• EDITOR’S NOTE: On Campus features graduates of area high schools who are playing college sports. This installment appears every week throughout the school year. If you know of anyone who should be included, email Mirza Zukic at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (724) 465-5555, ext. 267.
Not all that long ago, Jessica Hurley thought if there was a college sport she’d be playing, surely, it would have been soccer.
But in an odd twist, it was the lack of a varsity soccer team at Hillsdale College (Mich.) that convinced Hurley track and field should be her sport of choice.
As it turns out, it’s a choice that’s paying off handsomely for everyone involved.
A former two-sport star at Indiana High School, Hurley is quickly making her presence felt as a middle-distance runner for the Chargers’ track and field team.
A freshman who specializes in the 400-meter dash, Hurley has competed in the 400 and 200 this season, and she had been a regular on the Chargers’ 1,600 relay team for much of the season. In fact, with Hurley running the third leg, the relay team missed breaking the school record in the event by 0.12 seconds at the Grand Valley State Big Meet on Feb. 14.
It was after that meet that a teammate posted a faster time than Hurley, supplanting her from the relay team and bumping her to an alternate.
Hurley took it in stride, and celebrated with her teammates when they broke the school record in the event a week later.
“I thought it was the best choice for our team,” the graceful Hurley said.
It sure was.
Hurley was plugged into the Chargers’ distance medley relay team instead, and she helped the Chargers claim a conference title at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships two weeks ago and a berth at this weekend’s NCAA Division II Championships.
Running the distance medley relay for just the second time all season, Hurley held her own with older and more experienced runners.
“It was weird for me running with distance people,” she said, “but I really enjoyed it.”
With Hurley running the 400 — the shortest leg of the DMR, which consists of distances of 1,200, 400, 800 and 1,600 meters — Hillsdale won the conference title in the event for the second straight season, fell a second short of the school-record time in the event and entered the NCAA Championships with the second-fastest time in all of Division II.
That’s heady stuff for Hurley, who wasn’t even sure if she’d run college track and field.
“I was expecting to go to college for soccer,” Hurley said. “When I visited Hillsdale in August (2012), I met with coach (Andrew) Towne, and he told me I would have preferred walk-on status if I chose to run track. I chose (Hillsdale) more for the curriculum, it’s very rigorous. I thought it would really prepare me for the future. The track program is solid, so that was a plus.”
Hillsdale placed 12th at the NCAA Championships on Friday with a time of 12 minutes, 11.07 seconds, falling well short of the GLIAC-winning time of 11:47.50.
Entering her senior season of high school soccer at Indiana in the fall of 2012, Hurley had narrowed her college choices to Grove City College and Hillsdale.
“At the time, I kind of figured I’d go to Grove City and play soccer, like my sister,” Hurley said.
But with time, she began to lean more toward the academic program at Hillsdale, and after learning the Chargers didn’t sponsor a varsity women’s soccer program, she had her mind set on track and field.
“I wanted to play a Division II sport, not just a club sport,” Hurley said.
With her coach’s confidence in her, Hurley is glad she did.
“Yeah, I think I definitely have exceeded my expectations,” Hurley said. “My coach was telling me at the beginning of the year the things that I’d probably be doing time-wise, and I wasn’t nearly as confident as he was in my abilities. He was telling me I needed to get more confidence in what I can do. It’s how I’ve been approaching meets lately, it’s been really helpful. This past season has shown me I can run with the best of them, basically.”
And the future is bright.
“There are no seniors on the 4 by 4,” Hurley said. “We’re all freshmen and sophomores. My coach is really excited, as are we, to see where we’re going.”
EVAN AND ROBERT HENDERSON (North Carolina, wrestling): Evan Henderson didn’t succeed in his bid to repeat as Atlantic Coast Conference champion at 141 pounds, but all is not lost. The Indiana County native still has an even bigger prize in his sights: the national title.
The NCAA this week announced the pairings for the NCAA Championships, and Henderson is headed to the championship meet in Oklahoma City, Okla. He earned the No. 9 seed in the 141-pound weight class. He will take on West Virginia’s Colin Johnston in the first round on March 20.
A junior, Evan has compiled a 33-6 record this season with 14 pins and eight wins by major decision. He won two tournament titles during the regular season, but the title he wanted the most got away from him when he finished third at the ACC Championships, unable to defend last year’s conference title in the same weight class.
With his next victory, Henderson will reach 100 for his collegiate career. After the ACC Championships, he stands at 99-28 for his career with 35 pins, leaving him 15 pins of the school’s career record.
Last season, as a sophomore, Henderson took sixth at the NCAA Championships to become the first UNC wrestler since 2005 to earn All-America status. He went 37-9 last year, his 37 wins ranking seventh on the school’s single-season record list.
Meanwhile, Evan’s twin brother Robert has struggled to stay healthy throughout his collegiate career.
A redshirt sophomore making the move up to 157 pounds this season, Robert wrestled in just eight matches this season, posting a 3-5 mark. He is an even 15-15 for his career at UNC. Last season, he went 11-9 at 149 pounds with three pins.
KRISTIN BRICE (Emerson, basketball): Brice enjoyed another strong season as a junior even if her team didn’t. She led the Lions in minutes played, started all 25 games and was their go-to weapon on offense.
Brice posted team highs of 13.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season while also leading the team in field goal percentage (41.6). She posted five 20-point games and nine double-doubles, including a career-best 30-point, 16-rebound game in the season opener in November. She was not named to the all-conference team after being named to the All-Great Northeast Athletic Conference second team last season.
The Lions went 8-17 and 4-16 in conference play in their first year in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
Over the past two seasons, Brice has scored 767 points and is nearing 1,000 for her career. The Lions’ stats from Brice’s freshman season were not available to the Gazette.
MAGGIE McLOUGHLIN (Shepherd, basketball): A freshman, McLoughlin didn’t take long to work her way into the starting rotation. The Homer-Center graduate played in all 27 games of the Rams’ trying season and started 20 of the final 21 contests.
She averaged 4.7 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, and she led the team with 31 3-point field goals.
Shepherd endured a 12-game losing streak late in the season before winning two of its final four games to finish the season 4-23 in the first season of the Mountain East Conference, which includes many of the former members of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
ABBEY O’NEAL (Shippensburg, swimming): An Indiana graduate, O’Neal recently completed a strong freshman season for the Red Raiders.
She qualified for the PSAC Championships in three individual events, the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyles, and she posted a personal-best time of 2:00.87 in the 200 freestyle at the conference meet.
O’Neal also swam the freestyle leg of Shippensburg’s 10th-place 400 medley relay team at the PSAC meet.
Mostly a freestyle specialist, O’Neal had the fifth-fastest time on the team this season in the 50 (25.44 seconds) and 100 (54.78) freestyles.
One of the highlights of her season came at the Bomber Invitational at Ithaca University in December, where she earned two top-20 finishes and swam her personal-best time of 54.78 in the 100 freestyle. She took 18th in the 100 and 19th in the 200 freestyle (2:01.52).
She was a regular contributor to the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams as well as the 200 and 400 medley relays, and she also swam the 100 backstroke occasionally.