13-3 in league play under first year Head Coach Aaron Jennings, advancing to the championship game of the MCC Tournament before dropping a 60-53 decision to top-seeded Iowa Wesleyan.

Jessie Dirks (Monticello, Iowa) was a first team all-conference selection for the second year in a row after leading the team in scoring (13.5 ppg) and 3-point field goals (79). The senior guard joined the 1,000-point club in November, finished her career in 12th place on the career scoring chart with 1,335 points, and ranks second all-time with 225 3-pointers. Dirks and senior guard Kelli Dabroski (Earlville, Iowa) were also honored as NAIA Scholar-Athletes for the second straight year.

Junior forward Shanda Novak (Oxford, Iowa) was named the MCC Newcomer of the Year and received all-MCC honorable mention along with junior guard Catalina de la Quintana (Santiago, Chile). Novak led the conference in field goal percentage (55.6%) and was among the league leaders in scoring (13.3 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rpg), and blocked shots (29). Quintana led the Mustangs and was fifth in the MCC in assists (3.76 apg) and was Mount Mercy’s fourth-leading scorer at 7.9 points per game.

Junior forward Keith Kuenstling (Dunkerton, Iowa) was first-team all-conference for the men’s basketball team, which finished fifth in the MCC with a 13-16 overall record and 6-10 mark in the league. Kuenstling posted nine double-doubles while leading the Mustangs in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg).

The Mount Mercy softball team entered the MCC Tournament seeded fourth, but upset top-seeded and NAIA 21st-ranked William Penn to reach the championship round against second seeded Waldorf. The Warriors pushed across a pair of runs in the 10th inning to end Mount Mercy’s national tournament hopes, but the Mustangs finished their best season since 1996 with a 29-20 record.

Junior outfielder Emily Madsen (Iowa City, Iowa), junior shortstop Brianna Williams (Monona, Iowa), freshman right-hander Becca Smith (Solon, Iowa), and freshman designated player Elizabeth Hill (Shellsburg, Iowa) were first-team all-conference, while junior center fielder Sheena Canady (Oelwein, Iowa) received honorable mention. Madsen led the team with a .373 batting average and 40 runs batted in, while Williams batted .336 with four homers and 35 RBIs.

Smith was one of the top pitchers in the league, posting a 21-10 record with a 1.92 earned run average while leading the MCC in strikeouts and innings pitched. In 215 1/3 innings, she walked only 28 batters while striking out a school record 255. Hill was second on the squad with a .348 average and 29 RBIs. Canady led the Mustangs with five home runs and helped the team set the single season steals record, swiping 42 bases in 43 attempts.

Seven Mount Mercy baseball players received postseason honors for a team that went 27-24 overall and 16-7 in conference play. The Mustangs were runner-up in the MCC, finishing a game back of league champion William Penn. Junior catcher Rey Lopez (El Segundo, Calif.), junior center fielder Matthew Mercier (Inglewood, Calif.), sophomore righty Derrick Weber (Waterloo, Iowa), and senior right-hander Sean McIntosh (Novato, Calif.) were named first-team all-MCC.

Lopez was Mount Mercy’s leading hitter with a .365 average, five homers, and 36 RBIs. Mercier, who hit .329 with 24 RBIs, was second in the conference with 24 steals. Weber finished 9-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 62 strikeouts. McIntosh led the league in appearances, posting a 5-4 record with a 4.11 ERA in 26 games.

Senior outfielder Justin Kleinsmith (Mariposa, Calif.) was honorable mention all- MCC after batting .286 with three home runs and 12 steals. Mount Mercy also accounted for nearly half of the 2009 MCC Gold Glove Team. Junior second baseman Ryan Lopez (El Segundo, Calif.) and senior outfielder Ryan Harding (Colorado Springs, Colo.) joined Weber and Rey Lopez as the top fielding players at their positions.

Although Grand View ended Mount Mercy’s streak of five straight women’s conference titles, the Mustangs crowned five champions at the 2009 MCC Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The women’s 4×800 meter relay team of sophomore Kori Yotter (Wapello, Iowa), freshmen Kara Danielsen (Eldridge, Iowa) and Paula Hermsen (New Vienna, Iowa), and junior Chelsea Kvidera (Traer, Iowa) won the event while setting a meet record with a time of 9:43.50.

Other women’s titles went to Yotter in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and junior Alyssa Maher (Grand Mound, Iowa) in the 100 meter hurdles as the Mustangs finished fourth in the team standings.

On the men’s side, junior Dustin Henderson (Marion, Iowa), sophomore Matthew Clarke (Lowden, Iowa), junior Jayson Lawton (Lake Orion, Ill.), and sophomore Justin Waring (Troy Mills, Iowa) also won the 4×800 crown. Freshman Mike Miroux (Spring Valley, Ill.) was the MCC champion in the 10,000 meter run as the Mustang men also placed fourth.

The women’s 4×800 meter relay team and sophomore Erin Behan (Independence, Iowa) competed at the 2009 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in May. Behan finished eighth in the nation in the marathon with a school record performance (3:20:45.01), while the 4×800 meter relay squad also set a school mark at the national meet (9:42.27). Behan, who entered the meet seeded 15th in a field of 34 runners, narrowly missed all-American status with her eighth-place showing. The top six finishers were named NAIA all-Americans.