Local athletes have strong years in college

Ashley Fisher

Drew Gandy

Haley Heuer

Tyler Hudlow

Sam Kircher

Lindsey Kunkel

Bruce Marshall

Grant Monnig

Eric Penton

Kimmie Roberts

Hank Wellborn

Tyler White

Melanie Wilmsmeyer

By Greg Jackson
Sports Editor

From August to May, these sports pages are generally dedicated to covering the Howard County area high schools, middle schools and Central Methodist University.

Once student-athletes from the area graduate and continue their college careers somewhere other than Central Methodist, odds are their accomplishments will rarely turn up in these sports pages during that time.

Well, that’s what this issue is intended to accomplish.

Over the past year — especially in the past seven months — I’ve been busy cramming National Letter of Intent signings into these newspaper pages as well. The 2013-14 school year was the busiest year I’ve encountered in Fayette, with 14 local students signing letters to compete in college sports next year.

Just to give you a recap of the past year, expect to see these folks in next year’s issue focusing on college student-athletes:

  • Caitlin Atkins: Mineral Area College softball
  • Blake Berry: Culver-Stockton College basketball
  • Blake Cochran: Missouri Valley College baseball
  • Jason Esau: Central Methodist University football
  • Alyson Fuemmeler: Central Methodist University softball
  • Nikki Fuemmeler: Missouri Valley College basketball
  • Alex Holem: Missouri Valley College baseball
  • Tyler Hull: Kansas City (Kan.) Community College baseball
  • Sara Montgomery: Avila University track and field
  • Collin O’Connell: Central Methodist University football
  • Kalani Pihana: Illinois College softball
  • Charles Roller: Central Methodist University baseball
  • Jacob Rudkin: Hannibal-LaGrange basketball
  • Kenzie Smentkowski: Graceland University softball

And I’m sure the list above doesn’t include everyone.

My biggest fear when compiling a list like this is that there is always a chance I will unknowingly leave an athlete’s name off this list. If you know anyone I’ve left out, please let me know by email (gjackson@fayettenews.com) or by phone (248-2235) and I will include them in the newspaper as soon as I can.

But through it all, I came across 13 names who competed at the collegiate level during the 2013-14 school year. Each entry goes into detail to tell what they did this past school year in their respective sport.

* * * * * * * *

Ashley Fisher

Ashley Fisher, a 2010 Harrisburg graduate, has now come out of retirement from basketball as many times as Michael Jordan. Columbia College couldn’t be more thankful each time she has returned to the court.

In her first three years at Columbia College, Fisher played basketball during her freshman and sophomore seasons, then quit to join the women’s golf team as a junior. She stepped away from the game for a semester during her sophomore year as well.

Fisher returned for a third basketball season with the Cougars in 2013-14, starting in 22 of 33 games. She started the final 17 games of the season at Columbia College, including the Cougars’ NAIA Tournament game against Montana State University-Northern in Frankfort, Ky. She scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Cougars’ 56-55 first-round loss in the national tournament.

Fisher ended the season as Columbia College’s third-leading scorer, averaging 11.0 points per game. Despite being listed as a guard a 6’-0”, she also grabbed 5.9 rebounds per game. Fisher was also one of Columbia College’s top free-throw shooters, making 90-of-112 attempts (80.4 percent).

The Harrisburg graduate scored a season-high 20 points on Dec. 12 at MidAmerica Nazarene and twice recorded a double-double during the season. She had 12 points and 10 rebounds against Mid-Continent on Jan. 14 and then tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds against Benedictine-Springfield on Jan. 23. Fisher was also the second-leading 3-point shooter on the team, making 47 threes at a 42-percent clip for the season. She also shot 45.6 percent from the field.

For her efforts on the court this season, Fisher was named to the American Midwest Conference team as an honorable mention selection. She also received the honor as a freshman during the 2010-11 season. She was named an NAIA Scholar-Athlete, maintaining at least a 3.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale during the school year. She was also a Scholar-Athlete during her junior year on the women’s golf team at Columbia College.

Following the basketball season in April, Fisher had surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in her left thumb. She said she had torn the ligament in December, but opted to finish the season before having surgery.

Academically, Fisher graduated from Columbia College in December with a degree as a double major in marketing and management. She is currently working toward a Master’s of Business Administration at Columbia College. Fisher will continue to play basketball next season in her final year of eligibility as she works toward finishing her MBA.

* * * * * * * *

Drew Gandy

After spending a season on the junior varsity baseball team at Central Methodist University, Fayette native Drew Gandy cracked the varsity lineup this past spring as a sophomore.

Gandy, a home-schooled high school student who played high-school ball for the Columbia Home School Saints, appeared in seven of Central Methodist’s 47 varsity games this season, including two starts. He made his first career collegiate start on March 31 at the University of St. Mary, playing left field and going 2-for-4 at the plate with two singles and three runs scored in a 10-5 Eagles victory.

Gandy’s other varsity start came a week later on April 5 against Graceland. This time, as the designated hitter, he went 0-for-3 with a run scored in a 9-3 win.

In his other five appearances, Gandy came off the bench twice as a pinch runner, twice as a defensive substitution and once as a pinch hitter.

For the season, Gandy batted .250 (2-for-8) with five runs scored. The Eagles finished the 2014 season with a 21-27 overall record and 12-14 in the HAAC, taking third place in the Eastern Division.

* * * * * * * *

Haley Heuer

The four-time All-State medalist from Harrisburg finished up her sophomore season with the track and field team at the University of Central Missouri, an NCAA Division II program in Warrensburg.

Haley Heuer saw her numbers continue to rise in her second season with the Jennies. Starting with the indoor season in the winter, Heuer set a new personal-best in the weight throw at the UCM Mule Relays, held on Feb. 7 and 8. She took fifth place out of 39 competitors with a throw of 52’-0.5”, the best in her flight.

Heuer didn’t quite reach her personal-best in the shot put during the indoor season, but her best throw of 41’-7” put her in a ninth-place finish out of 23 people at the MIAA Track and Field Championships at Joplin, held from Feb. 28 to March 2.

The 2012 Harrisburg graduate hit her stride in the outdoor season, racking up several top finishes from weekend to weekend. Heuer’s best throw in the discus came at the UCM Mule Relays on April 18, where she took fifth place with a throw of 142’-11”. The throw was less than a foot shy of posting an NCAA Division II provisional mark for the national track and field championships.

Heuer also set a personal-best in the hammer throw at Pittsburg State on March 28-29. She came in fourth place with a throw of 151’-2”, her best finish in any event — indoor our outdoor — during the 2013-14 season. Heuer also competed in the shot put during the outdoor season, throwing her best distance of 39’-6.5” at Pittsburg State on April 12.

In the indoor and outdoor seasons combined, Heuer finished in the top-10 of events 27 times. She regularly posted top-10 performances during the outdoor season and only finished outside the top-10 in the discus one time.

Following the conclusion of the outdoor track and field season, Heuer was one of 53 Central Missouri cross country and track and field athletes to be named to the MIAA Academic Honor Roll. To achieve honor roll status, a student-athlete must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher and have at least two terms of attendance at their school.

* * * * * * * *

Tyler Hudlow

After playing two seasons at North Central Missouri College, Harrisburg graduate Tyler Hudlow continued his baseball career closer to home at Central Methodist University in Fayette.

Hudlow joined the Eagles, playing for one of their two junior varsity squads this past spring. As a member of the “JV Black” roster, Hudlow helped the Eagles to a 3-1 record this year, splitting a doubleheader with Hannibal-LaGrange and sweeping a doubleheader of Missouri Valley College.

Unfortunately, individual statistics from Central Methodist’s JV baseball games are not recorded online.

* * * * * * * *

Sam Kircher

Sam Kircher is quickly becoming one of the greatest offensive threats to ever play for the Lincoln University softball team, an NCAA Division II program.

The 2011 New Franklin graduate holds several records for the Lady Bulldogs. Now she’s putting her name in the record books for the Blue Tigers. During the 2014 spring season, Kircher set the school’s single-season record, hitting 10 home runs to break the previous record of seven.

If hitting 10 home runs in one season isn’t impressive enough, Kircher was tops in just about every offensive category for Lincoln. She led the team in hits (47), runs scored (23), runs batted in (22), doubles (9) and triples (2). Oh, and Kircher was also the only Blue Tiger to hit better than .300 this season, finishing with a .370 batting average.

Kircher, a junior at Lincoln, started every game at shortstop for the Blue Tigers, who finished 2014 with a 7-38 record. She led the team defensively in assists (88) and posted a .918 fielding percentage.

One of Kircher’s top games this year came in the second contest of the season on Feb. 9 against Ouachita Baptist. She went 2-for-2 at the plate with a pair of home runs in that game.

Kircher had the chance to play in front of a few of her hometown fans — and former high school coach Ross Dowell — when the Blue Tigers visited Central Methodist on April 22. Her two-out RBI triple into the right-field corner put Lincoln ahead, a lead it never relinquished in a 5-2 win over the NAIA-ranked Eagles.

Unfortunately for Kircher, her numbers didn’t do her much justice for postseason honors. She received All-MIAA honors as an honorable mention selection, despite having one of the top 15 batting averages in the conference. She was also All-MIAA honorable mention as a sophomore.

Kircher was also recognized by the MIAA on its Academic Honor Roll. The biology major boasts a 3.47 cumulative GPA.

* * * * * * * *

Lindsey Kunkel

The former Fayette All-State sprinter wrapped up her collegiate career this past season at Emporia State University, sprinting for the track and field team.

After spending her freshman and sophomore seasons at the University of Central Missouri, Kunkel transferred to Emporia State, competing the past two years with the Hornets. As she did last season, Kunkel ran the 400-meters and the 4×400-meter relay for the outdoor track and field team. During the indoor season, she ran a wider variety of events, including the 60-yard dash and the 600-yards.

Kunkel picked up two event victories during the indoor and outdoor seasons combined. At the UCM Relays on Jan. 24, Kunkel won with the 4×440-yard relay team, clocking a time of 4:03.12. Then, in her final collegiate event, Kunkel went out on a high note. In the Sam Williams Twilight Qualifier at Emporia State, Kunkel and the 4×400-meter relay team won with a time of 3:50.72.

However, unlike last year, the 4×400-meter relay team was unable to qualify for the NCAA Division II national championship event.

Kunkel came close to matching her high school time in the 400-meters. At the MIAA Outdoor Championships held from May 2-4, Kunkel finished in 11th place in the preliminaries with a time of 58.32 seconds. She still holds the Fayette school record in the 400, clocking a time of 57.51 seconds at the 2009 Class 2 Track and Field Championships.

In addition, set posted her best time in the 200-meters during her college career. At the Emporia State Spring Open on March 29, Kunkel finished in eighth place with a time of 26.28 seconds. Her best individual finish in either season came at the MIAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. She took fifth place in the 600-yards with a time of 1:26.50, a season-best time.

Last week, Kunkel was honored on the USTFCCCA All-Academic team, needing at least a 3.25 cumulative GPA to receive the honor. Kunkel, a health promotions major, has a 3.67 GPA and received her diploma during Emporia State’s commencement ceremony on May 17.

In addition to Fayette’s 400-meters record, Kunkel’s name still belongs with four other school records: 100-meters, 200-meters, 4×100-meter relay and 4×200-meter relay.

* * * * * * * *

Bruce Marshall

Bruce Marshall’s sophomore season playing basketball for the Missouri State University men’s basketball team was a step backward compared to his freshman campaign.

After playing in 26 games as a freshman for the Bears, Marshall saw his playing time cut even more as a sophomore. During the 2013-14 season, Marshall played in just 15 games, averaging just over four minutes per contest.

The 6-foot-10-inch center did lead the Bears in free-throw percentage, making 8-of-9 attempts from the charity stripe for 88.9 percent. Marshall averaged 1.5 points per game and 0.5 rebounds per game. He finished the year with three blocks and also made three 3-pointers.

The Bears finished the season with a 20-13 record, losing to Murray State in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

Marshall began making headlines following the conclusion of the season. On March 25 — less than a week after the Bears’ season had ended — he announced he would be departing Missouri State, saying he was looking to find a good fit at another school and still compete at a high level.

Several schools threw their hat into the ring, trying to get Marshall to join their program for the upcoming season. On May 15, Marshall announced he would be joining Missouri Southern State University, an NCAA Division II program in Joplin. He will play under former Kansas standout Jeff Boschee with Lions, who lost to eventual NCAA Division II champion Central Missouri during the second round of the national tournament. The Lions had a 25-5 record last season.

* * * * * * * *

Grant Monnig

Just because your high school doesn’t offer a sport doesn’t mean you can’t pursue it in college. That’s the story of Glasgow graduate Grant Monnig during this past spring, when he played with the Rockhurst men’s lacrosse team.

Monnig was one of 25 athletes to play for the Hawks during their inaugural season. On a roster loaded with players from big cities, Monnig, a 2010 Glasgow graduate, was the only athlete with a rural background. On the team roster, Monnig was listed as a midfielder.

Monnig played in all 10 matches for Rockhurst this past spring and earned a starting nod on Feb. 16 at Missouri Valley College. The Hawks posted a 2-8 record in their first season, earning wins against Fontbonne and Dubuque.

As far as statistics go, Monnig finished the season with one shot on goal. He also tallied 12 ground balls (picking up the lacrosse ball off the ground or intercepting a pass from the opposing team) and forced six turnovers.

* * * * * * * *

Eric Penton

Eric Penton, a 2012 Harrisburg graduate, spent his sophomore year playing baseball for Rockhurst University of NCAA Division II, which finished the 2014 season with a 17-31 record.

Although he is listed on the roster for the Hawks, Penton did not play in any varsity games for Rockhurst during the spring 2014 season. He did not make any appearances for the Hawks in 2013 either.

* * * * * * * *

Kimmie Roberts

Kimmie Roberts did not want to wait until 2015 to continue her softball career at the collegiate level. Instead, she took a different route to get a jump-start over her competition.

Roberts had enough credits at Harrisburg to graduate a semester early and enrolled with Mineral Area College in Park Hills for the spring semester, signing with the Cardinals’ softball team.

Mineral Area, an NJCAA Region XVI member, finished the spring with a 28-21 record. Roberts appeared in 40 of those games, playing either second base or pitcher. In fact, in the team’s season opener against Williams Baptist JV, Roberts earned the win in relief, pitching the final 1-1/3 innings of a 6-5 win.

For the first half of the season, Roberts either was a starting pitcher or came off the bench as a pinch hitter or relief pitcher. On March 31, she started her first game at second base.

In one of her top offensive games of the season on April 2 at Cottey College, Roberts came off the bench and went 2-for-3 with a single, a double, two runs scored and one RBI. Mineral Area won the game 32-1. Later in the season, Roberts hit her only home run of the year on April 10 against East Central College. It was a solo home run in a 10-6 win at home.

On the mound, Roberts finished the season with an 8-3 record and also picked up one save. She pitched in 18 games, starting eight of them, and recorded work on the mound in 52-2/3 innings. Roberts posted a 5.53 ERA with 47 strikeouts. In addition to earning the Cardinals’ first win of the year, she was also the winning pitcher of record in their final victory of 2014, a 7-4 win in the NJCAA Region XVI tournament against St. Louis Community College.

At the plate, Roberts had 16 hits in 53 at-bats for a .302 batting average. The 2014 Harrisburg graduate scored 18 runs, had nine RBIs and also finished the year with two doubles. In 63 total plate appearances, Roberts only struck out seven times.

Defensively, Roberts had a .957 fielding percentage, committing just four errors in 94 total chances.
Of the 20 players on the Mineral Area roster, Roberts was one of just five freshmen on the team.

* * * * * * * *

Hank Wellborn

If there has been one athlete in particular to overcome physical obstacles in the past year, Glasgow graduate Hank Wellborn would take the title of Comeback Player of the Year of this group of area athletes.

The 2010 Glasgow graduate underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm last March and took a medical redshirt in his first season at Washburn University, an NCAA Division II program in Topeka, Kan. Wellborn spent his first two seasons at Pratt Community College.

The redshirt gave Wellborn an extra year of eligibility and he moved forward this past spring as a junior with the Ichabods’ pitching staff. The Glasgow native made his NCAA debut on April 8, tossing a scoreless inning of relief against Rockhurst. Unfortunately, two days later against Nebraska-Kearney, Wellborn surrendered three runs to suffer his first loss at Washburn.

That game, however, was only a small blemish on a comeback season. Wellborn made his only start of the season against Rockhurst on April 22 in Kansas City. Wellborn went two innings and allowed two runs, but he stranded the bases loaded in the second inning of an 8-3 win, his first NCAA victory.

In total, Wellborn appeared in seven games for the Ichabods. He pitched a total of eight innings and allowed five runs on nine hits to post a 5.62 ERA. The Washburn redshirt junior struck out five batters and walked just two.

Washburn posted a 26-24 record during the 2014 season, losing two of three games in the MIAA Tournament first round to Emporia State to end its season. Wellborn still has one year of athletic eligibility remaining in his collegiate career.

* * * * * * * *

Tyler White

Out of all these athletes featured in this story, Tyler White was the only player to sign a National Letter of Intent during the 2012-13 school year. In fact, the 2013 New Franklin graduate signed with the North Central Missouri College baseball team the day after his high school basketball career came to an end.

On the NCMC roster, White was listed as an infielder and pitcher, primarily playing either first base or coming into a game as a relief pitcher. He played in 34 games for the Pirates, which finished the 2014 spring season with a 24-29 record.

As a pitcher, White made seven appearances on the mound for NCMC, all in relief. He posted a 1-0 record for the Pirates, pitching a total of 13 innings. White finished the season with a 7.62 ERA with seven walks and 13 strikeouts.

His lone decision of the season came on April 1 at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington. White tossed 3-2/3 innings that game, allowing just one hit and one walk with four strikeouts in a scoreless effort.

White platooned at first base with a few other teammates throughout the season, but the New Franklin graduate always made the most of his starts. At the plate, White had a .338 batting average (24-for-71), the second-best average on the team. He scored five times and drove in six runs while also posting an on-base percentage of .420 and stealing one base.

His top offensive game of the season came on March 10 against Henry Ford Community College. The Pirates were on their Spring Break road trip at the time, playing in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Batting sixth in the order in that game, White was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, hitting all singles, and scored two runs and had one RBI in the Pirates’ 8-3 win.

NCMC’s season came to an end in the NJCAA Region XVI tournament on May 8, losing to St. Louis Community College 7-3 after falling to Crowder College 8-0 the day before in the double-elimination tournament.

* * * * * * * *

Melanie Wilmsmeyer

The 2010 New Franklin graduate wrapped up her career as part of the winningest class in Central Methodist University softball history, helping guide the Eagles to 160 wins during her four seasons with the team.

Melanie Wilmsmeyer continued to be a role player during her senior season, playing in 25 games for Central Methodist. Wilmsmeyer, who was a catcher during high school for the Lady Bulldogs, served as the backup catcher behind first team All-American Michele Rupard.

Wilmsmeyer made her way into the starting lineup as either a catcher or designated player, generally during the second game of a doubleheader as the season progressed. However, she played in six games of the Gulf Coast Invitational during Spring Break, including a 2-0 win against Auburn Montgomery, the eventual NAIA national champions.

At the plate, Wilmsmeyer posted a .212 batting average for the Eagles, collecting 11 hits in 52 at-bats. She also had four doubles, one triple and drew 13 walks. Wilmsmeyer scored five runs and drove in a total of nine runs.

Her best offensive game of the season came on March 7 against William Penn University at the Gulf Coast Invitational in Gulf Shores, Ala. Wilmsmeyer, who was the designated player in the game, led the Eagles to a 10-7 victory with a masterful performance at the plate. She was a perfect 3-for-3, belting two doubles, one triple and drove in three runs.

Wilmsmeyer’s final collegiate appearance came on May 14 in Central Methodist’s last game of the season in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round against LSU-Alexandria. Wilmsmeyer, the Eagles’ last hope to get a rally going in the seventh inning, came into the game as a pinch hitter and flew out to deep left field for the final out of the game.

Central Methodist posted a 43-8 record in 2014, the most wins in a single season in school history. The Eagles ended the season ranked No. 16 in the NAIA and went 17-1 in conference play.

Wilmsmeyer was along for the ride in one of the greatest dynasties in Central Methodist sports history, helping the Eagles to four consecutive Heart of America Athletic Conference regular-season titles and three HAAC tournament championships, leading to three NAIA tournament postseason berths.

For her career, Wilmsmeyer played in 101 games and posted a lifetime .274 batting average at Central Methodist, hitting five career home runs. As a catcher, she posted a .959 fielding percentage in four seasons and threw out five baserunners attempting to steal.

Wilmsmeyer received her diploma before her athletic career was over, graduating on May 10 with a Bachelor of Accountancy. For the second-straight season, Wilmsmeyer was honored as an NAIA Scholar-Athlete, posting at least a 3.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale. In April, Central Methodist awarded Wilmsmeyer the Outstanding Senior in Accounting, Business & Economic Award.

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