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Rockford, Rock Valley show resurgence in men's basketball programs

Tuesday, February 10, 2009  
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By Jay Taft
RRSTAR.COM

Posted Feb 10, 2009 @ 12:40 AM

ROCKFORD —

Rockford College has struggled off and on since its inception in 1955, and Rock Valley College is stuck in another slump, gathering just 12 wins in a four-year stretch before going 11-18 last year.

The Golden Eagles posted a school-record 25 wins in 2000-01, and the Regents set the high-water mark at 24 victories in 2002-03. Both have hit on hard times since.

But there have been signs this season of promising days ahead for both men’s basketball programs.

“It does feel like this is a new beginning,” said first-year RVC head coach Chad Barger, who also played for the Golden Eagles in the late 1990s. “One thing I’m really proud of is that this year we are no longer a guaranteed win on the schedule. Even when we don’t come away with the win, we’ve been in every game.”

Both teams have a modest 12 victories this year. And while they aren’t bucking for any school records, there is a sense that the attitude is changing for two programs that have been “down; way down,” as RC head coach Ryan Rebsom put it.

Rockford’s fast climb
Rockford College’s resurgence hasn’t come with baby steps. The Regents, who won only one game last season, are sitting in second place in the Northern Athletics Conference and making a push for the playoffs. RC (12-9, 7-6) is already a lock to make the NAC postseason tourney, and the winner is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament. Rockford failed to make either of the first two NAC tourneys, and has just one D-III playoff appearance in its 55-year history.

“Whether you want it to be personal or not, it becomes that way. It’s a pride thing after awhile,” said Rebsom, who is in his fourth year with the Regents. “It took us longer than we thought to get it going, but last year we saw it coming, and now, well, it’s here. This team is ready.”

Rockford has won six of its last eight, including a 72-67 road win against Concordia (Wis.) on Jan. 28, which avenged a two-point home loss earlier this season. The Regents have nearly 100 fewer turnovers than their opposition (381-288), and are shooting 45 percent (599-for-1,341) as a team, led by Andrew Weber’s 51 percent (104-for-204).

Rockford has gotten a boost from three game-winning shots — including two buzzer-beaters — by guard Rennell Taylor, the lone senior on the roster who leads the team with an 18.5 points-per-game average. But the Regents have six players that average 9.7 points or more, and Weber’s versatility — he leads the team in steals (53), is second in assists (75) and third in scoring (12.6 average) and rebounds (7.4) — along with Garrett Staniec’s post play and Danny Armelin’s court presence, has given Rockford a new attitude.

Rock Valley’s slow rise
The Golden Eagles started the season on an 8-3 tear, but have slowed since, dropping five of their past eight to fall to 1-5 in N4C conference play and 12-12 overall. However those 12 victories equal the number of wins they accumulated from their dismal stretch from 2003-07.

“This is a whole new season; we could tell right away,” said Ryan Delph, the team’s scoring leader. “I can depend on these guys, and we’ve built up a lot of confidence this year. We’re ready to change things.”

Delph is shooting 54 percent from the floor while averaging 14 points per game. Adam Hodge is averaging 11.6 points, while Marcus Fotter, who was shooting 39 percent from 3-point range, is scoring at a 10.1-point clip.

One of the biggest reasons for RVC’s recent struggles is the loss of center Terrence Howard, who was averaging 13 points to go with a team-best 11.2 rebounds before suffering a season-ending knee injury during the holidays.

The Golden Eagles have lost nine out of their 13 games since Howard, a 6-foot-5 sophomore out of Delray Beach, Fla., went down. But this is still a team with a bright future and the potential to make a strong finish to this season as well.

“We’ve got 12 wins; that’s the most here since 2001. But we’re still not satisfied with 12,” Barger said.
 

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