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SAU’s Mens Basketball Team Playing Hard Without Longtime Head Coach

(Photo courtesy of Sydnee Horstman)

During the St. Ambrose men’s basketball game on January 20th against St. Francis in Joliet, IL, fans watching the live stream quickly observed a noticeable absence. Head Coach Ray Shovlain was not sitting courtside. Shovlain had slipped on ice that morning and went to the hospital, forcing the team to play without their head coach. Players have said that their coach’s absence drives them to work even harder.

 “It made us lock in even more because we feel like we should play hard for him,” said junior guard Grant Mason. 

Student assistant, Kieran Farrell added, “We are just trying to do our best for him, so when he comes back we can say we did our best.” The Bees went on to win against St. Francis 75-70. And currently have a record of 12 wins and 13 losses, with a record of 9-8 in conference play.

After almost a month away, Coach Shovlain has still not returned to the bench, pushing Associate Head Coach Jim Kiss into the head coach spot. Coach Kiss is in his 16th year as associate head coach at St. Ambrose. Kiss played basketball for four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Following his graduation, he became an assistant coach at his alma mater in 2007-2008 before making the move to SAU the following year. 

(Photo courtesy of Sydnee Horstman)

“Jim’s been on for so many years so you have some continuity,” says SAU alum Steve Tappa, who covered the team in the 90s, “He’s not a first-year assistant put into a new role doing all new things, he already does that stuff.”

Kiss brings the team consistency, but those around the team say there are some subtle differences. 

“Practices aren’t that much different, however, Coach Kiss is younger, so he takes a different approach,” remarks Mason. 

Farrell echoes that sentiment, saying, “During games and practice it’s a different vibe with how Ray and Kiss are. It has taken time to adapt, but we are getting there in the end.” 

Even without Coach Ray on the sideline, players say his impact is still being felt. 

“Coach Ray has prepared us for these types of challenges all season…The guys and I are ready for whatever is thrown at us because Ray promotes a strong-willed mindset on us as a team,” says senior guard Will Spriggs. 

As the team continues the season, the absence of their head coach remains on their minds. Through the adversity this challenge brings, the team has forged a stronger bond. 

“I feel like as a team we’ve gotten closer on and off the court through these tough times,” says Mason.

Without Coach Ray, the team has had a balanced record of three wins and five losses. The wins coming against St. Francis Illinois, No. 22 ranked Olivet Nazarene, and Governor’s State, and with losses to Holy Cross, Calumet College of St. Joseph, Judson, and Indiana South Bend, No. 11 ranked Roosevelt. 

From the outside, there is a noticeable difference in the consistency of the team’s lineup. In the 18 games under Coach Ray, SAU began their games with 13 different starting lineups. Under Coach Kiss, they have little change – just two different starting lineups in the eight games. 

The Bees are currently 6th in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, with two games left to play before the start of the postseason. They are looking to hold on to their spot in the playoffs and improve their seeding.

It is unclear if Coach Ray will return to the team this season or not. Either way, the team hopes to play well to end the season.

For more on the men’s basketball team, watch their episode of Inside SAU Athletics here.