BLUFFTON — It’s been Bluffton University’s vision for many years.
Since 1951, Bluffton’s men’s and women’s home basketball games were played in Founders Hall. It’s been a tradition, second to none.
However, the university knew the day would eventually come when it would have to say goodbye to the gym it called home for more than six decades.
Now, after many years of planning, the Bluffton University basketball programs have a new home.
Copeland Court in the Sommer Center is where Bluffton will now play its home basketball games. The volleyball team also will play in the Sommer Center.
The facility was completed about a week ago. The women’s basketball team will open play Friday and Saturday when it plays host to the Tip-Off Tournament. The men’s squad will play on Copeland Court on Nov. 23 when it plays host to OSU-Lima.
The facility carries the Sommer name as the lead donor. The Sommer family was involved with the school since the 1940s with several generations of its family attending school there. Ted and Jo (Conrad) Sommer graduated from Bluffton in the 1940s. Jim Sommer, the school’s all-time leading rebounder in basketball, and his wife Susan, graduated from Bluffton in 1968. There also have been several others in the family who have attended Bluffton since then.
Copeland Court is named for Larry and Shirley Copeland of Findlay. Larry Copeland, a 1965 alumnus, co-chaired “Extending our Reach,” the recent campaign that raised the monies for the project.
Longtime men’s basketball coach Guy Neal has been at Bluffton since the initial planning stages of the new sports center. He was on a couple committees, early on, when the school began the planning process.
“I think I’m pretty accurate in saying it was a little more than 10 years ago when we started to make a master plan,” Neal said. “This was the next big project they wanted to pursue after Centennial Hall was completed (in 2000).
“So, I was part of two different committees, early on, involved in the initial stages. We talked about what we would like to have. We made a number of trips to other campuses to look at different facilities to see what we liked.
“It’s been really exciting to not only be a part of the beginning stages, but to see the final stage of it and to see it finally become reality.”
The university wanted the new sports complex to be more than just a venue for the athletic teams to compete.
“Obviously, we wanted it to serve our athletic program. But, we also wanted to serve the general student body — in a fitness, recreation and an intramural situation,” Neal said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of making sure it serves everyone on the campus.”
BLUFFTON MEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW
The men’s team, under the guidance of Neal (23rd season), are coming off a solid 2011-12 campaign, in which it won 10 of its final 16 games, ending the season 16-10 overall, 10-8 in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Bluffton has made an appearance in the HCAC tournament the past two seasons.
However, gone from last year’s squad are five seniors who played an integral part of the Beavers’ 31 victories over the past two seasons.
“We’re going to be a work in progress,” Neal said. “I know that’s a rubber stamp, typical coach’s statement. But, we lost a really strong senior class. We had five guys that were really productive and who logged a lot of minutes the past two or three years. But we have a lot of players who played last year, who will be playing different roles this season.”
Returning for Bluffton is leading scorer, senior Josh Fisher (6-1, Parkway). The two-time all-HCAC performer can get it done on both ends of the court. He averaged 12 points per game last season.
With two years under their belts, juniors Will Pope (6-6) and Dustin Kinn (6-3) will solidify the post positions. Last season, Kinn averaged 8.5 points per game, while Pope scored 7.8 points and pulled down 4.9 rebounds per outing. Also in the post, look for juniors Jon Fowler (6-8) and Dillon Long (6-6, Parkway) to get ample playing time.
At a wing, junior Josh Johnson (6-1, Ottawa-Glandorf) will be a legitimate scoring threat.
Look for Tyler Neal (5-8, Sr.), Guy’s son, to log a lot of minutes out front, running the point. Last season, Neal dished out 26 assists in just eight minutes per game.
BLUFFTON WOMEN’S PREVIEW
Chad Shutler heads into his eighth season as the women’s head coach. Last season, the Beavers posted an 8-17 overall mark and were 6-12 in the HCAC.
Shutler will be relying on his underclassmen to step up as he will be without four of his five top scorers from a year ago.
Leading the list of returners for the Beavers is junior Lauren Hutton (5-10, forward). Last season, Hutton led Bluffton in both scoring and rebounds and was named First Team All-HCAC.
Also returning for the Beavers are Kylee Burkholder (5-9, Jr., F); Mikayla Coburn (5-10, Soph., F, Upper Scioto Valley); Rachel DeBord (5-5, Soph., G) and Brenna Kurilic (5-10, Soph., G/F).
“We graduated five seniors. …We have 12 freshmen. So we’re a relatively youthful group, to say the least,” Shutler said. “It (the youth) brings in excitement, energy and enthusiasm to what we want to do. The downside of that is the lack of experience and learning to compete on a daily basis. But I believe the freshmen group is one of the most talented freshmen groups we’ve ever had.”