Western Michigan coach Billy Gernon has come to expect the unexpected from Brent Alwine.
Lightly recruited out of high school in Denver, Ind., the 5-foot-6 Alwine became a four-year starter for Gernon at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne before graduating in 2006 with a .311 career average.
“He’s always been a very resilient person—hence his nickname, Seabiscuit,” Gernon said, alluding to the famous racehorse.
So when Alwine, now an assistant coach under Gernon at Western Michigan, was critically injured in a car accident in August, Gernon never stopped believing Alwine would somehow recover.
In January, Alwine will return to Western Michigan as a volunteer assistant, in a limited capacity.
“He has made a miraculous recovery, but has more recovery to go,” Gernon said. “His family and loved ones and coaching staff are excited about the progress that he’s made, and we’re excited that he’ll be rejoining the team in the middle of January, taking it one step at a time and one day at a time through his continual rehabilitation. We’ve been informed that these injuries can sometimes take a full year for a full recovery. We’re just excited that Brent is clearly going to have something very close to—if not completely—a normal life; he just might have a few things to deal with.
“It’s very good news after something that at first glance looked like Armageddon.”
On Aug. 26, Alwine’s car slammed into a tractor-trailer on Interstate 94 in Michigan. Gernon later told BA that Alwine nearly died on the scene, requiring “60 staples to close his head.”
He was transported to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, where doctors put him in a medically induced coma. Alwine spent 18 days in the hospital, but by the end of that stay he was already back on his feet, and he could talk with the aid of a tracheotomy.
His broken jaw was unwired about a month ago, Gernon said, and he’s starting to return to his normal eating habits, which has helped him regain his strength. He is still rehabilitating a serious injury to his knee, but the biggest challenge is fatigue.
“I think it’s more just the trauma of the accident, trying to recover his full strength,” Gernon said. “But when you’re talking to him on the phone now, if you didn’t know about the accident, you wouldn’t know—I didn’t detect anything different.
“On Aug. 26, I got a phone call and I thought this could be the phone call we all never want to get. To be coming up on Christmas and knowing he’ll be participating in practice, even in a limited role, is just shocking. To have a death-defying auto accident and to come out on top—If I ever get that unfortunate, I hope I’m that fortunate.”
SEC Expands Tournament
The Southeastern Conference has changed the format of its conference tournament for the first time since 1996. Starting in 2012, the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., will expand from eight teams to 10 and will begin a day earlier—on Tuesday, May 22. The two division champions will receive first-round byes, and games for the first four days will be double-elimination. Single-elimination play will begin on Saturday.
That means 10 of the SEC’s 12 teams will play in the conference tournament this year. The league will expand to 14 teams by the 2013 season, however, when Texas A&M and Missouri join the league from the Big 12. That was a driving force behind the expansion of the tournament, though the league also hopes a larger tournament field will help it send more teams to regionals.
“It’s become almost the norm for all teams in Hoover who are eligible to advance to the NCAAs,” SEC spokesman Chuck Dunlap wrote on the league’s website. “Recently, however, we felt there have been years we could and should have placed 10 teams in the field given the strength of the league. This I believe solidifies the prospects of achieving that goal.”
AROUND THE NATION
• A freshman pitcher at Division II Texas A&M-Kingsville was found dead on the morning of Dec. 11 at the bottom of a stairwell at a local apartment complex. Travis Madden, a native of Inez, Texas, had reportedly left an off-campus party the night before to walk back to his on-campus dorm. Police were not aware of any connection between Madden and the apartment complex where he was found, according to the Victoria (Texas) Advocate. The police will continue to investigate pending the results of an autopsy.
“This is something you don’t have a script for,” A&M-Kingsville coach Jason Gonzales told the Advocate. “It’s been a very emotional day.”
• Rhode Island suffered its own devastating loss in October when righthander Joe Ciancola died after a preseason conditioning workout. Dealing with the loss of a teammate is never easy, and the Rams have come up with a unique way to honor Ciancola’s memory.
URI’s players and two coaches will abstain from cutting their hair until the end of the season, in a nod to Ciancola’s distinctive head of hair, which his teammates referred to as his “flow.” The Rams are calling it “Flow for Joe.” Even coach Jim Foster, who typically prefers a clean-cut look, is fully behind his players’ shaggy look. We’ll update their progress with photos on the BA College Blog this season.
• A year after it began televising a Thursday night SEC game of the week, ESPNU will expand its coverage of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC will have its own weeknight in the national spotlight, as six baseball games will be televised on Monday nights. Over a nine-week period, ESPNU will also televise two ACC softball games and one women’s lacrosse game. The Monday baseball schedule kicks off March 19 with the finale of the Virginia-Florida State series.