Sensational soccer season for Spartans

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Jose Lopez and Oak Lawn’s soccer team have enjoyed a historic season. Here, they celebrate winning the Windy City Classic tournament at Toyota Park in September.


The Oak Lawn Community High School soccer team is having one of the best seasons in school history.

The Spartans aren’t just winning; they’re absolutely rolling over the competition. They outscored their competition, 70-9 through their first 15 games. They posted seven shutouts, including back-to-back 7-0 scores. They won 11 of their 15 contests by more than a goal which is a sizeable advantage in the world of soccer.

After recently forging a 3-3 tie with Lemont and beating Argo, 3-1 Tuesday night to win the South Suburban Conference Red title, the Spartans head into the postseason with a 19-0-1 mark. Regional play in Class 2A and Class 3A opens Friday. Oak Lawn is seeded second behind Bradley Bourbonnais in the Class 3A Lincoln-Way Central Sectional.  

They’ve already passed a school record in wins. In 2008, the Spartans went 15-5-1 in the final year of former head coach Kevin Stowe.

 “The kids have just grown up,” said Oak Lawn coach, Nate Joiner. “We’ve got almost all seniors this year. Six or seven have been with me since their sophomore year and some have been with us since they were freshman.”

One of those seniors who has grown up is Michal Szaflarski. Szaflarski has been a team captain since his sophomore year. As a junior, Szaflarski was at the forefront of a high powered offense. This year, he’s anchoring one of the stingiest defenses in the state.

How is he adjusting the role change?

“He’s a team player,” said Joiner. “He’s just happy we’re winning. He’s still one of the most important guys on the team. He’s playing the same leadership role; he’s just not scoring as many goals. We want him back in this formation. We have enough firepower.”

That firepower is coming in the tandem of Giovanni Barragan and Mohammad Farraj. Barragan and Farraj are helping the Spartan offense average nearly five goals a game and are having a blast doing it.

“This has been the dream season so far,” said Barragan. “We want to keep it going and be undefeated the whole season. Since we’re seniors that’s why we’re playing every game as if it’s our last. Me and Mo (Farraj) -- I like our combinations.”

“We practice together, we play together and we play like a family,” said Farraj.

With ball rolling their way and the Spartans in the middle of a dream season, it might be easy for a group of teenagers to lose focus on the big picture. Not this group, according to Joiner.

“The boys are focused,” said Joiner. “I think that they do a go job of not letting their heads get big. We’re definitely trying to keep them humble and keep them working. They police themselves.”


RedHawks' D gets even after giving up 62 points in 2015

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick


Yes, they remembered.

Nearly a year after yielding 62 points to the Nazareth Academy Roadrunners in a Week 8 loss in La Grange Park, many of the Marist defensive players returned to the scene of the grime on Friday and gave up just two touchdowns in a 44-14 win on the Roadrunners home field last Friday night sending a Nazareth Academy homecoming crowd unhappy into the cold on the first chilly Friday night of the fall season.

This battle of East Suburban Catholic League powers has been high-scoring in recent years with Marist winning 45-37 in 2013, Nazareth winning 37-21 in 2014 and Nazareth winning 62-45 last year.

The Redhawk defense played as if the 2015 game was still fresh in their memory.

“I tell you what. Our guys remember that,” said Redhawk head coach, Pat Dunne. “I know that for a fact. It’s something that the guys talked about all week. A lot of those guys that were on the field were out there last year.”

One of those Marist players was senior linebacker, Matt Finn.

“It feels good. Especially after the 62 points they put on us a year ago,” said Finn.

So, last year was in the back of your mind?

“A little bit,” he said with a grin.

The 6-1, 5-0 Redhawks remain at the top of the East Suburban Catholic League standings along with fellow conference unbeaten, Benet. The two teams square off this Friday night at Marist in the Redhawks final regular season home game of the year.

Finn attributed the impressive defensive display against defending Class 6A champion Nazareth to a total team effort and excellent preparation.

“We had a great week of practice,” he said. “Everyone played together as a unit. And when we play together as a unit, that’s when we become tough to beat.”

Playing together as a unit may be an understatement considering the fact that the Redhawks took the ball from the Roadrunners six times on the night.

Finn was one of six Redhawk defenders to record a turnover. His early fourth-quarter interception set up the Redhawks for their fifth touchdown of the night and a 37-14 lead with nine minutes to play in the game. It also put to rest any momentum Nazareth built after scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter.

“We came out a flat in the second half,” Finn said of the two Roadrunner scores. “But then we regrouped and got it together and pulled it out.”

Again, maybe another understatement by the humble senior.

After Roadrunner running back Cameron Weems scored to cut what was once a 23-0 halftime advantage to 30-14, the Redhawk defensive players didn’t just get it together, they put it into overdrive. Marist picked off Nazareth quarterback, Andrew Rouse Jr. on the next three possessions. The Redhawks picked off Rouse four times total on the night. Other Redhawks with picks were Bobby Gorman, Robert McKenzie and Robert Topps III.

“What the defense is doing is helping the entire team,” said Dunne. “They’re sitting there creating turnovers and creating great field position for the offense. All of those guys are doing a tremendous job and everyone is feeding off of what the defense is doing.”

Oh yeah, Marist brought plenty of offense as well.

Redhawk quarterback, Morgan Taylor (204 passing yards and 64 rushing yards) accounted for five of the six Marist touchdowns, three through the air and two on the ground.

His 26 yard dash to pay dirt midway through the first quarter got the Redhawks offense off and running to a 23-0 halftime lead.

Nazareth fell to 3-4 overall and is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. The Roadrunners visit St. Viator Friday and host Marian Catholic Oct. 21.


'A heck of a game'

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick



Photos by Aaron FitzPatrick

Brother Rice fans storm newly christened Tom Mitchell Field after winning a wild 49-42 victory over Mt. Carmel Friday night.

Fans who saw Brother Rice defeat Mount Carmel, 49-42, last Friday got far more than their money’s worth.

After a thrilling 21-20 overtime win by the Crusaders in the sophomore game, and prior to the main event varsity game, Brother Rice held a ceremony renaming the field after legendary head coach, Tom Mitchell. Mitchell, a Mount Carmel alum, coached the Crusaders from 1967 through 1993 and led Brother Rice to a state title in 1981.

In addition to the pregame ceremony, Rice also honored football alum from 1966, ‘76, ‘86, ‘96 and 2006 at halftime.

Head coach, Brian Badke, had one word to describe the game -- special.

“It was a special night,” he said. “And what a heck of a football game. Give credit to Mount Carmel. They played great. I tell you what. Our guys are special. They didn’t give in. They never gave up.”

Special nights are usually platforms for special players and few are as special as Brother Rice’s Ricky Smalling. The Illinois recruit collected over 170 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His 55-yard score late in the third quarter gave spectators a big taste of his special talent as he tip toed and danced his way through one Mount Carmel defender after another and across the goal line to tie the game at 35-35.

“He’s a guy you definitely want on your football team,’’ Badke said. “He can do anything. He’s a great football player. He’s been here four years and we’re lucky to have him. And he’s not done yet.”

Quarterback Dino Borrelli accounted for five touchdowns--four through the air and one on the ground--and 389 passing yards.

Smalling’s third quarter touchdown capped a wild and 12 minutes of play. The two teams combined for 42 points, six touchdowns, two turnovers and a successful onside kick.

Mount Carmel’s Michael Kennedy showed off some of his special talent as well in the back-and-forth third quarter. Kennedy ran for a 24 yard touchdown and threw for one, a 70-yard pass to Jordan Cousert on a half back option.

In a game that featured 13 touchdowns, 91 points and close to 1,000 yards of total offense, it was a defensive play that saved the day.

Aarion Lacy picked off Alek Thomas’ pass inside the five-yard line with less than 20 seconds to play to end Mount Carmel’s last chance to at least tie the score.

“Big time players make big time plays,” Lacy said. “Our offense had bailed us out all night but we made the plays when we needed it.”

In fact, Lacy made nearly the same play twice. One play prior to his game-deciding interception, Lacy picked off Thomas’ pass but the play was nullified because of a roughing the passer penalty.

“I was pissed,” Lacy said. “I just knew I had to go out and get another one."

With the win, the Crusaders stay perfect at 6-0 (2-0 in the Catholic League Blue) and are a lock in qualifying for the Illinois High School Association playoffs while the Caraven dropped to 3-3, 0-3  an lost three in a row to Brother Rice.

So, what would coach Mitchell think of this game?

“I could tell you, definitely, I don’t know if we’d have scored that many points,” quipped Badke. “But I know he would have been happy with the result.”


Brother Rice enjoys life in the fast lane

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Brendan Houston break’s Providence’s Joe Markasovic’s tackle attempt during a 56-yard touchdown reception Friday night in New Lenox.

After a display like the one put on Friday by Brother Rice in its 45-21, Chicago Catholic League Blue win at Providence, there was really only one question to ask the Crusaders:

Who’s the fastest guy on this football team?

There was a crowded field of candidates on an evening in which the Crusaders authored more big plays than Rodgers and Hammerstein. 

In an incredible three-minute stretch at the beginning of the third quarter, Rice (5-0, 1-0) had its offense on the field for just  19 seconds, yet scored three touchdowns to snap a 14-all halftime tie. 

The Crusaders scored six touchdowns, none shorter than Aarion Lacy’s 28-yard interception return to cap that third-quarter burst. He also went, untouched, 70 yards around left end for another score on his only carry of the evening.

“He’s amazing,” quarterback Dino Borrelli said of Lacy. “He’s a beast. He’s a savage.”

Sure, but is he the fastest? After all, Branden Houston also had two touchdowns, turning a pair of short Borrelli tosses into 56- and 33-yard touchdowns; Illinois recruit Ricky Smalling had a 30-yard scoring grab; and star running back Xazavian Valladay highlighted his 13-carry, 183-yard game with a 72-yard dash to the end zone.

“It’s between me, Xazavian, Ricky and Branden,” Lacy said. “OK — it’s Ricky. He’s the fastest.”

Of course, Lacy did note that Houston’s 40-yard dash time was the same as Smalling’s (4.4 seconds), just a tick ahead of Lacy and Valladay.

“I’ve got to say it’s me,” Houston said. “But we never raced or anything. That’s just what I think.”

Crusaders coach Brian Badke added another name to the list of speed merchants — wideout Michael Butler-Kindle — but he was happy not to have a clear-cut winner.

“Speed kills,” he said, smiling. “We’ve got, obviously, a lot of weapons. We can get you either way, running or passing — but it all starts up front.”

The offensive line — Friday’s starters were center Brian Gannon, guards Dan Sullivan and Brendan Hosty and tackles Nick Marozas and John Farano — was especially impressive on Lacy’s run, Valladay’s touchdown and Houston’s second scoring catch. Providence (2-3, 0-2) never touched the ball-carrier on those plays.

“All glory goes to the o-line,” Houston said. “That’s just blocking. Those guys were opening up huge holes up front.”

The unbeaten Crusaders host Mt. Carmel (a 31-28 victim to St. Rita) Friday night.

Early, the Celtics’ line was doing it better.

Providence marched 80 yards in eight plays on the game’s opening possession. Five of those were Richie Warfield carries, the last a burst up the middle for a score from 28 yards out.

Warfield finished with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, but he was held out of the end zone and had just 15 yards on eight runs in the second half.

“In the first half, honestly, we just weren’t executing,” Badke said. “The kids really dug deep in the second half.”

First, Houston (four catches, 98 yards) got them back in the game, answering the opening score by taking a short Dino Borrelli pass and breaking several tackles en route to a 56-yard score.

Rice made it 14-7 at the 9:57 mark of the second quarter, when Valladay, needing only a slide step left at the line, went untouched for 72 yards up the middle.

Providence tied it 2 1/2 minutes later. Warfield capped a 60-yard drive with a seven-yard scoring run off right tackle.

The Crusaders put the game away quickly in the third, starting with Lacy’s 70-yard scoring dash on the first play from scrimmage. He entered the game with just three receptions and one carry, totaling 42 yards, in Rice’s first four games.

“Lacy, he’s one of the most explosive players in the state of Illinois,” Badke said. “Other than (UConn recruit Ian) Swenson from Loyola, I think he’s the best DB in the Catholic League — and he’s definitely a guy we’ve got to use on both sides of the ball.”

Three plays and a shanked punt after Lacy’s score, Borrelli (12-of-19, 196 yards, 3 TD) hit Smalling (6 catches, 69 yards) with another short pass turned into a long score by a shifty receiver. And two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Lacy broke in front of a Jared Drake pass for his fourth interception of the year and took it to the house.

Houston added his second touchdown at 2:33 of the third, patiently waiting for blocking up the sideline on a swing pass to the right side. John Richardson capped Rice’s scoring with a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Borrelli conceded his offense’s big-play propensity surprises him almost as often as it does opposing defenses.

“We’ve just got great athletes,” he said. “You never know when they’re going to break one.”


Marist golfer has rockin' good time at Pebble Beach

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist's Perry Chong made a recent trip to Pebble Beach and hobnobbed with some golf legends.

“It’s every kid’s dream to go pro.”

Those were the words of wisdom from senior Marist golfer, Perry Chong. He may not be a pro yet, but he inched a little closer to his dream when he was selected to participate in the Nature Valley First Tee Open held September 16-18 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.

With Illinois High School Association regional action starting up Tuesday, Chong is eager for a deep run in Class 3A and rubbing shoulders with pros in California won’s hurt his approach.

In addition to playing on one of the most famous PGA golf courses, Chong and the other participants were partnered up with golf pros for the tournament. Chong teamed with Dan Forsman. Forsman had five wins during his 22 years on the PGA Tour from 1982 through 2004 and has three wins currently on The Champions Tour.

Chong said he didn’t know he’d be partnered with Forsman until he got to Pebble Beach.

“We all received our own golf bags,” said Chong. “And inside the golf bag was a letter that told us who our partners would be. It was pretty cool.”

Chong was one of more 80 golfers across the country selected by The First Tee to participate in a week-long event that culminated with a three-day tournament. He said he submitted an application and selection was based on golfing ability and extracurricular activities.

Chong is used to crowds of 20 to 30 people watching him at one time at a high school match. At Pebble Beach, he said there were as many as 150 people watching. He said Forsman helped him learn to just focus on the task at hand no matter how many people were watching.

“Before the trip, I was scared when people would watch,” said Chong. “This was 150. It was crazy but I loved it.”

 “I was really nervous when I first met (Forsman) but I realized he was a really a nice guy. After the first hole, I wasn’t nervous any more. He really showed me how to just dial in on the game and handle the situation. I learned that no matter how bad you play, you have to persevere and keep pushing. Don’t worry about that last hole. It’s in the past. Don’t look back. Only look forward.”

Chong, as well as Forsman, had to apply these lessons on the fly during their first two rounds. The pair finished strong on Friday but a late start on Saturday and fog in the evening forced their second round to be postponed after 16 rounds and finished early Sunday morning.

“We had to get up before 5 a.m. on Sunday and finish our last two holes. It didn’t go so well. We missed the cut by one stroke.”

Despite the disappointing finish at Pebble Beach, Marist head coach, Joel Vickers, says Chong has taken what he learned during that week and already applied it to his high school play. Chong finished three under par against Mt. Carmel on Sept. 20 and helped his team finish with a Marist record, 145, in that dual meet played at the Meadows in Blue Island.

“He was playing well before the trip,” said Strout. “He missed a couple of matches but it’s nothing to what he experienced out there. That was an unbelievable opportunity and it couldn’t have happened to a greater kid. I’m so happy for him.”

The Bridgeport native, who also met legends Tom Watson and John Daly resident will try to apply the “don’t look back, only look forward” lesson this postseason. Chong missed qualifying for state as a junior last season in the same manner that he and Forsman missed the cut at Pebble Beach -- by one stroke.

“I’d love to get him down to state and see what he can do,” said Vickers. “The sky’s the limit for him. He’s worked so hard over the years.”