By Blake Baxter
As Monday night's game against Greenville wore on, fans in the stands of Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena started to get used to an unfamiliar sight.
Known primarily for what he does on the defensive end, Eureka College senior Alex Wiegand was racing down the court in transition, heading toward the basket and not letting anything stop him from finishing.
Sometimes, he admits, Wiegand gets a little nervous before the Red Devils compete in one of these games.
It makes sense. The helter-skelter nature and breakneck pace of "The System," which Grinnell created in the 90s and Greenville brought to the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference four years ago, forces him to put the ball on the floor more often and withstand far more defensive pressure than usual.
But on Monday, the Red Devils' wiry, 6-foot-4 four-year starter was ready to handle it.
He took advantage of every single look he got, and when it was all over, the Red Devils had claimed a 161-153 victory over the three-time defending conference champs – and Wiegand had recorded a career-high 36 points while shooting a nearly-unprecedented 16-for-16 from the field.
It was two makes without a miss shy of an NCAA Division III record, and Wiegand would be the first to tell you that no one expected a performance quite like that from him.
"Normally, I just kind of let the world happen around me and I just kind of be in it," said Wiegand, whose previous career best was 22 points. "I'm not really one to go and grab the spotlight."
No one appreciates that more than Eureka College coach Chip Wilde.
Over the course of the past four years at Eureka, Wilde has treasured the unquestioned work ethic he's consistently brought to the table every day. He has utmost respect for the way he keeps a low profile and just goes about his business.
Wiegand, he says, cares about winning, not stats or fancy accessories. Wilde describes him as a throwback player from a different era.
"He is such a constant," Wilde said. "Everything that he does is kind of quiet and unassuming. He's not flashy with his game. He's not (a) flashy personality and the things he does to help our team are not necessarily flashy, but all are very important to our success.
"Alex is definitely a substance guy."
At Eureka, Wiegand hasn't missed a game and Wilde isn't sure if he's ever even missed a practice. He has started 96 of 99 games in four seasons while averaging 7.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 28.8 minutes per game. He'll leave the team with the second-most blocks in program history, tallying 105 with at least two games left in his career.
This season, he's averaging a career-best 9.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while leading the SLIAC with a 73.3 percent field-goal percentage. But Wilde says, unless you're paying really close attention, you won't notice all the positive things he does for the team.
It starts on the defensive end.
The first thing Wilde and his staff members generally do when they design the game plan is decide who Wiegand is going to guard. A center or a forward on offense, Wiegand routinely takes on the toughest defensive assignment. He has proven than he can guard anyone from the 1 to the 5 spot.
His coaches trust him enough to let him decide how he wants to guard his assignment, and have full confidence that he'll make the right adjustments along the way.
"I don't say any of that stuff to Alex Wiegand," Wilde said. "Smart guys figure it out."
At this point, playing principled, passionate defense has long been second nature for Wiegand, who played for EC alum Kevin Brown at Washington High School.
"At Washington, you couldn't get in unless you played absolute defense on every single play," Wiegand said. "Now I have been kind of labeled as that (the defensive stopper), so it makes me fight harder to fit that role."
Secure in his own skin, Wiegand doesn't expect people to notice.
Well aware that offensive outbursts are more memorable, he fondly remembers the times his teammates have gone off — like when Shea Feehan scored 25 points in 17 minutes in his EC debut against Iowa Wesleyan, or Hank Thomas' 44-point night against Greenville two years ago – but he doesn't get too excited about his best defensive performances.
"If they score one point, it's kind of a letdown," Wiegand said.
Earlier this season, there was an opponent that he felt like got the best of him, and that really bothered him.
"I felt terrible," Wiegand said. "I didn't even talk on the bus ride home.
"If someone beats me like that, it's bad. I hope everybody takes it personal."
In addition to his defensive capabilities, Wiegand has improved as a scorer and a shooter as his career has progressed. Wilde says he's also been a little more vocal with the team this year, speaking up when necessary and helping his teammates improve.
Wiegand has the highest cumulative GPA of any returning player on the team.
His intellect and work ethic have also been well regarded outside of campus. An accounting and business administration major, Wiegand interned at Caterpillar last spring, which was challenging to do at the same time as basketball, but it paid off. He has a job lined up there for after he graduates in May.
The son of Sam and Tricia Wiegand, and younger brother of Larissa, Alex isn't ready for his athletic journey at EC to come to an end. As the season winds down, he's trying not to think about it too much.
On Saturday before the Red Devils host Iowa Wesleyan at 3 p.m., he'll be honored for senior day. Then, Monday's non-conference game against Emmaus could be the end of the road.
"I've been savoring it," Wiegand said. "I knew going into this last year that it would be hard to let go of basketball, but when it's coming to the end here, I can focus on each, individual game … play my hardest."