Iowa Western earned a trip to the NJCAA World Series last week in Mount Carmel, Illinois, by beating top-ranked Wabash Valley, a team that only lost once in the regular season, twice in its district qualifier.
In most cases, the result would’ve been considered a massive upset. Wabash Valley had been voted the No. 1 team, unanimously, in the national poll for nearly two straight months. But because the Midwest’s premier junior college program was the one on the winning side, it wasn’t really too much of a surprise.
The Reivers are frequent visitors to the national tournament in Grand Junction, Colorado. And because of that, the celebration of their achievement was relatively modest compared to some other groups.
“We dogpile once a year,” Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin said. “If you want it to be special, you do it one time. I like the business approach of what we do and how we do it. It gets noticed by other people. But I want them to know we really appreciate everything we do. We want to handle it in a certain way.”
The Reivers will be making their 12th appearance at the juco World Series under Rardin on Sunday when they face Connors State in their opening game at Suplizio Field in Grand Junction. They’ve been there seven times previously in this decade — one in which they have changed the junior college landscape.
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Prior to 2010, no team from the Northern District had ever won a national title. Iowa Western then claimed three of them in a span of five seasons from 2010 to 2014 and had a third-place finish to boot.
During that stretch, Rardin began hearing other coaches say they wanted to be the next Iowa Western.
“If we want to do it, we’ve got to beat them,” he said he was told. “We’ve got to get as good or better to just beat them. I think that’s one of the coolest compliments I got from other people in my profession.”
Rardin took over a good Reiver program in 2004 and led it to a third-place finish in the national tourney in his second season. He had IWCC back in Grand Junction from 2007-09, but went 0-2 in all three years.
Iowa Western’s breakthrough came at the 2010 World Series, which featured a teen phenom from Las Vegas named Bryce Harper. The future No. 1 draft pick played a role in IWCC’s first title run.
Rardin said prior to the tournament that the Reivers would pitch to Harper if they met No. 2 Southern Nevada in Grand Junction, which happened in the winners bracket. Iowa Western starter Zach Willand struck out the Southern Nevada freshman in the first. Harper later hit two three-run homers and a two-run double.
The slugger’s eight-RBI effort knocked the Reivers into the losers bracket, where they stayed alive the following day. That night, Harper was ejected from CSN’s showdown with No. 1 San Jacinto when he drew a line in the batter’s box with his bat — indicating a pitch’s path — after being called out on strikes.
Harper had to sit out, per NJCAA rules, CSN’s rematch with Iowa Western in an elimination game the next day. The Reivers posted a walk-off victory, then beat San Jacinto twice to win the title.
The outcome of the tournament never made Rardin second-guess his decision on how to handle Harper.
“Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it much,” he said. “We won. That erases a lot of it for me.”
The Harper ejection was a crucial moment in the tournament. But Rardin believes the turning point was Brent Seifert’s game-winning homer in the ninth against Southern Nevada in the rematch the day after.
Although he was Iowa Western’s top hitter, Seifert had been struggling a bit so Rardin batted him sixth. With the tying run on for the Reivers, Seifert grabbed a smaller bat and then launched the walk-off home run.
“Nowadays, kids roll their eyes when you tell them to choke up and put the ball in play,” Rardin said. “And he’s grabbing a bat he hasn’t swung since he was a junior in high school because he knew he needed to make sure he put a ball in play for the betterment of his team. Then he hits a home run.”
The 2010 championship vaulted Reiver baseball to another level. That team led the nation in hitting, but it didn’t have the star power that its national title would entice to Council Bluffs soon after.
“We only had like five or six Division I guys on that team,” Rardin said. “It was just a bunch of guys that were a link in a chain ... but they made a really strong chain. But as individuals, they were just really OK.”
That group set the standard for a monumental decade. Iowa Western finished third with a young group the next year, then returned to Grand Junction as the No. 1 team in 2012. The Reivers dropped their first game of that tournament, then rebounded to win the championship to cap a program-best 62-6 season.
In 2014, IWCC returned to have the most dominant juco World Series in an unbeaten run to a third crown. After winning their opener 6-5, the Reivers outscored their final four opponents by a 47-6 count.
“In my 17 years here, there hasn’t been anything like that,” Rardin said. “It was unbelievable.”
Iowa Western’s three national titles only begin to tell the story of its dominant decade. By the time it’s over, the Reivers will have sent more than 100 players to NCAA Division I schools. Four of those players ended up returning to the area as College World Series participants. One even won a CWS title.
A few others went directly into professional baseball. Erik Swanson, a pitcher on the 2014 title team, recently made his major league debut with Seattle. Anthony Bemboom, a catcher in 2010 who went on to play at Creighton, joined him in the bigs a short time later when he was called up by Tampa Bay.
“It’s really, really cool. That’s actually what this is all about — them getting opportunities,” Rardin said. “It’s a tribute to them and how they were raised. And it’s also a tribute to our system to get those kids in (those opportunities). It’s awesome to be part of that. It’s like winning, we never take it for granted.”
Rardin is already an NJCAA Hall of Fame inductee and recently passed the 800-win mark at Iowa Western. He’s had opportunities to leave. But with the Reivers rolling to another World Series, and his son Tyler set to join his program next season, he’s happy to keep his “living, breathing culture” going.
“I said I was going to be here five years when I took the job,” he said. “And I’m finishing my 17th and raising my family here. I don’t know if ‘surreal’ is the right word, but I used to bend over backwards for people to see my guys. Now, this is an annual stop in the fall for everybody. There’s certain days where we could be scrimmaging on a Tuesday and have five schools and scouts here or we could have 40.
“We have stayed at a certain level. To me, it’s the consistency is being there every day with it and doing it for a long time. In the Midwest, nobody is doing what we’re doing at the level that we’re doing it at for the duration we’re doing it at. It’s pretty cool. But it’s pretty hard. I’m not going to say it’s easy.”
Success brought about challenges. And for the better part of 10 years, Iowa Western has been getting everyone’s best shot. But Rardin said the current Reivers feel a desire to “defend the jersey” and live up to the expectations that have been set in recent years. He expects them to be a tough out at the World Series.
“That’s what I like about what our program’s getting to. It’s a culture of excellence,” he said. “We weren’t the best team there last weekend, but that doesn’t matter. Our uniform had a lot to do with it.”
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After his days as a three-sport standout at McCook, Jeff Kinney came to Nebraska in 1968 to play quarterback. But two other QBs also joined the Huskers that season. So Kinney moved to flanker and eventually I-back, and that's where he flourished over the next three seasons.
Decorated college and high school football and wrestling star. High school teacher, coach and administrator. But Charles Bryant was foremost a pioneer. Bryant, an all-state athlete at Omaha South before graduating in 1950, became the first black football player of the modern era at Nebraska in 1952.
George Flippin was once described by Lincoln Star sports editor Cy Sherman as a "charged bull, into which was bred the tenacity of the bulldog, the ferocity of the tiger and the gameness of the man who knows no fear." He was Nebraska's first black athlete, in 1891, before black athletes were banned by the university from 1917 until the late 1940s.
Former Broken Bow cowboy Paul Tierney has won arguably the two most prestigious titles in rodeo. He finished his 10-year professional career by topping $1 million in career earnings, and his 2008 induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame makes him the most accomplished cowboy from Nebraska.
Shelby, Nebraska, is one of the flattest towns in one of the flattest states in America. The elevation difference between the highest and lowest points is 7 feet. It is literally a town without a hill, one of the last places you’d expect to produce an Olympic gold medalist in bobsled. But that didn't stop Tomasevicz.
Rhodes did it all. The Ansley native held three state high school track records at the same time (vault, long jump, high jump); was player-coach of Ansley’s first football team in 1920, which went undefeated that season; helped Ansley win a pair of state basketball titles; and played baseball. After graduating from high school in 1922, Rhodes went on to earn eight varsity letters at Nebraska — three in football and track, and two in baseball.
After a stellar three-sport high school career at Cambridge, Houghtelling surprised many by signing to play volleyball instead of basketball at NU.
Even though basketball had been her first love, she’s never regretted the decision.
Ruud is Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler with 432 stops. As a senior captain in 2004, he was a third-third All-American, a first-team All-Big 12 performer and NU’s defensive MVP. He was selected in the second round of the NFL draft. Ruud played eight NFL seasons, leading Tampa Bay in tackles for four of those.
Trotter starred at Omaha Creighton Prep, where he was a two-time all-state selection, and was Nebraska's first — and only — player named to the McDonald's High School All-American team.
Grand Island coach Doug Whitman once noted that swimmer Scott Usher was "one to watch." As it turned out, the entire country had the chance to watch Usher. Usher finished seventh in the 200 breaststroke in the 2004 Olympics and in 2008 fell just short of returning for a second Olympics.
Ron Kellogg is considered one of the best pure shooters in Nebraska prep history. The Omaha Northwest grad wasn't bad in college, either, according to then-Kansas coach Larry Brown.
Skinny 14-year-old Geddes left his father, eight brothers and eight sisters in Jacksonville, Florida, and arrived at Boys Town in 1962. Geddes had played football just once before arriving but took such a beating in a sandlot game against older players that he didn’t plan to play again. But Boys Town coach Skip Palrang spotted him and talked him into giving it a try. He eventually thrived and helped the Cowboys win a state title.
The 1978 Holdrege graduate turned down multiple scholarship offers from other schools, including a football and track package from Iowa State, to walk on with the Nebraska football team. The 150-pound walk-on became an integral part of the Husker offense. The three-year starter ranked in the top 10 in receptions and yards by the time he left in 1982.
While a career in the NBA never materialized for the Omaha Benson and Iowa graduate, Woolridge played overseas for 13 years. Leagues in Turkey, France, Germany, Venezuela, Israel and Cyprus. And the money was good. "To do what I loved professionally for 13 years, I can't complain about it," he said in 2013.
Louise Pound, in so many fields, was the trailblazer for women's athletics in the state. And this while becoming a preeminent educator in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English department over a half-century. In 1890, Pound won the Lincoln city tennis championship. She captured the university's men's singles and doubles titles in 1891 and 1892 — the only female in school history to receive a men's varsity letter.
The best softball teams used to hail only from the West Coast. Keaton changed that. The former Papillion-La Vista and Nebraska star put Nebraska softball on the map with her dominating presence and performances in the pitcher's circle.
Once the last player to survive the cut on Nebraska's recruiting board, Noonan ultimately became a household Husker name. He earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Big Eight athlete of the year as a senior. His 12 sacks that season are tied for third in school history, and his 24 career sacks are tied for fourth.
John Parrella was Nebraska raised, the pride of Grand Island. NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride once ranked him among the top three defensive tackles he had ever coached.
One press clipping described Hopp, a first baseman and outfielder, as "a dynamo who, perhaps more than anyone else, typifies the dashing, hell-for-leather play” of the St. Louis Cardinals. Hopp's 14-year career spanned five teams and as many World Series appearances, including back-to-back World Series victories with the Yankees. In all, he won four World Series and was an All-Star in 1946, when he hit .333 and drove in 48 runs for the Boston Braves.
Born in Holdrege in 1939 and raised near Axtell, Anderson began his quest at an early age and eventually built a makeshift shooting range as a high school senior at Axtell. After attending Nebraska for one year, Anderson joined the U.S. Army so he could pursue his Olympic dream.
Hare picked Nebraska from a slew of offers after starting for four years for Omaha Tech, where he averaged 26.4 points a game as a senior in 1963. Tech won the Class A title that year after going 22-2 and cruising through the state tournament by an average of 21 points a game. That team was voted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame and recently was chosen as having one of the best starting fives in Nebraska high school sports history.
Osborne remains just one of two men to win The World-Herald’s high school (1955) and state college (1959) athlete of the year awards. In high school, Osborne was all-state in football and basketball in 1954-55 and helped Hastings win a state title on the hardwood. In track, he won the discus at the state meet and placed second in the 440-yard dash. The future coach and congressman also stood out on the baseball diamond and had a pro football career.
Hoppen turned down a Kentucky scholarship offer. He also said no to Notre Dame, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. And yes to Nebraska. Between 1982 and 1986, the 6-foot-11 center became NU’s all-time leading scorer, and he did it with clinical efficiency.
The only native Nebraskan to win a national wrestling championship at NU, Vering took his success to the international level, representing the U.S. in a pair of Olympics, claiming a world silver medal and winning gold at a Pan Am Games.
As a junior, Henry won golds for Bellevue West in the 200, 400 and long jump. Henry went on to set a national age-group record in the long jump and was part of the USA Junior World Team in 1995. At Nebraska, Henry won the NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 1996. All told, Henry was a three-time Big 12 champion and a 10-time All-American.
Kindig-Malone won gold medals at state in the long jump, hurdles and relays, but it wasn’t until she started getting scholarship offers from UCLA, Iowa and NU that she realized she might be good. Later, she won Big Eight heptathlon and pentathlon titles at Nebraska, becoming an All-American and helping the Huskers win their first indoor national championship in 1982. Kindig-Malone also won a Class C state basketball title with Hastings St. Cecilia in 1977.
Sauer and Bernie Masterson — No. 43 on the Nebraska 100 — paired together in the backfield to usher in one of the first great runs for Husker football. The two led Nebraska to Big Six championships in 1931, ’32 and ’33, when the Huskers went undefeated in league play. Sauer was an All-American in 1933 for the second-ranked Huskers. He also lettered in track, baseball and wrestling.
Cantwell, from Crete, won four straight Class B shot put and discus titles, including three consecutive all-class gold medals in the shot. She was a two-time NCAA shot put champion at SMU and was the 2002 U.S. indoor and outdoor champion as well as a 1999 world indoor bronze medalist. Cantwell also competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Orduna lettered at running back for the Huskers in 1967, ’68 and ’70, running for 1,968 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Omaha Central graduate also played three NFL seasons.
A two-way football player even during his professional career with Green Bay, Charles Brock helped revolutionize the linebacker position in the pros while helping the Packers win two NFL championships. The Columbus native was recalled as a fierce competitor by the late Lee Remmel, a team historian who covered the Packers for nearly 30 years.
Lindsey, a Millard North graduate, was a standout defender for Notre Dame, the U.S. national team and San Jose of the WUSA, in which she played three seasons.
The image of Cory Schlesinger barreling into the end zone for the winning touchdown in the 1995 Orange Bowl burns brightly in the memories of Nebraska football fans. Schlesinger did some barreling in his day, but prided himself on being a bruiser. That trait served him well, especially in his 12 years with the Detroit Lions.
Schmidt represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in the 800. Four years later, she returned to run the 800 and 1,500. The Olympic appearances are accompanied by plenty of other honors: a 2006 U.S. indoor 800 championship; a pair of U.S. outdoor silvers in the 800 (2006, 2008); and while with the North Carolina Tar Heels, two outdoor 800 titles and a distance-medley relay championship.
Mann was a jack of all trades, but a master of all of them, too. “Les did everything well. He was tops at football, basketball, track and baseball. He would have been equally great in other sports,” said Mann’s close friend, Scott Dye, in a newspaper account following Mann’s 1962 death in a car accident.
Dan Brand’s path to an Olympic wrestling medal was anything but typical. He competed in football, basketball and track at Bellevue High, but never was all-conference. He made the Nebraska freshman team in basketball, but after being cut, he signed up for the intramural wrestling tournament. He won and went on to compete in the Olympics.
Vinciquerra played football at Tech High and Creighton University, but is better remembered for making the 1936 U.S. Olympic boxing team. A natural heavyweight, he won a national Golden Gloves championship that year as a 175-pounder. He had a pro record of 42 wins (26 by knockout), four losses and five draws from 1937 through 1941, fighting over 20 times in 1937.
The résumé almost seems too much to comprehend. Four-sport star at Lincoln High. Nebraska football great. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball signee. Four-time football All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers.
At Beatrice, Hohn was a four-time state hurdles champion, a state basketball champion and an all-state football player. As a senior in 1960, he was the Nebraska high school athlete of the year.
Lincoln High football went 23-1-1 during Debus' three seasons on the varsity squad. Debus also played basketball and was all-state in American Legion baseball. But his best sport was track and field, where at state he single-handedly nearly doubled the point total of the second-place team.
Skinner won two high school state golf titles, two junior state championships and the 1980 state match-play crown. She went to Oklahoma State, where she was a two-time Big Eight champion and was named Golf Magazine’s 1982 college player of the year. On the LPGA Tour, Skinner won events in 1985, ’86, ’87, ’93, ’94 and ’95 before leaving in 2003.
Woohead rushed for the second-most yards (7,962) in the history of college football in all divisions and won the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II’s version of the Heisman) twice. He finished his NFL career with 2,238 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing, along with 2,698 yards and 17 touchdowns receiving.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle was a model of consistency. The three-time all-conference pick flattened plenty of defensive players, with an incredible one sack allowed in 46 career games with the Huskers. As a senior, he captained Tom Osborne's first national title team.
A 2009 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, the former Iowa and Omaha Central great was a two-time All-America linebacker, three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and an NFL draft pick. At Omaha Central, he was twice named to the All-Nebraska team.
At Nebraska, Cahoy — an Omaha South grad — earned four NCAA national championships — two on the horizontal bar and two on the parallel bars. He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
As a senior in 1985, Rathman produced the best season ever by a Husker fullback. He ran for 881 yards, a position record by 164 yards. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in a nine-year NFL career. In 1989, he led NFC running backs with 73 catches, and he capped the season with two touchdowns in a Super Bowl victory over Denver.
A left-hander with a nearly unstoppable fadeaway hook, Witte, a Lincoln High grad, became a three-time All-American (1932-34) at Wyoming. He was the first collegian to score more than 1,000 points in a career (1,069), earning him the nickname "One Grand Witte."
Losing was something Olson never dealt with at Omaha Northwest, going 27-0 with a 0.76 ERA, 276 strikeouts, seven no-hitters — including four in the state playoffs and one in the state championship game — and four state titles before playing at Auburn and being drafted fourth overall in the 1988 MLB draft.
Stecher won the world wrestling championship on July 5, 1915, in Omaha, beating Charlie Cutler in two falls at Rourke Park in front of 15,000 fans. Stecher wore a championship belt studded with 308 diamonds. He became a celebrity across Nebraska. In 1920, he reportedly earned a winner’s purse of $40,000 — four times what Babe Ruth earned the year before.
As a senior, Jones earned all-state honors in football as a halfback and then as a point guard, helping Boys Town win the Class A state basketball championship. But where he really excelled was track. He was the state champion in the mile run, became an All-American at Iowa and was a two-time Olympian.
The first woman from Nebraska to make the U.S. Olympic team, Frost competed in the discus at the 1968 Mexico City Games. In June 2015, at the age of 70, Frost set one world (javelin) and two American records (shot put, discus) for the 70-74 age group. She already owned two USA Track and Field age group records in the discus — 60-64 and 65-69.
A native of St. Paul, Nebraska, Randy Rasmussen was part of one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history when he blocked for Joe Namath in the 1969 win over Baltimore. He was selected in the 12th round of the draft by the Jets. He stayed for 15 seasons and 207 games, including 144 in a row.