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." 


Double-double dynamic duo

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 duo Drynan

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Erin Drynan had 23 games where she recorded at least a double-double and six of those were triple doubles. 


Page 1 Borgen

Moraine Valley freshman Michelle Borgen had 22 double-doubles in 30 games this season and led the nation in number of free throws made.




When Mother McAuley’s Erin Drynan and Andrew’s Michelle Borgen signed up to play at Moraine Valley Community College on the same day last offseason, it was uh-oh time for the two power players.

After meeting each other, both wondered how much they would get to play.

“I looked at her and said ‘it looks like I’m going to have to split playing time with her,’ ’’ Borgen said.

“I was thinking the same thing when I saw her,” Drynan said.

Fortunately for both and unfortunately for opponents, Cyclones coach Delwyn Jones decided to use the 6-foot-3 Drynan and the 6-1 Borgen on the court at the same time. The Cyclones closed their season with a 20-10 record after losing to Waubonsee in the Region IV semifinals on Saturday and the two freshmen finished the season with a huge collection of double-doubles and, in Drynan’s case, a handful of triple-doubles as well.

All told, the two Cyclones combined for 45 games where they had at least a double-double showing. That included six games in which Drynan had six triple-doubles.

They were the double-double dynamic duo of Moraine Valley.

Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn, a longtime basketball coach in the area, was puzzled when watching the two work during a late regular season game.

“I can’t believe these two aren’t playing Division I basketball somewhere,” he said. “They are so strong inside and can run the floor. I’ve seen a lot of players at this school and these are two real good ones.’’

Both said that they received little notice from colleges coming out of high school.

“In high school, I was more of a quiet player,” Drynan said. “We relied on a lot of outside shooting and not as much inside play for offense. But coming here, I had to be more aggressive and help lead the team.

“It’s definitely a turnaround for me and people were surprised to see me doing this.’’

Drynan averaged 17 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots per game. She was ranked No. 1 in the nation in NJCAA Division II play with 191 blocks and No. 2 in rebounds with 404.

Borgen was also taken aback by her numbers as she averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds per contest. She was seventh in the nation with 610 points and 12th with 333 rebounds. She was also No. 1 in the nation with 199 free throws.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this type of season,” Borgen said. “This is a much higher level than high school. But playing with Erin and having us do so well was the most fun I’ve ever had playing. We didn’t win a lot in high school and this was great.’’

So far, bigger schools are not knocking on either star’s doors yet.

“We’re returning a lot of freshmen and I think we can really go far next year,” Borgen said. “I would rather play with a team that should have success rather than risk going somewhere else and losing.’’

Drynan has a method to her successful blocking.

“You have to stay on your feet and it helps that I have long arms,” Drynan said.

Speaking of long arms, she comes from a basketball family with some pretty long arms. Her twin brothers , juniors Patrick and Mike, play for Evergreen Park and were listed at 6-10 and 6-8 respectively at the beginning of the season.

“They are almost 7-feet tall,” she said. “I was always taller than them until they got into high school. I used to beat them all the time. Now, I usually always lose against them because they just dunk on me.’’

Their father, Tom, played at Brother Rice and was a walk-on at the University of Illinois in the Lou Henson era.

“Basketball was passed down to my brothers and me,” Erin said.

And she didn’t try to swat it away.

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Moraine Valley freshman Michelle Borgen had 22 double-doubles in 30 games this season and led the nation in number of free throws made.

Erin Drynan had 23 games where she recorded at least a double-double and six of those were triple doubles. 

Fire open season Sunday looking for that nifty 50

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Veteran Fire goalie Sean Johnson said the changes on the team are positive.


Preseason games are generally useless when trying to judge how a team is going to do in the regular season.

But for Chicago Fire fans, it’s the only body of work to base opinions on.

The team has a new general manager (Nelson Rodriguez), a new head coach (Veljko Paunovic) and a roster with a lot of new faces to get used to.

So when the Fire went through an unbeaten preseason of six matches – including a 2-0 victory Saturday over defending Major League Soccer champs Portland to win the Simple Invitational Championship – it gave followers a chance to dream about making it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

But now reality hits. The Fire opens the 2016 campaign hosting the New York City Football Club at 1 p.m. at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

This will give people a clearer picture of what this team can do.

“Winning the first game is important but not crucial,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to lose a game over the course of the year. The way we look at it is that 50 points is pretty much the barometer for getting into the playoffs. We have broken the season down in bytes and we will approach the season in that way. To win at home, would be an energizing moment.

“It’s two marquee teams in the league. It will be an interesting first game.’’

The veteran of the team, goalie Sean Johnson, has looked around the locker room and has seen a lot of new teammates trying to learn Paunovic’s system.

“It’s a positive change for us and we’re adapting to it,” Johnson said. “We’re trying our best to get up to speed.’’

Rodriguez is not making the rookie mistake of getting too giddy over the preseason.

“Winning is nice and it was especially nice to win Saturday night,” Rodriguez said. “But 24 hours later, it meant nothing. This Sunday will be the real first test that the team faces. We still have to get better. But I’m satisfied with the progress we have demonstrated so far and the team has the capability to improve.

“We haven’t been punched in the face yet. We haven’t lost four games in a row yet. We haven’t lost 4-0 yet. We haven’t had the media criticize us yet. The real test of that character will come when we face genuine adversity. But for the moment, we’re very pleased with how the character of the group has come together.’’

Paunovic was happy with the team’s 5-0-1 preseason.

“The players are trying to do what we are asking and demanding,” Paunovic said. “They are doing it and they want to do it. And they believe it. And it shows it with how we performed in the preseason. They can see how the system can work.’’

But the players and coach meshing is something that may not work as easily during the regular season.

“Pauno’s style and demands are great,” the GM said. “But there is no substitute for time and experience in that setting. Five weeks is plenty long enough for preseason but it’s not the same as five months. Or five years. One thing that will benefit us in more time together. Now keep in mind that when you add or subtract a piece, you stunt that timeline a little bit.

“We are looking at Sunday as a microcosm of where we are. We need to do better in possession. We gave the ball away a little bit too easily. Our back line is still getting to know each other and will get better. We will limit chances against us. And I think there is room for us to generate even more opportunities on the offensive side of the ball.’’

New York, only in its second year of play, also has a new coach – Patrick Viera – who took over for Jason Kreis after a 10-17-7 debut in the MLS. Spain’s David Villa is the team captain.

The New York squad finished 5-1 in its preseason and beat the Reykjavik FC 2-1 on Saturday with Andrea Pirlo and Mix Diskerud scoring goals.

Last year, the Fire beat New York City 1-0 and the two teams followed with a 2-2 tie.