Richards second and Chicago Christian third at Bolton; Shimko scores 1,000th point

  • Written by Phil Arvia

PAGE 2 TRIO 11 24

Photo by Jeff Vorva

From left, Chicago Christian’s Janay Turner and Jill Van Dyke and Richards’ Lesly Villarreal eye a rebounding opportunity in a first-round game at the Bobby Bolton Classic.


As host Richards reeled off three wins to advance to the title game of the Bobby Bolton Classic, four different players scored in double figures — and all were seniors.

Saturday, the Bulldogs fell in the championship to Thornton, 50-39 — but the silver lining was in the performances of its younger players.

Junior point guard Jada Clayton came off the bench to lead Richards (3-1) with 15 points. Junior forward Lesly Villarreal didn’t see the court until the fourth quarter, yet managed eight points on four-of-four shooting. Freshman swingman Halle Idowu scored six and, with Clayton, helped settle the offense.

“Early on, we didn’t handle their pressure very well — I didn’t think it would bother us as much as it did,” Richards coach Jeff Kortz said. “They got up, we got down, and we couldn’t pull ourselves up. But our young guards got after it a little bit.”

Clayton, a 5-foot-3 dynamo, was happy for the opportunity.

Her three free throws in the final 3:09 of the first quarter accounted for the Bulldogs’ only points of the period as they slipped behind 13-3. She had three more points and Idowu four as Richards trimmed its deficit to 19-14 at the half. And though Thornton (4-0) pulled away in the second half behind Maya Robinson (15 points) and Brea Blackwell (11), Clayton’s seven points and ability to find Villarreal for easy buckets nearly halved what had been a 21-point deficit with five minutes to play.

“I feel like I just stepped up and proved myself,” Clayton said.

After committing eight turnovers in the first quarter, Richards took better care of the ball the rest of the way, finishing with 24.

“Being a fast point guard, that’s a big thing for me,” Clayton said. “Getting through people is my biggest strength.

“I definitely learned a lot from our seniors. I feel like that’s where I get my game from — Stepanie Eklund, Jailyn Wilks, Shannon Meegan — definitely.”

Thornton won the Bolton title for the first time coach Erin Wright’s six seasons at the helm. The Wildcats’ 4-0 start is their best “in at least 10 years,” she said.

Taylor Ivory had five points and a team-high five rebounds for Richards. She also had 10 points in Richards’ second-round win over T.F. South.

Wilkes led Richards with 13 points and Davianna Jones added 12 in its opening win over Chicago Christian. Meegan led the Bulldogs in scoring in their next two wins, with 11 and 12 points, respectively.

“Four games in four days, some people were just beat,” Kortz said. “But we came out 3-1. I thought we played very well in two games, and in the two other games we found some things we need to work on — and we will.

“This is a good group. They play very hard and they practice very hard.”

Chicago Christian 38, Kankakee 29: Lexi van Ryn had 15 points, Janay Turner eight and Ciara Randle El five as the Knights (3-1) captured the third-place game. 

Oak Lawn 64, Thornwood 42: Madelyn McGrath’s 27 points paced the Spartans (2-3) in the fifth-place game.

Milestones and wins for Pride

Queen of Peace opened the season on Nov. 15 with a 65-37 victory over Oak Lawn and senior guard Kara Shimko became the third player in Pride history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark.

The Pride kept on winning the rest of the week with four victories in the Beecher Tournament to reach the title game.

Through five games, Shimko is averaging 17 points per game, teammate Ashley Lynch is averaging 10 rebounds per game and Jovanna Martinucci lead with 30 assists and 28 steals.

--Sports editor Jeff Vorva contributed to this report



Not in THIS house

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence receiver Alex Saunders walks off the field Saturday while Sacred Heart Griffin fans and players celebrate a 28-16 victory over the Vikings in the Class 6A state semifinals.

SPRINGFIELD – Cyclone Stadium is aesthetically one of the nicest places to visit for football fans.

It was built in 2012 in an area surrounded by trees and nice scenery. The stands on both sides are new and spacious. The field has turf. The concession stand is huge and has a large TV so that customers waiting for their popcorn or hot dogs can keep an eye on the action.

But for opponents of Sacred Heart-Griffin, it is an ugly house of horrors and teams wearing the white jerseys leave there feeling lousy.

The Cyclones have not lost to an Illinois team there yet (they did, however, drop a 40-17 decision to Indianapolis Cathedral on Sept. 28, 2012) and it didn’t happen Saturday, either.

St. Laurence had a few “wait…maybe…’’ moments but dropped a 28-16 game in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A state semifinals. It’s the second time in a row the Vikings (9-4) lost in the semis. In 2015, they were beaten at home by Nazareth, 34-0, in a blizzard.

This time, it was sunny but windy and cold in the state capitol but the early part of the game the Vikings found themselves down 21-0. The special teams gave up an 87-yard kickoff touchdown return to Spencer Redd on the first play of the game to set the tone.

The Vikings, seeded 12th in the lower bracket, came back from deficits against fifth-seeded Richards, fourth-seeded Crete-Monee and top-seeded Lemont to register playoff victories and when they clawed back and trimmed the deficit to 21-14 and had the ball on the Cyclones 8, it looked like comeback No. 4 was in the works.

But on fourth-and-two, quarterback Romello Washington was stopped for a loss and the Cyclones took the ball and momentum back with five minutes left in the third.

“I called the plays and I’ll take the blame,” Vikings coach Harold Blackmon said. “I did not have my best game. I could have done more for these guys. I thought about kicking a field goal and I’m kicking myself for that.

“I take chances. I’ve taken chances all season and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. That’s just the nature of what I am. I felt like the play that we ran worked before and we didn’t use it for a couple of plays and I thought it would work this time.’’

“We didn’t get the yards we needed,” a dejected Washington said.

The Cyclones (who are 13-0 and racked up the program’s 600th career win) went on a 79-yard drive capped by a 53-yard Tim Brennieisn-to-Vince Mounce connection that two St. Laurence defenders appeared to have a bead on.

“I made a bad break by a half a yard or two…that’s football,” said defensive back Jimmy Burnette.

Washington threw for 273 yards including a 65-yard scoring strike to Levi Hamer.  Fayezon Smart had 19 carries for 40 yards and a 9-yard TD run. The Vikings scored two points late in the game when Springfield took an intentional safety.

Springfield faces Prairie Ridge (also 13-0) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

St. Laurence will get to think about another tough loss deep into the postseason.

“I love being the playoffs and I love being in the semifinals but in some aspects, losing like this is more painful than finishing 4-5,” the coach said. “You are right there. All you have to do is win a football game. This is the second year we’ve come up short.”


'Greedy' St. Laurence knocks off 6A's top seed to get to semifinals

  • Written by Phil Arvia

Page 1 ROmello 11 17

Photo by Jim Boyce

St. Laurence quarterback Romello Washington gets ready to fire a pass in an upset victory over Lemont Saturday in Burbank.

No offense to Rich Central, King and Tinley Park, the schools St. Laurence beat on the way to last year’s Class 5A state football semifinals, but Vikings coach Harold Blackmon was happy to see the murderer’s row of traditional powers in his team’s 6A path when the brackets were announced by the Illinois High School Association for this postseason.

“After the last game of the season, when we lost to (St.) Ignatius … the first thing I told our coaches was, ‘We need this bracket,’” Blackmon said. “Our kids need to be challenged.”

And the challenge presented by a potential path of fifth-seeded Richards, No. 4 Crete-Monee and No. 1 Lemont carried an added motivational bonus.

“Last year, with the road we took we didn’t get any respect from other teams,” Blackmon said. “So I said, ‘This year, let’s take the hardest road.’”

With Friday’s 27-20 ouster of previously unbeaten Lemont, the Vikings have now advanced as far as last year’s team. The No. 12 seed will travel to Springfield for a semifinal contest with second-ranked Sacred Heart-Griffin, a 56-13 quarterfinal winner over Rock Island Saturday at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Lemont (11-1) led the Vikings (9-3) only in the first quarter, after a 37-yard Steve Fleming field goal ended its first possession. But the Indians’ drive toward a potential tying touchdown died at the St. Laurence 12-yard line with 52.2 seconds to play, when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

“That’s a talented team,” St. Laurence running back Fayezon Smart said of Lemont. “But we’re talented, too.

“I feel like our defense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But tonight, our big-time players showed their true colors… Last year we had great players. This year we have great athletes — and our great athletes made big-time plays when it counted.”

Lemont quarterback Spencer Nagel completed 21 of 35 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown. But Lemont added just 74 yards on the ground and, after averaging nearly 41 points per game over its previous five outings, was stymied in several key situations by the Vikings.

Willie Spears and Damon Stewart each had multiple passes defended from the cornerback spots. Adam Andrews had three solo tackles and seven assists, Eddie Pierson had a tackle for a loss and half a sack. But no defender had a bigger day than end Sean Lange, who was credited with three solo tackles, 13 assists and a strip-and-recovery on what may have been the game’s biggest play.

Leading 13-10 after giving up a touchdown with 18.7 seconds left in the half, the Vikings kicked off to start the third quarter. Lemont gained 17 yards on its first snap of the half, but two plays later Lange blindsided Nagel, who coughed up the ball as Lange pounced on it.

“I knew I had a linebacker coming from the outside, and he flushed (Nagel) out,” Lange said. “When I stripped it, I knew I had to dive on it. Going into the second half, we knew the momentum wasn’t really on our side, so we needed a big play.”

Four snaps later, Smart (37 carries, 165 yards) scored from 11 yards out to put St. Laurence up 20-10. 

The lead grew to 27-10 when Romello Washington (11-of-19, 174 yards, 2 touchdowns) found Levy Hamer for a 19-yard scoring pass. Hamer also had a 34-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter, after Mauricio Garibay staked the Vikings to a 6-3 lead with 21- and 24-yard field goals.

From there, it was on the defense, which in the fourth quarter limited Lemont to just a 34-yard field goal on three trips inside the Vikings’ 27.

Spears said it was a matter of focus.

“I told all my players, ‘Don’t play hungry, play greedy,’” he said. “When you play hungry, it’s easy to get fooled. When you play greedy, you never get fooled.”

The Vikings, it seems, are greedy still. With last year’s 10-3 squad, St. Laurence has now combined for more wins in back-to-back years than in any seasons since the ’70s, when the 1976-79 squads averaged 11 wins and went to the state title game twice.

“We’re striving for greatness,” Spears said.


Jeff Vorva's Extra point: The best story of the day was Coach Stu's surprise visit

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo courtesy of Cora Umecker

Richards girls swimming coach Joel Staszewski, who has been hospitalized since June, made a surprise appearance at the Downers Grove South sectional and poses with some of his swimmers on Saturday.



It was quite a day and night in sports on Saturday.

Around the country, college football’s second-, third- and fourth-ranked teams were picking up their jaws off the field after they were shocked.

Around Illinois, volleyball state championships were won and lost, football quarterfinals seemingly provided a million storylines and girls swimming sectionals were in full swing.

In our area, it’s tough to beat McAuley, ranked No. 1 in the nation, winning a three-set battle with Minooka to win the Illinois High School Association or 12th seeded St. Laurence knocking out No. 1 seed Lemont in football.

But my favorite story from Saturday didn’t come from any of that. It came in the swimming pool area at Downers Grove South involving a sixth-place team that didn’t even qualify a state swimmer.

Richards participated in the Downers Grove South Sectional and the Bulldogs swimmers received a huge surprise when their coach, Joel Staszewski, showed up.

I wrote about him at the beginning of the season. The man known to most as Coach Stu had gastric bypass surgery performed in June and complications from a bacterial infection gave him stroke-like symptoms, robbing him of his ability to eat and speak. He nearly died because of those complications.

During the season, many South Suburban Conference teams have raised money for the coach’s family – his wife Jill and children Emma (age 12), Timothy (4) and triplets Claire, Nora and Lillian (2).

The Richards community was jazzed up for a possible Stu sighting at the SSC meet a couple of weeks ago, but he was still at the hospital and it didn’t happen.

On Friday, interim coach Cora Umecker wanted the coach to see his troops perform in sectional play so bad, she set up a Facebook account so he could watch the event live from the comfort of his bed.

When he showed up in Downers Grove in his wheelchair, the Bulldogs were stunned and thrilled.

“No one told me they were coming, it was the best surprise ever,” Umecker said. “It was very emotional for everyone, and not just my team. So many swimmers and coaches came to say hello. It was heartwarming.’’

The only bad news to this story is that Coach Stu is not 100 percent. He still has a long way to go.

“He is improving but, as expected, it's a long process,” Umecker said. “He has still not been home since the initial procedure in June. He is currently rehabilitating at a center in Chicago.

“This swim season was really incredible. Watching all of the other teams join the ‘Stu Crew’ was so inspiring. Seeing them all come together like that was probably the biggest show of sportsmanship I've ever seen. We would gather to take a ‘Stu Crew’ photo at invites and meets, and I'd go back to look at the shot and see all these girls from different teams standing together, smiling, arms around each other. None of them look like they just had a heated competition ten minutes earlier. It was great.’’ 

The coach has not even seen his home yet in five months, but as Umecker said “This man showed up for his girls.’’

Umecker said all along that she is just keeping the seat warm for Coach Stu and had a few things to say to him before he returned to Chicago.

“At the end of the meet, I handed him my clip board, pencil and heat sheet and told him my work is done,’’ she said. “It's time for Coach Stu to get back to this team.’’


Tears of a crown -- Macs aim for 15th state title

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mother McAuley players had a huge crying session after three days of intense volleyball action, which culminated with an emotional three-set victory over Geneva on Saturday at the Hinsdale South Sectional. 


The tears flowed freely on Saturday.

We’re not talking the usual couple of tears of joy of winning a big match that can be wiped away easily. We’re talking tears running down red faces that are usually reserved for those who lost a big match. And this was going on for more than 15 minutes, for crying out loud.

After the Mighty Macs won the Illinois High School Association Class 4A Hinsdale South Supersectional crown with a wild 22-25, 25-20, 25-21 win over Geneva in front of a packed house, this team let loose with the waterworks.

“We haven’t been down state (since 2013) and our whole goal all year was to make it down state,” said Charley Niego, who led the Mighty Macs (38-1) with 12 kills and 17 digs. “It’s a really big accomplishment and we’re really excited. This is a really big thing and it finally occurred this year.’’

Carrying the weight and pressure of being ranked No. 1 in the nation by, beating heated rival Marist in the sectional final Thursday coming back twice in a 25-20, 25-22 victory and getting into holes of 21-12, 17-14 and 11-4 each game against national power Geneva (37-2) only to win took its toll emotionally on the Mighty Macs.

Next on the agenda is fighting a letdown as the Macs will be heavy favorites in the four-team field. They open with Niles West (28-8) at 8:30 p.m., Friday at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal. The winner takes on either Minooka (34-6) or Stevenson (32-7).

McAuley won 13 state titles from 1977-2004 including six from 1980-87. Its last title came in 2013 after a nine-year layoff. The 14 titles are the most in state history in the sport.  

Katie O’Connell added 11 kills, 15 digs and four blocks against Geneva while Emma Reilly racked up four aces and 11 digs and Nancy Kane had 31 assists and added three blocks.

In other Elite Eight action on Saturday, Queen of Peace’s reign came to an end at the Class 3A Rich East Supersectional 25-10, 25-6 at the hands of Marian Catholic. The Pride finished the season 15-22 and made it that far after a 25-14, 25-3 win over Cristo Rey to win the Cristo Rey Sectional on Thursday. Haley Doyle had 18 kills while Katie Cerven had 19 digs.

To get to the supersectional, McAuley needed 17 kills from Niego against Marist while Kane had 23 assists and O’Connell came up with six kills and Reilly had 10 digs.

For Marist (30-10), Savannah Thompson had nine kills and 12 digs and setter Molly Murrihy had 23 assists.

Marist may have played its best volleyball of the season in the sectional semifinal on Nov. 1 by opening play with an 18-4 lead and knocking off Benet, 25-13, 25-22. Megan Krasowski had eight kills and Maggie Meyer added seven.