Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: No matter how you size it up, elite is elite

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandburg volleyball player Jake Hanes (middle) and wrestlers Rudy Yates (left) and Louie Hayes are now a part of the two percent of 8 million athletes who play high school sports and go on to a Division I college to participate in athletics.  

Here is the cool thing about sports.

No matter if you are 6-foot-10 or if you barely weigh 100 pounds, if you put in time and energy to be an elite athlete, you will usually get rewarded.

It’s a lot like life. Work your butt off and you should succeed. OK, sometimes people can work their butt off and not only fail, but have to go butt-less the rest of their lives.

But that’s life.

On Nov. 11, it was national signing day and athletes from all over the country either signed for scholarships at NCAA Division I, II, NAIA or junior college schools or announced their intentions of attending an NCAA Division III school.

There were elite basketball players who announced their futures in front of microphones and cameras and there were some athletes who signed without even their high school’s athletic directors knowing about it.

Since this is an early signing period, it’s not as crazy as it will be later in the school year when the football players and all of the others make their decisions. I e-mailed the athletic directors in the area and it appears that 25 signed or committed last week.

The biggest group came from Sandburg, where 10 athletes from eight different sports showed up for a special gathering at the school. Sandburg athletic director Mark Krusz ran the show and beamed like these athletes were his own sons and daughters who were heading to college. It was almost like a holiday for him.

It’s not an easy accomplishment for these athletes.  

Depending on what study you want to read or believe, there are roughly 8 million students playing high school sports and only about six or seven percent who go on to play college sports. About two percent play on the Division I level.

Yet, there in the room were six Sandburg athletes inking letters-of-intent to play at Division I schools including 6-foot-10 volleyball player Jake Hanes and wrestlers Louie Hayes (who wrestled last year at 106 pounds) and Rudy Yates (126 pounds).

Hanes is heading to Ohio State. I’m sorry, I mean The Ohio State University.

Hayes is heading out east to the University of Virginia.

Yates chose the University of Northern Iowa.

I wanted to pose the three together and Hanes was all for it. He even stuck his long arms out. The body language on the wrestlers indicated they weren’t all that thrilled with my idea but they still played along.

The idea behind the photo was to point out that here were three of the best athletes in the country celebrating together a great accomplishment no matter if their bodies were big or small.

Elite is elite.

They all had their crosses to bear. Hayes and Yates probably heard all kinds of insults growing up. Hanes probably hit his head on a low ceiling or two and likely found hotel beds to be a little on the tiny side. He’s probably heard a few insults as well.

But none of that matters. These three found a sport they love and put in many hours of training and working out to get to this point. They sacrificed some of their summers and offseasons to participate on the club level to get to the point where college coaches were drooling to get them.

This was no accident.

Other DI athletes from Sandburg were wrestler Brian Krasowski (University of Pennsylvania), swimmer Clare Lawlor (Rutgers) and basketball player Victoria Stavropoulos (Georgia Southern University).

Volleyball player Caroline Stefanon is heading to Division II Lewis University, swimmer Kevin Stratton is going to Division II Drury and softball players Paige Chladek and Niki Saviano are taking their pitching and catching talents to Division III Lakeland.

Nine players from Marist signed or committed.

In girls basketball, Dajae Black is heading to Lewis while Tehya Fortune and Katelyn Rosner are heading to the University of Illinois—Springfield.

Class 4A softball champions Lizzie Annerino (Boston University ) and Madison Naujokas (James Madison) will play in college.

Volleyball stars Allyssa Rizzo (Montana State University), Anne Marie Stifter (University of Chicago) and Emily Sullivan (Spring Hill College) announced their choices.

And in a pretty cool twist, Maura Smith, who is not on the powerhouse Marist squad, was able to grab some college attention through her club team, the Chicago Elite, and is headed to Grand Valley State in Michigan.  

At Mother McAuley, softball player Amy Balich is headed to The Ohio State University, volleyball player Jane DeJarld committed to Boston College while teammate Kaitlyn Johnson is heading to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and water polo star Claire Mueller hopes to make a big splash at St. Francis in Booklyn.

Others who took advantage of the early signing period, according to information supplied by the athletic directors, were St. Laurence baseball player Anthony Rios (Lewis), Shepard softball players Skylor Hilger (DePaul) and Heather O’Kelly (Benedictine in Mesa, Ariz.) and Richards baseball player Chris Zeschke (Lewis).

There will be plenty more to come in the coming months.

So big or small, high-profile sport or minor sport, these athletes are entering a world few will experience.


A Skal-ding 633-yard performance by Marist QB

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva 

Marist quarterback Brendan Skalitzkiy threw for 445 yards and ran for 188 and had a hand or foot in all eight of the Redhawks’ touchdowns Saturday night.


Marist senior quarterback Brendan Skalitzky had accounted for 630 yards of offense and seven touchdowns.

He threw for 442 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 188 yards and three TDs.

And his team was losing.

Time was running out.

The season was almost over.

But on a night when big scoring plays ruled, the Skalitzky hooked up with tight end James Dunican for the first time in the game for a 3-yard TD completion with 12 seconds left and the RedHawks went on to win a 59-56 Class 8A second-round football playoff game over seventh-seeded Barrington Saturday in Chicago. It was the highest-scoring 8A playoff game in state history.

Those three precious yards kept the 23rd-seeded RedHawks (7-4) alive as they visit Oswego at 6 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.

“We practiced that play and we did it against Joliet Catholic,” Skalitzky said about a 35-28 win over the Hilltoppers on Oct. 23 to get into the playoffs. “We were waiting for it all game. It was perfect. James is one of the hardest workers on the team and he does a great job blocking and I’m so glad it went to him.’’

Dunican waited his turn and it came in the 11th hour with 12 ticks on the clock.

“I trusted my coached that they would call a play like that for me and I did my job,” Dunican said. “That’s probably the biggest play of my life. It’s a great experience and I can’t wait for next week.’’

Coach Pat Dunne called this one of the wildest games he has ever coached, and that’s saying something.

Dunne’s wide open style of football has leant itself to a 64-64 double OT win over Carmel in 2011, a 56-51 win over Joliet Catholic and a 42-37 win over Nazareth in 2012. This year, the team beat Niles Notre Dame 49-42 during the regular season.

So the man knows wild football games.

Skalitzky, who could be heading to the Ivy League to play football next year, said his big night was a product of his offensive line and running back-receiver Darshon McCullough, who had five catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns.

“Any time he touches the ball he can break free,’’ Skalitzky said.

Dunne is glad he has at least one more game to watch his signalcaller work his magic with this explosive offense.

“You can talk about the best quarterbacks around and he throws well and runs well,” Dunne said. “His stats have shown what he could do all year. He’s such a great team player. And he’s a great leader. He can hurt you in a lot of different ways.’’

Barrington closed its season at 9-2, It was the most points the Broncos scored this year but it was offset by the fact that it was the most points they gave up in 2015. Its only other loss was a 26-24 setback to Palatine, which is still alive in the Class 8A quarterfinals and plays Brother Rice.

Marist is making the most of its postseason as it knocked off Niles Notre Dame, 17-14, in a rematch in the opening round and another three-point win on Saturday.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Judy, Judy, Judy -- Naperville runner makes my day

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




A few thoughts from another busy week of sports:

Not to sound like a grouch but at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, when most respectable people are still sleeping, I was in a demanding mood as I started my drive to Peoria.

I was heading to the Illinois High School Association State Cross Country event at Detweiller Park and I haven’t covered that event since the early 1980s. My hair was longer, I was skinnier and the event was massive. That’s all I remember about it.

My mission on Saturday was to cover our area teams including the top-ranked boys team in the nation -- Sandburg.

For most people, that would be enough.

But at 5:30 a.m., I grumbled to myself that I wanted to see some history. I don’t know when the next time I will go back to the meet, so I want to see something people have not seen before, dang it.

I was hoping to see one of the longest records in IHSA history fall. A guy named Craig Virgin, who looks a little like Ryne Sandberg, ran for Lebanon and set the meet record in 13 minutes, 50.6 seconds. That was back in 1972.

Since then, only two runners, who, like a Virgin, have gone under the 14-minute barrier – Neuqua Valley’s Chris Derrick (13:52 in 2007) and the great Lukas Verzbicas of Sandburg (13:52 in 2010).

Fithian Oakwood senior Jon Davis, a Class 1A runner, thought he could have a shot at breaking the Ryno-lookalike’s mark. He had a great race and gave it a great effort and was 45 seconds in front of his nearest competitor. But he finished at 14 minutes flat and my chance to see history fell flat.

Earlier in the day, in the Class 1A girls race, Effingham’s Anna Sophia Keller was taking aim at Glenbard West’s Madeline Perez’s 2012 mark of 16:02. The junior won her third straight individual title with a 16:21 but no record.

She did however, lap a couple of competitor on the three-mile course.     

That’s not an official record, but I couldn’t find anyone around the park who didn’t day “I’ve never seen THAT before.’’

So I was ready to call it a day on seeing a huge record fall until the girls Class 3A race.

Naperville North’s Judy Pendergast, who finished 23rd in the state as a freshman, 44th as a sophomore and had all kinds of health issues her junior year but still zoomed up to ninth place in the state meet with a 17:06, was ready for the challenge.

This year, she was having a superb season and some thought she had a shot at breaking the 16-minute barrier. I wasn’t so sure. But I was there at the finish line, camera in hand, just in case.

She not only broke the record, she stomped that record into powder with a 15:54.

“The power of what she did was pretty impressive,” her coach, Dan Iverson said.

So I was able to watch some great history before settling in for the main event – Sandburg’s state title.

 Power play

I took so many photos at the cross country meet that during the first quarter of the Lincoln-Way North-Richards my camera battery was getting a little low.

After the quarter ended with the score at 0-0, I was able to find an outlet for my charger on the Bulldogs scoreboard. So for a good 15 minutes or so, I was working the scoreboard harder than the two offenses were.

Lucky I didn’t have that problem when I got to the Barrington-Marist game. With the two teams scoring 115 points, I might have short-circuited the board if I plugged my charger in there.  

 Hoops, there it is

The next two issues of this newspaper will have an extra treat for basketball fans. We will have a special section for the girls and women next Thursday and the boys and men on Nov. 26.

These sections will have capsules, photos, rosters and schedules of our area high schools and colleges. We hope this will kick off what promises to be an exciting season on the right foot.

  Players of the Year

In lieu of all-area teams for two sports, we are opening things up and will be presenting Player of the Year stories starting soon.

We will be honoring the top players from nine fall sports – boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming, girls volleyball and football.  Anthony Nasella and myself will be cranking those stories out and we will start running them two or three at a time starting either next week or Nov. 26, depending on how many football teams are still alive after the quarterfinals.


St. Laurence wins first playoff game in 22 years

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Antonio Elizondo screams at his teammates during the final drive of Friday night’s playoff win over Rich Central. Elizondo’s fumble recovery with 3:13 left in the game helped preserve a 41-34 victory – the Vikings first playoff victory since 1993.


The last time St. Laurence won a playoff football game, none of the members of the 2015 squad were even born.

Their coach, Harold Blackmon was 15-years-old. He a student at Leo with no idea he would become an NFL player.

The year was 1993 and the 22-year postseason drought ended Friday night but it wasn’t easy. The Vikings and Rich Central ping-ponged back-and-forth, combining for 75 points before both defenses buckled down for a scoreless fourth quarter and the Vikings won the home contest, 41-34.

“With the history – you don’t expect to breeze by that first game because it’s been such a long time coming,” Blackmon said. “I think it’s great. It was great to see the alums out here. It was a great atmosphere. We wanted to make those guys – the ones who came before us – proud. It’s not just us. It’s a long history of guys who came up a little bit short.

“It’s our turn to carry the torch and we’re trying to make them proud.’’

The Vikings (8-2) are hoping that the gap between this playoff win and the next one will be just seven days as they visit King (8-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gately Stadium.

Despite the huge scoring output by both teams, the game came down to a huge defensive play. The Olympians were on the Vikings’ 8-yard line and Antonio Elizondo chased down a loose ball after a high snap and smothered it on the 21 with 3:13 left in the game and the Vikings were able to run out the clock.

“I just happened to be fortunate enough to be around the ball,” Elizondo said. “We’re aggressive on defense and any one of us could have gotten that ball. I just so happened to be there to pick it up. We played great defense when it mattered the most. The offense consistently helped pick us up. We played for each other and that’s the story of the game.’’

It was the second fumble recovery of the year for him.

“I had one against Leo and it was near the sideline,” he said about the recovery in a 41-6 win Oct. 16. “That one was a little less significant I guess you could say.’’

Quarterback Alex Martinez was 11-of-13 for 257 yards and three touchdowns while added 87 yards on 15 carries. Fayezon Smart ran 24 times for 154 yards and Kevin Williams scored on a 19-yard run with 3:26 left in the third, which provided what turned out to be the winning touchdown. Robert Chayka had three receptions for 115 yards. Jimmy Burnette racked up his seventh interception of the season. 

There was a collective sigh among the St. Laurence faithful after that one.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Blackmon said. “I think our guys grew up.’’

Martinez said he was happy with the win even though the execution was sometimes off.

“Our offense and defense lean on each other,” Martinez said. “Our offense actually had kind of a bad day. We had a couple of turnovers. We got stopped on the one-inch line and our defense was able to force five turnovers so that was really big.’’

On paper, St. Laurence figured to win big in the first round. On paper, the Vikings figure to win big against King. But that is falling on deaf ears.

“I don’t think we listen to what other people say about the other team,” Elizondo said. “It’s more about what we feel about ourselves. If we’re confident in ourselves and play for each other, we have a chance of winning.''


Brother Rice QB throws six TD passes on his birthday

  • Written by Phil Arvia


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Receiver Ricky Smalling (left) jukes a defender from Bartlett in Brother Rice's first-round playoff victory Friday night.


At the conclusion of his team’s 49-21 win over Bartlett in the first round of the Class 8A football playoffs, Brother Rice quarterback Cam Miller was asked what it was like to have a day like the one he’d just had.

“Well,” he said, “it’s my birthday, so it started off pretty good.”

And ended quickly.

The Crusaders held the ball for all of seven minutes, 53 seconds in the first half Friday. It was enough to run 29 plays and score seven touchdowns in seven possessions, giving the fifth-seeded hosts a 49-0 lead over No. 28 Bartlett, not to mention a school record for points in a half.

Also before intermission,  the newly 18-year-old Miller threw for six touchdowns — tying his own school single-game record — and set Brother Rice’s single-season mark with 29 scoring passes, breaking the standard of 26 set by Matt Page in 2012. Oh, and he completed 13 of 14 passes for 312 yards, raising his season completion percentage to 70.9 percent (202 of 285), which if Rice’s season were over would smash the old school mark of 65.5 percent.

It’s not over, though.

Rice (9-1) will host No. 12 South Elgin (9-1), a 62-10 winner Friday over Evanston, at noon Saturday in a second-round matchup.

Crusaders coach Brian Badke, in his fourth season at the helm, snapped a two-game losing streak in first-round playoff games and has his team poised to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.

“We’ll go as far as Cam takes us,” Badke said. “He works really hard at his trade. He’s a winner, a competitor.”

Wide receiver Ricky Smalling, who had five catches for 163 yards, including touchdowns of 55, 67 and 23 yards, echoed those sentiments.

“He never gives up,” Smalling said. “He’s strong-minded, very smart, he’s a very verbal leader.”

Though, thanks to Rice’s no-huddle offense, Miller said nothing to Smalling after the one incompletion he threw in the game, a bomb that glanced off a wide-open Smalling’s fingertips on Rice’s first offensive snap of the second quarter.

“I should’ve laid out for the ball,” Smalling said. “Cam might’ve overthrown me a little, but no excuses — catch everything, drop nothing.”

On the next snap, the Crusaders went back to the same play. This time, Smalling gathered the deep ball in, taking it for 67 yards and a touchdown.

“I wasn’t expecting it — I was happy they called it again,” Smalling said. “They saw an opportunity to strike, and we did.”

Smalling’s 55-yard scoring grab came on the third play of the Crusaders’ first possession. Their second drive took four snaps, ending with a seven-yard toss to Julian Blain. Possession No. 3 lasted two plays, the second a brilliant 64-yard catch and run by Blain in which he stopped twice to shake off would-be tacklers, essentially bootlegged around a third then picked up blockers down the sideline before a final cutback into the end zone.

After Smalling’s 67-yarder, Miller hit Patrick Murphy on an 18-yard fade route in the left corner of the north end zone, Clifton Taylor (11 carries, 50 yards) bulled over for a two-yard score and Smalling turned a short pass to the flat into a 23-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown dash.

Bartlett (5-5) came in averaging 46 points per game over the four-game win streak it put together after losing four of its first five games. But, against the Crusaders’ first-team defense in the first half, the Hawks managed just 106 yards while punting four times and turning the ball over on downs three.

“They out-matched us a little bit,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. “They’re a talented group. (Miller) is his conference’s (offensive) MVP — he’s very talented, very accurate. And his receivers can go get it, too.”