News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 19, 2014

Rose’s Alec Houpt hopes to make fifth Division III tournament appearance

TERRE HAUTE — Is Alec Houpt the good-luck charm for Rose-Hulman athletics?

Should his likeness appear on a box of Lucky Charms cereal?

Houpt admits he’s not a star in any sport, yet he’s been a member of four teams that have advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament. They were men’s soccer as a sophomore (2011) and senior (2013) and men’s basketball as a sophomore (2011-12) and junior (2012-13).

Now the 6-foot-5 senior has a chance to become the first athlete in school history to make five NCAA Division III appearances in team sports. The only other Rose athlete to appear in four was 1990s basketball/baseball standout Bryan Egli.

The 2013-14 Engineers’ basketball team (19-4 overall) leads the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings at 14-2. Two regular-season games — including tonight’s at Franklin — and perhaps two more games in the HCAC tournament remain for Houpt and his teammates in the next few weeks.

So back to the original question: Is Houpt a good-luck charm?

Well, he prefers not to phrase it that way. But most Rose-Hulman supporters would agree he’s not the obvious primary reason for his teams’ success stories.

In soccer this past season, which ended with Rose reaching the final 16, Houpt was a back-up goalkeeper who allowed zero goals in just four games played. He combined with starter Drew Miller on four shutouts.

In basketball this season, he’s seeing a lot more playing time, averaging 7.3 points points per game (third on the team) and 3.8 rebounds (also third) in 21 games at forward (20 as a starter).

Basically, he’s a solid role player. Nothing wrong with that.

But in 2012-13, when coach Jim Shaw’s Engineers reached the DIII tourney for the second straight season, Houpt averaged 2.7 ppg and 1.7 rpg in 25 games as a reserve. In 2011-12, he averaged only 0.9 ppg and 0.2 rpg in nine games as a reserve.

So if Houpt isn’t a good-luck charm and he isn’t a dominating star player in any sport, why is he almost always on championship teams?

Shaw believes Houpt’s frequent association with winners is “more than a coincidence.”

“I think the basketball team and the soccer team the last few years have had good players and had great seasons,” Shaw explained. “And I think Alec has contributed in his own way, whether it’s when he’s playing or when he’s not playing.

“He does have a great attitude. I think he leads by example. I think he’s a real positive influence on younger players. I think he’s a positive influence by the way he goes about his work every day and how coachable he is. Plus, his actual work on the court has been extremely valuable to us this year. And last year, off the bench for the second half of the year, inside he was extremely valuable.”

“We’ve had great success since I’ve come to Rose-Hulman, so we kind of have a level of excellence that we expect of ourselves,” Houpt told the Tribune-Star. “I’ve been very fortunate just with my timing to be here.”

Although Houpt prefers to follow Shaw’s recommendation of taking one game at a time, he acknowledged how much he would enjoy a fifth NCAA appearance.

“It would be great,” he said. “It would really cap off a great senior year to be able to go to the NCAA tournament in both sports. It’s just been a great ride.”

Riding a seven-game winning streak as Shaw’s Engineers try to hold off Defiance for first place and the right to host the semifinal and championship games of the conference tournament, Houpt assessed the ups and downs of the basketball team in his first season as a starter.

“We had a little bit of a rough start,” the Chesterton High School graduate noted. “I joined the team late because of soccer. … I missed the first two games, then I came back and didn’t start the first game [the team’s third game]. But after that, I’ve started every game. It’s been a lot of fun.

“Last year, I was kind of a role player coming off the bench. I had to take a little bit of a different angle this year, playing a little more. I’m just trying to work hard. We’re all having fun. Obviously, we’re doing pretty well because we’re at the top of the HCAC right now.”

Houpt estimated that he needed “about a week or so” to regain his stamina at the beginning of basketball season after making a quick transition from soccer in November.

“The conditioning is a little different, considering I play goalie for soccer,” he said. “So I don’t do a whole lot of running [for soccer]. … My game’s never been focused around being a highly skilled player or shooter. I just work hard, work smart. So I come back into basketball pretty easily. I’ve been doing it my whole life [including high school], kinda switching back and forth between the two.”

A mechanical-engineering major, Houpt plans to attend graduate school in the fall to study aerospace engineering, so he knows his career in organized basketball is coming to an end soon.

He just doesn’t want it to end too soon.

“We’re looking to win the [HCAC] regular-season title outright, host the [HCAC] tournament, win that again, make the NCAA [Division III] tournament and hopefully get a win this year if we make it,” Houpt replied when prodded about his goals for the remainder of this season.

For all that to happen, Houpt realizes he will need to contribute consistently.

“I just need to keep working hard and keep taking advantage of my opportunities,” he said. “Julian [Strickland] does a large part of the scoring for us. Everybody else has our roles. And from time to time, each of us has to step up and score in double figures. We get a lot of contributions from everyone. … We’re a very balanced team.”

Shaw, for one, isn’t worried about whether Houpt will contribute or not because he’s confident that Houpt will.

“He just needs to keep doing the same things he’s been doing — just playing one game at a time,” the veteran coach said. “‘One game at a time’ is a cliché, but just because something is a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true. … We’re really just focused on playing the next game and getting better every day in practice. That’s something that Alec works on every day.”

Shaw then described what Houpt does well as a player.

“He battles defensively,” Shaw pointed out. “He’s a really smart defender. He’s a good help defender.

“From an offensive standpoint, Alec has really established himself in the league as someone other teams have to concern themselves with because he does a great job of making himself available for mid-range jumpshots and cuts to the basket.”

Shaw admits that Houpt possesses limitations as a player, but nothing that negatively impacts his role with the team, especially with Strickland and his 22.8-ppg average around to spark the offense.

“Alec’s not a guy who creates a lot of shots for himself,” Shaw said. “But we already have a couple of those guys, primarily Julian. But he’s really good at finding holes in the defense to make himself available and he can finish the play with a little jumpshot or a layup.

“He’s not a tremendous athlete in terms of his ability to jump, but he knows how to position his body and get shots up around the basket.”

Most importantly, somehow, Houpt knows how to win.

 

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