High school focus: Fab freshmen 'explode on diamond' for Pride

  • Written by Anthony Nasella


Page 3 q of p freshmen


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Ashley Lynch, left in catcher's gear, and shortstop Kelly Walinski have made an immediate impact as freshmen for Queen of Peace’s softball team. 


When Kelly Small accepted the head softball post at Queen of Peace she knew she was coming aboard to guide a team loaded with experienced seniors.

But nothing prepared Small for the twofold surprise that came in the form of a pair of talented first-year players.

Freshmen catcher Ashley Lynch and shortstop Kelly Walinski are skilled on defense and emerged as offensive juggernauts who have helped Queen of Peace to an above .500 record (12-11-1 through in its first 24 games) with promise for the future.

Heading into this week, Lynch was leading the team with a sizzling .512 battering average, while slugging four home runs, driving in 35 runs and scoring 21. Walinski was hitting .446, with five dingers, 27 RBI, and 32 runs scored.

“We have eight talented seniors on this team, but Ashley and Kelly have exploded on the diamond for lack of a better description,” said Small, who coached Oak Lawn’s frosh-soph team the past four years and graduated from Oak Lawn Community High School.  “I was curious how they would perform with so many seniors, and they’ve blended in wonderfully.’’

Small said she likes Lynch’s skills behind the plate and the way she works with four-year starting pitcher Lindsey Kuducki.

“Ashley doesn’t miss anything, especially when she’s paired with Lindsey,” Small said. “She calls every single pitch, and she’s not afraid to throw the ball as far picking runners off the keeping them on the bag. She’s already one of the best catchers in the area.”

For Walinkski, a native of Worth, Small measures her stellar play at shortstop by the volume of dirt on her uniform.

“Her uniform is never clean and is the first one to get down and dirty,” Small said. “We have a saying in our infield that nothing get through without blood, sweat and tears on it, and Kelly is the epitome of that saying. She’s so passionate about the game and how she plays it; her range is just amazing.’’

Lynch, who calls LaGrange home, admitted to having some initial trepidation about playing on a team full of seniors.

“I was afraid they wouldn’t like me because I was a freshman,” she said. “Would I fit in with them? As soon as tryouts came, they were all so nice to me. It was so easy to get along with them. They treated me the same. It’s been an amazing experience.’’

Walinski said she never imagined the opportunity to play – much less contribute at a significant level – as a freshman.

“I certainly didn’t expect going in that I would be starting as a freshman at shortstop,” she said. “Ashely and I started on fire together, and my teammates have been the best. I know I wouldn’t be playing at the level I‘m playing at without them.’’

Both freshmen credit their emerging games on the exposure to quality competition through their respective travel softball teams. Lynch plays for the Berwyn Bash and Walinski is part of the Orland Sparks.

“I think I learned the most from my dad, John, and my travel coach Tommy Blood,” Lynch said. “I wouldn’t be the player I am without them.’’

Walinski credits Sparks coach Katlyn Braget in helping her realize her potential.

“Playing travel ball definitely prepared me for varsity and has put me at an advantage,” Walinksi said. “When you face good competition, it takes your game to a higher level.”

With the play of Lynch and Walinski blending in with established players like Kudecki and third-base fielding extraordinaire Caitlin Fitzgerald, 

Small is not putting any limits on what her team is capable of doing in the postseason – which kicks off Tuesday in the Class 3A Lemont Regional when the Pride faces Chicago Noble.

“We’ve played a very challenging schedule, and the girls have played competitive all season,” she said. “Five of our losses have been by just one run, so I like what we have with this team. We’re excited about the challenge of the postseason.”

Stagg honors 12 college signees

Stagg High School recently held a ceremony to honor 12 athletes who will continue sports at the college level.

In baseball, Josh Nowak is heading to Gulf Coast State, Jack Philgren to Robert Morris University and Max Downs will play for Parkland Community College.  

In tennis Leeza Bodnar and Silvia Kulbokas are heading to Lake Forest, in dancing, Taryn Mousatkas is heading to St. Ambrose, in softball, Amber Green committed to Roosevelt, in volleyball Heather Fane is heading to Moraine Valley and in track, David Cooling is attending Northwood University and Jordan Houlihan is heading to Valparaiso.  

In football, Josh Sterling is heading to Robert Morris University and in soccer, Jazmin Castanon will go to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Eight from McAuley moving up

Mother McAuley softball players Kara Bischoff (Illinois Wesleyan), Molly Murphy (Cardinal Stritch) and Alison Alberts (St. Mary’s College of Notre Dame) committed to colleges as did water polo standouts Geena Peyton (George Washington University), Maggie Hennidan (Carthage) and Julia Olivares (St. Francis) and track stars Alexandria Bryant (Western Michigan) and Ashley Canner (Lake Forest).

Rafacz named OL Athlete of the Week

The Oak Lawn Spartan Athlete of the Week for May 2 was junior second baseman on the softball team, Natalia Rafacz who, in in three games was 6-for-11 (.545) with four runs scored and four RBI.



Fire and Red Stars notes and analysis

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 PAUNO with Fire

 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic is trying to stay positive even though his team entered this week with an MLS-worst record of 1-4-4.


WHEN: 4 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

FIRE RECORD: 1-4-4 (before Wednesday night’s game against NY Red Bulls)


LAST TIME: The two teams engaged in a 1-1 draw July 3 in Houston. Patrick Nyarko scored the tying goal for the Fire in the 72nd minute.

Last-place Fire coming back home to face last-place Dynamo

The Chicago Fire continued to have its offensive woes in Saturday’s 2-0 road loss at New England, but who knew that a yelling match between two Columbus Crew teammates would impact this game on defense?

Columbus’s Kei Kamara, an offensive machine who scored 22 goals in Major League Soccer games last year, screamed at teammate Frederico Higuain after a  4-4 tie with Montreal on May 7.

The Crew had enough of Kamera’s antics and traded him to New England, where he made his debut for the Revolution on Saturday against the Fire. While he didn’t score, his presence changed the dynamic of the Revolution offense and put two goals past Fire goalie Matt Lampson to keep Chicago winless since 2014 – a span of 29 games.

Even with David Accam returning from a left injury suffered March 11 and Khaly Thiam making his Fire debut, the offense continued to sputter as Chicago had no shots on goal and four shots total.

That setback came three days after a 2-1 loss to Vancouver, in which the Fire played without injured Accam, John Goossens and Gilberto and Thiam did not have a visa to Canada.

In the first half, Lampson and Vancouver’s Masato Kudo collided and Kudo left the game.

Blas Perez came into the game and scored both goals for the Whitecaps, including a bicycle kick in the 89th minute. The gives the Fire two losses in which it gave up the decisive goal late in the game. The Fire fell 2-1 against Montreal on April 16 when the winning goal came in stoppage time.

The Fire, which is in last place in the Eastern Conference played against the New York Red Bulls on the road Wednesday and will come home to play another last-place team, Houston, to finish a five-game-in-17-day span on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Through the misery of entering this week with an MLS-worst 1-4-4 mark, first-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic is staying positive.

“We have right players and the right guys,” the coach said on Monday. “Of course we know where we are in the standings but for sure we will work hard and stay focused and will improve. Nobody likes to see where we are in the standing but everyone is still very committed and working hard to make it better.

“I absolutely believe in our guys. It’s obvious that we have to win games and improve and we will do that.’’

  Accam is back

Accam came into the second half of the New England game and played 45 minutes even though Paunovic was hoping to play him less. But the Fire had no offense going in the first half and trailed 1-0 and the coach was hoping Accam (who had two goals in his first two games before the injury) could give the team a shot in the arm. He was able to get just one shot off.

"I felt good,’’ Accam said. “It showed that I haven't played in two months; I felt a little bit rusty, but I'm so happy to be on the pitch again playing." 

Paunovic would not speculate how much Accam would play in Wednesday’s game against the New York Red Bulls or Saturday’s game against Houston.

Hungry de Leeuw joins Fire

After much speculation, the Fire finally acquired 26-year-old Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw Tuesday and signed him to a three-year deal with an option for a fourth.

“Michael hungers to score goals and win,” Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez said.

de Leeuw scored 46 goals in 117 league matches for FC Groningen in four seasons.




WHEN: 6 p.m., Sunday

WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Seattle



LAST TIME: The Red Stars entered the seventh game of the season leading the National Women’s Soccer League in scoring May 30 averaging two goals per game, but were held scoreless in a 0-0 draw.

Another no-no before facing Solo

On Sunday, arguably two of the top goalies in the world will be facing each other when the Red Stars visit Seattle.

Seattle has Hope Solo, who will likely be the United States’ goalie in the Olympics this year.

The Red Stars have Alyssa Naehler, who will be fighting for a shot on the team to likely be a backup to Solo.

As a prelude to the showdown with Solo, Naehler put on a show Friday night and her play in the net helped earn the Red Stars a point in the standings in a 0-0 draw against two-time defending National Women’s Soccer League champion FC Kansas City at the Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City.

While the offense continued to have its problems (four goals in five matches) the defense had a couple of breakdowns against the Blues but some key saves by Naehler allowed her to go 396 minutes without allowing a goal and now has four shutouts on the season.

A couple of stops later in the match were huge.

In the 70th minute, there was a one-on-one situation between Naehler and KC’s France Silva, Naehler deflected the ball into onto the crossbar, where it bounced out of harm’s way. A few minutes later, a Mandy Laddish shot was deflected by the goalie’s right knee and at the 84-minute mark, she kick-saved a Katie Bowen attempt.

“There is an exceptional presence, a calmness and confidence, with Alyssa that spreads into the backline and the midfield,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “She has played on the biggest stage and knows how to close out games, which has helped us tremendously.”

Naeher finished with six saves.

The Red Stars were active on offense with eight shots on goal, but could not score.

Hugs for Jen

Former Red Stars player Jen Buczkowski retired after the game and received hugs from Dames and Red Stars players.

She was presented a bouquet of flowers before the game and some of her accomplishments were read to the crowd.

In her NWSL career, The Elk Grove native appeared in six title games and won five championships. She started all 76 games of her career and played 6,745 out of a possible 6,840 minutes. She is the only player in the league’s history to play in every game.

Bass masters: Two St. Laurence boats to go down state

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Page 1 st laurence second place refer

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Matt Misicka, left and Paul Petan of St. Laurence helped lead their team to a second-place finish at the Reavis Sectional in bass fishing. St. Laurence had two boats finish second and third Friday in Channahon and both boats qualified for the IHSA State Finals on May 20-21.

If baseball is a game of inches, bass fishing is a game of ounces.

St. Laurence was just 2.6 ounces away from claiming its second sectional title in four years. But the Vikings still made some school history on Friday. They didn’t come away with the trophy but two Viking boats qualified for the Illinois High School Association State Finals, which will take place May 20-21 at Carlyle Lake.

“To have one boat make it – you beat the odds,” St. Laurence coach Barry Shaw said. “But to have two boats make it, it’s just great.’’

Andrew won the Reavis Sectional, which took place at Big Basin Marina on the Des Plaines River in Channahon, with a haul of 7 pounds, 5.8 ounces. The St. Laurence boat featuring seniors Paul Petan of Palos Park and Matt Misicka of Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood, just missed winning the sectional title with a weigh-in of 7 pounds, 3.2 ounces.

Another Vikings boat featuring Jack Nowak and Anthony Ptak of Garfield Ridge and Brendan Cavanaugh of Brookfield took third with 5 pounds, 2.7 ounces.

Brother Rice’s first boat just missed qualifying by finishing fourth, Stagg’s No. 1 board finished fifth and Brother Rice’s No. 2 boat was sixth. Sandburg, Marist, Oak Lawn and host Reavis did not enter any fish to get weighed in.

Last year the Vikings finished second to Stagg in the sectional by more than five pounds. This year, was a lot closer.

“I would have loved to have taken first place,” Petan said. “We were fishing for that kicker – that three or four pounder – at the end but we couldn’t find him. But we still qualified.’’

In recent years, the weather for sectional action has been cold and rainy. Friday was sunny and warm.

“We could have used a little cloud cover but it was all right – we still found fish,” Misicka said.

Top hauls varied through around the state. At Lake Holiday in the towns of Somonauk and Sandwich, Sandwich High School weighed in at 16 pounds, 7.4 ounces.

At Heidecke Lake in Morris, Minooka won with a haul of 4 pounds, 12 ounces.



Chicago Fire and Red Stars notes and analysis

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sean Johnson said he is frustrated with not playing.




WHEN: 6:30 pm. Saturday

WHERE: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts

FIRE RECORD: 1-2-4 (before Wednesday night’s game vs. Vancouver)


LAST TIME: The Fire beat New England, 3-1, Oct. 1, at Toyota Park. David Accam, Harry Shipp and Gilberto had goals for the Fire.


WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey

FIRE RECORD: 1-2-4 (before Wednesday night’s game vs. Vancouver).

RED BULLS RECORD: 3-6-1 (as of Sunday)

LAST TIME: The Red Bulls won 2-1 at Toyota Park Oct. 25 as Gilberto notched the lone goal for the Fire in its final game of the season.  

Johnson getting frustrated with bench time

Chicago Fire backup goalie Sean Johnson, the longest tenured player on the team, said his situation is “frustrating.”

Johnson, who was bumped late in the preseason for Matt Lampson and has not seen a minute of action in the Fire’s first seven matches, told the Daily Herald after last Thursday’s practice that he wants in on the action.

"It's frustrating," Johnson told the paper. "I want to play. I want to be on the field. I've worked extremely hard this year and for my career. … It's a frustrating thing not to be a part of the 18 when I was healthy."

Johnson, who has been with Chicago since 2010, missed four matches with a wrist injury and it appeared he would be available for an April 30 battle with D.C. United, but he wasn’t listed among the eligible players while the other backup goalie, Patrick McLain was on the eligible list.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said everyone on the team will have a chance to compete for a starting. But after seven matches, Lampson had three shutouts and is sixth in Major League Soccer with 32 saves.

"I really haven't had much discussion about my situation, to be honest," Johnson said. "That's also (Paunovic's) right as a coach, to have or not have those discussions. At the end of the day, he's the one in charge and he makes the decisions. Communication, speaking of transparency and communication, that's his decision whether or not he carries out those things as a coach. I respect his decisions, but ultimately as a player, I think at this point in my career I need to play.

"I've tried extremely hard to keep myself at a certain standard and do as much as possible to keep myself ready. ... I can control how I come in, how I work and how I carry myself on a day-to-day basis, so that's what I'll continue to do and continue to be a good professional."

There was speculation at the beginning of the season that the Fire was trying to ship Johnson off to another team but nothing has transpired.

Thiam in the fold

The Fire acquired midfielder Khaly Thiam on loan from MTK Budapest FC last Thursday through the end of 2016.

He wasn’t able to play Wednesday night against Vancouver because of a visa issue but should be available Saturday at New England.

"Khaly has a wide skill set that we believe will prove complementary to our current group," said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. "He is good in possession, an effective ball winner and gets forward quite well. Importantly, he has a deep desire to triumph."

Thiam joins the Fire from Hungarian first division side MTK Budapest FC, who he has represented since July, 2014. In two years, Thiam appeared in 47 matches, scoring four goals and adding three assists. Thiam additionally appeared in a pair of UEFA Europa League qualifying matches against Serbian SuperLiga side FK Vojvodina in 2015.

Pause takes on more work

Logan Pause has been named head coach of the Chicago Fire PDL team. In addition to his first team duties as assistant coach, Pause will lead the Fire's Under-23 team through the 14-game PDL regular season. Fire PDL alum and current Academy coach Charlie Trout will serve as the assistant coach. 

"We feel that the selection of Logan as our PDL head coach works on a lot of levels," said Rodriguez. "First, it is an expression of our commitment to Logan and our belief in him as a coach and his future as a coach. Secondly, we think it demonstrates a complete integration of our soccer operations and the importance we place on linking our academy to our PDL team and to our first team. With Charlie Trout as Logan's assistant, it is a perfect integration of our Academy, PDL and first teams." 


Midfielders David Accam and John Goossens were not available against Vancouver but Accam could make his first appearance since the second game of the year on Saturday. He had two goals in two games before a left knee injury.



WHEN: 8:30 p.m., Friday

WHERE: Swope Soccer Village, Kansas City



LAST TIME: Kansas City won 3-0 in the National Women’s Soccer League semifinals Sept. 13 in Bridgeview. Amy Rodriguez had two goals.

Red Stars need another scorer to step up

It’s great that Christen Press scored another goal Saturday in the Chicago Red Stars’ 1-0 win over winless Boston.

It’s great that she has three goals in four games.

It’s great that the Red Stars are 3-1-0.

What’s not so great, however, is that the star forward has been the only offensive force for the team.

The Red Stars have just four goals this year and aside from her three, the only other player to put a ball past a goalie is defender Casey Short.

Since a 3-1 loss at Houston to start the season, the Red Stars’ defense and goalie Alyssa Naeher have been perfect. It’s been 306 minutes since Chicago has given up a goal.

The outstanding defense and Press has had the most to do with this three-match win streak but coach Rory Dames needs a couple of his other troops to step up and bring in some offensive noise.

Press leads with 15 shots including 12 on goal. Sofia Huerta has 10 shots but just three on goal. No one else has more than four shots total.

So far, the Red Stars have gotten away with it. But once they start playing teams that can break through that strong defense, wins will be harder to come by if someone else doesn’t step up.

Last game for Buczkowski

The Red Stars visit the FC Kansas City Blues on Friday and will be a part of the end of an era.

KC midfielder Jen Buczkowski will retire after the game after being the only player in National Women’s Soccer League history to play every regular season game.

She played every minute in the 2011 and 2013 seasons and played 6,100 out of a possible 6,210 minutes the past two seasons.

Buczkowski, 31, said she wants to attend physical therapy school at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“It will be difficult to transition from playing soccer every day to being in the classroom, but I am excited to start that next journey,” she said on the FC Kansas City website.

She attended Elk Grove High School and the University of Notre Dame.

Blue start for champs

KC is the two-time defending NWSL champion but is looking for its first win this season.

The Blues are coming off a 2-1 loss to Houston – the only team to beat the Red Stars. 



Ortega, Regalado run wild in Palos, Frankfort races

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 10K winner

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chicago Ridge's Roberto Ortega


Chicago Ridge’s Roberto Ortega and Oak Lawn’s Dan Regalado kept their hot running streaks alive over the weekend.

Ortega won his second race in as many weekends as he claimed the championship in the 10K race portion of the ninth Southwest Half Marathon and 10K event, sponsored by Palos Hospital and CNB Bank, in Palos Heights on Sunday.  He won with a time of 38 minutes, 28 seconds.

That comes on the heels of winning the first Our Lady of the Ridge 5K event in his home town on April 23, in which he ran a time of 19:41.

“I’m on a nice run,” the 33-year old Ortega said. “I hope to keep it going.

The Southwest event has produced nine half marathons and three 10K runs and Ortega is just the second person from the Reporter/Regional area to win a race. Orland Park’s Jennifer Digiacomo was the overall women’s winner for the 2010 half marathon with a record 1:12:43.

Ortega attended Oak Lawn Community High School, where he said he played soccer and wrestled. Running didn’t come until recently.

“I was overweight and wanted to get back into shape and I got addicted to running,’’ he said.

Regalado is also on a streak. The 29-year-old won the Aurelio’s Pizza Frankfort Half Marathon Saturday with a time of 1:16:34. Another Oak Lawn runner and former Marist and St. Xavier University standout, Roy Witty, finished second with a 1:17.26.

 It’s just the second year of the Frankfort race, and Regalado has won both of them.  He was coming off a 2:44.35 showing at the Boston Marathon, good for 254th place.

“That was challenging,” he said. “It is as hard as everyone says it is. It’s downhill the whole first half and then it’s uphill the rest of the way.’’

Regalado finished 155th overall in the Chicago Marathon in October with a time of 2:37:33 after finishing 290th there in 2014.

The overall Palos half marathon winner was Oakwood Hills’ Ryan Giuliano, with a 1:09:44.

Guiliano becomes the second athlete to win multiple half marathons in Palos Heights. He also won in 2014 and his wife, Jacqui, won in 2013. Kenya’s Matthew Chesang won in 2008 and 2010.

The 31-year-old Guiliano did not have an easy time in Sunday’s run.

“It was tough,” he said. “Right now I’m in a big training block – I am doing an Ironman in two weeks in Texas. I am at the tail end of my training so coming in I was tired. In the second half of the run, I was really hurting. I had to dig a little deep. It was nice to win and there were nice running conditions, too.’’

Chicago’s Wendy Jaehn, 41, was the overall women’s winner with a 1:23:25.

The native of Rochester, New York who ran for Cornell University said that she was away from the sport for more than a decade but re-connected with it a few years ago.

“I started running for my own sanity again,” she said.

Another Chicago resident, Veronica Laureano, was the top overall female finisher in the 10K.

Chicago’s Chuck Aron, the 70-year-old who was running in his 14th out of 73 races raising money for Alzheimer’s awareness in the memory of his brother-in-law Paul Bracken, finished 249th in the 10K.

 There were 642 runners who finished the half-marathon and 292 who finished the 10K.