Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Giving spring sports some respect

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



 Photos by Jeff Vorva

MARIST – Marist’s Lizzie Annerino and the RedHawks hope to keep raising softball hardware in 2016 as they defend their Class 4A state title.


Welcome to the high school spring sports season.

I call it the Rodney Dangerfield Season of sports because it doesn’t get as much respect as some of the sports in the fall and winter.

The two biggest sports are baseball and softball and not only are they beholden to the weather, many of their games start at around 4 or 4:30 p.m. Not a lot of student support. Not a lot of parent support either, until the later innings after many of them get out of work.

There is boys and girls track, boys tennis and girls soccer – again, not big-time draws.

Some people snicker at the remaining sports – boys and girls water polo, boys volleyball, boys gymnastics and girls badminton.

The other negative is that many of the state tournaments are held after school is out. Students are either on vacation or aren’t thinking about high school events as they enjoy the start of their long break.

No respect.

So for the next couple of months, we will try to inject some glamor in sports that probably won’t draw thousands of fans, but that should be easy. Whether a team or athlete plays a big-time sport such as football or a seldom-watched sports such as badminton, there are great stories to tell. And we hope to tell as many as we can.

A few spring sports got rolling on March 7 and all of the others started on Monday. Inside this issue, we have a photo page dedicated to a Shepard-Stagg boys water polo match. And here on the front page, we have a look at some of last year’s spring thrills and some things to look out for this year:



Marist became the first two-time Class 4A champion when it beat Lincoln-Way East, 1-0, last year. The RedHawks also won in 2012.

Can the RedHawks become the first softball team since Glenbard South (2012-13 in Class 3A) to win back-to-back titles? They lost some firepower especially with the graduation of pitcher/slugger Zariya Gonzalez but Emily Reilly returns. She was put on the spot in the Lisle Supersectional and picked up a relief win against Downers Grove South to advance to the state semifinals. Reilly also hit .471 on the season.

Regional champions Mother McAuley and Sandburg (which finished second in the state in Class 4A in 2014) are going to be dangerous and keep an eye out for Shepard, which lost 1-0 in 13 innings to Hinsdale Central in a regional championship game.

In Class 3A, Evergreen Park reached the sectional final before dropping a 2-1 decision to Nazareth.

In Class 2A, Chicago Christian beat Queen of Peace, 5-0 for the regional title in Burbank before falling to Bishop McNamara in the sectional semifinals.


Providence Catholic became the first baseball team in the state to win back-to-back titles since Maine Township did it in 1958-59 (I wasn’t born yet, that’s how long that record lasted) but Marist made the Celtics sweat in a 3-2, nine-inning decision in the Class 4A Marist Sectional semifinals.

St. Laurence, another perennial power, was the only other 4A regional champ from the area as the Vikings reached the sectional semifinals before dropping an 8-4 decision to St. Rita. The Vikings have won five straight regional titles.

Sandburg, Richards, Oak Lawn and Brother Rice shouldn’t be taken lightly this season.

In Class 3A, Evergreen Park outscored regional opponents 23-3 before the Mustangs were stalled by Manteno, 13-6, in the Joliet Catholic Sectional.

In Class 2A, Chicago Christian outscored its regional opponents 33-2 before being topped by Herscher, 8-6, at the Reed-Custer Sectional. The Knights have won five regional titles in a row and 13 overall but have yet to win a sectional crown.

Boys volleyball

Sandburg brought home its seventh state trophy with a fourth-place finish in 2015 and figures to be strong again with the return of 6-foot-10 Ohio State-bound Jake Hanes.

But Brother Rice and Marist, two teams who won their regionals and have plenty of talent returning, hope to make state appearances of their own this year.

A sneak preview on the three powers comes early in the season as they will compete at the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic March 30 through April 2.

Boys tennis

Sandburg won the sectional title beating Stagg by six points last season but Stagg finished 29th in the state tournament while Sandburg was 35th.

Sandburg’s JonLuke Passett was the area’s underclassman with the longest state run as he finished 3-2 while teammate Nate Carper finished 1-2. Stagg graduated star Brendan Wolan but his brother, Michael, qualified for state as a freshman in doubles with Warren Wudtke.

Shepard’s Paul Mikus qualified for state as a sophomore last season and finished 0-2. The Astros will be saying goodbye to longtime coach Dmitri Cooper, who is retiring after 32 years.

Boys water polo

Brother Rice and Sandburg each made it to their respective sectional finals but Sandburg fell to Lincoln-Way Central, 8-6, at Lincoln-Way North while Brother Rice dropped a 15-6 decision to host Lyons Township one day after a thrilling 13-12 win over St. Rita.

Brother Rice has qualified for state eight times while Sandburg qualified five.

The Illinois Water Polo website ranks Brother Rice 10th, Sandburg 14th and Stagg 15th in the state in its preseason poll.

Girls water polo

Mother McAuley, which qualified for state two seasons ago, was stopped in the sectional final last season with a 6-3 loss to host Lyons. Sandburg bowed out of the Neuqua Valley Sectional in the semifinals with a 10-7 loss to Naperville Central.

The Illinois Water Polo website ranks McAuley ninth and Sandburg 11th.

Boys track

Sandburg is at it again.

After winning state in cross country and finishing fourth in the nation, the Eagles figure to finish strong in the distance events in track this spring.

The fabled 4x800 team, which won the Class 3A state title in 2015, is looking for a repeat. It ran a 7:45.80 on March 7 at the Downers Grove South Relays indoor event, which was ranked No. 1 in the country, according to MileSplit Illinois and the second best indoor time ever in Illinois behind York’s 7:42.6 in 2000.

Martin Skucas, Sean Torpy, Dylan Jacobs and Chris Torpy were the four who recorded the eye-popping time.

Evergreen Park, a sectional champion which had two relay teams score points in the state meet last year, is primed for another big run in Class 2A and Chicago Christian lost a bevy of state qualifiers to graduation and hopes to reload in Class 1A.

Girls track

Graduated Briana Driver was a driving force in Mother McAuley’s 10th place finish in the state in Class 3A but underclassmen Ashley Bryja, Stacey Mahahan, Alexandria Bryant, Raquel Funches and Evelyn Gorman helped the Mighty Macs score points in relay events.

In Class 2A Chicago Christian underclassmen Alexis VanRyn, Allie Boss and Cassidy VandeKamp qualified for state for state last season. The Knights hope that the success of their seventh-place finish in the Class 1A cross country meet in the fall can carry over in the spring.

Girls soccer

Stagg had a 21-win season and made it to supersectional play in Class 3A before dropping a 3-0 decision to Collinsville. Stagg beat Lincoln-Way East, 1-0 in the regional final and Sandburg, 1-0, in the sectional semifinal before claiming the sectional crown with a 3-0 victory over Lincoln-Way North.

In Class 1A, Chicago Christian won its own regional and was stopped by Herscher, 6-0, in sectional competition.


Stagg and Sandburg took second place in their respective sectionals and both are hit hard by graduation.

Sandburg’s Emily Tunney was the only area underclassman to advance to state last year as she beat her first opponent, Streamwood’s Kristie Toondarack, in three sets but dropped her second round and consolation matches.

Winter note

In lieu of running two all-area teams, the Reporter/Regional is naming six Players of the Year in winter sports in which we had at least 50 percent of our teams compete in.

Next week, we name boys and girls bowling and boys swimming. In the March 31 issue, we name the top athlete in wrestling, boys basketball and girls basketball.


Chicago Fire review of Orlando City/preview of Columbus

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Page 2 Fire coach with 3 17 package crop close


Photo by Jeff Vorva

New Fire coach Veljko Paunovic greets fans after the Fire’s first home game against New York City on March 6. The team returns to Toyota Park Saturday with a game against the Columbus Crew.



This could have been a disaster.

It could have been the Chicago Fire’s version of hosting a Donald Trump rally at the University of Illinois Chicago.

On the same evening rioters took to the streets swinging fists and baseball bats at the aborted Trump rally, thousands of miles south, Fire and Orlando City players were mixing it up in a brouhaha of their own Friday night.

And when the referees cleared things up in the 32nd minute of the match, they gave out a red card and threw out the Fire’s Michael Harrington for what appeared to be a kick close to Orlando’s Brek Shea’s private parts. That came four minutes after Matt Polster was given a yellow card for a foul on Adrian Winter. In all, seven cards were flashed.

The score was 1-1 at the point that Harrington had to hit the showers and despite playing more than 60 minutes short one man on the field, the game stayed tied at that score and the Fire came up with the first point in the Veljko Paunovic era in front of an announced crowd of 29,041 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

It wasn’t a victory. But the fact that playing 10-on-11 for that long and not losing against the Lions was something the 0-1-1 Fire can take as a positive.

“Even when we were a man down, we believed we could get a point or even win,” said midfielder David Accam, whose second goal in as many games gave the Fire its lone score. “The boys did really well. They worked hard and dug in.

“I don’t know where we found the energy, but we played hard and everyone did well. We believe we can beat anyone in this league. That belief is what will carry us forward.’’

The new head coach was relieved.

“It’s never easy being down a man,” Paunovic said. “They performed well and adapted well and most of all, they left their hearts on the field.’’

Recently acquired goalie Matt Lampson was back in the net instead of veteran Sean Johnson and gave up a goal to Cyle Larin in the fourth minute of the game. Larin’s first shot was deflected by Jonathan Campbell right back to him and hit gold on the next kick.

Lampson gave up three goals in the first half and four overall in the Fire’s 4-3 loss to the New York City Football Club in the season opener March 6 at Toyota Park but the early goal in Orlando didn’t rattle him or the defense as the Lions were shut out the rest of the way.

“It’s not easy to come back from a goal early, but the team showed resilience and we did everything we could to stay in the game,” Lampson said. “That shows the heart of this team and how hard we work for each other.’’

Accam scored in the 14th minute on an assist from John Goossens, who was making his Fire debut. Accam also had a chance to give his team a lead in the 26th minute but his shot hit the post.

“The kid’s quick,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said of the Fire star. “He had a great goal. (Our defenders) have to be better. I mean, the ball is three quarters of the way on their half. We don’t expect it 10 seconds later to end up in the back of our net.’’

Crew-cial game ahead for Fire and Lampson

Which Matt Lampson will show up Saturday at Toyota Park?

Will it be the goalie who gave up four scores in the Fire’s 4-3 home loss to the New York City Football Club on March 6? Or the one who gave up just one in a 1-1 tie in a road game against Orlando City including more than 60 minutes of shutout work when his team played a man down?

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic is hoping for the latter, but there is another wrinkle to consider. The Fire is playing the Columbus Crew – an organization Lampson had been with since 2011 when he signed as a homegrown player until signing with the Fire in February.

“It depends on you manage the emotions you may have in a game against a former club,” Paunovic said. “I’m sure he has a lot of friends there but we are professionals and if you control those emotions in the right way, it can be very helpful. You can be motivated in the best possible way.

“I’ll tell you, in my career almost every time I played against my former teams I scored a goal. For me, it was very motivational.’’

The rest of the Fire players will be motivated to try to kick a good team while it is down. The Crew, which made it to the MLS Championship game before dropping a 2-1 decision to Portland last year, comes into a game 0-2 after identical 2-1 losses to Portland and Philadelphia. After two weeks, just four of the 20 teams in Major League Soccer are 0-2.

“Every opponent is a great opponent,” Paunovic said. “We never underestimate or overestimate anyone.’’

The first-year coach is still looking for his first victory even though he said he celebrated Friday’s tie as if it were a victory because of playing most of the game a man short after Michael Harrington was thrown out of the Orlando City game for rough play.

The Fire’s last victory was a 3-1 triumph over New England on Oct. 3.

Four of the next five games for the Fire will be at home so this is a chance to get off to a fast start.

“The next game is the most important game,” the coach said. “We have that big picture look at the coming games but we want to concentrate on focus on the next game. That’s what I believe. That’s how we should think about it.''



Wild Wednesday, frustrating Friday

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


So last Wednesday, I was in Tinley Park watching Stagg’s offense go Stagg-nent against Oswego East for the first half in the Class 4A Andrew Regional boys basketball semifinals.

While coach John Daniels took his team to the locker room for a talking to, I ramped up the handy-dandy IPhone to see what our other teams in the area were doing.

We had three Class 4A teams still alive and one Class 3A team still going.

The phone didn’t have good news.

Sixth-seeded Marist was losing to 12th-seeded St. Rita at the Marian Catholic.

Ninth-seeded Brother Rice was getting trounced by eighth-seed host T.F. North.

St. Laurence’s Class 3A ping-pong match at King saw the Vikings losing to the host Jaguars by one at the time.

And, looking up at the Andrew scoreboard and the news was not much better. Oswego East had a 26-19 lead over the Chargers.

At that point, I wondered if I was going to have Friday night off or if I should maybe plan to watch Providence – a team that we don’t cover primarily but a school that has local students and athletes – since they had shocked Joliet Catholic earlier in the tournament.

Oh, and if those results panned out, it would have marked two years in a row that the area would have been shut out of having someone even make it to the regional final. Last year, the area went 0-for-10.

For the most part, however, things sorted themselves out on what turned out to be a wild Wednesday.

Marist kept inching closer to St. Rita, but the Mustangs put an exclamation point on its frustrating season by hanging on to beat the RedHawks, 62-56 in Chicago Heights. So the RedHawks were gone.

But in front of my eyeballs, Stagg mounted a nice comeback in the last 16 minutes of play. Not content to get beat in the semis, John Contant and Josh Sterma put on a scoring show and the Chargers scored 19 points in the third quarter to take a 38-34 lead and rang up 29 more points in the fourth to win, 67-57.

Over in the city, St. Laurence was able to pull away for a 62-51 royal win over King.

And in Calumet City, Brother Rice, which was trailing 40-23 at one point, pulled off the wildest finish of the night when Josh Niego buried a 3-point basket with a  couple of clicks on the clock for a 49-48 victory over the hosts.

Three out of four teams were still alive.

Not bad, especially considering where things stood when I checked things out at halftime.

And with Chicago Christian breaking the two-year skid of an area team not winning a regional title with its Class 2A Illiana Christian Regional championship on Feb. 26, I had some hopes one of these bigger-school teams was going to pull off an upset.

But then came Friday.

Frustrating Friday.

Oh, our teams did some teasing.

At Calumet City, Brother Rice got out to a 9-0 lead and clung to a 20-18 halftime advantage over state and national power Simeon.

Stagg roared out of the gate in Tinley Park to grab a 14-3 lead over Oswego.

And in the city, St. Laurence jumped out to an 11-6 lead.

Things were looking pretty good for a little while, but reality set in.

Brother Rice lost its scoring ability in the second half in a 44-28 loss. Niego got so much attention for his heroic 3-pointer against T.F. North that Wolverines coach Robert Smith put 6-foot-7 longarm defender Ben Coupet on him most of the night and the junior didn’t see the ball much and finished with three points.

Stagg couldn’t maintain its scalding start and dropped a 66-52 decision to Oswego.

And while St. Laurence was thrilled to earn its first winning season since 2007, it suffered an 88-54 setback to Bogan.  

The area is making some progress. Last season, we had just one team with a winning record – Marist – and two teams with even records – Chicago Christian and Richards.

This year, Chicago Christian, Brother Rice, Marist, Stagg and St. Laurence finished with winning records while Richards was at .500.

Chicago Christian’s big regional win was great but the Knights lost a Clifton Central Sectional woulda-coulda-shoulda three-point game to Reed-Custer, which lost a woulda-coulda-shoulda one-point game to Aurora Christian.

Here is hoping the area can take a bigger step forward in 2016-17.

When the regional championships are played, I would like nothing more than for the area to have a fantastic Friday instead of a frustrating Friday.


Charley cheer cheers for her decision to go to old Notre Dame

  • Written by Anthony Nasella


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego is just a sophomore but already made her college choice, giving a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.


Despite being a sophomore, Charley Niego put together a noteworthy season for the Mother McAuley volleyball team and on the travel circuit with Michio over the years that colleges have taken notice.

Niego’s collegiate future is now in place after she verbally committed this past week to Notre Dame. She will not be able to officially sign, however, until she is a senior.

“Charley really didn’t have set college in mind at first,” Might Macs head coach Jen DeJarld said. “Then the recruiting process started this past summer, and Notre Dame came forward with a scholarship offer back in October.

“She took some time to make her decision, but she gave her verbal commitment to Notre Dame. She’s very excited about her future, and we’re excited about her next two years at Mother McAuley and her becoming a true leader in all areas.”

A year ago, the South Bend school wasn’t even on the sophomore’s radar; however, circumstances helped her change her mind.

“When I started getting recruited and noticed last year, Notre Dame wasn’t even an option much as less a future college,” Niego said. “I was thinking more about a Big 10 school. Then the process went on, which was stressful, and I was feeling a lot of pressure from coaches. That knocked a lot of schools of the list.”

In contrast, Niego said she was drawn by the hands-off approach of Notre Dame.

“At that point, Notre Dame was now on my list, and they were interested in me,” she said. “I visited and really liked the campus. I got to know the school and definitely got interested. They gave me an opportunity, and I took it.

“There was pressure or time frame to commit. The coaches were really understanding, which made the decision pretty easy.”

Niego’s will become the third McAuley volleyball player to choose Notre Dame. The First was Megan Dunne, who played in the late 2000’s and the most recent was Ryann DeJarld, who helped the Mighty Macs to a state championship in 2013.

Notre Dame, however, is struggling. The Irish went 7-25 ovetrall and 2-18 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Jim McLaughlin’s first year at the helm. McLaughlin has won national championships with USC’s men’s team and the University of Washington’s women’s team.

One of the McAuley’s top kill and block leaders, Niego said she gained valuable experience by star players Kayla Caffey and Jane DeJarld and said she looking forward assuming a greater leadership role next season.

“I learned so much from them,” she said. “They never treated me like a sophomore but more like one their sisters. I really looked up to them, and now I have the opportunity to fill the role that they carried out so well this season.

“They taught me a lot and pushed me to be the best player I could be, and my sophomore year was exceeded all my expectations. I’m so excited about next season and what’s ahead.”

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego is just a sophomore but already made her college choice, giving a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.

Fire stumbles in season opener

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 Fire 9 stumble

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire player Gilberto, right, has his jersey pulled by a New York City Fire Club defender a second before hitting the ground in Sunday’s MLS loss at Toyota Park. 

It was entertaining.

But it was still a loss.

The first real match in the Veljko Paunovic era of the Chicago Fire was wide open but in the end, the team suffered a setback in a 4-3 loss to the New York City Fire Club Sunday in front of 17,768 at Toyota Park.

Paunovic, the rookie coach, and nine players making their Fire debuts (the most since the club’s first season in 1998) have made this a new-look club. While scoring three goals is fun, giving up four is troublesome.

“There was good and bad,” midfielder Razvan Cocis said.

Cocis was a part of the good as he scored the first goal in the Paunovic era as the Fire trailed 3-1 at half and Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam added second half goals.

But it wasn’t enough.

Recently signed goalie Matt Lampson got the nod over Fire elder statesman Sean Johnson, fueling speculation that Johnson could be shipped out. First-year general manager Nelson Rodriguez has shown he can pull the trigger on deals whether or not a player is popular or not. He dealt Harry Shipp to Montreal for cash during training camp in February.

Lampson, who had not played an MLS game since 2013 but owns a 9-6 career record all with Columbus, gave up three first half goals before settling down in the second half.

“I don’t think it was my best game – the first half was definitely not good,” he said. “The third goal (off the foot of Khiry Shelton, who shielded rookie Fire defender Brandon Vincent and then rounded goalkeeper Matt Lampson before tapping into the net) was on me and it’s something I need to learn from.’’

Paunovic, who is not announcing who will start Saturday’s game at Orlando, had nothing but good things to say about Lampson after the game.

“We’re happy with him,” the coach said. “Matt did very well in the last game of the preseason (a 2-0 win over defending MLS champion Portland) and the team feels comfortable with him playing. We didn’t read the game well early because there was a lot of wind against us. But after that, he did very well. He tried his best and that’s all you can ask.’’

Lampson said he will go into the Orlando City start with the same attitude he had since the Fire picked him up on Feb. 26.

“I prepare every week like I’m going to start,” he said. “I found out (before the game) that I was going to start. You have to be ready. Next week, I will prepare like I need to play. It’s good for competition. Everyone is out there trying to earn a spot. That’s all I’m going to do.’’

The Fire finished with 17 shots while New York had 20. New York picked up goals from Thomas McNamara, Tony Taylor, Shelton and Mix Diskerud. NY is just in its second year of play and finished 0-1-1 against the Fire last year.

Vincent, a former Stanford star making his pro debut, said there is work to do.

"Our job is to defend and not let in goals, so giving away four is tough,’’ he said. “But looking forward, that's what we'll work at."