Several area wrestlers battling in state tournament

  • Written by Jason Maholy


Photo by Jason Maholy

Marist's Diata Drayton has the upper hand against Nick Sondag of Waubonsie Valley in the Downers Grove North Class 3A Sectional title match at 220 pounds.



Diata Drayton believes no wrestler in his weight class can beat him when he is at his best.

“That's my mentality – the winner's mentality,” the Marist senior said after winning the 220-pound title last Saturday at the Illinois High School Association Class 3A Downers Grove North Sectional.

And Drayton must be at his best every time he steps on the mat. He will enter the state tournament 40-0, and as the wins piled up this season while the losses remained at zero, he became a marked man. He understands that for a while now he has had to be prepared to thwart every opponent's greatest effort as they've tried to drop him from the ranks of the unbeaten.

“It only makes me work harder because everyone's gunning to beat me, so I've got to do my best out there,” he said.

Drayton cruised to the sectional title, pinning Adnane Lanaati of Oak Lawn in 2:21 and Jesus Lopez of Glenbard East in 44 seconds before handling Nick Sondag of Waubonsie Valley, 11-3, in the championship bout. Sondag entered the final 36-1.

Drayton will be making his third appearance at the state tournament, which begins today at the University of Illinois' State Farm Center in Champaign. He placed fourth last season at 220 pounds.

“It feels good, I worked hard for it,” he said of earning one last opportunity to win a state title. “I wrestled a lot over the summer, different guys, to help me get better. I said that I wouldn't let [losing his final match of the season] happen again, so I've worked to get better and better every time out.”

The biggest difference for Drayton this season is that he's able to push himself late in matches when both he and his opponents are tiring.

“Even though I'm up, I try to get more take-downs,” he said.

Domenic Zaccone of Stagg will also enter the state tournament unbeaten after taking the Downers Grove North Sectional crown at 113 pounds. The sophomore pinned two opponents and beat another by technical fall before earning a hard-fought, 6-4 decision over Tommy Russell of St. Rita in the title match.

Zaccone took fourth last season at 106 pounds, and has ambitions to be a three-time state champion. That, of course, means he must win that first title this weekend; and despite his unblemished record he acknowledged he has some work to do if he hopes to be atop the podium Saturday evening.

“I just didn't like the second and third periods [in the title match], how they went,” he said. “There's a lot to improve on based on today. The semifinal match felt great, got two take-downs and back points right away, but then started getting slow.”

Zaccone doesn't think much about being undefeated – his focus is on dominating his opponent every time he steps on the mat, he said. After falling short of a state championship last season, he doesn't take g for granted.

“Coming into this year it was like, 'Okay, you need to step up your game. If you want to be a three-time state champ you've got to get this first one. I've been working on everything to be the best. [Being undefeated]'s fine, but I don't really pay attention to it. I just try to pay attention to what's in front of me. Numbers are numbers; when you're wrestling there's no numbers out there.”

Pat Brucki of Sandburg is the other area wrestler who won a title in Downers Grove. The two-time state medalist will head to Champaign 40-1, and unbeaten against Illinois wrestlers. He easily defeated Mason Kroening of Waubonsie Valley, 17-5, in the semifinals at 195 pounds, then beat Illinois Matmen's No. 2-ranked wrestler, Downers Grove South’s Sergio Villalobos, 20-5, in the final.

Other state qualifiers via the Downers Grove North Sectional are a pair of 120-pounders, Jacob Dado of Marist (second place) and Patrick Nolan of Sandburg (fourth place); and Noah Price of Stagg, who finished fourth at 132; Cole Bateman of Sandburg, third at 220; and Malik Scates of Sandburg, third at 285.

Class 2A

Brother Rice is sending eight wrestlers to state including Thornridge Sectional champs Hassan Johnson (120 pounds) and Jake Hutchinson (170).

Other Crusaders who qualified were Angel Granado (126), Rahman Johnson (145), Dominick Murphy (152), Paul Gilva (160), Scott Sierzega (220) and Myles Ruffin (285).

Richards will bring two wrestlers to Champaign -- Basil Muhammad (113) and Anthony Quinn (195).


A perfect scene -- area bowlers heading to state

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick



Photo by Aaron FitzPatrick

Richards qualified for state for a second straight year. From left to right: Phoenix Lopez, Katie Strache, Gina Bartkus, Caitlyn Solomon, Alexandra Wozniak, Peyton Attig, Sarah Coffman and Mia Jones.


You can’t beat perfection.

For 12 frames, Richards High School senior bowler, Alexandra Wozniak, was as good as a bowler can get at last week’s Oak Lawn Sectional Saturday at Palos Lanes in Palos Hills. In the sixth and final game of the tournament, Wozniak rolled a perfect 300 and helped lift the Lady Bulldogs to the state tournament, which starts Friday at Cherry Bowl in Rockford.

Richards head coach, Emily Gesell, said Wozniak is “the calm through the storm,” for the Bulldogs.

That description was tested in the sectional Wozniak continued to post one “X” after another on the scoreboard.  As the strikes piled up, so did the crowd around her lanes to witness a rarity in the sport. Wozniak, whose previous best was a 279, appeared to be calm and just having fun after each frame. However, inside, she said it was just the opposite, especially in the later frames.

“I’ve been shaking since the ninth frame,” Wozniak said. “I had a rhythm going but I pulled that last ball. You need a little luck in bowling sometimes.”

Wozniak said the thought of a perfect game never enters her mind during a match.

“Of course it would be awesome if I did but I didn’t think it was going to happen today,” she said. “Well, maybe after seven strikes I thought maybe I could do this.”

Gesell said Wozniak has always had the potential for a 300 game.

 “I knew she had it in her. She’s one of our most consistent and level headed bowlers,” said Gesell. “I knew she had the potential to do that this year but over those last couple of balls is was, ‘Alright, Alex. Stay calm. Just stay calm.’”

How does a coach deal with the situation as she watches one of her own try to achieve perfection?

“I may appear calm, but inside I’m a little bit jittery,” Gesell. “It happened. So I guess I was calm enough.”

Wozniak’s score solidified a spot for Richards in the state tournament for the second year in a row and propelled her to a second place individual finish with a 222.7 average. She finished just six pins behind sectional champion Serenity Quintero of Waubonsie Valley. Waubonsie Valley also brought home the sectional title with a 6,212 followed by Richards (5,949), York (5,428) and host Oak Lawn (5,407).

It is Richards’ ninth appearance in the state tournament and the Bulldogs finished fourth in 1977 and 1986. Last year, the team took 13th and Wozniak finished 36th.

This is Oak Lawn’s state debut as a team.

Oak Lawn high scorer, Allison Hebel, said the team is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s crazy,” said Hebel. “We’ve been looking forward to it this whole season. We thought we had a really strong team coming this year and we have a lot of great freshman and sophomores who are helping us. It’s great to finally make it.”

Andrew sectional

Sandburg junior Emily Schrader, who finished 10th in the state last year, took fourth place in the Andrew Sectional Saturday at Orland Bowl and earned a return trip to Rockford. She opened with a 169 and needed a big finish in her last five games to qualify.

She followed with a 257-227 to finish the morning session with a 653. She rolled a 204-228-266 for a 698 to vault up the standings.

“I was thinking too much the first game,” she said. “I was overhooking and changed my ball. It seems like lately my first game of each set has been lower. But I can’t get down on myself.’’

Eagles junior Sophia Jablonski became one of the first two bowlers in Illinois to compete in the wheelchair division and she rolled a 459 in four games to qualify for state.

--Sports Editor Jeff Vorva contributed to this report


Changes are coming to CCL, including vanquishing hoops tourney

  • Written by Frank Gogola


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Mike Shepski dribbles by St. Laurence’s Isiah Harvey in a game on Jan. 31. The two could face each other Sunday in the second round of the last Chicago Catholic League Tournament. 

Major changes are coming to the Chicago Catholic League, especially in boys basketball.

After a four-year run, this season’s ongoing CCL basketball tournament will be the last one. CCL basketball teams and other team sports will be realigned from a geographical model to a parity model in hopes of balancing competition and marketing the league.

Both changes were voted on and approved by the 18 CCL athletic directors by a majority vote. Specifics of the realignment are still being discussed.

Southwest Regional Publishing area schools that will be affected are Brother Rice, St. Laurence, St. Rita and Mt. Carmel.

Here are some of the more pressing issues:

End of the conference tournament

Area coaches and athletics directors spoke strongly in favor of wanting to keep the CCL tournament.

St. Rita athletic director Mike Zunica, St. Laurence AD Tim Chandler and Mt. Carmel AD Dan LaCount said they voted in favor of keeping the tournament.

While teams from most other conferences are playing through their conference a second time, CCL teams did so in a bracket format.

“The finality of the state tournament is like boom, you lose and your season is over, so you have to make every possession matter,” Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said. The CCL tournament “gets you in that mindset before the state tournament.”

When Gary DeCesare started coaching at St. Rita in 2009-10, he was looking for a way to prepare for the state tournament other than just practices. League coaches bought in on the tournament idea, and he and Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino ran the first tournament following the 2013-14 season before the CCL took it over.

“The level of competition absolutely prepares them for the state tournament,” DeCesare said. “Everybody’s goal is to win a state title. This gives a Chicago Catholic League teams a chance to win a tournament, a championship.”

In the tournament’s first three years, Fenwick in 2016 was the only regular-season champion from the CCL North or South to win the tournament.

“Teams that weren’t in the running for a conference championship at the end of the season still had something to work toward at that point,” Chandler said. “It was awesome for the kids and the program to have a couple upsets and create that buzz. It almost had that March Madness feeling.”

The main opposition to the CCL tournament came from smaller schools. CCL teams in 1A or 2A start regionals one week before 3A and 4A, so they have almost no time off between the CCL tournament, which has a consolation bracket, and regionals.

Other issues were logistics and travel. Some games sites were set while others were determined by wins and losses, which could be an issue at co-ed schools if girls basketball was hosting a regional. There was a noticed a lack of interest in weeknight and neutral-site games, especially in the consolation bracket, with schools spread out in the northern, western and southern suburbs.

Zunica said there won’t be any CCL tournaments “in the near future.”

Conference realignment

CCL basketball realignment is part of an ongoing process to make the conference more appealing through a parity model that groups teams based on success.

The main factors in the parity model are conference records from the last two years, enrollment of male students instead of total enrollment since some schools are co-ed, and participation numbers in that sport to account for roster depth of larger schools, according to Providence Catholic athletic director Doug Ternik, who is on the CCL Parity Committee.

“Teams want to join a league where they know they can have a chance to compete,” Zunica said. “If you have different conferences with parity where that team could envision themselves in one of those divisions and have the ability to compete, then that would be attractive. That is the entire goal: to always be attractive to somebody if we wanted to expand.”

The realignment also evens out conferences. After Hales and Seton closed, the CCL South was left with eight teams and seven conference games, and the CCL North had 10 teams and nine conference games.

The proposed basketball model will be two nine-team conferences. They’re expected to play eight division games and three crossovers since there won’t be a tournament.

In the fall, soccer was the first to use a parity model, and boys volleyball will have a parity model this spring, although those were based more on an eye test than a scientific model. Baseball is expected to make the switch in spring 2018 and football in fall 2018. Other team sports will go to a parity model in the future.

It’s a great way to keep things fresh in the league, interest outside schools and make sure we remain the best conference in the state,” LaCount said.

Teams good at basketball but bad at soccer may be in the top basketball conference and a lower soccer conference. Not all sports using the parity model will be limited to two conferences. Football is expected to be four.

Parity model data will be rerun every two years to promote or relegate teams based on success. There’ll be an appeal process for school to appeal up or down a division, LaCount said.

Basketball realignment changes will continue to be discussed. They need to be approved by the school presidents and are expected to become official in May.


Rice wins CCL South

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor won the Catholic League title Friday night against Leo. He also won the crown as a player 12 years ago. 


Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor was a senior on the Crusaders’ 2005 team, their last — until Friday night — to win a Catholic League South title.

Josh Niego, this year’s leading scorer and rebounder, was asked what he knew about that squad.

“I know they shared it,” he said.

Consider that the closest thing to smack talk in the aftermath of Brother Rice’s 55-45 win over Leo, with which the Crusaders (20-3) closed out a perfect 7-0 league season.

Except that it wasn’t smack at all. It was Niego, who went over 1,000 points for his career in a 60-45 win Tuesday over St. Laurence, relaying yet another lesson taught by his coaches.

“It still bothers coach today,” he said. “Winning outright was huge for the whole program.”

Wearing the net he’d helped cut down minutes earlier around his neck, Niego said he was happiest for “everybody. … It’s the guys, the Brother Rice community, our relationship with the coaches — it’s all about the coaching. They make us look good by putting us in the right places, and we make them look good by making shots.”

In the win over Leo (17-6, 5-2), they did so, especially, early, and especially when Mike Shepski was shooting.

Shepski, Brother Rice’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, went 4-for-4 from outside the arc in the first half, as the Crusaders stormed to a 32-19 lead. His sixth trey on the night — and 210th on his career — gave Rice a 48-28 lead at the outset of the fourth quarter.

But Shepski, who finished with a game-high 24 points, wasn’t the only Crusaders sharpshooter. Jack O’Connor was 3-of-6 from 3-point range on his way to 11 points and Niego and Brendan Coghlan each added a trey as Rice finished 9-of-15 (.600) from long distance.

Overall, the Crusaders were 19-of-35 (.543) from the field for the game.

Leo, which prefers a deliberate style and working the ball inside, wasn’t given many of those looks from a packed-in Rice defense. The Lions went 3-of-11 from 3-point range and were led by Aamir Holmes’ 12 points.

“Leo’s a good team,” Shepski said. “We knew we had to work the ball around every possession and get good shots. We did, and we’ve got so many good shooters.”

After Leo opened the contest with a bucket for its only lead of the game and Rice answered with a Josh Boulanger put-back, Shepski hit his first trey from the top of the key to put the Crusaders in the lead for good. He closed the quarter with another from the same spot.

“That’s a big thing for confidence and rhythm,” he said, “getting the first couple to go down.”

Not that Shepski ever lacks for confidence.

“He’s so explosive with the ball in his hands,” Frasor said. “We don’t really draw up plays for him. We live with a lot of his shots we wouldn’t let anybody else on the team take — I’m fine with that.”

Too, Frasor will live with making room for another championship banner in the Rice rafters beside that of his ’05 squad’s.

“This is better — this is so much fun,” Frasor said when asked to rank cutting down the nets as a player or watching his charges do so as a coach. “It’s fun seeing other guys have success. I want everyone in our program to enjoy helping others succeed.”

From his playing days at North Carolina, Frasor took a motto from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.

“‘It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit,’” Frasor said. “That’s what we believe, and that’s the way these guys play.”


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: If Queen of Peace can't be saved, there still might be a happy ending

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



The last sporting event ever in the Queen of Peace gym – followed by a two-hour Senior Night celebration for the girls basketball team – took place Thursday night in Burbank and it was an evening of cheers and tears.

Just two days prior, the players found out that the Queen of Peace community was about to be torn to pieces as the school is scheduled to close after this school year. The timing of the announcement was not great as the Pride is going through a historic season and entered this week’s action with a 25-1 record, including Thursday’s 73-33 win over Kennedy.

Look, I realize that this is going to affect a lot of people and not just the student-athletes.

I feel bad for any freshmen, sophomores and juniors who developed deep friendships that might be in jeopardy.

I feel bad for any student who has had their lives changed by some of the teachers and may not see their mentors again.

I feel bad for the teachers who have to scramble to find new jobs and new Principal Catherine Klod. This decision has practically reduced her to Principal-For-A-Day status.

But, I’m the sports guy and this is the sports section and I am also feeling sorry for the players who have to deal with all of this dread during a great season.

The basketball announcer at the Pride’s games, Pat Griffin, is a barrel of optimism that the school will not close. During the senior night celebration, he gave a rousing couple of minutes of yelling and trying to get everyone involved.

“I want you to write to Oprah Winfrey!” he bellowed to hundreds of parents and students. “I want you to write to Ellen DeGeneres! I want you to write to Gloria Steinem! To Jane Fonda…I know you young girls are looking at me because you don’t know them…but they are all people who are powerful women.

“You know what? There has to be a chance! There has got to be a chance! So I want everybody to do their homework and look up these names and write to them. Parents, play the lottery. Whatever you can do. Whatever you can do to save this for these girls. Right?  Will you do that for me?’’

The sentiment was loud. But insiders quietly are highly doubtful the school will be opening back up again in August.

Senior Jessica Potter was a freshman at Mt. Assisi when the Lemont school closed down and she has some experience with the heartbreak of a school shutting the doors.

“It’s possible (to have Peace saved) but I’m trying not to get my hopes up that much,” she said. “We tried so hard to keep Mt. Assisi open but it just didn’t work. Maybe this will be the second chance.’’

In the event that doesn’t happen, there is one alternative happy ending that Potter and her pals who came from the shuttered Lemont school can offer to the Peace students who are feeling blue right now.

The next school might actually work out even better. It worked for them. The ex-Assisi students never knew how well things would have turned out at Mt. Assisi, but some of them do know their time at Peace was successful and fun.

“A lot of Peace students are upset because they don’t want to leave their friends from here,” Potter said “They want to try their best to go to the same school. The Mt. Assisi girls that came here are being really supportive and being there for them because they knew what they felt.

“After freshman year when I came here, I made a lot of new friends,” Potter said. “I feel like that’s going to happen to them. They will make new memories at the new school they go to.’’

If Peace cannot be saved, that would be something worth yelling about.