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Might as well JUMP

  • Written by Jason Maholy

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Jimmy Baker practices a jump on Saturday. The senior is participating in both volleyball and track this season, a year after suffering serious leg injuries.

 

Brother Rice volleyball player Jimmy Baker entered the spring sports season with an eye on competing for a state title.

 In the long jump. Perhaps the triple jump, too.

And he might as well go for the gold in the 200-meter dash and four-by-200-meter relay.

 Baker, a senior from Oak Lawn, is gunning for a spot in the Illinois High School Association boys state finals while also being the best player on a volleyball team that has aspirations to make a deep post-season run. And all of this with a leg that was seriously injured a year ago next week.

 As a sophomore, Baker was named the 2015 Catholic League Player of the Year in volleyball, and he and the Crusaders were off to a good start last season when disaster struck. As the 6-foot-2 outside hitter came down after making a kill, he landed on a teammate's foot. He sustained a fractured fibula and a seriously sprained ankle

 Baker remembers the moment well.

 “I was watching the ball, and as I was coming down and landed I heard it crack; but it didn't hit me until I was on the ground that my ankle was cracking,” he said. “It was pretty awful.”

 The sprain was actually worse than the fracture, Baker said, but what was even more painful was being relegated to the role of an observer helpless to assist a deep, talented team that had lofty goals but ended at the sectional level.

 “The week prior we had been playing really well, so we were enjoying the success of the season and were looking forward to the playoffs,” he said. “Our team was really good. It was hard watching, knowing I couldn’t help at all, I could do is watch.’’

 After intensive physical therapy, Baker was back on the court playing club ball within eight weeks, and after the club season had about three months to rest before the start of training for his senior season at Rice.

 He came into his final high school campaign planning to leave it all on the court, but figured he may as well leave it all on the track too. He plays volleyball during the week, and on weekends he doesn't have tournaments, he competes for the Crusaders track team in the long jump, triple jump, 200-meter dash and 4x200 relay.

 “I always wanted to join track, but I just figured I never could because of volleyball,” he said. “But I worked it out. Senior year came around and I thought I might as well go for it. It's a lot of fun... I figure it out day to day, pretty much.”

 Baker's brother, Pat, was a standout jumper at Rice nearly a decade ago.

 “He was just a great athlete, and me being little, I would watch him and think, 'I want to do that,'” he recalled.

Baker competed in the indoor track season and at the Chicago Catholic League conference meet placed fourth in the long jump (20 feet, 9 inches) and sixth in the triple jump (40-4.75).

 “My vertical is pretty good, so I figured if I joined track I could do well,” he said. “I was kind of just hoping the coach would try to get me on the pole (vault).

 

“I'm trying to qualify for state, qualify for volleyball state, and win multiple state titles.”

 He enrolled at the University of Tennessee and is going to try to walk on the men’s track team although he could scotch those plans if he is accepted into the Coast Guard Academy.

 

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: A lot of guts, very little glory for liberos

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Evergreen Park native Zach Rothstein, left, and Fontbonne teammate Tony Pitaro hit the ground during a match against Marian University in Wisconsin recently. 

This might be the worst job in sports.

OK, maybe rodeo clown and the poor people who have to clean up the huge brown apples at the horse racing track might have it worse. But it certainly is one of the least appreciated jobs.

It is being a libero on a volleyball team. The job is to be a defensive specialist who can come and go into matches an unlimited amount of time but is not allowed in the front row. It’s a job that requires a lot of guts with little glory in return. It gets little respect.

Here are my 10 reasons, in no particular order, on why being a libero…well…sucks:

-- You have to wear a different uniform top. Already you are set apart from the other players.

-- Because you are wearing a different uniform top, it’s easier for fans to spot your screw-ups.

-- No one knows how to even pronounce the darn position. It’s supposed to be lee-bah-row, which kind of sounds like Figaro. (I never thought I would get an opera reference into a volleyball column, but I digress.) Most people – including myself – call it a lib-bear-oh.

-- And no matter how you pronounce it, it will never be as cool as “outside hitter” or “middle blocker.’’ In fact, I can’t think of a goofier name in a sport with a ball. Now, if we’re talking rowing…

-- It’s been decades since liberos were added to volleyball, but to this day, I hear some fans saying “Why is that girl (or guy) wearing a different color uniform?”

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-- You have to hit the ground hard – a lot. That causes plenty of injuries, especially the wrists and ribs.

-- When the ball gets by you, you look stupid.

-- When you make the greatest diving play in your life, it is almost forgotten quickly because play continues and one of two things will happen – your team will get the point or give up the point and that’s what the fans remember. 

-- There are no sexy statistics for a libero to get. No kills. No attacks. No blocks. Digs-per-set is about as good as it gets and even that can’t tell you the difference between a very good libero and an excellent libero. It might just mean the other team is getting the ball past the blockers too much.

-- Very few kids playing in the early stages of their career say “Yep, I’m going to be a libero in volleyball!”

So, somebody has to do it.

And those who do it, love it.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Evergreen Park’s Zach Rothstein, a former Brother Rice standout who plays libero for NCAA Division III Fontbonne University in St. Louis and after the regular season was ranked fifth in the nation with 3.31 digs per set and was the No. 2 freshman in the country with that stat.

“When you play hard all year, it’s fun to get some credit,” he said. “But my main goal was 15-11 (the team’s won-loss mark – just the second winning season in program history).

“I love playing defense, so I love playing libero,’’ added Rothstein, who pronounces it lib-bear-oh. “But the only reason I am playing libero is because I am not tall enough (5-foot-11) to play front row. I feel like I’m the runt of the group.’’

When Rothstein arrived at Brother Rice, he was also playing for the Chi-Town Volleyball Club and that’s when the seeds were planted that he was heading to the back row. 

“At first I said ‘I don’t know—I kind of like hitting and blocking,’ ’’ he said. “Then I started seeing these kids with five or six inches on me jumping and I said ‘OK, I can take this back-row position.’ ’’

Even though he is digging being one of the top diggers in the country, he said it’s not the best way to judge a libero. 

“The stat I saw that shows a true libero is grading serve-receive,’’ he said. “You are graded on how well you pass. A three is perfect to the setter. I think the coaches had me a 2.3 or 2.4 average. Serve-receive is a huge part of a libero’s deal. One kid could be crazy on defense and you call him a good libero but if he can’t pass…I think serve-receive is one of the hardest things to do mentally.’’

Even though his body goes through nightly punishment in practice and in matches, he is looking forward to three more years of it at the St. Louis school.

“Over the years I’ve grown to know that you don’t get some of the respect that you deserve – but what it really comes down to is playing for your team,” Rothstein said. “Liberos are not going to get all the glory in the world, but you still have to play to put your team in a position to win, even if it means people are not talking about your great plays.’’

 

Fire analysis: Fire depth is fit for a King

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire star Nemanja Nikolic has four goals this year – including two in a 3-0 win over New England Saturday.

 CHICAGO FIRE AT TORONTO FC

WHEN: 6:30 p.m., Friday

WHERE: BMO Field, Toronto

FIRE’S RECORD: 3-1-2

TORONTO’S RECORD: 1-1-4

NOTEWORTHY: Toronto outshot the Columbus Crew 19-11 on Saturday night but that didn’t mean much as the Eastern Conference-leading Crew won 2-1.

 

This is how well things are going for the Chicago Fire…

David Accam, sometimes known as King David, has been the Fire’s leading scorer for the past two seasons – two seasons in which the team has finished with Major League Soccer’s worst record.

But the roster has turned over so much since the end of the 2016 campaign that when the speedy star from Ghana developed right hip pain days before Saturday’s match with the New England Revolution, he was removed from the starting lineup.

Although he came into the game in the 71st minute and quickly recorded an assist, the team has so much firepower and depth that he really wasn’t needed as newcomers Bastian Schweinsteiger (a goal in the 45th minute) and Nemanja Nikolic (two goals in the second half) took care of business in a 3-0 victory in front of an announced crowd of 16,914 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

New England’s over-aggression also played a role in the victory as Je-Vaughn Watson received a yellow card in the 21st minute and a mere six minutes later, he picked up his second and the Revolution (2-3-1) played a man short for more than 60 minutes.

The Fire is off to a Chicago area code start with a 3-1-2 record and is 2-0-1 since signing Schweinsteiger, who has two goals and an assist in three matches.

 "It is very important for us that we won,’’ Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “This is the first (two-victory streak) we've had in two years since I've been here, I'm very happy for that. I'm also very happy we closed our home game streak with a win and three points. I think that everyone is doing their job. Everyone is starting to understand how important the teamwork is.’’

Nikolic and the team celebrated early in the first half what appeared to be the first goal of the game but it was disallowed because he was offside. He got his chance later in the game and scored in the 47th and 73rd minutes. Accam and Schweinsteiger assisted on his second score.

"The most important thing is that the team plays good,” said Nikolic, who leads the squad with four goals. “Game by game, we're getting better and better. We have an identity now and everybody so badly wants to play. The players behind me are in good form, so for me it's also easier. They gave me a great ball today and I scored two goals.’’

Goalie Jorge Bava and the defense racked up another shutout. All three victories this season against Real Salt Lake, the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew and New England came via shutout.

"It's one of the most important things in football -- to keep a clean sheet,” Nikolic said.  “Our defensive line played good. Game by game, we are very strong and solid in the defensive line. We work a lot in training on these things. If we don't look at the Atlanta game (a 4-0 road loss March 18), when we played with 10 players and it was difficult to defend, all other games we have played we are organized very good in the defensive line.

“We need to keep doing this, because we can score every game, so if we make the clean sheet and we try to be better in this area, we can win a lot of games like this."

The Fire hits the road for games against Toronto (Friday), the New York Red Bulls (April 29) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (May 6) before returning home May 13 for a match against Seattle.

 

Other area stars made their mark in hoops and wrestling

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

The three athletes who were honored as the top area wrestler and basketball players – Sandburg’s Patrick Brucki, Brother Rice’s Josh Niego and Queen of Peace’s Kara Shimko -- enjoyed outstanding seasons in 2016-17.

But they were not alone.

Many other area players had strong seasons and the Regional/Reporter is listing those who made all-conference teams in basketball and qualified for the Illinois High School Association state wrestling tournament:

Boys basketball

In the South Suburban Red Conference, champion Evergreen Park had three players on the all-conference squad -- Mike Drynan, Kyree Hannah and Christian Cotton. Richards had Jaylan Catledge and Arrin Westbrook make the squad. Oak Lawn was represented by Rashad Johnson and Adem Osmani. Shepard’s Chris Harrison and Marquel Porter were also selected.

In the Chicago Catholic League, Josh Niego, Mike Shepski and Jack O’Connor of Brother Rice were named along with St. Laurence’s Zion Fortune and Justin Wierzgac.

In the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue, Stagg’s John Contant and Tom Kazanecki were selected to the all-conference team along with Sandburg’s Jake Pygon.

In the East Suburban Catholic Conference, Maurice Commander, Morgan Taylor and Justin Brown were named to the team while Commander was named player of the year.

In the Metro Suburban, Malik Parker was named player of the year for the second straight season while Jack Ellison, Jeff Mayberry and Josh Decker also made the all-conference team. Frank Johnson was named honorable mention.

Girls Basketball

In the South Suburban Red, Evergreen Park’s Kacey Gardner, DeAnna Stewart and Samariah Jones-Tinsley made the all-conference squad along with Oak Lawn’s Danielle Quigley and Madelyn McGrath, Richards’ Hallie Idowu and Shepard’s Cassidy McCarthy.

In the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference, Mother McAuley’s Tara O’Malley, Grace Hynes and Vanessa Gavin were all conference along with Queen of Peace’s Kara Shimko, Jovanna Martinucci, Ashley Lynch and Shannon Wilbourne.

In the East Suburban Catholic Conference, Marist’s ESCC Claire Austin, Ally Corcoran and Julia Ruzevich made the team and Ruzevich was named conference MVP. In the Southwest Suburban Conference Blue, Sandburg’s Kennedy Sabutis and Stagg’s Nicole Vacha made the team.

In the Metro Suburban, Chicago Christian’s Janay Turner and Lexi VanRyn were honored.

Wrestling

Sandburg’s Pat Nolan (120 pounds), Patrick Brucki (195), Cole Bateman (220) and Malik Scates (285) qualified for state in Class 3A.

Also qualifying were Stagg’s Domenec Zaccone (113) and Noah Price (132) and Marist’s Jacob Dado (120) and Diata Drayton (220).

In Class 2A, Brother Rice’s Hassan Johnson (120), Angel Granado (126), Rahman Johnson (145), Dominick Murphy (152), Paul Gilva (160), Jake Hutchinson (170), Scott Sierzega (220) and Myles Ruffin (285) made it to state along with Richards’ Basil Muhammad (113) and Anthony Quinn (195).

 

The Locker Room: Odyssey CC offers some 'amazing spirituality'

  • Written by Tim Cronin

 

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   Odyssey Country Club in Tinley Park opened in 1991 and had been out of the limelight since the Illinois Women’s Open, which it had hosted in its first few years, was moved to Mistwood in Romeoville by tournament founder Phil Kosin.

    Now Odyssey, which has always been a public course, has found a niche which may be unique in American golf.

    The Halikias family, which built the course, created a charity foundation and gave it the golf course. Odyssey now hosts veterans and special-needs groups and individuals at greatly reduced rates, along with the general public at regular prices.

    The family still owns the clubhouse, which has the usual array of weddings, lunches and dinners.

    “We have a whole new mission, a whole new heart,” said Lisa Halikias, the executive director of Odyssey Charities. “We asked ourselves, what can we do that’s different?

    “We would always be donating to local causes, but five years ago we took the golf course and donated it to charity. All the money the golf course earns goes back into the charity.”

    The family is heavily involved in the charity. Aristotle Halikias is president and two family members are directors. Odyssey Charities is approved as a 501(c)3 charity by the IRS, and is the first, and perhaps only, such course foundation.

    “My family and I wanted to do something with our golf course to enrich the lives of others,” Aristotle Halikias said on the foundation’s website (www.odysseygolffoundation.org). “Veterans have done so much to protect our peace and tranquility. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. We wanted to give something back to these unsung heroes. We hope the golf course can bring them some peace and tranquility.”

    The original mission was to cater only to veterans, but recently special-needs people have been taken under Odyssey’s wing.

    “Right now, that’s mostly free lessons, but we’re trying to be a qualifying site for the Special Olympics as well, and want to work with the CDGA Foundation,” Lisa Halikias said.

    The veterans groups who have played in the course-organized tournaments have had an impact in return, she said.

    “They’re together as brothers,” she said. “The spirituality is amazing. If the whole world treated each other like they do, the world would be in a better place.”

    For head pro Ed Staffan, a Vietnam veteran who has been at Odyssey from the start, there’s been little difference in day-to-day operations, but one change is significant.

    “Yesterday I sent out an e-mail at 9 a.m. for a veterans tournament, and this afternoon I already have 70 people signed up,” Staffan said. “They all fill up to 144 people. They’re of all ages, from “22 to 82.

    “We have a couple of guys in their 90s who were complaining because they were competing in the 80-and-up age group against guys 12 years younger,” Staffan added, chuckling. “I said, ‘As soon as you comprise more than two percent of the field, you get your own category.’ ”

    The entry fee is only $15, including breakfast, lunch and prizes. There’s also a nine-hole Veterans Golf League on Tuesdays, and free clinics for veterans on Wednesday mornings.

  (subhead)  The Bucket

    (bullet) Cog Hill, with a Palos Park address since the village annexed it last year, has delayed the opening of Dubsdread, the fierce fourth course on the property, until April 22. A renovation project featuring the installation of Augusta National-style sand should be completed by then. In the course of the season, one hole at a time, a handful of fairway bunkers on several holes are being grassed over. Whether that takes any teeth out of Chicagoland’s most testing public course is yet to be seen.

(bullet) The Stony Creek Spring Scramble is Saturday at the Oak Lawn course. Entry fee is $45, and includes lunch and range balls. Call 708-857-2433 to enter or for more details.

(bullet) Seniors, mark down May 10 for the Senior Spring Scramble at Silver Lake in Orland Park. Entry fee of $80 per player includes dinner, entry in the hole-in-one contest and on-course refreshments. Players and teams will be assigned to flights based on total age of each group. For more info, call Silver Lake at 708-349-6940, ext. 4.

(bullet) Palos Hills native Tony Frandria, who got his start in golf working behind the counter at the Palos Hills municipal layout, is the new superintendent at Canal Shores in Evanston following a long stint at posh Glen View Club in the tiny north suburb of Golf.

    Have golf news? E-mail us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the details. Tim Cronin’s golf columns will be running every second Thursday through August.