Well known and respected as one of the top women’s junior college basketball coaches in the nation, Belleville native Mike Juenger has always overcome all obstacles and challengers to his Southwestern Illinois College basketball program.
Now, Juenger is facing a challenge on a much more personal level.
Presently the athletic director at SWIC, in addition to his head coaching duties, Juenger returned to work late last week after suffering what he termed a heart attack on Sept. 8.
“They (the doctors) are calling it a heart attack. But it’s not what people think of with heart attack because my arteries were not clogged. In fact, the doctors have told me my arteries are fine and look good,” Juenger said on Monday. “There was damage to the heart, my heart is enlarged and I’ve been told I had a heart infection.
“I’m taking it slow, but I’m back at work and feel good. My goodness, I weighed 248 pounds and I’ve already lost 17 pounds and am down to 231 now. I’m on medication and go back to the doctor later this month to see how I’m doing. I’m a little weak, but I feel good. It was a wake-up call for me.”
The Blue Storm’s coach since 1998, Juenger, 46, has guided SWIC to five NJCAA National Tournament appearances and is closing in on 400 career victories.
But in the early morning hours of Sept. 8, his life changed.
Driving to SWIC at 6:30 a.m. to work out before school, Juenger felt discomfort in his left shoulder and under his left arm pit.
“It wasn’t really bad pain, I just didn’t feel right,” Juenger recalled. “When I got to school I still didn’t feel that well and (assistant coach) Bobby Belleville called Dr. (Bobby) Farmer who told him to get me to the hospital. When I got there they said my blood pressure was 195/125. Not good.
“They strapped me up and I spent the next 36 hours in the hospital.”
Juenger said that while the stress of being women’s basketball coach and the athletic director may have played a small part, his diet and lifestyle are the main culprits in his condition.
“My diet was horrible. I was drinking seven or eight “polar pops’ — 64-ounce sodas a day. Instead of going home and having a nice dinner I was living on fast food and junk foods,” Juenger said. “My body just said enough is enough and now here we are. My girlfriend Dawn said that this is a true blessing in disguise and she’s right. It could have been much worse.
“I’ve cut down on salt, drinking water instead of sodas, working out and eating fruits and veggies now. It’s quite a change.”
The Blue Storm opens preseason practice Thursday. Juenger plans to coach, but will take it easy — at least for a while.
“I just can’t go crazy. Bobby (Belleville) and Rich Hubert are my assistants and they have and will do a great job,” Juenger said. “I’m looking forward to the season. We’ve got 11 new freshmen, but I think we’ve got a chance to be very good.”
In the midst of what coach Warren Thomas calls ‘the toughest part of our season,’ the SWIC women’s volleyball team is just 2-6 in its last eight matches after losing three out of four in tournaments at Parkland College and Illinois Central College in the past 10 days.
But in the stretch, which includes losses to the nation’s No. ranked 1 team (Parkland College), No. 5 team (Lincoln Trail) and No. 15 team (Illinois Central), Thomas did see some progress from his team which is now 12-11.
“This is a tough stretch we’re going through. We are competitive with these teams which gives me great hope, but we just come up short in the end,” Thomas said. “We beat a very good Kirkwood (Iowa) team last week and we’ve played well for the most part. We’re just making too many mistakes — in what I call our error factor.
“But our ladies aren’t getting down on themselves. We’re learning from each match and trying to improve as we go along here. This type of competition is what we need to get us ready for the postseason tournament.”
Sopohomore Libero Taylor Rakers is 24th in the nation in aces with 44 and 17th in digs with 407.
The Blue Storm ran its winning streak to five last week as it outscored four opponents by a 28-1 total. SWIC (7-3) defeated St. Louis Community College 4-0, then defeated Illinois Central College (4-1), Heartland (6-0) and College of Lake County (14-0).
SWIC will travel to Champaign on Thursday to play Parkland College, before hosting Illinois Central on Saturday at noon.
The Blue Storm picked up its first Region 24 road win of the season last week with a 3-1 victory at Heartland College. SWIC (6-5-1) is off until Monday, Oct. 5, when it travels to play the Greenville College junior varsity. The Blue Storm will host the Missouri Valley College junior varsity on Oct. 7 at 1 p.m.
Men’s and women’s basketball
The Blue Storm basketball teams open official preseason drills on Thursday for the 2015-16 season. The women will play their first game on Oct. 30-31 at the Wabash Valley College Classic. The men will host the Missouri Valley College junior-varsity on Nov. 3.