Written by Jeff Vorva
Since this newspaper came up with the top 10 sports stories of the year in 2013, many of the lists featured local athletes who had an impact on area and state sports.
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Mother McAuley's volleyball team won state and national titles in 2016.
This year, there are some stories that reached national attention as well. The area produced a couple of national champions in volleyball, a Super Bowl champ, a softball pitcher who set national records and an NBA player who played high school around here and made news all over the United States when he signed with the Bulls.
Here are the top 10 Reporter/Regional Sports stories of 2016:
1. Serving up national titles
Mother McAuley’s volleyball coach Jen DeJarld thought at the beginning of the season in August her team was not worth of being ranked as a top team in the south suburbs. By November, the Mighty Macs won the Illinois High School Association Class 4A state title.
By December, they were named national champions by PrepVolleyball.com.
And USA Today/AVCA.
Oh, and MaxPreps came in as well to make it three national championships for McAuley, which finished 40-1 on the campaign and won its 15th state title in school history.
2. Super Bowl champion
Michael Schofield, an offensive lineman from Orland Park who played at Sandburg High School and the University of Michigan, did not play a down of football for the Denver Broncos his rookie year in 2015.
But in 2016, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Schofield worked his way into the starting lineup and played right tackle in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 as the Broncos knocked off Carolina 24-10 in iconic quarterback Peyton Manning’s last game.
Schofield was given the hero’s treatment at Sandburg in April.
3. Wade comes home
The pro basketball world took plenty of notice when former Richards High School star Dwyane Wade and his longtime team, the Miami Heat, were not able to reach an agreement after 14 seasons and he signed with the Bulls in the summer.
Wade didn’t make his homecoming officials until his press conference in front of hundreds of reporters and dozens of cameras from all over the United States.
4. Huge numbers for Nonnemacher and SXU softball
St. Xavier University pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher had already done some terrific things in her career in her first three seasons, including striking out all 15 batters she faced in a game her junior year. But on April 9, she had the most astounding afternoon of her career.
Nonnemacher struck out 42 St. Ambrose batters in 19 innings of work in a doubleheader. She became the first pitcher in NAIA history to strike out 20 batters in back-to-back games. St. Ambrose came into the game with a 20-6 record, won nine of its 10 previous games and was hitting .300, so this was no cupcake opponent.
A few months later the Cougars made school history when they finished second in the nation in NAIA play.
5. Burning up the track
With the threat of rain, Illinois High School Association officials wanted the state track meet in Charleston to run as quickly as possible and Sandburg’s 4x800 relay team did its job by running so fast, it set a state record.
The team of Tom Brennan, Dylan Jacobs, Sean Torpy and Chris Torpy broke the state mark of 7 minutes, 40.02 seconds (set in 2006) with a 7:37.36 which, at the time, was also the top time in the nation.
The Eagles finished third in Class 3A in the meet, just the second time in school history it won a top-3 trophy. Sandburg also took third in Class AA in 1977.
6. 1,000 for Hallberg
When St. Xavier’s women’s basketball team beat Taylor 81-71 on Nov. 26, it marked coach Bob Hallberg’s 1,000th career win. He coached Kennedy’s boys, St. Xavier’s men, Chicago State’s men, the University of Illinois’ men and started the SXU program in 2000.
Hallberg was honored on the court that his named after him at the Shannon Center earlier this month for reaching four figures in the win department.
7. Nothing light about these titles
Two of the lighter Sandburg wrestlers lit up State Farm Arena in February as Louie Hayes (113 pounds) and Rudy Yates (126) won Illinois High School Association state titles.
Hayes beat previously unbeaten Real Wood of Montini, 2-1, in the title match in a bout Eagles coach Eric Siebert called “one of the best matches I’ve been a part of in the chair.’’
Yates closed his career with three state titles and a 167-3 mark including a 91-0 record at Sandburg after transferring from Brother Rice.
8. Area stars lead Celtics to third title
In the unpredictable world of high school baseball, and the Illinois High School Association’s single elimination format for the postseason, only two teams had won multiple consecutive state titles heading into 2016 – Maine Township (1958-59) and Providence Catholic (2014-15).
The Celtics went one better with a 10-3 victor over Mundelein in the Class 4A title game for the state’s first baseball three-peat. All three years, the Celtics were not favored to win it and all three years they didn’t even with their own Catholic League Blue Conference title.
Orland Park’s Kevin Fitzgerald, Matt Gruszkowski, Tom Kelley, Kyle Struck, Matt Trzesniewski and Matt Swanson were on the team and Kelley made national news when his throw from deep right field to gun down a Mundelein runner at third made one of the ESPN plays of the day.
9. TCC volleyball team wins national title
When some teams do not qualify for the NAIA Tournament, they are eligible for the National Christian Catholic Athletic Association tournaments and Trinity Christian College’s women’s volleyball team won the national championship on that level in December.
The Trolls (31-15) won a wild five-set match against Oklahoma Baptist in the semifinals in Kissimmee, Florida, and followed it up with an 25-17 25-27, 25-17, 22-25, 15-13 victory over Campbellsville for the title. Sophomore Kacie Stoll was named the tournament’s most outstanding payers and Bill Schepel was named Coach of the Year.
10. No rest for Sabbath
Evergreen Park’s Jeff Sabbath ran in his 34th Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 28.
There have only been 34 running of that race. Sabbath is the only runner in the race’s history to participate in all 34. In 2013, Sabbath and Hampshire’s Bob Oury had perfect attendance in the race but Oury did not run in 2014.
Sabbath, 57, finished the race in 3 hours, 9 minutes and 36 seconds.