ROB PIEKARCZYK For what became a Hall of Fame career, Tiffin University men’s soccer goalkeeper Rob Piekarczyk and his teammates definitely got off on the wrong foot.
Struggling through a difficult 5-14-1 season in 1998, Piekarczyk and his team recognized that they were not as bad as their record. Little did the team realize how quickly it all would change. In 1999, the Dragons rebounded with one of their best seasons ever, finishing 19-3-1 and winning the American Mideast Conference with a perfect 11-0 record.
For Piekarczyk, the season was even more memorable, as he set a single season record for lowest goals against average (0.82) that stood until 2013. The Dragons outscored their opponents 88-25 for the season, including 55-6 in conference play.
Piekarczyk was one of the main reasons the team excelled. His record-setting season in 1999 was no fluke, as he nearly topped it in 2000. His GAA was a miniscule 0.83 as the team finished 13-4-3 and reached the Region IX tournament once again. Piekarczyk was twice named NAIA All-American, while earning three All-Region and All-Conference honors over his three seasons. He also won the AMC Championship in 1999.
CRYSTAL LONG Tiffin University’s track and field program was still in its growing stages in 1998 when Crystal Stroble Long decided to become a Dragons athlete. The program had existed for only five years and had limited success.
With the arrival of Long and teammate Sara Riley, Tiffin’s stature at the conference and national level took a quantum leap forward.
Long became a two-time NAIA National Qualifier during her career, achieving the feat twice in 2001 in two separate events – the 55 meter hurdles and the 100 meter hurdles. It was an accomplishment that took much work and dedication to reach.
Long made her mark immediately as a track athlete, winning the American Mideast Conference Championship in the 100 meter hurdles in her freshman season. TU Hall of Fame coach Kelly Cavanagh was her coach that season, but her second AMC title in the 100 meter hurdles came in 2001 under current Track and Field coach Jeremy Croy.
In addition to her National trips and conference championships, Long held school records in five separate events at the time of her graduation (60 meters, 60 meter hurdles, 100 meters, 100 meter hurdles, and 400 meter hurdles).
SARAH FIELER Overcoming adversity is something many great athletes have to do to reach their potential. For Tiffin University women’s soccer player Sarah Fieler, it was no different.
“I think my biggest challenge to overcome was my own self-doubt as a player,” said Fieler. “My sophomore year was rough for me in my soccer career and personal life. I feel as though I let my coaches and my team down that year not being 100%. I fought through that and came back my junior year the best I had ever been. That is the point in my life that I knew I could get through anything.”
Fieler was one of the best all-around soccer players in TU’s history. She earned All-American honors in her senior season in 2002, while also earning two First Team All-Region and three First Team All-Conference honors.
The Dragons flourished during her career, which saw her and TU Hall of Fame player Elizabeth Wead Knackstedt dominating the competition at an unprecedented level. TU was twice the top-ranked team in the region during that stretch, which featured two trips to the NAIA National Tournament (2000, 2002), two Region Championships, and three American Mideast Conference titles.
“Even though my sophomore year was my hardest year, it also contained one of my career highlights,” Fieler recalled. “We were in Houghton, New York for the region tournament. I had a corner kick towards the end of the game that went directly in the goal. That goal sent us to our first-ever National Tournament berth. I think that both times we went to Nationals were my proudest moments.” Fieler is still second in career assists, third in career points, and fourth in career goals.
SARA RILEY Sara Riley enjoyed a stunning track career from 1999-2003. She is a 9-time National Tournament qualifier, including the first TU athlete to qualify for NCAA Nationals. She accomplished this in four separate events, including 2 indoor and 7 outdoor selections.
She is a four-time conference champion in two separate events, winning the hammer throw in 2003 and three straight javelin titles from 2001-03. A four-time All-AMC selection, she also was named AMC Performer of the Year in 2003. Riley was quick to acknowledge her coaches in her development.
“Derek Stanley was the head coach my freshman year and from the beginning he told me I could make it to nationals. Jeremy Croy took over as the head coach my sophomore year and worked hard to make the whole program better. We went to bigger meets against better competition, which helped us all improve immensely. Melissa DeRan (who was also my volleyball coach) was my throwing coach for 2 years and worked hard to help me improve. I would also like to mention Ray Collett who I met my senior year. He started talking to me about the hammer throw. He was a former successful thrower who volunteered his time to help coach me and the team and flew to Tiffin to coach us more than a couple of times.”
PHIL SABATKA There are sluggers, and then there are SLUGGERS.
Phil Sabatka is one of the most prodigious hitters Tiffin University’s baseball program ever produced. A two-time NAIA All-American, Sabatka holds the career TU marks for hits, RBI, home runs, and total bases.
Along with holding the single season RBI record, Sabatka also earned three All-Region and four All-American Mideast Conference honors over his career from 2000-03.
Sabatka also elevated the play of his teammates, as his teams twice reached the NAIA Region Tournament and set the single season wins record with 30 victories. No team ever hit better than his 2003 team, which posted a stunning .364 team batting average.
“Being able to play through sickness and injury was a testament to the toughness, dedication and commitment the team had for one another. At the time, every year was more special than the previous one. We were breaking records we set the prior year. I was surrounded by so many talented individuals that helped make the 2000-2003 TU baseball years some of the best years TU baseball has ever experienced. My teammates Geoff Alston, Richard Leach, Brian Smith, Juno Ortiz, Kevin Wade and Tyson Pinion were some of my good friends during my time on the field.”