Ashland, Ohio is a long way from Hollywood, California.
More than miles separate the two locations. Standard of living, way of life, climate, any way you look at it Ashland and Hollywood are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Maybe there is one link between these two locales. That would be Ashland University senior forward Tyler Rosenberger (Woodmore).
Rosenberger has played so many roles during his four years at AU that it’s almost a given that Central Casting would answer the phone if he called. No matter what role he’s filled, Rosenberger has annually been a contender for “Best Supporting Actor,” at AU.
Rosenberger came to AU as an unheralded walk-on. Today he’s a team leader.
As a sophomore, the 6-6, 195-pound Rosenberger thrived as Ashland’s sixth man. Since last season, he’s been a staple in the starting lineup. This year, he’s started 12 of Ashland’s first 14 games.
At one point, Rosenberger was regarded as strictly a forward. Now, in the final weeks of his career, he can say that he’s played every position at AU except point guard.
Finally, this week Rosenberger will try and play a major role in a battle that never grows old on the big screen or on the television set. Rosenberger and the Eagles (7-9/5-7 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) played the role of underdog Jan. 24 when they lost to top-ranked and undefeated Findlay, 84-65.
“My sophomore year was probably my favorite year,” said Rosenberger, thinking back to the 2006-2007 season when he averaged 5.2 ppg., 4.3 rpg., and shot 55.8 percent from the floor as the first man off the bench. “Just being able to come off the bench and provide energy, that was exciting. That was my breakout year when I had the chance to showcase my skills.”
That process continued last season. A year ago, Rosenberger started 27 of 28 games and averaged 8.2 ppg., and 4.9 rpg. He was second on the team in rebounds and tied for second in steals (23). Once again, he demonstrated the ability to play well within the offense and know where he fit. On a team with four three-point bombers – Kale Richardson (Bloom-Carroll), Bret Wackerly (Canton Canisius), Brett Bartlett and Steve Gansey – it was up to Rosenberger to work a little closer to the basket and rely on high-percentage shots. Rosenberger shot 56.3 percent from the floor, a figure that put him sixth in the GLIAC.
As those numbers show, playing a forward spot seemed to suit Rosenberger well. That’s why it was such a surprise when the Eagles moved him to shooting guard when this year began.
“At the beginning of this season we had extremely high expectations,” explained Rosenberger, who is averaging 7.6 ppg., 3.1 rpg., and has a team-high 23 steals.
“We probably had the biggest team we’ve had lately. The coaches wanted to fit me into the lineup where it would benefit the team. Mostly, I think it was because of our Eagle defense (1-3-1 defense). I think it was that more than because of offense,” Rosenberger said.
Since the beginning of the season, the Eagles have been forced to make some changes in the frontcourt due to injuries and defections. While Rosenberger appeared at shooting guard in a 100-74 loss at Ferris State, he has gone back to his more-comfortable forward spot in recent weeks.
“I’m in the position of being not quite quick enough to be a guard and too small to play the post,” said Rosenberger. “But since I’ve been here I’ve played the two, the three, the four and the five, everything except the point. I’m probably most comfortable at the four, I’ve played it for three years.”
Most players couldn’t move around the lineup that often and be effective. Rosenberger says that mobility hasn’t been a curse. He thinks back to his freshman and sophomore years when that adaptability is what gave him his first opportunity to play.
“I’ve always tried to work hard and fit into Coach Lyons’ (Roger) system,” Rosenberger said. “That’s really helped me.”
A year ago in Ashland, the Eagles upset a Findlay team that was ranked fourth in the nation, 84-81. Rosenberger had 16 points and five rebounds in the game.
Of everyone on this year’s AU team, Rosenberger probably knows the Oilers better than anyone. He grew up 45 minutes from the UF campus and in high school, regularly went to watch Findlay play. Coming out of Woodmore High School he was recruited by Findlay head coach Ron Niekamp. Ashland and Findlay play at least two games per year. This year’s game was Rosenberger’s eighth against the Oilers.
“Every time we play Findlay, there seems to be a point in the game where they go on a run and we haven’t been able to rebound from it,” sighed Rosenberger. “Last year they weren’t able to go on that run. It gave us a mindset of, ‘We’re in this and can win it.’ That built our confidence.”
That was a year ago and as it is fun for AU fans to relive that memory. The Findlay game isn’t something that’s easy to forget.
“Coach will keep us grounded,” noted Rosenberger. “Coach will make sure we take one game at a time. In the back of our minds, we’ll think about Findlay.”
It didn’t take long for the Oilers to move to the forefront of everyone’s thinking. The Ashland-Findlay rivalry had a way of focusing everyone’s attention on the matter at hand. Having the chance to take down a ranked team made the game more interesting. In addition to last season’s win over the Oilers, earlier this season Ashland upset seventh-ranked Grand Valley State at home, 68-67.
There’s one school of thought that says teams should be sky high for every game. Over the course of 26 regular-season games, that can be hard to do. It’s not difficult reaching that level in a rivalry game like this.
“It shouldn’t be, but it is,” replied Rosenberger, when asked if the AU-UF game takes on an entirely different meaning. “When you get in a game like the one with Grand Valley or Findlay, you have more of a sense of urgency. You believe you can knock off one of the top teams in the country and there’s a sense of excitement, there’s adrenalin. Then you score that first basket and it’s on.”
Findlay leads the GLIAC in scoring margin (+20.3) and is permitting a conference-low 60.1 ppg. The Oilers haven’t been under the gun too much this season, their closest game was a 78-71 win at Northwood on Jan. 15.
“It seems like we’ve played against the same guys the last three years,” said Rosenberger, who has gone 1-7 against the Oilers. “We know them. It’s really taking away their strengths, staying on their weaknesses. He (Niekamp) is really knowledgeable about the game of basketball. The way he carries himself and the way his team carries itself, you can see they’re one of the top teams in the country.”
Al King is the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at Ashland University. This article and photos are reprinted courtesy of the University of Findlay athletic website with permission from the UF Sports Information Department.