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JEFF VORVA'S EXTRA POINT: Cubs, NU hoops hope to end futility streak in 2016

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

The race is on.

Well, it’s actually been on for many years but now it appears that either a finish line or a mirage is in sight.

I’ve been posing this question for years and it has three answers.

What will happen first?

$1a)      The Cubs winning a World Series.

$1b)      Northwestern’s men’s basketball team making the NCAA Tournament.

$1c)       Neither. The world will end before the Cubs win the top prize and NU makes it to the Big Dance.

In 2016, it looks like both teams are put into a position where it could happen sooner than later.

I don’t want to overhype this or get people’s hopes up, but there are some good signs.

The Cubs gave their fans a huge Christmas present when they signed that washed-up bum outfielder Jason Hayward to a huge contract.

What? He’s not washed up?

He’s not a bum?

Well, that’s what St. Louis Cardinal fans are saying, heh, heh, heh.

On paper, the Cubs look like they just about have it all. Good hitting. Good pitching. A manager that is adored by players and most fans – although he was a washed out bum after that weekend the Cubs were clobbered by the lowly Phillies in late July according to some fans who called in to the sports yak radio stations.

But World Series titles are not won on paper. First, teams must go through a 162-game grind and the playoffs are a month of unpredictability in which the best team doesn’t always win. Just ask Lou Piniella after he guided Seattle to a 116-win season in 2001 and couldn’t bring the big prize home.

It’s going to be a long climb for the Cubs but it should end up being a fun season for the fans.

The smart money is that Northwestern would have the better chance. It’s easier to make it to the NCAA Tournament than it is to win a World Series, even though the Wildcats never made it.

Ever.

At least the Cub won a World Series, albeit more than a century ago.

NU’s streak of failure to qualify is astounding considering they had pretty good coaches such as Rich Falk, Bill Foster, the late Ricky Byrdsong, Kevin O’Neill, Bill Carmody and now Chris Collins, who is in his third year.

Year after year, the Wildcats generally have pretty decent non-conference seasons only to get torn up in the Big Ten Conference.

Carmody had four straight seasons of 17-14, 20-14, 20-14 and 19-14 overall but couldn’t put up a winning record in the Big Ten and that meant four trips to the NIT.

This year, the Wildcats have played a soft non-conference schedule and were 10-1 after beating DePaul in overtime Saturday.

I don’t think this is a great NU team, but the key is having a good Big Ten record. And some Big Ten teams are not setting the world on fire.

I see two winnable games against Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State.

I see winnable games against Wisconsin, Illinois and Rugters.

That’s nine wins there.

I see two likely losses against Maryland and one likely loss against Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan.

That’s six losses there.

They have two games with up-and-down Ohio State and one against Indiana and if they pick off one or two of those games, they are in great position for a plus .500 season in the Big Ten, which should put them in the NCAA Tournament.

But, keep in mind a lot of people have predicted this success after promising non-conference seasons only to have those dreams dashed over and over.

So who wins the end-of-the-futility race?

Let’s hope we all live long enough to see a winner.

Three more named Reporter-Regional Players of the Year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

BOYS CROSS COUNTRY PLAYER OF THE YEAR

SEAN TORPY

 

Page 1 boys CC player of the year

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Sean Torpy poses with Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin when Sandburg was honored by the village.

 

Vince Capuano did not run on Sandburg’s state championship cross country team.

He is not even on the roster.

But he may have had one of the biggest hand in the Eagles’ success without even realizing it six years ago.

Capuano convinced fellow Jerling sixth grader Sean Torpy to go out for cross country.

But Torpy wanted no part of it.

“It was my first day of school and the first day of practice for cross country and I was hemming and hawing about going out for the team,’’ Torpy said. “I was just about to walk out of the building and Vince came over and grabbed me by the hook of my backpack and said ‘I don’t want to go to practice alone.’ ’’

Sean tried out, loved the sport, and convinced his twin brother, Chris, to get involved, too.

In November the Torpys helped the Eagles win their first Class 3A boys cross country state championship and they went on to finish fourth in the nation. Sean Torpy became the Eagles’ top runner in the postseason and has been named the first Reporter-Regional Boys Cross Country Player of the Year.

Torpy finished third in the state with a time of 14 minutes, 25 seconds, and also was first at the Hinsdale Central Sectional. Odds are, the senior probably would have won a regional race, but many of the top Sandburg runners sat out that event to concentrate on sectionals and state.

Chris[j1] , is one of Sean’s biggest fans.

“He’s one of two guys on the team who has been running his whole career,” Chris said. “He’s been doing it since sixth grade. He was motivated for the team to win a state title. It’s been his dream for years even before he got into high school. Now that he is in high school and we won a state title…I’m proud of him and I love to see him up there and leading us. He motivates me and he motivates the other runners.

“He led the team to our first state title and it’s definitely worth it for him.’’

--Jeff Vorva

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY PLAYER OF THE YEAR

APRIL VAN RYN

Page 1 Girls cross country player of the year

When Chicago Christian’s Allie Boss, April van Ryn, Alexis van Ryn and Jill Van Dyk teamed together to win the Class 2A 4x800 meter relay championship at the University High Track and Field Sectional in the spring and qualified for state, they knew they had a special team.

Three of the four athletes were on the cross country team in 2014 that finished 18th in the state and they decided to convince the fourth – April Van Ryn – to come out for the team this year.

Not only did van Ryn join the team, the junior finished first in the McNamara regional to help the Knights easily win that title by 39 points and she took second in the Lisle Sectional and helped the Knights win that event by 43 points.

The big test was going to come at the state meet on Nov. 6. As her teammates attested, the state meet can be overwhelming for a first-time qualifier because of the enormity of the event and the volume of runner in the race at Detweiler Park in Peoria.

She passed the test.

Once again, she led the Knights finishing 28th place overall with a time of 18 minutes 35 seconds and scored 17 points for her team and is named the Reporter-Regional’s first Girls Cross Country Player of the Year.

The Knights finished seventh in the state meet, up 11 spots from last year and van Ryn’s presence was one of the main reasons.

“She did so well on the track team that we really wanted her on the cross country team,” said Van Dyk, who finished second for the Knights in the state meet. “She really helped us a lot. We’re hoping next year we can place even higher.’’

The race was not as overwhelming for van Ryan because she knew what to expect, courtesy of the wisdom of her teammates and coach Jake Christiansen.

“I felt good and our race strategy helped a lot,” van Ryn said. “We needed to relax for the first mile and work harder in the second and third miles.’’

--Jeff Vorva

GIRLS SWIMMING PLAYER OF THE YEAR

CLARE LAWLOR

Page 1 girls swimmer player of the year

By winning medals in two events at the recent IHSA State Swimming finals at New Trier, Sandburg senior Clare Lawlor raised her career state medal total to seven, including six individual awards.

“It was a very sweet taste at state,” she said of the experience at New Trier High School Nov. 20-21.

The seven total medals earned by Lawlor also broke the school swimming record, for both boys and girls, of six medals captured by Brittany Kamper from 2009-2012 as Lawlor earned the first Reporter-Regional Girls Swimming Player of the Year.

The Rutgers-bound Lawlor finished fourth in the 100-yard freestyle (51.27) and seventh in the 50 freestyle (23.52). The finish in the 100 was the only time in her career that she qualified in the championship heat (top six places).

“For myself, it was really great to finish off the year so strong,” Lawlor said. “Also, to be able to share the experience with my teammates who also worked hard was really great. Had a lot of sophomores step and a freshman who really showed us what she had. She really helped us.”

With a young team to start the season, Lawlor took advantage of the opportunity to a mentor an example to the underclassmen. She got her first experience at state as a freshman, when she competed on the Eagles' 400-free relay team that finished ninth. That experience whetted her appetite for more.

“Every day in practice I really tried to help the team out because practices are so challenging,” she said. “It was good to help them and to put a perspective on the daily duties and also to positive for my teammates in every practice.”

In her career at Sandburg, Lawlor swam under the guidance of two coaches – the late and beloved Jane Caliendo and current coach Anna McBride. She said she’s grateful for the influence of both.

“Coach Caliendo impacted me significantly as an underclassmen,” she said. “Coach McBride was also a great mentor, and it was great having her as a coach. She worked so hard, and it motivated all of us to work harder.”

--Anthony Nasella


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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Red Stars hope for bigger kick with return to Toyota Park

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Columnsig924

 

In an area such as this, where professional teams such as the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks have such a stranglehold on sports fans, it’s hard to break in and survive.

So when a new venture of a women’s soccer team popped up in 2009, I have to admit that I figured it would last three or four years before dissolving like many other sports ventures that dared to go up against the big five.

But the Chicago Red Stars are still around. They have gone through rocky times and I’m not actually sure how strong and stable the organization is financially, but I do know two things:

1—They are still here.

2—They are coming back home.

The team announced last Thursday that it will play its 2016 home games back at the 20,000-seat Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The Red Stars started there in 2009 and 2010 and left for the 3,000-seat Benedictine University venue in Lisle for the last five years.

Coming home will be like a new beginning for the franchise.

 “In 2016, it’s time to return to our original home – Toyota Park. Our fans and sponsors will now enjoy an exciting game day environment in a major league stadium, while our players and the rest of the teams throughout the NWSL will enjoy the benefits of competing on a world class, natural grass pitch,” said Arnim Whisler, owner of the Chicago Red Stars in a statement.  “It was hard to leave Toyota Park in 2010, but we are thankful for the warm reception and incredible support of Benedictine University and the Village of Lisle over the last three years.  It gave us an intimate and affordable setting as our club and the league have grown.”

Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek said Thursday he is glad to see the Red Stars back in his town.

“Women’s soccer has been growing and we think they can get a couple of thousand fans per game next year,” he said. “This is exciting.’’

The trouble with women’s soccer is that the casual fan only seems to get excited about it when the USA does well in the World Cup.

One selling point for the Red Stars is that the National Women’s Soccer League is so strong that fans will get to see every member of the 2015 World Cup champs on their respective team at Toyota Park in 2016.

Another selling point is the price. Officials say that more than 25 percent of the seating will be priced at $25 or less.

Also, parking will be free.

So in this second go-around at Toyota Park, the organization has a solid game plan.

But what is on the field will be just as important.

In 2009, the Red Stars won their first game of the year and then proceeded to go nine straight games without a win and built up an ugly 451-minute stretch without a goal. That doesn’t put fans in the seats.

The team has changed leagues a couple of times and had some decent seasons in Lisle and is coming off an 8-3-9 season and it made it to the semifinals of the National Women’s Soccer League Tournament. So the product on the field in 2016 should be pretty decent.

The Southwest Regional Publishing group, of which this newspaper is a part of, plans on giving the Red Stars coverage we hope to step up our coverage on the Chicago Fire as well. The Fire has done an outstanding job staying alive despite the big five.

All the ingredients are there for a better experience at Toyota Park for the Red Stars this time.

Will the Red Stars be able to start knocking off one of the big five? That’s highly doubtful.

But if they can put a product on the field that will bring fans back to Bridgeview game after game, perhaps they can carve a nice niche out for themselves and stay around awhile longer.Columnsig924

 

Reporter-Regional Players of the year: Boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

BOYS SOCCER PLAYER OF THE YEAR

RYAN KOZLOWSKI

BOYS SOCCER PLAYER OF THE YE AR

Photos by Jeff Vorva

When Sandburg senior Ryan Kozlowski was suddenly brought up to varsity team his sophomore year when the Eagles entered the IHSA state playoffs, the talented underclassman got a taste of varsity action on a higher stage.

That experience stoked Kozlowski’s desire to be the best and two years later, he has been named the Reporter/Regional’s first Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

In 2015, Kozlowski scored a team-high 16 goals and helped Sandburg capture a regional championship before the team was denied further advancement on a rain-soaked field against rival Andrew in the sectional.

“I’ll never forget how excited I was with that experience as a sophomore and being able to play during an important part of the season,” Kozlowski said. “I had lots of club experience, but you learn so many parts of the game when playing varsity soccer. I’ve learned so much in the past two years.”

Kozlowski said that as a senior leader, he also learned the value of friendship with just about every player on the varsity squad this season.

“I only knew a couple of the guys on the team at the beginning of the season, and I know I’m happy to say that I’m pretty good friends with all of them,” he said. “This was a great group of guys to play with and go to battle with.

“We proved all season that we were a team that could battle back and was always in the game.”

Kozlowski said a great deal of his success is attributed to the guidance of head coach Desi Vuillaume, who said Kozlowski led by example.

“Not only did coach show me how to be a better player, he showed how me to class act off the field as a well as on,” he said.

--Anthony Nasella

GIRLS GOLF PLAYER OF THE YEAR

HANNAH KILBANE

GIRLS GOLF PLAYER OF THE YEAR

One of Sandburg freshman Hannah Kilbane’s biggest accomplishments on the golf course this fall was relatively quiet.

The Eagles were at the Marian Catholic Class AA Regional at the Lincoln Oaks course in Crete and fired a 302. Emilyee McGiles was the talk of the tournament by winning the tournament with a 68.

The oohing and aahing over the dominance shown by the team and McGiles overshadowed an amazing nine-hole stretch by Kilbane, who followed up a front-nine 40 with a stunning back-nine 32.

Kilbane’s other accomplishments were not so silent. She won the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue title (shooting a 79) and was the top Eagles scorer in their second-place finish (73) in sectional play and sixth-place finish in the state tournament (164 in two rounds).

The freshman was named the first Reporter/Regional Girls Golf Player of the Year.

It was not the easiest situation to come into. Two years ago, the Eagles qualified for state for the first time in school history and they finished 11th. In 2014, the Eagles took fifth in the state and while they had plenty of talent back, they lost an ace in graduated Frankie Saban.

During an undefeated dual season, the Eagles had shared the wealth with seemingly a different player leading the team every match.

Little did the St. Michael graduate know that she would become such a postseason force. She said she felt welcome right away.

“It’s been really fun because my team has really been awesome,” she said. “No one put any pressure on me. I put pressure on myself because I really wanted to do well.’’

Kilbane said she started getting serious about golf four years ago and has participated in United States Kids Golf events. But her debut as a freshman was anything but kidding around.

--Jeff Vorva

GIRLS TENNIS PLAYER OF THE YEAR

ANNA LOUREIRO

GIRLS TENNIS PLAYER OF THE YEAR

 

One game.

That’s all Sandburg freshman Anna Loureiro lost at the Sandburg Sectional in October and that came against Stagg freshman Karolina Wolowiec.

The young sectional champion advance to the Illinois High School state tournament and won her first two matches, which put her in the top 32. Although she lost her next two matches to bow out of the tournament on the second day, her finish was the best in the area and the start of what could be an amazing prep career as she is named the first Reporter/Regional Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

Since the end of her first high-school season, Loureiro went back to the United States Tennis Association circuit. She competed a tournament in Dayton, Ohio in late November and is ranked No. 213 in the nation among 14-year-olds. She has a 60-31 mark in USTA competition and said that her biggest accomplishment was finishing second at a Level II tournament two years ago.

After facing some of the best players in the country during the offseason, she was able to go 26-6 in her first season for coach Brian Ostrander at Sandburg.

“I didn’t think I would do this well,” she said. “I tried not to put too much pressure on myself. Even though the players are older, I expect the best from myself.’’

She said she’s played serious tennis for six years. After she found out she had a knack for playing badminton when she was eight, she decided to give tennis a chance because it was more of an intense sport.

She said she fell in love with the sport because of its individual nature.

“I love how it’s just me on the court and no one else,” she said. “Even though it’s really intense, it’s just me and all I can do is rely on myself.’’

--Jeff Vorva

BOYS GOLF PLAYER OF THE YEAR

PETE VOS

BOYS GOLF PLAYER OF YEAR VOS

When the Chicago Christian boys golf team advanced to the IHSA Class 1A state finals this past season, it was the first time junior Pete Vos had ever competed on such a prominent stage.

And the way Vos and his teammates performed at the state finals – with the team finishing fifth and Voss placing 10th individually – it would have been easy to mistaken the group for a team which competed in the finals before.

And that’s what made Vos’ performance all the more impressive as he shot a 79 on day one and concluded with an 81 on day two at state and earned the Reporter/Regional’s first Boys Golfer of the Year honor.

“We all just wanted to go down there and have fun and also represent the name of our school,” Vos said. “I knew it was going to be a unique opportunity, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the competition would be tough, and I definitely didn’t expect to golf so well.”

But to hear Chicago Christian head coach Colin Brookyse tell it, he wasn’t very surprised of Voss’ success this season.

“He’s been our No. 1 golfer all year, and he’s averaged about a 38 for nine holes all season” Broekhuis said. “He was so consistent and is very laid back on the golf course. He and our No. 2 golfer (fellow junior) Nate Kamp both love golf and love coming to practice. They golf all summer long.’’

Vos said he was grateful for where he finished at State but said he had his focus on a loftier height at the state meet.

“The place was great, but I was more focused in honoring the Lord Jesus Christ in what I did,” he said. “It was a memorable experience.”

--Anthony Nasella

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- SWSC super football conference could be super confusing

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

Pay attention, class.

There may be a quiz later.

I was good at general math but not algebra. And the new SouthWest Suburban Conference football schedule for next year and beyond have me scratching my head.

Here’s the deal.

The conference has 16 schools broken into two divisions. The Blue has eight of the biggest schools and the Red has the other eight.

Joliet Central and Joliet West will leave the Blue to join the South Suburban Prairie Conference and Lincoln-Way North is leaving the Red because the school is closing down.

This is the easy part. If you take away three from 16, you have 13 teams left. I get that.

But here’s where the powers that be throw a little curveball when it comes to next year’s football schedule and possibly beyond that.

Instead of having one division with seven teams and one with six (like they will be doing for most of the other sports such as volleyball, basketball and wrestling) the SWSC officials decided to have one big 13-team super conference for football.

The trouble is, there are nine weeks to play football during the regular season.

This is where it starts to feel a little like algebra in my mind.

Bradley Bourbonnais Athletic Director Mike Lehning, who is the conference representative, tried explaining it to me recently.

“Who you play is based on a combination of size of the school and your record in the conference for the last four years,” he said. “You obviously can’t play everybody. It’s 50-50 based on the size of your school and your record as to how tough your schedule it.’’

But the schedule won’t be 50-50.

Some schools will play seven conference game and some will play six.

“If it happens that a team is 7-0 and a team that is 6-0, we will have conference co-champs,’’ he said.   “Some crazy things will have to occur for that to happen, but it could. Same if one team is 6-1 and a team is 5-1.’’

It’s a little like the old Big Ten Conference or even the current East Suburban Catholic Conference where no one plays everyone.

The two local teams in the league – Sandburg and Stagg – have interesting schedules.

Sandburg has six conference games. The Eagles will open the season with two non-conference games and will play Thornton the third week, Bolingbrook, Stagg, Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way East, a  non-conference game week eight and finish the regular season against Lincoln-Way West.

Stagg will play two non-conference game and dive into a seven-game conference schedule by playing Bolingbrook, Lincoln-Way West, Sandburg, Thornridge, Thornwood, Lockport and Andrew.

Some teams will have holes in their conference schedules.

“One team will be out every week,” Lehning said. “Some schools will have to find non-conference games during the season. What’s lucky is that there are other conferences in similar situations. The DuPage Valley Conference is one. The Big 12 --- which is between Peoria and Danville – doesn’t have 12 teams. They are looking for games in the middle of their conference season.

“I’m not speaking for the other schools in our conference, but those are other conferences with teams available. We have Urbana in week 7.  For us, that will work. I don’t know where the others are going.’’

He said this setup will “go on as long as we have an odd number in the conference.’’

When it comes to the other sports in which all 13 conference members have teams, it will continue to be broken up into the Blue and Red.

In 2016-17, the Blue will feature Sandburg, Stagg, Lockport, Bolingbrook, Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East.

The Red will have Lincoln-Way Central, Bradley, Andrew, Thornton, Thornwood, Lincoln-Way West and Thornridge

That’s the easy math.

The tricky part is that it will likely change in 2017-18.

Right now, the conference teams are broken up by enrollment figures from this school year so they can get rolling on finishing up the schedule.

But 2017-18 will be using the enrollment figures from 2016-17, which are expected to be different.

 “The numbers of enrollment are going to change,” Lehning said. “Because North won’t exist, all the populations in the Lincoln-Way schools will increase. We won’t know those numbers until next fall. So this is a one-year deal.’’

Got all that? Good. The quiz will be coming shortly.

When I stop scratching my head.

 What’s in a name?

I once went to high school with a kid named Ronald McDonald and knew another kid named Richard Nixon.

They were named long before Ronald was a clown and Nixon was not a crook.

Both kids received some commentary from their peers for most of their lives and let me make this perfectly clear, it was not all flattering.

I once covered a basketball game in which the coach smartly used his nickname. Chuck Manson sounds a lot easier on the ears than his given name – Charles Manson.

This year, I saw a couple of names pop up in the world of high school basketball from a couple of players who probably enjoyed their names a lot more than they do now.

In Libertyville, there is an emerging star named Drew Peterson.

At Morgan Park Academy, one of the top scorers is Isis Rodriquez.

Tough times to have those names.

 Players of the Year revealed

Is football finally over?

OK, now we can finally run our fall athletic Player of the Year stories. Anthony Nasella and I have been busy getting these bad boys together and we are recognizing the best of the best in nine sports including eight that we’ve never given postseason recognition to.

We have four on our front page this week.

Next week, look for our Player of the Year winners in boys cross country, girls cross country and girls swimming.

Finally, on Dec. 24 we will run our girls volleyball and football Player of the Year stories.

And I am already digging into the vaults for our top 10 sports stories of the year for 2015, which will run Dec. 31, and have gotten through June and already nine stories have jumped out at me. A lot has happened since then so it’s going to be a year in which it’s going to be hard to choose.

That’s what makes it frustrating.

And that’s what makes it fun.