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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Fire win was great, but confetti?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chicago Fire player Drew Connor jogs through the confetti after the Fire’s win over Seattle Saturday night. Sports editor/columnist Jeff Vorva questioned a confetti celebration for a regular-season match against a defending MLS champ with a losing record.

 

I penalize the Chicago Fire for excessive celebration.

The Fire played great on Saturday night with a 4-1 victory over defending Major League Soccer champion Seattle at Toyota Park.

Chicago looked like an elite team in front of a sold-out announced crowd of 20,153 as well as a large TV audience on ESPN2.

After the game, the Fire players, as they usually do, went to the stands to thank their adoring fans for the support. It was a fine, happy moment.

And then, on the east side of the stadium, confetti fell.

Confetti?

Really?

Did the Fire just win an MLS championship? Did I miss something?

Confetti?

Look, this was one of the biggest wins in the Veljko Paunovic era and general manager Nelson Rodriguez and the officials behind the scenes deserve a tip of the cap and pats on the back for turning a two-time last-place team into an exciting entity.

But let’s get real, here.

Confetti is for championships. Not for a team that won its fourth game out of 10. Not for a regular-season match in May. Not for a team that rolled over a team that came into the match with a 2-3-4 record.

Not for a team that earned three points to stay in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

If knocking off a defending champion deserves confetti, Major League Baseball teams would lose money with all the squads beating the Cubs.

You celebrate your baby’s first steps, not first burps.

You celebrate your kid’s graduation not for surviving the 153rd day of school.

Personally, I think Fire officials should bring a Mack truck full of confetti on the road and let it loose the next time the team wins a road game because that is much more of a rare accomplishment.

OK, enough about the mess they made on the field after the game – let’s talk about the mess the Fire players made of the Sounders on the field during the game.

After spending the first five minutes or so on the Fire’s side of the field, the boys decided that they could actually cross the line and kick the ball around on the north side of the field, too.

Nemanja Nikolic is building up a resume for being an MLS MVP candidate as he scored for the Fire on a penalty kick in the 25th minute but that was negated three minutes late when Seattle’s Clint Dempsey returned the favor.

In the second half, David Accam, Luis Solignac and Nikolic scored in a 16-minute span and Seattle had no answer while the Fire defense and goalie Matt Lampson (making his second straight start of the year) played a clean second half.

"The team is growing, the team is growing,’’ Paunovic said and repeated. “The smiles are back in Bridgeview finally and it’s not only one game, this is the general feeling our team has inside the locker room and outside the locker room, when we are downtown in the city, wherever we are, we can feel there is a passion about the team's expectations, positive expectations.

“The people can see good results, can see great games like today, can see the overall improvement of our team, depth and the mentality where the team now feels confident and are capable of managing difficult games against difficult opponents, champions like Seattle. So, I would say the mentality changed with the consistency in believing and working hard and addressing things, fixing things on a daily basis, and wins like today help our chance to build on top of the confidence and good things we did in the past."

It was a big win for a franchise hoping to turn things around and it was a magical night.

But it didn’t deserve confetti.

Emulating Coach K: Wujcik credits longtime football coach for his baseball longevity

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards coach Brian Wujcik won his 500th career baseball game on May 2.

Some coaches who are lucky enough to land a head coaching gig at a young age are hotshots who are ready to make that job a stepping stone for something bigger and better.

Brian Wujcik, however, was not like that.

He grew up playing baseball at Richards and was an offensive star at the University of Iowa and when he was named the school’s head baseball coach for the 1992-93 season he wasn’t looking to leave. There was a guy at the Oak Lawn school – football coach Gary Korhonen – that Wujcik looked up to.

“Twenty five years go by in a hurry,” Wujcik said. “One of the blessings that I’ve had is to have an opportunity to work in the same building as Gary Korhonen. He was a coach here for (35) years (and won 315 games – sixth highest in the state) so I got a chance to witness the longevity, the stability and the dedication to a program. That was a big inspiration. I tried to emulate his program and run the baseball program the same way.’’

Wujcik picked up his 500th career victory on May 2 in thrilling fashion as the Bulldogs beat Shepard 7-6 in a South Suburban Red contest in Oak Lawn. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh, Nike Gall hit a two-run single to drive in the tying and winning runs.  

In 1986, Wujcik and Reavis star Mike Budds were named the first Regional-Reporter co-Players of the Year and when Wujcik went to Iowa, he set a school and Big Ten record when he drove in 10 runs in one game. He also set a school record with 12 doubles in a season and won a league batting title.

But playing the sport and coaching it are two different things, as he found out in his rookie season as the boss.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “My idea of practice was putting on a glove and showing the kids that I could still play. It took me a little while to realize that what I needed to do was teach them instead of going out to play with them.’’

The coach’s 500th win was memorable with the walk-off hit and celebration. Hie doesn’t remember much about the first win.

“It took five games and it was against Bloom,” he said. “I don’t know any of the details.’’

His players joked about his gunning for 1,000 victories but he is not sure that will be in the cards.

“I know Jack Kaiser at Oak Park River Forest coached for (more than) 45 years,” he said. “I don’t know if I have that in me.’’

 

Area Roundup: News on Oak Lawn's Hansen, new St. Laurence coach Nye and soccer seeds

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Hansen

Last year, Oak Lawn native Marc Hansen was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America first team as a junior.

This year, he made the second team.

To outsiders, that may sound like a downturn from 2016 but the former Oak Lawn Community High School star changed positions and spent a lot of time in the front row this year after three years of mostly back row work. He had just 31 kills and seven blocks in 75 career matches before moving to outside hitter this season.

Hansen had 257 kills and a .320 hitting percentage and added 32 blocks for Carthage this season. He still found his way to make big plays in the back row as he racked up 147 digs.

Carthage was one of the top teams in the country in NCAA Division III play but was shocked in the semifinals of the Midwest Collegiate Volleyball League tournament and did not receive a bid to the nationals, despite finishing 20-3.

 

Nye joins St. Laurence staff

Another coach with heavy Brother Rice ties was added to St. Laurence’s staff.

Former Brother Rice football coach Steve Nye will serve as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator and was hired as a dean of students. The move was announced shortly after former Brother Rice basketball star Jim Sexton was named as the Vikings’ basketball coach.

Nye brings more than a quarter century of high school teaching and administrative experience to the Burbank school. He comes to St. Laurence from Montini Catholic High School, where he helped revamp the school’s disciplinary systems and procedures as the school’s dean. He has previously served as assistant athletic director and assistant admissions director at York High School and Brother Rice.

“I’m thrilled about the opportunity to join the St. Laurence family,” Nye said. “It is a unique time to join a school with such a storied history and exciting vision for the future.”

A resident of the Beverly neighborhood and member of Christ the King parish, Nye also brings a strong coaching background to the Viking Football team.

He served as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator for Montini, who won the 2015 IHSA 6A Football Championship and were finalists in 2014. Nye was Brother Rice’s head football coach for 13 seasons until 2012. He led the team to a state semifinal appearance, three state quarterfinal appearances and ten state playoff appearances.

“Coach Nye’s history of winning football games complements our Viking tradition well,” said St. Laurence Football Coach Harold Blackmon. “As someone who knows the Chicago Catholic League, I am confident that he will help us build on our recent success.”

Nye replaces coach Bobbie Howard, who will coach at the sophomore level as he pursues his master’s degree.

St. Laurence made it to the state semifinals two years in a row. They made it that far in Class 5A in 2015 and Class 6A in 2017.

 Soccer seedings

The last time an area girls soccer team made it to the Illinois High School Association state tournament finals was 2010, when Sandburg finished second in Class 3A.

The coaches around the region are not confident anyone will get that far this year, if the seedings are any indication.

At the Sandburg sectional in Class 3A, the hosts drew the third seed behind Lincoln-Way East and Andrew. Stagg is sixth, Mother McAuley eighth, Shepard 10th and Oak Lawn 17th in the 17-team tournament.

In Class 2A, Marist is hosting a sectional and the hosts are also seeded third behind Lemont and Tinley Park. Evergreen Park is seventh and Richards is eighth.

In Class 1A, Chicago Christian is seeded third in the Manteno Sub-Sectional and Queen of Peace is fourth out of nine teams. 

 

SSC Blue baseball season officially sworn in

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence sophomore pitcher Marius Balandas bears down in his victory over Mt. Carmel on Saturday.

A fan arrived at the St. Laurence/Mt. Carmel baseball game at Haggerty Field in Chicago a little late on Saturday morning.

He looked and then squinted at the scoreboard, which showed that St. Laurence had scored nine runs in the top of the first inning.

“Holy (deleted)!” he said. “Is that NINE runs?”

That reaction came moments after one of the Mt. Carmel players walked off the field in disgust and shouted a dark oath of his own.

Now that’s putting the blue in the Chicago Catholic League Blue.

The powerhouse league got off to a wild start including St. Laurence’s shocking 11-1, five-inning, slaughter-rule victory as well as Brother Rice’s 16-1 slaughter-rule victory over Loyola in Wilmette and St. Rita’s 2-0 victory over three-time defending Illinois High School Association Class 4A state champ Providence.

There will likely be more cussing in anger and amazement before this season is done. After all, the stakes and emotions are high in a league that arguably has had the most success in state play in recent years. In seven of the past eight years, the Class 4A state championship game has seen either one or two CCL Blue teams participate.

Another wild year appears to be in store, if Saturday is any indication.

The preseason rankings from the Prep Baseball Report website saw Brother Rice as the No. 1-ranked team in the state with St. Laurence third. Things got shuffled around a bit after Rice went on the road and out of state to suffer some losses against powerhouse national teams in the USA Baseball National High School Tournament and fell to ninth. St. Laurence took over the No. 1 spot.

Heading into Saturday, CCL Blue teams had played a crossover game against each of seven CCL White teams, which counted in their league record and the eight Blue teams combined for a 50-6-1 record.

Brother Rice (which went 21-0 in league play last year), Mt. Carmel and Loyola each posted 7-0 marks against White teams while St. Laurence, Providence and St. Rita were 6-1.  St. Francis was 5-1-1 and Marmion 6-2.

Now it’s time to mix it up against each other for 14 games and Saturday was just the beginning.

The St. Laurence triumph was the most surprising as the No. 1 team in the state according to PBR dominated against No. 4 Caravan. The Vikings scored nine in the first with the big blow coming via Zach Verta’s grand slam over the right-center fence.  Matt McCormick drove in a pair of runs while Tim Molloy, Tommy Farrell and John Peterson also brought runs home in the first.

That gave sophomore pitcher Marius Balandis a lot of breathing room and he responded by allowing a run on three hits with seven strikeouts to improve to 5-0 and the Vikings’ pitching depth is even more dangerous this season with his presence.

Ryan Kutt had three doubles and four RBI and was the winning pitcher as Brother Rice whipped Loyola. Pat Mayo added three hits and drove in three runs to give the Crusaders their 10th straight win.

St. Rita’s Steve Washilweski shut out Providence in New Lenox.

There are plenty of huge games coming up in this league but it appears the two-game series between Brother Rice and St. Laurence on May 10 (in Chicago) and May 11 (in Burbank) could be the main event.

 

 

St. Laurence hires Sexton to replace outgoing Maley

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Jim Maley, crouched next to the scorer’s table, resigned as St. Laurence’s boys basketball coach for another job and Jim Sexton (seated on the last chair on the right) will take over.

 

Jim Malay has big shoes to fill. So does Jim Sexton.

Maley stepped down as St. Laurence boys basketball coach last week to reportedly accept the job at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates and was immediately replaced by his assistant coach Sexton, the school announced Friday.

Maley will take over for retiring Tom McCormack, who coached at Conant for 31 years, won 573 games and 13 regional titles. Maley coached the Vikings three years and posted a 40-50 record. While that record won’t get him into any Halls of Fame, he provided a three-year spark after the program went 51-137 the previous seven years. He will also miss a chance to coach one of the strongest sophomore classes at the school in recent memory.  

"This is a very bittersweet moment for me,” said Maley. “I absolutely love St. Laurence, my players, my students and the people I work with. While I'm excited for the next opportunity, I'm saddened to leave, however the program is in great hands. 

“Hiring Jimmy as an assistant was one of the best moves I've made. His passion, knowledge, and basketball pedigree will make him an excellent head coach. I truly believe that he, the returning players and coaching staff, will take another step forward and become a force in the Catholic League.  While I'm no longer the coach, I will be a huge fan of him, the program and the school."

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in the Maley era was in 2016, when the 13th-seeded Vikings finished fourth in the Chicago Catholic League Tournament.

Sexton is a Brother Rice graduate and Evergreen Park native who earned the Regional/Reporter Player of the Year honor in 1993 and 1994. He played college basketball at Creighton University and was a member of the first-ever NCAA tournament team at UIC. In high school, he was a three-time All-Catholic League player and earned All-State honors his senior year.

He is the 10th boys basketball coach in St. Laurence history. He served as assistant varsity coach and director of player development on the Viking basketball staff for the past two seasons. Sexton co-founded Beyond The Arc Academy, a basketball club in Evergreen Park that coaches and trains more than 250 boys and girls grade school basketball players.

“I’m privileged to have the opportunity to work with a great administration, group of coaches and, most importantly, group of student-athletes at St. Laurence,” said Sexton. “I truly appreciate the faith President Joe Martinez, Principal Jim Muting and Athletic Director Tim Chandler have in me to continue to move St. Laurence basketball into prominence, not only in the Catholic League, but in the state of Illinois. I would also like to thank coach Maley for putting the program in a positive place in which we can continue to build.”

 “Viking Basketball has come a long way in recent seasons, and we are excited for coach Sexton to take us to the next level,” said Chandler. “With coach Sexton, we will be able to provide continuity with the program that will allow us to have a seamless transition. We thank coach Maley for putting the team on the right track the past three seasons and wish him the best in the future.”

Current fifth through seventh grade boys can meet Sexton at a free basketball clinic from 930 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Students can sign up at www.stlaurence.com/clinics. For any questions about the clinic, contact Director of Admissions Joe Spano at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

This is the second area boys coach to resign. Earlier, longtime Stagg coach John Daniels left to spend more time with his family and his position has not been filled yet.