Last month, few members of the Drake University football team’s defensive unit felt positive about their performance.
The low point came Sept. 15 in a 27-10 loss to Indiana State when Drake gave up 349 rushing yards to ISU running back Shakir Bell.
“We were definitely embarrassed,” said Cary-Grove graduate Jake Underwood, the team’s senior starting strong safety. “We put our foot down and said, ‘This is going to stop.’ ”
The Football Bowl Championship subdivision’s Bulldogs have made strides since last month’s disappointment, posting two impressive wins in which they created eight turnovers and allowed a combined 17 points over the past two weeks.
Drake (4-2) enters today’s 1 p.m. game at Valparaiso (Ind.) University with a 3-0 Pioneer Football League record.
“Things have improved a lot for us,” said sophomore Drew Ormseth, a Crystal Lake South grad who starts at cornerback. “The past couple of weeks, we’ve found an identity.”
Senior defensive end Brandon Coleman (Cary-Grove) said the defense’s personality has been an ongoing adjustment.
“Last year, we were big and physical … a Midwest, farm-raised Iowa football team,” he said. “With the guys we have like Jake and Drew, we’re finding out that we’re a more athletic, playmaking defense.”
Last weekend, Drake won 38-10 in a conference showdown against San Diego, the preseason favorite to win the PFL.
“It was a big deal,” Coleman said. “It was a big part of reconstructing our identity as a defense.”
While Coleman has followed his All-PFL season of a year ago with nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, the team has gotten a boost from the defense as a whole as well.
Ormseth, who also is the team’s primary punt returner, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has 20 tackles. Underwood has 33 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three pass breakups.
“We’re clamping down a little more, especially on third downs,” Ormseth said.
Along with the three defensive starters, Drake’s roster boasts nine local athletes, including sophomore quarterback Stephen Covalt (Prairie Ridge), sophomore offensive linemen A.J. Erb (Huntley), Philip Hespen (Crystal Lake South) and John McMahon (Jacobs), junior defensive end Nick Underwood (Cary-Grove) and freshman defensive back Caz Zyks (Jacobs).
Soccer standouts: Illinois State’s Aimee Wronski and Montana’s Allie Simon were named the Missouri Valley Conference and Big Sky Conference women’s soccer players of the week, respectively, this week by CollegeSportsMadness.com.
Wronski, a sophomore forward from Huntley, scored the game-winning goal Oct. 3 in a 1-0 victory against Loyola of Chicago. For the season, she is tied for the team lead with four assists to go along with two goals for the Redbirds (8-3-2).
A sophomore forward from Cary-Grove, Simon also was named Big Sky Co-Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday. Simon scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win Oct. 5 against Northern Colorado. She added another goal two days later in a 4-0 win against North Dakota. Simon’s first two goals of the season helped the Grizzlies improve to 7-6-2.
Pacing the Pumas: Richmond-Burton grad Richard Kaht helped D-II Saint Joseph’s College of Indiana’s men’s cross country team to a fourth-place finish at last weekend’s Eagle Invitational in Lisle.
Kaht, a junior for the Pumas, was the team’s top individual finisher with his fifth-place effort in 25 minutes 44.9 seconds. The 8-kilometer invitational included runners from 13 teams.
Superb Star: Cary-Grove grad Rachel Taddy was one of 13 singles players named to the All-Northern Athletics Conference women’s tennis team this fall.
Taddy, a junior, has an 8-4 record at No. 1 singles for the D-III Stars.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.