Nate Blank does not regret the two years of college basketball he played at Gardner-Webb, but will feel much more comfortable the next two seasons as he suits up for the University of Indianapolis.
“My two years at GWU were a great experience,” Blank, a 2007 Indiana All-Star from Terre Haute North, said Friday after signing his letter-of-intent to transfer to Indy. “I got to do things and go places I never would have done had I not gone there, and I gained a lot of knowledge and skills while I was there.”
Blank’s freshman year was the better of his two seasons, being named Atlantic Sun Conference Freshman of the Year as well as making the Mid-Major All-American Team. He averaged 10.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game — while hitting 60-of-157 shots from long distance, and 79.5 percent from the charity stripe.
“Beating Kentucky, playing UConn and Oklahoma in Madison Square Garden, having good games against the best teams … those were great times,” he said. “I’m leaving because I wanted to get back close to home, and also with the direction the program was heading it was the right time to leave.”
The Bulldogs were 16-16 in Blank’s first year and dropped to 13-17 this past season. His numbers fell off to 9.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, and he shot just .403 from the field.
Blank will follow in the footsteps of older brother Luke as a member of the Greyhounds. Luke, who is now attending the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach, S.C., signed with Indianapolis out of high school and played two seasons for the Division II school.
NCAA transfer rules allow players going to a lower classification to not have to sit out a one-year waiting period like those moving up a division.
“I chose Indy because I did not want to sit out a year, and I have a great relationship with the coach,” Blank said. “I know he has it headed in the right direction, and I know a lot of my teammates there already.”
Indianapolis is led by former Indiana State assistant coach Stan Gouard. The Greyhounds lost five seniors from this year’s 9-18 team and play in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, one of the nation’s toughest DII leagues.
“I will be able to have a good basketball experience and be able to play right away,” Blank said. “I will be able to add my abilities to an up and coming DII program in a great league.”
• WVC plays well at nationals — After winning the Region 24 tournament earlier this month. Wabash Valley College’s softball team traveled to St. George, Utah, this week to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament.
The Warriors took a 43-3 record into the 16-team tournament as the ninth seed, and went 0-2 — suffering a pair of tough one-run losses.
North Central freshman Jacki Porter did her part, going 5 for 9 at the plate during the tourney as the team’s starting catcher.
Against Odessa College, each team scored a run in the sixth inning but no one else scored until Odessa got the game-winner in the bottom of the 12th. Wabash Valley had 12 hits, with porter going 3-5.
In the elimination round against Darton College, WVC scored a pair of runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 5-2 lead, but surrendered four in the bottom of the frame to fall 6-5. Porter was 2-4 at the plate with one RBI and one run scored
Porter will return for her sophomore year next season and will be joined by area standout Megan Vincent of Riverton Parke.
I I I
n Richards to Ball State — Emily Richards is one of six athletes to sign national letters of intent to attend Ball State University and compete for the swimming and diving program next winter.
“We look for this class to make an immediate impact for our program,” co-head coaches Bob Thomas and Laura Seibold-Caudill said. “This class is full of potential and we look forward to getting these fine young women in the pool this fall.”
Richards joins the Cardinals after a 2008-09 campaign which saw her capture a sectional title for Terre Haute North High School in the 100 back (59.42). A four-time sectional finalist, she went on place 26th at the state meet in the event.
As a junior, Richards took home second in the 100 back sectionals on her way qualifying for the state meet. Richards also won a Gold Medal Award and a Spirit Award during her prep career at Terre Haute North.
“Emily will give us some much needed strength in the backstroke events,” said Thomas.
“She has a tremendous amount of ambition,” added Seibold-Caudill. “Her drive and determination will be greatly appreciated.”
A well-rounded student, Richards will major in business at BSU. She will graduate this year in the top 15 percent of her class with honors.
• South’s Johnson to LTC — Terre Haute South’s Tessa Johnson became the fourth member of this year’s girls’ basketball squad to make her college choice when she recently signed a letter-of-intent to play for Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
Johnson will undoubtedly circle Nov. 17 and Feb. 10 on the calendar next winter when LTC will battle nearby Vincennes University, which features former South teammates Megan Craft and Randa Rector.
“I like that it’s close to home, and also there’s no class on Fridays so I’ll get to come home or visit friends at other schools,” Johnson said. “When I went and visited we scrimmaged and I really like the style of play: fast pass, pushing the ball. And the coach [Chad Killinger] is a really nice guy.”
Johnson averaged 15.3 points and 2.9 assists per game this year, shooting 52 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free throw line. She earned all-Wabash Valley honors the past two seasons, and South had a 71-20 record during her career (59-10 the past three seasons).
“My goals are to hopefully improve my game and continue to play after attending Lincoln Trail, win lots of games, and just have fun and meet new people,” she said. “The coach mentioned me playing mostly 2 and sometimes 3, so I need to be able to knock down shots when the ball is kicked out to me. Also my ball handling could use a lot of improvement.”
Getting ready for the next level will be a little easier for Johnson than most athletes, since her father Howie played collegiately at Illinois and Indiana State and has coached her AAU teams for many years.
“All aspects of my game need to tremendously improve,” she said, “but I’m going to focus on shooting and ballhandling when I work out with my dad this summer!”
South Coach Dave Cassell only had Johnson for one season, but feels she is a great fit for the Statesmen.
“LTC is very athletic team, which fits her perfectly,” Cassell said. “She can use her quickness, and that’s one of her biggest advantages.
“This year for us she was a really tremendous senior with great leadership,” he continued. “She had a very versatile game, inside and outside, which makes her very tough to guard. The success she had in high school will serve her well in college.”
• Black Hawk signs Gilbert — Shakamak’s Jessi Gilbert has signed a letter of intent to play college volleyball for Black Hawk East Junior College in northwestern Illinois.
Gilbert gave up her senior season of basketball to concentrate on volleyball.
“It says a lot about her dedication to volleyball to give up something else she was good at,” Shakamak Coach Jeri Morin told the Greene County Daily World. “In the end it paid off and she received a great scholarship.”
Gilbert is a six-foot middle hitter who fits Black Hawk’s needs well.
“They were looking for a blocker and middle hitter which Jessi more than fills those expectations,” Morin said. “They were impressed with her stats and the film on her, but they were equally impressed with her personality and her attitude.
• Kuhn joins teammate — Casey-Westfield senior Andrew Kuhn will join teammate Kaleb Brandenburg as members of the football team at McKendree College.
“Andrew was one of our two returning linemen last fall that had to lead our interior line,” Casey football coach Keith Sinclair told the Mattoon Journal-Gazette. “With much inexperience up front, he had to be a leader to bring along our other linemen this year. He did accomplish this for us with a great season.”
Brandenburg and Kuhn helped lead the Warriors to runnerup in the IHSA Class 2A state tournament.
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches and coaches at Northview High School in Brazil.
He can be reached at trib