Charley is her name and volleyball is her game

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego, a sophomore at Mother McAuley, is developing into a force for the Mighty Macs.


Yes, Charley is her real name.

It’s not Charlene, Charlotte or even Chardonnay that has been nicked down to Charley. It’s really Charley.

The Mother McAuley sophomore was named after her father, Charlie Niego, and it may cause a little confusion at times.

“A lot of people ask me what my real name is,” she said. “But I like it. It’s really unique. It’s like a one-of-a-kind name for a girl.’’

Interestingly, does list Charley as a girls’ name as well as Charlie, Charli and Charly.

And if the name Charlie Niego rings a bell, he was a part of the famous Niego family that had had seven out of eight kids playing basketball at either De La Salle or Maria in high school and Lewis Unviersity in college. The basketball exploits of the Niego family were featured in Sports Illustrated in 1986.

Which begs the second question – how in the world was Charley Niego allowed to play a sport other than basketball?

Well, her mother is Therese Boyle-Niego who was such a strong player at the south side volleyball factory that she had her number – 5 – retired and it is on the wall near the entrance of the Mighty Macs’ gym.

“I played basketball but I really didn’t like it that much,” Charley Niego said. “I really liked volleyball.’’

And what happened when she had to say “Sorry Charlie” to her dad and let it be known to her hoop-crazy uncles that she was playing volleyball?

“They didn’t care about that – their daughters also play volleyball,” she said.

It’s a new generation of Niegos.

Macs coach Jen DeJarld allowed Niego the choice of wearing No. 5, which had been retired for more than 20 years.

“It’s an honor,” Charley Niego said. “It’s kind of cool to come into the gym and see it up there.’’

The 6-foot Niego has quickly emerged as a dangerous outside hitter for the Mighty Macs. She was erratic at times during the team’s 25-15, 18-25, 25-20 win over rival Marist on Sept. 15 but many of her nine kills came at times when the Macs were trying to put the RedHawks away in the first and third games.

“She’s a warrior,” DeJarld said. “The bigger the game, the bigger she plays. I think against a team like Marist, the nerves can kick in and the crowd is rough. They say some things. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with for a young kid. She’s an amazing player. She’s going to be a great player for us in the next two years.’’

DeJarld has a special place in her heart for the former outside hitter at McAuley – her daughter Ryann. Ryann was a kill and dig machine for the Mighty Macs and is now a freshman libero at Notre Dame. Niego has big shoes to fill and is making a pretty good early impression on her coach.

“She has filled a role for my daughter Ryann very well,” the coach said. “Ryann was a very steady player and an all-around player. Charley filled those shoes and she reminds me a lot of Ryann.’’

Kayla Caffey had five kills, Jane DeJarld had 24 assists and Emma Reilly had 18 digs for McAuley against Marist. Cameron Enright pounded down 10 kills for Marist and teammate Emily Graf added nine.

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego, a sophomore at Mother McAuley, is developing into a force for the Mighty Macs.

This is one fine-ite family

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

In math, there is a term called a finite number.

This is a number that is real, although impossible to calculate.

For instance, there is a finite number of every blade of grass in Illinois, but good luck finding it.

What we have here in the area sporting world is something similar.

Oak Lawn’s Pat Niego has eight children and 30 grandchildren. Some have made their marks in sports. Some are making their marks in athletics right now. A few are too young.

Many have starred on the grade school and high school level and some did well on the college level. Most played basketball

So, the big question is: how many sporting events has Pat Niego seen over the years?

Good luck finding THAT answer.

“I have no idea,” she said. “I can’t even think about it. That’s just way, way, way too many. The boys played in grammar school in two or three different leagues. It was like three or four games a week sometime. Thousands, at least. I don’t know. I can’t count them.’’

She’s seen a variety of sports from the pee-wee level to college level. She couldn’t come up with what the biggest game she ever attended.

“All of the games are exciting and important,” she said diplomatically.

Pat and her husband Ron, who died 28 years ago, raised eight kids –Charlie, Tom, Mary, Terri, Joe, Mark, Nancy and Quinn.

Charlie, Tom, Joe and Mark played at De La Salle and were starters on Lewis University’s basketball team that was ranked in the top 10 in Division II in 1985-86 and Sports Illustrated did a story on them that appeared Jan. 20, 1986. By the way, the cover story was of Jim McMahon and the Bears going to the Super Bowl.

Mary, Terri and Nancy also played hoops at Lewis after prepping at Maria.

Quinn, who was 13 at the time of the SI story, told the magazine he was not interested in the sport. “I eat popcorn.’’ he said.

Now those eight are grown up and have kids of their own.

Thirty to be exact.

So far.

Some are making their mark in basketball and other sports.

Joe’s son, Harrison, was a top player for Lyons Township and is a preferred walk-on freshman at Indiana University.

Charlie’s son, Quinn, is playing basketball for St. Xavier University after a stint at Brother Rice.

Mary’s son, Willie McNamara plays football at Dartmouth. She had another son, Tom McNamara, played football at Northwood University in Michigan.

A host of volleyball stars figure to come from this clan with Charlie’s daughter, Charley, a sophomore at Mother McAuley who is making an impact on one of the best programs in the state, leading the way.

This new generation of Niegos figures to be around for a while. But think about this -- when these 30 have kids and those kids have kids…

Ron and Pat Niego started a dynasty and how many years Niegos will be starring in sports will be a big-time finite number.

niego tree



Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Mighty Macs stomach a strange five-day stretch

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Mighty Macs stomach a strange five-day stretch.

There are times when sports are goofy and unpredictable.

There are situations that are hard to believe. I’ve been in this racket for a long time and I can’t remember hearing of a more goofy or unpredictable five-day stretch experienced by one area team.

Mother McAuley’s girls volleyball team is known for its dominance. It’s easy to dislike the Mighty Macs the same way it’s easy to dislike the New York Yankees and the Duke’s men’s basketball program.

But even the biggest McAuley haters may have to cringe and hold their stomachs when they hear this story and the team’s bizarre stretch from Friday, Sept. 11 through Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Friday: The team competed in pool play in the Louisville Invitational and won their matches and celebrated with some pizza.

There is some debate on whether it was the pizza or a flu that was going around the school but players and coaches were getting sick.

“It was like a scene out of ‘Bridesmaids,’ ’’ McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. “It was hilarious, really.’’

 For those who understand that reference, feel free to stifle a burp. For those who don’t, YouTube up “ ‘Bridesmaids’ vomit scene’’ and that might give you an idea of how some the Mighty Macs turned into the Mighty Yacks.

Saturday: The girls put the ILL in Illinois as they were so sick, many of them couldn’t get out of the hotel to go out and complete. The three coaches on hand were also hurting so bad, they weren’t able to head to the tournament.

“Those were big games and we spent a lot of money to go there,” DeJarld said. “We took a five-and-a-half-hour bus trip and we wanted to play the top teams in the nation. We were looking forward to it.”

Some starters couldn’t answer the bell. Thoughts of forfeiting and getting the heck out of town were surfacing because of the setter situation. DeJarld said Abby O’Brien was sick and probably shouldn’t have played but she set for a makeshift team.

Scorekeeper Nancy Frederick, a veteran club volleyball coach at Ultimate and Michio Chicago, stepped in and the team finished 1-2, with one loss being a tight 25-20, 25-20 setback to national power Mercy Academy.

Sophomore Charley Niego, who escaped the illness said the team played well despite the circumstances.

“It was the same as if they were all there,” she said. “Even though our coaches weren’t there, we coached each other. We played like we usually play. It was weird but we got through it.’’

“The girls we had out there played so hard and so well,” DeJarld said.

The sick players and coaches went home early on the bus. The healthy folks came home later with the parents.

Sunday: It was supposed to be recovery day for everyone and DeJard was able to watch her son, Jack play youth football. But when she got home, she started feeling severe cramps in her stomach and couldn’t sleep.

Monday: A trip to Palos Hospital revealed the DeJarld needed to have her appendix taken out and she heard that with a showdown with neighborhood rival Marist looming the next night, the recovering Macs had a bad practice.

Tuesday: The word was that DeJarld was probably not going to be in the McAuley gym for the big battle with Marist but at 4:30 p.m., she was released from the hospital, went home to shower and made it to the gym in time for the match.

She sat on the bench and stayed quiet some of the time while assistant Meg Gardner did the heavy lifting.

Marist students, by the way, planned on wearing white and when they found out about the flu/food poisoning many wore surgical face masks.

But McAuley had the last laugh with a 25-15, 18-25, 25-20 victory in the game that saw a lot of sloppy play mixed in with some jaw-dropping hits and digs from both sides.

“It was a really strange weekend,” senior Kayla Caffey. “We didn’t expect to get food poisoning from pepperoni pizza but we overcame it. We’re all fine now. We’re healthy.

“Everyone’s good.’’

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Let's get ready to capture some exciting moments

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions


Greetings, sports fans.

I promise you we’re going to have some fun.

My name is Jeff Vorva and I am the new sports editor of the Southwest Regional Publishing, which covers 12 high schools and three colleges for the Reporter and Regional News and 11 high schools for five other newspapers in Chicago and the suburbs.

First, a little about me.

I started out as a sportswriter in 1977 when I was in high school. I did it for 30 years -- including 10 years of covering the Cubs – before doing mostly news from 2008 until now. I’ve covered a lot of area sports over the years and have two kids who have played high school sports so I know the perspective of a parent all too well.

I may be the new guy to this section, but my driver’s license suggests I am no new guy.

After talking with the big bosses at our company, we agreed to take a new approach and philosophy to the way sports will be covered in the seven papers including this one.  We want to be proactive and not reactive.

Like many weekly papers in the country, we come out on Thursday. Most people are getting excited for the games coming up over the weekend, which are 24-to-48 hours away. Yes, it’s nice to highlight last week’s games, but that shouldn’t be the main focus.

For the first time in a long time, we are having reporters actually out there covering games. Being at the games, and not just relying on phone calls from coaches, gives reporters flavor, emotion, the ability to monitor injury situations and gain extra insight that you just can’t get when you are not there. It sounds simple – Journalism 101 – but that’s been lacking I company-wide and we are changing that.

If we’re not at the game, we can’t capture the emotions from Friday’s come-from-behind Richards win.  We also want to quote more athletes in our stories when possible.

Minor sports are going to get more play. Football and basketball will be king, but last week, Sandburg’s nationally-ranked cross country team graced the front page along with a story about Brother Rice’s football team. This week, Evergreen Park’s swimming team was featured for its workout/tribute to 9/11.   

A good story is a good story whether comes from a football stud or a 98-pound badminton player. We would love to tell them all.

We’ll try to tackle some issue stories. During my tenure as Reporter editor, I wrote about the possibility of the IHSA voting to disband football conferences, including the storied Catholic League. Already I am thinking about a future piece on how some football-heavy schools are not even fielding sophomore teams this year because the numbers are down.

Oh, and when it comes to non-high school sports?

Youth sports, bowlers, beer-league softball players, golfers, stock car racers and other area athletes can all submit their news to us via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  We are not taking faxes, but we’ll take phone calls at 708-448-6161 for anyone with tips on athletes or teams we should know about. This isn’t just about high school and college sports.

This column will usually appear in this section weekly and if you read me the past three years in the Regional and Reporter, you know that anything goes. I hope to keep it mostly local but if there is something on my mind on the state, national or professional level, I’ll probably be barking about it. Or laughing about it.  

So get ready. Things are going to change and we’re not going to please everybody. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere but we’re going to be physically at more events than we ever were.

 We are going to try to be as compelling and fun as possible week and week out.

Now let’s get to work…

EP's swim team's mighty 9/11 tribute

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Submitted photo

 Bridget Donoghue, left, and Grace O’Toole of Evergreen Park get some lifting in during a tribute to 9/11 last Wednesday.

Pooped and proud.

That’s how some members of the Evergreen Park girls swimming and diving team felt last Wednesday felt after a morning workout.

It wasn’t just a typical workout.

It was a special – and very challenging – workout that coach Sarah Marshall put the 30 members of the program through.

The athletes did a Hero Workout of the Day in honor of Friday’s 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attack of the Twin Towers in New York, which caused major death and destruction.

Because the Mustangs were in between Thursday and Saturday meets on the actual anniversary, they couldn’t work out Friday. So they chose Wednesday.

Marshall, who is also a coach at Stone Age Crossfit, devised a program that featured a 2,001-meter run (the attacks happened in 2001), 11 box jumps, 11 thrusters at 45 pounds, 11 burpee pullups, 11 power cleans at 75 pounds (in memory of Flight No. 175) 55 reps of other lifts and exercises and one more 2,001-meter run. The session lasted more than an hour.

“I was pretty tired and I was pretty proud with what she accomplished,” senior captain Kali Pytel said. “We all got through it. We’re all pretty strong, I think. We wanted to do well and to stay motivated.’’

“I was dead tired,” senior captain McKenna Moran added. “I was really exhausted. Mostly my arms were hurting. But I was fine throughout the day. I’m used to rough mornings.’’

The swimmers don’t want to forget an event that they really don’t remember.

The senior captains have heard a lot about the attacks, but don’t remember it firsthand.

 “I was three and the only thing I remember is my mom told me that she had to pull us out of preschool early,’’ Moran said.

Marshall said she was “overjoyed” one of the swimmers came up with the idea.

“Not only are very difficult and grueling workouts, but they are so meaningful and powerful to do because you know you can't give up or slow down [because you are] thinking of who you're honoring during the workout,’’ the coach said. “The girls also coordinated to all wear red, white and blue during the workout to honor our country and the sacrifices so many make for our freedoms.

“I thought it was pretty amazing of my girls to want to do the workout and do it with pride. The memory of September 11 is so near and dear to my heart, like so many Americans, as my husband is a US Marine and has served our country in the aftermath of 9/11. I might be biased because of my thoughts on how important it is to never forget what happened that day 14 years ago, or because I think the world of my girls, but I think what they've done is pretty amazing.’’

And the swimmers had some fun with it.

“It was a cool idea and it brought the team together,” Pytel said.


Submitted photos