Lights, camera. 'AXIOM'

  • Written by Claudia Parker


Mother Nature has been wrestling with spring sports.

On March 16, the Monday that kicked off the outdoor spring sports season, temperatures were in the 70s. But Monday it was cold and inches of snow fell.

What will it be like next Monday? Marist High School 2007 alum Ryan Blake hopes it will be a day that people will want to pack the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago at 7 p.m. to watch his documentary on a winter sport, “AXIOM.”

In 2013, the Marist High School wrestling team started its season in a referee’s position, ranked on top. The RedHawks had an expectation set for them to win a state championship.

 However, physical injuries coupled with emotional fatigue had them stalling, and ready to flee the mat. The film follows five seniors; Matt Sears, Josh Pruitt, Ethan Benoit, Josh Hickey, and Tom Howell through their 2013-14 season as they pursue a state trophy.  

Head coach Brendan Heffernan, who graduated from the school in 1999, took the losses in stride, while encouraging the team to keep their heads up and prepare for the takedown.

Blake, the 26 year-old face behind the camera, is a University of Minnesota graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Film, currently working as a video editor at the National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA).

“My education, love for the sport and work experience prepared me for shooting this documentary but it’s no doubt, the biggest undertaking I’ve ever had professionally.” Blake said.

Blake has played, coached and continues to study wrestling through his profession, making sports profile videos.

“I’ve always had an interest in wrestling. I started in sixth grade and continued through college.” Blake said. “After I graduated from college and moved back to Chicago, Marist’s head coach offered me a coaching position. It was a natural fit.”

Blake said to keep up morale during the season he created several 2-3 minute video clips and posted them to social media. “It was a nice way to showcase our talent. Then, a student, off the cuff said, ’Just do a documentary.’ Great idea in theory, but it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.” Blake said.        

Shouldn’t it have been a breeze for someone with Blake’s knowledge of the sport and technical training in film?

“It takes equipment, manpower and time. Resources I didn’t have.” Blake said. “The goal was to raise $7,000. A lot of friends of Marist wrestling helped me raise $2,000 through an IndieGoGo account, it’s like a GoFundMe but geared for film. ”

What went by the wayside from the $5000 deficit? Well, Blake had to do a lot of combination moves.

The reflection brought tension to Blake’s voice.

“I had to scale back on equipment, fewer cameras, lights, lav-microphones and camera men,” he said. “Instead of being able to rent the equipment for the entire season, I had to shoot a few days at a time, return the equipment and re-rent it to reserve funds.”

Blake said if he could do things over he’d pitch the idea to a few investors first.  

“I had six months of footage, but it took me a year and a half to create my 90 minute film,” Blake said. “I wanted to show a bigger perspective so I made a full feature length movie.”        

Blake allowed Marist Principal, Larry Tucker, a private screening. Blake said he wanted Tucker’s blessing before its public debut.

“I was really impressed after seeing the documentary. Ryan's talent filming and editing is quite apparent,” Tucker said. “Ryan did a great job capturing the wrestling team’s journey that season. It was great seeing behind-the-scenes. I got to know the athletes even better.” 

“This documentary is about more than just wrestling,” Blake said. “It takes you through a fragile year of them juggling different expectations. You get to see how it shaped their identity.”

Blake said he hoped to find an online platform for the film and enter it in film festivals after the debut at the Beverly Arts Center.  

This documentary speaks to the talent and dedication of our wrestling program, but on a larger scale its message is for any team, group or even individual,” Tucker said. “It highlights the importance of making a commitment and seeing it through despite challenges or disappointments. The coaches depicted aren't just helping these student-athletes learn wrestling skills, they are instilling life skills.”

Blake will introduce the film and hold a question and answer session following. Tickets are $7, and are being sold through Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W 111th St, Chicago. To view a trailer and easily link to ticket sales, visit

“It's exciting to see a piece of Marist history captured so well,” Tucker said. “And for Ryan, like so many other Marist alumni, to continue to have a love for the school means a lot for our community.” 


2015 Baseball Preview

  • Written by Ken Karrson




2015 Baseball Preview

Batter up

Local teams ready to make noise this spring



2014 Record: 26-11.

Head coach: John McCarthy (69-41).

Assistant coaches: Sean McBride, Danny O’Brien, Tim O’Connell.

* Who’s gone: Kevin Biondic, INF/P; Kevin Sullivan, INF; Ian McGinnis, P; Mike Enriquez, P; Brian Musielak, P/OF; Kyle Hilliard, C; Erich Lieser, OF.

* Who’s back: Andrew Dyke, C/OF, Jr. (.383, .486 on-base pct., 44 hits, 34 RBI, 30 runs, 21 BBs, 11 extra-base hits, seven steals); Michael Massey, SS, Jr. (.333, .471 on-base pct., 36 hits, 28 runs, 17 RBI, 23 BBs, 18 steals, five doubles); Mike Schalasky, P/C/OF, Sr. (.295, .415 on-base pct., 13 hits, four extra-base hits, 11 RBI, six runs); Ryan Kutt, P, So. (5-2, 1.62 ERA, 27 Ks in 39 IP; .310, .473 on-base pct., six runs, five RBI).

* Who’s new: Jack Nelligan, P, Jr.; Ryan King, 2B, So.; Jake Ridgway, OF/C, So.; Jack Guzek, P, So.

* Outlook: Steady progress has been made under John McCarthy, so much so that the Crusaders could very well position themselves as a force within the Chicago Catholic League Blue this spring. Brother Rice more than held its own a year ago, winning 11 of 16 league contests and staying in the title chase most of the season. McCarthy’s clubs averaged 23 victories the past three years, and there’s no reason to believe the 26 wins notched in 2014 can’t be equaled -- or eclipsed.

            The Crusaders definitely lost some talent to graduation, including three key members of the pitching staff: all-area first-teamer Mike Enriquez (Lewis University), Brian Musielak (Concordia, Ill.) and Ian McGinnis (Illinois Wesleyan). Other notable departures include infielder Kevin Biondic (Maryland), infielder Kevin Sullivan (Middle Tennessee State), outfielder Erich Lieser (Illinois Wesleyan) and catcher Kyle Hilliard (Concordia, Wis.). With so many old faces having moved on, shouldn’t Rice be undergoing a bit of rebuilding?

            Well, it would be if guys such as Andrew Dyke, Michael Massey, Ryan Kutt and Mike Schalasky weren’t around to serve as cornerstones of the 2015 squad. Dyke is also a good football player, but he bypassed that sport last fall to concentrate on preparation for baseball and McCarthy expects that extra work to pay dividends. Dyke, who is coming off an All-Catholic League and all-area sophomore season, will shift from left to center field and provide Rice with a potent mix of speed and power. Massey, another all-area selection who has already committed to the University of Illinois, is capable of hitting to all fields with authority and probably the team’s premier base-stealing threat. A top-of-the-order guy in the lineup, Massey is blessed with a strong arm that will be put to good use at shortstop.

            Two other starters who return are Kutt and Schalasky, who’ll anchor a revamped pitching staff. Kutt, who has also given a verbal commitment to Illinois, made an immediate impact as a varsity freshman by winning five of seven decisions while posting an earned-run average below 1.70. Both hurlers throw fastballs that travel nearly 90 miles per hour and possess above-average breaking balls, and each will be in the field on non-pitching days, Kutt at first base and Schalasky at one of several different positions. Sophomore Jack Guzek, who has drawn some Division I interest already, could be a star-in-the-making and McCarthy is also high on the potential of junior Jack Nelligan.

            Two newcomers who could quickly find spots in the everyday lineup are sophomores Ryan King and Jake Ridgway. King, a second-base candidate, is another athlete of whom colleges are already aware. Ridgway could set up behind the plate or play in the outfield. Other positions will be settled on during the early part of the season.

            As became the norm under former coach Tim Lyons, the Crusaders will tackle a challenging schedule. In addition to early season encounters with local powerhouses Lincoln-Way North and Joliet Catholic Academy, Rice will make a trip to Kentucky and face top-rated programs from that state. In short, whatever the Crusaders accomplish will be hard-earned.

* Coach’s comments: “Our team will need to bring energy to the ballpark every day to compete. Competition will drive the 2015 team and hopefully we will reach our potential by the end of the year. Our goals are to play hard every day and contend for a conference title along with a state championship.

“Our team is very athletic and strong defensively -- defensively this will be one of our best teams. [There] will be a nice mix of speed and power offensively and our staff this year will blend some youth with experience. The key to our success will be throwing strikes and picking up the baseball.” -- McCarthy


2014 Record: 25-12.

Head coach: Eric Brauer (159-65 at CC; 226-86 overall).

Assistant coaches: Alex Bolyanatz, Colin Reynolds, Jimmy Hoofnagle.

* Who’s gone: Sean O’Meara, OF/SS; Josh Novak, P/INF; Max Kerfin, C.

* Who’s back: Christian Bolhius, P/OF, Sr. (8-3, 1.20 ERA, 100 Ks in 64 1/3 IP, 19 BBS, .146 opponents’ avg; .326, .415 on-base pct, 24 runs, 23 RBI, nine doubles); Trevor Wolterink, 3B, Jr. (.355, 31 runs); Jack De Vries, 1B/OF, Sr. (.303, 29 RBI); Pat McCarthy, 2B, Sr. (.276, .405 on-base pct.); Ron Clark, OF, Sr. (.260); Zach Frieling, SS, So. (.278, 30 RBI, 10 doubles); Dan Vos, P, So. (7-3, 1.76 ERA, 61 Ks in 59 2/3 IP); Adam Schoenle, P. Jr. (4-1, 34 1/3 IP).

* Who’s new: Brian Finger, C, Jr.; Josh Hill, OF, So.; Jacob Bulthuis, OF, So.

* Outlook: It has become a baseball assembly line in Palos Heights as Eric Brauer consistently turns out quality clubs. 2014 was no different as the Knights racked up 25 victories and successfully defended the Suburban Christian Conference title it captured in 2013 -- securing back-to-back league championships was a first for Chicago Christian, which has won 159 games during Brauer’s six-year stint.

            And maybe the best news is that many of the people responsible for the Knights’ latest show of excellence are back to give it another go. Most welcome is 2014 Player of the Year Christian Bolhuis, who was voted onto the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association Class 2A All-State team after a junior season that featured eight wins in 11 decisions, a 1.20 earned-run average and 100 strikeouts in less than 65 innings. Bolhuis, who also quarterbacked the Knights football team for three years, is on pace to pass Trent Overzet and become the school’s career-victories leader. Having Bolhuis back in the fold would be enough to make Chicago Christian formidable in its new Metro Suburban Conference home, but the talent extends well beyond him.

            Joining Bolhuis as an integral part of the mound staff is sophomore Dan Vos, who won seven games, registered an earned-run average below 1.80 and averaged better than a strikeout per inning over 59 2/3 frames. Junior Adam Schoenle provided four pitching victories and should be a solid No. 3 man in the rotation. And every one of those hurlers will be supported by an infield that is loaded with proven commodities.

            Foremost among the group is junior third baseman Trevor Wolterink, a two-sport standout who is coming off an all-area basketball campaign. He achieved similar status on the diamond last spring after leading the Knights with a .355 average and scoring 31 runs. Wolterink will also take regular turns on the hill. First baseman/right fielder Jack DeVries batted .303 with 29 RBI as a junior but should be even better in his final prep season and Zach Frieling’s future is certainly bright after the shortstop hit a respectable .278 with team-leading figures of 30 RBI and 10 doubles as a varsity freshman. Pat McCarthy and Ron Clark offer experienced presences at second base and left field, respectively.

            With a sizable veteran contingent on hand, the opportunities to shine may be somewhat limited for varsity rookies, at least at the outset. However, as Frieling showed last year and others did before him breakthroughs are possible, especially since Brauer has always been flexible about making adjustments on the fly and demonstrated a willingness to give younger players a shot if he thinks they can fill a specific need. New names mentioned by the coach in a preseason analysis were junior catcher Brian Finger -- who could step in immediately for the graduated Max Kerfin -- and sophomore outfielders Josh Hill and Jacob Bulthuis.

            Christian captured its fifth regional crown in six years last season and then followed up with one its best summer campaigns ever. About the only thing missing from the Knights’ resume since Brauer’s arrival is a sectional championship, but with their repeated appearances in Class 2A sectionals it would seem only a matter of time before they finally grab one and perhaps challenge for an even bigger slice of postseason pie. It wouldn’t be a complete shock if 2015 becomes that moment.

* Coach’s comments: “We made a nice run to the Sweet 16 in the summer-league playoffs [by] knocking off Reavis, Stagg and Mt Carmel.  We get back six starters from a 25-win team and we return [over] 71 percent of our innings pitched from last year’s staff, [so] we should be a strong team defensively and on the mound. We have four really strong arms at the top of our rotation and are positioned to be competitive in every game because of that pitching depth. 

“We are hoping to make a deeper run in the playoffs this spring. I like my team and I love my kids.  We are excited for this upcoming season.” -- Brauer


2014 Record: 22-11.

Head coach: Mark Smyth (218-218).

Assistant coaches: Jason Dunneback, John Altman, John Tiffy.

* Who’s gone: Corey Miller, 1B; Frank Meisl, P; Tim Walsh, 3B; Aaron Green Van Zee, P; KeyShawn Carpenter, OF.

* Who’s back: Mark Martin, SS/P, Sr. (.472, .513 on-base pct., 51 hits, 35 runs, 28 RBI, 13 doubles); Sean Miller, 2B, Sr. (.374, 18 RBI, 18 runs); Brian Pall, P/OF, Sr. (6-2, 2.10 ERA, 56 Ks in 52 IP); Joe Moran, P, Sr. (7-1, 2.56 ERA, 40 Ks in 39 IP); Mike Rizzo, C, Sr.; Ronnie O’Toole, CF, Sr.; Brendan Walsh, INF, Sr.; JR Wazio, P/1B, Sr.; Joe Piet, C/DH, Sr.; Brennan Quick, 3B, Sr.

* Who’s new: Harold McClarin, INF, Jr.; Matt Lyons, DH. Jr.; Shane Miller, OF, Jr.; Dan Smith, OF, So.; Pat Doran, P, Fr.

* Outlook: Seeing as how much of society embraces the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately concept, the Mustangs and coach Mark Smyth shouldn’t get overlooked for their recent feats. Smyth’s career ledger stood at an even .500 prior to the start of the 2015 campaign, but like fine wine he has benefited from the passage of time. Consider that Evergreen Park went 22-11 in 2014 and has won 36 of its last 53 contests dating back to the early portion of the 2013 season; included among the triumphs are four in the postseason and along the way the Mustangs claimed their first regional title in more than a half-century and first sectional victory ever.

            And what's encouraging for Smyth and Evergreen fans is that the Mustangs could -- and probably should -- continue traveling the high road this spring. Sure, they’ll miss 2014 South Suburban Conference Red Player of the Year Corey Miller and mound stalwart Frank Meisl (Benedictine University), but the cupboard definitely isn’t bare. How could it be with fourth-year starter Mark Martin back in the fold.

            Martin, a first-team all-area selection as a junior and second-teamer the two years before that, has already committed to staying local for college as he plans to attend neighboring St. Xavier University in the fall. Before that happens, though, he wants to produce one last big season at Evergreen. Martin, who’ll be regarded as one of the Mustangs’ finest baseball players ever by the time he’s finished, gave himself a difficult act to follow by posting some outstanding offensive numbers last spring: .472 average, .513 on-base percentage, 51 hits, 35 runs, 28 RBI and 13 doubles. And in case anyone thinks of Martin solely as a one-dimensional performer, he demonstrated his defensive chops at shortstop by turning 16 doubles plays in 2014.

            All-conference second baseman Sean Miller (.374) will again team with Martin to form an excellent DP combo, Illinois State Scholar Mike Rizzo has set up behind the plate since his freshman year and Ronnie O’Toole is a game-tested center fielder. Other seniors who should fill roles are JR Wazio, Brendan Walsh, Brennan Quick and Joe Piet, the latter of whom was an all-area offensive lineman last fall. Newcomers making a push for playing time include Brother Rice transfer Harold McClarin, fellow juniors Matt Lyons and Shane Miller and sophomore Dan Smith, who played varsity basketball during the winter. McClarin sat out last season, but Smyth sees him making his presence felt now.

Even without Meisl around to anchor the staff, pitching should remain an asset for the Mustangs. Joe Moran and Brian Pall combined to go 13-3 with 96 strikeouts in 91 innings a year ago and each pitcher’s earned-run average was well below 3.0. Wazio will also be used on the hill and 6-foot-2 freshman Pat Doran is expected to be in the mix as well.

Richards seized control of the SSC Red race fairly early last year, but Evergreen managed to hang around most of the way. With the Bulldogs having lost a large number of 2014 contributors, a new divisional kingpin could emerge. If the last year-and-a-half is any indication, there’s reason to believe the Mustangs have a legitimate shot at grabbing the top spot.

* Coach’s comments: “Richards is always the [SSC Red] kingpin, but expect Shepard and Eisenhower to be much improved [because] both return many players. Reavis and Oak Lawn are always well-coached and formidable and Argo is always a tough opponent as well. The top half is always competitive, but we need to get over the hump.

            “We hope to compete [the entire season] and win our second regional in three years. We lost a tough one to Morgan Park last year [in the regional final] and the kids are hungry. Depth and defense is definitely our strength, [but] solidifying our pitching staff, filling our outfield holes and getting consistent hitting 1 through 9 [are key].” -- Smyth


2014: Record: 21-15

Head coach: Kevin Sefcik (1st year)

Assistant coaches: Don Pirkle, Rich Robin.

* Who’s gone: Matt McKenzie, P; Robert Hovey, P; Blake Bieniek, P/INF; Kyle Barrett, INF/OF; Barrett Callaghan, INF.

* Who’s back: Rich Kairis, P/OF, Sr. (six wins, 1.59 ERA, .218 opponents’ avg., 38 Ks; .366, 34 hits, 17 runs, 16 RBI, 18-of-20 steals); Pat Meehan, SS/P, Sr.; John Carmody, 1B, Jr.; Eric Hansen, C, Sr.

* Who’s new: Jack Snyder, INF/P, Jr.; Brandon Hanik, INF/P, Jr.; Zach Sefcik, OF, Jr.

* Outlook: When a baseball team requires an infusion of offense, there are a few ways to try to make that happen. The RedHawks opted for a somewhat unique method of repair: They hired a former major leaguer to lead the way.

            Kevin Sefcik, an Andrew graduate who reached baseball’s highest level in 1995 and stuck around past the turn of the century, has taken over for Tom Fabrizio, who, in an ironic twist, is now at Andrew. Fabrizio did superb work in his final year at Marist as he guided his team to 21 wins and a near-upset of powerful Lincoln-Way North in a regional final. The RedHawks managed that while amassing a sub-standard .210 team batting average; helping to offset it was a pitching staff that posted a miserly 2.30 earned-run average.

            Obviously Sefcik, who was an assistant to John McCarthy at Brother Rice the past few seasons, would have no complaints about a continuation of that rock-solid mound work. But his goal is to complement it with a far more productive attack, and a guy who batted .275 over 425 games in the big leagues should have some teaching tricks up his sleeve. Marist’s season-opener certainly seemed to indicate such a thing -- the offense-starved RedHawks gave way to ones who piled up 11 runs in a nine-run victory over Lincoln-Way Central, an always-competitive SouthWest Suburban Conference program.

            Was it a fluke or sign of what’s to come for Marist? That remains to be seen, of course, but Sefcik’s coaching job is made a little easier by the return of third-year varsity player Rich Kairis, who collected all-area first-team honors as a junior after excelling both on the hill and at the plate. As a pitcher Kairis won six times, had a 2 ½-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, registered a 1.59 ERA and limited opponents to a .218 cumulative average. He also paced the RedHawks’ offense with a .366 average and 34 hits while successfully swiping 18-of-20 bases.

Experienced sidekicks for Kairis include catcher Eric Hansen, shortstop Pat Meehan and junior first baseman John Carmody. Hansen, who has committed to Indiana University, homered against Lincoln-Way Central and finished with a couple of hits. Carmody is a potential bopper from the left side while Meehan is a slick glove man who can also pitch. Among the newcomers expected to lend a hand are juniors Jack Snyder, Brandon Hanik and Zach Sefcik, the coach’s son. Snyder supplies a strong arm, Hanik possesses sharp defensive skills and the younger Sefcik, appropriately enough, should provide an offensive boost.

Marist’s East Suburban Catholic Conference residence is always filled with landmines, but the RedHawks captured 10 of 16 games in 2014 despite their popgun attack. Assuming the pitching remains reasonably stout, if the RedHawks’ bats can become consistently active they should be able to make a fair amount of noise within the league. That’s what Sefcik is counting on in his debut campaign.

* Coach’s comments: “The conference is loaded with Joliet Catholic, Benet, Carmel Catholic, Marian [and] Nazareth among others, [but] we play good competition all year and we need to defeat some tough opponents to prove that we can play with the top teams come playoff time. We hope to compete well in the conference and get ready to make a run in the state tourney.

            “I feel like the sectional is wide open this year, so you never know. We need to get hot at the right time.” -- Sefcik


2014 Record: 13-23-1.

Head coach: Bill Gerny (29-37-1).

Assistant coaches: Nick Chigas, Gary Gudino, Tim Lyons.

* Who’s gone: Matt Dunne, P/2B; Mitch Swatek, P/OF; Jake Slusinski, OF; Ray Walker, 1B.

* Who’s back: Boo Quillin, SS, Sr. (.367, 16 RBI, 11 steals); Joe Dodaro, 3B, Sr. (.294); Justin Swatek, 1B/P, Jr. (.317, 15 RBI); Ryne Melnik, OF, Sr. (.322, 14 RBI), Matt Witkowski, P/OF, Sr.; Yunis Halim, P, Sr. (2.63 ERA), Bobby Beard, OF, Sr. (.317); Chad Cwik, P, So. (two wins, 3.67 ERA); Ivan Georgelos, INF/P, Sr.

* Who’s new: John Roberts, C, Jr. (.356 with sophomore team); Patrick Slattery, OF, Jr.; Liam Blake, 3B, Jr.; Jimmy Swiatek, OF, Jr. (.318 with sophomore team); Billy Dunne, P/2B, Jr.; Ryan Quinn, P, Jr.; Rodrigo Zavala, P, Jr.

* Outlook: From the penthouse to the … well, it wasn’t quite a Roman Empiresque fall for the Spartans last year, but they did wind up six games behind South Suburban Conference Red winner Richards in 2014 after beating out the Bulldogs -- and everyone else -- for the divisional crown in Bill Gerny’s first season as head coach.

So what happened? The biggest difference between 2014 and the year before was that Oak Lawn’s sticks struck few heavy blows last spring. That doesn’t reference only power displays but overall clutch batting -- simply put there wasn’t enough of it to constantly keep opponents on their heels. Things look more promising this season, mainly because the Spartans have a veteran nucleus around which to build -- seven starters are back -- and former Brother Rice skipper Tim Lyons returns as hitting coach after serving in that capacity for previous Oak Lawn boss Brian Clifton.

Third-year varsity player and 2014 team MVP Boo Quillin heads up the list of returnees. The All-SSC Red pick batted .367 and showed good speed with 11 steals -- both numbers ought to rise in his senior season. Third baseman Joe Dodaro will line up next to Quillin to give the Spartans a very good left side of the infield. Dodaro is back after hitting .294 and topping Oak Lawn in RBI.

Outfielders Bobby Beard and Ryne Melnik both produced averages over .300 and, like Quillin and Dodaro, should perform even better now because of their past varsity experience. Junior Justin Swatek batted a blistering .619 for the Spartans’ sophomore club before being elevated to varsity, then proceeded to hit .317 with three game-winning RBI and 15 in all. Positional newcomers who have a chance to make an impact include catcher John Roberts, St. Laurence transfer Patrick Slattery and juniors Liam Blake and Jimmy Swiatek.

Matt Witkowski, another third-year player, takes over for Matt Dunne (Roosevelt University) as the No. 1 man on the mound. Sophomore Chad Cwik did admirable work as a varsity freshman and could eventually develop into one of the better hurlers in Spartans annals. Gerny is also counting on seniors Yunis Halim and Ivan Georgelos to bolster the pitching corps while Billy Dunne, Ryan Quinn and Rodrigo Zavala are juniors who may contribute.

Despite its overall struggles a year ago Oak Lawn stayed above .500 in conference play, meaning that returning to prominence within the SSC Red is certainly an attainable goal if a few things pan out. Gerny wasn’t discouraged by what unfolded in 2014 -- if he was, he wouldn’t have beefed up the Spartans’ nonconference schedule to include heavyweights like Mt. Carmel and Morgan Park among others. Also on the slate are two contests for charity, with Brother Rice and Argo providing the opposition. Best of all Oak Lawn will be able to play home games on its own field at the school after being forced to move to alternative sites last spring due to construction delays.

* Coach’s comments: “The Spartans will officially open their new field -- new dugouts, backstop, drainage, [an] outfield fence and seating were added for the 2015 season -- [and] I am very excited for our players to compete this year. Almost every player on the roster has extended varsity experience; coupled with a heavy summer schedule [in 2014] the Spartans are primed to rise.” -- Gerny


2014 Record: 25-9.

Head coach: Brian Wujcik (448-319-4).

Assistant coaches: Jeff Kortz, Kevin Lee.

* Who’s gone: Charlie Zeschke, C; Shawn Chiaramonte, C/OF; Nate Natividad, P/OF; Eric Mallo, P/OF; AJ Sanchez, P/INF; Ryan Thompson, P; Andrew Schramm, P; Danny Estrella, OF; Shane Mills, INF/P; Alex Villafuerte, P; Mike Marchione, OF; Eric Ruge, P; Kyle Garrett, OF.

* Who’s back: Noel Castro, C/P/1B, Sr. (.357, 35 hits, nine extra-base hits, 30 RBI); Nick Mejia, 3B/P, Jr. (.261, 18 hits, four extra-base hits, 15 RBI); Angelo Smith, P/OF, So. (4-2, 3.76 ERA, 32 Ks in 41 IP); Brett Thomas, P/OF/1B, Sr. (4-0, 3.62 ERA, 18 Ks in 29 IP); TJ Spyrnal, P/OF, Sr.; Andrew Zemke, 1B/DH, Sr. (.333 in summer); Adrian Garcia, P. Sr.; Jason Avery, 2B, Sr.

* Who’s new: Chris Zeschke, SS/Pm Jr.; Ryan Renken, INF/P, Jr.; Ryan Willett, OF, Sr.; Nick Fritz, OF/P, Jr.; Mitch Crook, C/DH, Jr.; Tim Houlihan, OF, Jr.

* Outlook: The dean of area baseball coaches, Brian Wujcik enters his 23rd season as head of the varsity program at his high school alma mater. His longevity and 448 career wins were recently recognized by the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association, which chose Wujcik as one of the newest members of its Hall of Fame. But he doesn’t want to rest on any past laurels, which included a superb 25-9 ledger and South Suburban Conference Red title in 2014.

            What’s likely in store for Wujcik this spring is a return to heavy-duty teaching. Such is the situation when 13 seniors exit the program, which happened to the Bulldogs. Seven of those 13 graduates are on college rosters in 2015, so there was obviously quality amid the quantity. And that isn’t the only change -- longtime pitching coach Kevin Quinn has retired, so Richards’ hurlers will receive instruction from first-year assistant Kevin Lee. Interestingly, Wujcik considers his mound corps one of the Bulldogs’ potential strengths.

            A big reason for that is sophomore Angelo Smith, who in 2014 became just the second freshman to ever begin his high school baseball career at Richards on the varsity roster. Smith won four times in his debut season and Wujcik believes he “should become our first certifiable ace of the Richards staff since Jon Ryan graduated in 2010.” Senior Brett Thomas, who went 4-0 a year ago, is also being counted on to fill a spot in the rotation as are juniors Nick Mejia and Chris Zeschke, the latter of whom Wujcik describes as a “triple threat” due to his ability to also hit well and play solid defense. Seniors TJ Spyrnal and Adrian Garcia are other pitchers who’ll get long looks from Wujcik and Lee.

            Senior Noel Castro, who will see some action on the hill too, is the Bulldogs’ most established offensive threat and, assuming he gets some protection within the batting order, could perhaps flirt with the .400 mark after hitting .357 with 30 RBI last spring. Castro will shift from first base to catcher, where he’ll take over for three-year starter Charlie Zeschke. Mejia, who’ll play third on days he doesn’t pitch, and Andrew Zemke, who performed admirably in the summer, are two others who should be steady contributors with the stick.

It would help immensely if some heretofore unknowns stepped forward to provide added punch -- among the candidates are senior Jason Avery, junior Ryan Renken and senior Ryan Willett, an all-area wide receiver in the fall who sat out all of his junior baseball season because of a shoulder injury. Willett’s speed will make him an ideal table-setter for the meat of the order.

While the Bulldogs are the defending conference champs, Wujcik said they should not be picked as the preseason favorite to repeat due to the large amount of personnel turnover. He admitted lineup experimentation will occur during the early part of the schedule and said it “will take a little time for this team to form an identity.” However, Richards definitely won’t lack for motivation -- still somewhat fresh in everyone’s minds is the unceremonious end to the 2014 campaign, where Stagg, a team that lost 14-4 to the Bulldogs during the regular season, administered payback with a 4-1 triumph in Richards’ opening playoff contest.

* Coach’s comments: “Positions are wide open to be won at the start of the season. This translates to good news for the guys on the team as everyone should have a chance to prove that he belongs in the everyday lineup. We’re not going to have a very large roster, so we will lean on a lot of guys to fill a lot of different roles depending on the game and our opponent.

            “Pitching should be our strength, but we have some talented athletes on the squad, so the fielding and hitting should catch up to the pitching as the season goes on. This team is athletic, so it should be a season where we get stronger as we get more experience under our belts.” -- Wujcik


2014 Record: 24-9.

Head coach: Jim Morsovillo (70-27).

Assistant coaches: George Fear, Chuck Peters.

* Who’s gone: Matthias Dietz, P; Bryan Pall, P; Sean Leland, P; Chris Stearns, OF; Alec Martinez, INF/P; Dan Santiago, OF; Julian Gutierrez, OF; Mike Jentel, P.

* Who’s back: Jimmy Roche, SS/P, Sr.; Jim Landgraf, LF, Sr.; Ben Kociper, 2B, Sr.; Danny Dziadkowiec, DH/OF, Sr.; Griffin Kazmierczak, C, Sr.; Jake Tablerion, P, Sr.; Kenny Michalowski, P, Sr.; Eric Nelson, P, Sr.

* Who’s new: Andy Gaytan, CF, Jr.; Trevor Faille, 1B/P, Jr., Nick Kuchel, OF, Jr.; Collin Collery, P, Sr.; Jack Wolfe, 2B/P.

* Outlook: A farewell to arms -- besides being an Ernest Hemingway novel it also describes an offseason action the Eagles were forced to perform. Pitching has pretty much been a constant in Sandburg’s baseball world over the years as the Eagles have rarely been without at least one difference-making hurler in any given season. But even at a school that has presented such legendary prep names as Brian Forystek, Todd Mensik, Greg Billo and Nick Chmielewski, perhaps never before had there been as good a trio as Matthias Dietz, Bryan Pall and Sean Leland on the scene at the same time.

            Pall (University of Michigan) and Leland (Louisville) already had announced their college destinations before the 2014 season, but the guy who had not wound up being perhaps the best of the trio. Dietz earned first-team all-area status, Pall and Leland were both second-team selections, and the threesome combined to go 19-6 with 233 strikeouts between them. The highest individual earned-run average was 1.02 and their strikeouts-to-walks ratios were all 4-to-1 or better.

            Replacing that level of dominance could very well be impossible for the Eagles, although it wouldn’t be shocking to see at least one relative unknown emerge. What Sandburg needs is for its offense to take some of the stress off the pitching staff, something that didn’t really happen with any regularity a year ago and may have been the biggest reason for the Eagles’ failure to advance deeper into the postseason. Sandburg did manage to capture its first regional title since 2011, but Providence Catholic prevailed in a sectional semifinal. Still, there’s no ignoring the fact that the Eagles remain one of the south suburbs’ prominent prep baseball programs three years into Jim Morsovillo’s head-coaching tenure.

            Morsovillo’s 2015 pitching staff will feature seniors Jake Tablerion, Kenny Michalowski and Eric Nelson as headliners. Senior Collin Collery, who did not play last season, and junior Jack Wolfe are a couple other possibilities on the hill. Who might develop into a stopper from that group remains to be seen, but while the hurlers work to establish themselves some positional veterans will be expected to step forward and lead.

            All-area second-team outfielder Chris Stearns was lost to graduation and infield/pitcher Alec Martinez won’t play because of an ACL injury suffered during basketball season. That leaves the heavy lifting for returning infielders Jimmy Roche and Ben Kociper, outfielder Jim Landgraf, catcher Griffin Kazmierczak and DH Danny Dziadkowiec, none of whom yet carries a pitchers-fear-him reputation. However, Morsovillo and assistants Chuck Peters and George Fear were all good hitters in their playing days and should find a way to maximize whatever athletic talent is available to them. Newcomers Andy Gaytan, Trevor Faille and Nick Kuchel will also be in the hunt for playing time.

            The SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue always provides a rugged test and the Eagles never shy away from strong nonconference opposition either. While that could result in some early hiccups as a number of guys get acclimated to their roles, pegging Sandburg as anything less than a serious challenger for league supremacy and a legitimate threat to do postseason damage would seem shortsighted.

* Coach’s comments: “We lost three seniors on the mound from last season that were dominating and sucked up innings. We need the seniors to lead through their experiences as junior starters and the newcomers to play hard and learn to compete daily.” -- Morsovillo


2014 Record: 16-17.

Head coach: Frank DiFoggio (282-286-4).

Assistant coaches: Dan Hennigan, Jim Schmidt.

* Who’s gone: Kevin Knoerzer, OF/P; Brendan Hermann, P/INF/OF; Jake Hart, OF/DH/P; Sam Hermanas, INF.

* Who’s back: Bobby Peterka, C/OF, Sr. (.311, .522 slugging pct., .966 fielding pct., 28 hits, 14 doubles, 32 RBI); Mark Albrecht, INF/OF, Sr. (.286, 22 hits, 19 runs, 18 walks); Ken Gorski, INF/OF, Jr. (.356, .929 fielding pct.); Adam Gregory, P/1B, Sr. (54 Ks in 44 2/3 IP, four wins); Eric Horbach, SS/P, Sr. (.300, 27 hits, 17 runs, 17 walks, 9 steals; 3-1); Brett Smith, P/INF/OF, Sr. (5-3, 69 Ks in 54 2/3 IP); Kevin Carmody, OF, Jr. (.286, 22 hits, 17 runs, 21 walks); Kyle Longfield, P/OF, Sr. (1-1, 24 Ks in 21 1/3 IP); Zach Haxel, C/INF/P, Sr.; Rick Mundo, C/INF/P, Sr.

* Who’s new: Jack Carberry, P, So.; Rob Marinec, C/OF/INF, So.; Logan Couture, INF/P, Jr.

* Outlook: Frank DiFoggio has been coaching too long to get caught up in any hoopla, but even he is excited about what may lie ahead for the Astros. On only one other occasion has DiFoggio welcomed back as many players as he is in 2015, and that happened 16 years ago. While experience alone doesn’t automatically translate into on-field success, what makes this latest veteran-fest particularly notable is that Shepard played solid baseball the second half of 2014.

            After one of their typical slow breaks from the gate that bottomed out at 5-12, the Astros won 11 of their last 16 games -- including a playoff contest -- and the pitchers responsible for nine of those triumphs are back to try for more. Two of them, Adam Gregory and Brett Smith, combined on a season-opening one-hitter versus Illiana Christian and struck out a dozen batters between them in a 5-0 conquest. In 2014 the two totaled 123 whiffs in just under 100 innings, so their efforts against the Vikings weren’t out of the ordinary. Eric Horbach, one of three four-year varsity players on the roster, will also be counted on in the rotation.

Giving the staff even greater depth are senior Kyle Longfield, who was hurt for a large chunk of last season, and sophomore Jack Carberry, who showed plenty of potential in a late-May call-up as he went toe-to-toe with Manteno, a team that advanced deep into the Class 3A playoffs soon after Carberry notched a 9-4 victory over it. Longfield, a three-sport athlete at Shepard, is coming off an all-area basketball campaign in which he was one of the south suburbs’ best rebounders. Another arm that could be summoned by DiFoggio belongs to junior Logan Couture.

The Astros’ pitchers won’t have to be perfect thanks to a lineup that should be much improved over last spring, when only a handful of hitters reached the .300 mark. Fourth-year men Mark Albrecht and Bobby Peterka are the ringleaders, but Horbach, Gregory, Smith, Ken Gorski and Kevin Carmody all figure to be steady contributors as well. While the departed Kevin Knoerzer was Shepard’s most consistent offensive performer in 2014, Peterka was good enough to pace the Astros in doubles (14) and RBI (32) and slug one of their four homers. Albrecht, Gorski and Gregory were the other long-ball guys.

Defense should also be a strength. Peterka committed only seven errors in 204 chances and as a team Shepard was guilty of an average of 2 ½ per game, a stat that was elevated by the Astros’ early struggles.

While DiFoggio isn’t about to proclaim his squad the one to beat for a South Suburban Conference Red championship, that may indeed be the case. Nobody else has as many game-tested resources available to them, and DiFoggio does admit “this was the year we kind of targeted” as one of the program’s higher-achieving ones.

* Coach’s comments: “We were a bunch of babies last year. We kind of learned on the fly and that’s kind of our strength this year -- we won’t have to go through that this year [because] we’ve been through it all before.

            “I’m hoping we will not start slow this year, like we always seem to do. We want this year to be a good one.” DiFoggio


2014 Record: 17-19.

Head coach: Matt O’Neill (142-138).

Assistant coaches: Mike Darrah, Tom Syska, Brendan Loughery.

* Who’s gone: Max Strus, P/INF/OF; Jake Wimmer, INF; Peter Angelos, INF; CJ Casey, OF; Nick Nowak, C; Jimmy Farnan, OF; Brendan Kivlehan, INF; Drew Bolero, INF; Jack Duffner, OF.

* Who’s back: Brett Stratinsky, 1B, Sr.; Calagelo Martinez, OF, Sr.; Ethan Glaza, INF, Sr.; Nick Gerzon, P/INF, Sr.; Joe Zaremba, OF, Sr.; Austin Greer, P/INF; Gus Martinez, INF, Sr.

* Who’s new: Josh Nowak, C/INF/P, Jr.; Mike Crosby, P/INF, Jr.; Max Downs, P/OF, Jr.; Gary Kopca, C/OF, Jr.; Nick Worst, P/INF, Jr; Nate Miranda, INF/P, Jr.

* Outlook: It’s typically been easy to overlook the Chargers, save for those years when they’ve unleashed someone with star power such as pitcher TJ McFarland and first baseman Justin Ringo. In most instances, though, Stagg almost ranks as an afterthought, in part because of its size -- among SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue schools it’s the little guy and therefore it frequently gets relegated to something resembling kid-brother status.

            But just when most people have basically forgotten about them, along come the Chargers to spring a surprise. That certainly happened during the 2014 campaign. Stagg scuffled in the early portion of the schedule but got its act together over the season’s last month, a stretch that included victories against three straight regional opponents and the capturing of its first postseason championship since 2008. One of the wins may have best illustrated the Chargers’ growth as a team -- they beat Richards 4-1 in the playoffs after getting slaughter-ruled by the Bulldogs in a regular-season matchup.

            While Stagg ended a title drought by edging Lincoln-Way East right after downing Richards, it was actually a regional finalist six times in Matt O’Neill’s first eight coaching seasons. So the idea of having future success shouldn’t be considered a radical one.

            What triggered the Chargers’ surge last spring was significant improvement on defense and in their pitching. Against the Griffins, for instance, Stagg played errorless ball and Max Strus tossed a shutout over the last 4 2/3 innings, during which time he threw 40 of 59 pitches for strikes. Of course, Strus and several other 2014 contributors are gone, but O’Neill isn’t sweating it -- in fact he’s looking forward to the 2015 season.

            He claims this latest edition of the Chargers “should be one of the better offensive teams that we’ve had in the past couple of years” because middle-of-the-lineup guys like Brett Stratinsky and Calogelo Martinez return to provide some batting pop. Stratinsky went deep twice against Richards and is a legitimate power threat. Ethan Glaza, Joe Zaremba and Austin Greer are other veterans who've shown in the past that they can be productive. Youngers players to keep an eye on are Gary Kopca, who already has positively influenced Stagg’s varsity football team, hard-nosed basketball player Nick Worst and Brother Rice transfer Josh Nowak.

Nick Gerzon is probably the most tested pitching arm, but there is a degree of uncertainty beyond him. O’Neill put a “P” alongside many names in the position column of his roster, indicating he’s looking at several possibilities when it comes to filling in around Gerzon. If that is satisfactorily accomplished and a somewhat reliable staff can be assembled, the Chargers could be a tougher out within the SWSC Blue than the casual fan might suspect.

* Coach’s comments: “There is quality depth at all positions and competition for jobs will be interesting -- there could be platoon situations at a couple of positions. I believe that our defense will be one of our strengths [and] I expect us to score more runs than we did the last couple of years.

            “[But] our pitching is going to decide how well we compete in our league, considering how good everyone is, and the biggest question mark will be on the mound. We have a couple of returners but will need some positional players who haven’t pitched a lot in the past to step up and eat some innings.” -- O’Neill


2014 Record: 32-6.

Head coach: Pete Lotus (250-77).

Assistant coaches: Adam Lotus, Matt McHugh.

* Who’s gone: Mike Kornacker, P/INF; Brad Wood, P/INF; T.J. Marik, C; Roger Wilson, 1B/P; Mike Miller, OF; Alex Hitney, P; Nate Tholl, INF; Kevin White, OF/C; Rob Gutierrez, P/OF.

* Who’s back: Frank Greco, P/2B, Sr. (7-0, 0.36 ERA); John Riordan, P/3B, Sr. (4-2, 2.00 ERA); Anthony Chimera, OF/P, Sr.; Sean Burnette, OF, Sr.; Mike Finger, OF, Sr.; Nick Verta, SS, Sr.; Zach Erdman, P, Sr.; Jake Tholl, C, Sr.; Mike Munoz, P, Sr.; Kevin Aderman, OF, Sr.; Dan Cummings, INF, Sr.; Rich Lamb, 1B, Sr.

* Who’s new: Anthony Rios, C, Jr.; Anthony Robles, OF/P, Jr.; Jack Cavanaugh, INF/P, Jr.; Dan Heiden, P, Jr.; Tom Farrell, 1B/P, So.; Jimmy Burnette, OF, P, So.

* Outlook: Certain schools gain reputations in athletics based on success in a particular sport. Mt. Carmel, for instance, captured a state baseball championship a couple years ago and has a variety of other titles in its collection, but it will always be best known for its achievements in football. And Thornton has long been noted for basketball excellence, even though its football program was represented on NFL rosters by eight former players several years ago.

            What does this have to do with the Vikings? Well, baseball is not just the national pastime, it’s what many people think of first when St. Laurence sports programs are mentioned. That’s not by accident -- in the nine years since former player Pete Lotus took over as varsity coach, the Vikings have averaged a staggering 27 victories per season. Whereas St. Laurence once longed to be one of the Chicago Catholic League’s big boys on the diamond, now other teams use the Vikings as inspiration to do whatever is necessary to improve.

            Obviously Lotus hasn’t achieved all this by himself, but attracting talented athletes becomes easier once a standard of quality has been set. The trouble is those players only have a limited amount of eligibility, and in 2015 St. Laurence must retool after seeing a slew of big-time contributors move on. Six of the Vikings’ graduates were members of this paper’s 2014 all-area squad, including first-teamers Mike Kornacker (Purdue University) and Brad Wood (Northern Illinois), the former of whom was the 2013 Player of the Year. So there is a definite need to find able replacements.

            In Lotus’ opinion they’re available to him. While replacing guys like Kornacker and Wood will understandably be difficult, St. Laurence is not without some proven pieces in place. One of those is senior Frank Greco, who has committed to the University of St. Francis. Although overshadowed by some of his older teammates Greco went 7-0 on the mound with a 0.36 earned-run average, a performance that got him named to last spring’s all-area second team. He and John Riordan (4-1, 2.00 ERA) should be a more-than-adequate 1-2 pitching punch while outfielders Sean Burnette and Anthony Chimera will be anchors on the offensive side. Zach Erdman and Mike Munoz are other candidates for steady work on the hill.

            Jake Tholl is expected to take over for T.J. Marik behind the dish, Nick Verta has the inside track to be the first-string shortstop and Mike Finger could become the third outfielder. Also in the hunt for jobs will be senior basketball players Kevin Aderman (outfield), Dan Cummings (infield) and Rich Lamb (first base). Some newcomers could make their presences felt too -- sophomore Tommy Farrell, for instance, had some shining moments during summer-league play and both Anthony Rios and Anthony Robles also performed well in that setting.

            Given the Vikings’ rich history over the past decade the 2015 club will have to hit the ground running because those outside the program have come to expect a certain level of accomplishment. That’s fine with Lotus, who isn’t scaling down his goals just because some new faces are in the mix. Don’t rule out another big batch of wins, and one more run at a Catholic League Blue crown is entirely possible.

* Coach’s comments: “We welcome a highly talented junior class to our senior class that has been very successful. We have a bunch of leaders on the team and we believe this will lead to a successful season.

            “We have a hard-working and dedicated team that we believe will be able to pitch and play defense well. If we can hit consistently and get timely hitting, we feel we can contend for the conference championship and in the state tournament. We love our team’s work ethic and dedication toward St. Laurence and to each other.” -- Lotus


2015 Softball Preview

  • Written by Ken Karrson




2015 Softball Preview

Here’s the pitch

Expect a high level of play from locals



2014 Record: 14-16.

Head coach: Kevin Pittman.

* Who’s gone: Kaycee Pittman, Trisha Belgrave.

* Who's back: Sam Kubik OF/C, Sr. (.364, three HRs); Abbie Bulthuis, OF, Sr. (.322, 15 steals); Bre Vollan, 3B/P, Sr. (15 RBI); Christa Janowiak, INF/OF, So.; Tori Skala, OF, Sr.; Stephanie Kuiper, INF, Sr.; Emily Vilendrer INF/OF, Jr.; Madison Riemersma, OF, Jr.

* Who's new: Hannah Dieck, P/SS, Fr.; Jordan Dryfhout, C, Fr.; Bethany Regnerus, IF/P, Fr.   

* Outlook: The Knights will miss the production and leadership of Kaycee Pittman and Trisha Belgrave, who helped Chicago Christian claim a Class 3A regional championship last season. However, coach Kevin Pittman still brings back five starters from the 2014 squad, and they’ll team with three freshmen who are expected to step into the regular lineup. Sam Kubik, Abbie Bulthuis, Bre Vollan, Stephanie Kuiper and Tori Skala provide the veteran leadership while Hannah Dieck, Jordan Dryfout and Bethany Regnerus are the highly touted newcomers. Pittman has pegged Dieck as his prospective No. 1 pitcher, but Vollan should also receive a fair amount of opportunities in the circle. Sophomore Christa Janowiak and juniors Madison Riemersma and Emily Vilendrer are other likely contributors for the Knights this spring.

* Coach’s comments: “Having almost our entire infield, with the exception of Tricia Belgrave, back is a big plus as we head into the season. Sam Kubik was our best hitter last year and top home-run slugger, so we’re looking for her to have a really big year. We’re moving Abby Bulthuis to short while we work Bethany into the starting slot at second.

“It’s [a] positive having three freshman starters because they’re all competitive and talented and we get to have them for four years. Hannah can’t take the mound every day, nor do I want her to so we have Bre at No. 2. She’s worked hard at this these past four years and I think she’s ready to take the next step forward. I expect this team to challenge for a [Metro Suburban] conference championship.” -- Pittman


2014 Record: 20-13.

Head coach: John O’Connor.

* Who’s gone:  Carolyn Roberts.

* Who’s back: Jenna Haase, C, Sr. (.550, five HRs, 41 RBI, 30 runs); Bethany Salazar, OF/P, Jr. (.685, nine HRs, 54 runs, 35 RBI, 12 steals); Caroline Andrade, INF, Sr. (.585, five HRs, 38 runs, 34 RBI); Maddie Vojacek, INF/P, Jr.; Abby Langevin, IF/C, Sr.; Nicole Larkin, INF, Sr.;  Megan Pyles, P/3B, So.; Maddie Meisl, INF/OF, Jr.

* Who’s new: Kelly Farmer, P, Fr.; Lizzie Brendich, 2B, Fr.; Haley Getz, P, Fr.        

* Outlook: After falling just two runs shy of a Class 3A regional championship last spring, the Mustangs will try again -- and they’ll do so with a sizable core group that went through the postseason experience a year ago. Bethany Salazar’s offensive numbers as a sophomore were off the charts, but she’s just one of the big-time weapons in Evergreen Park’s arsenal. Seniors Caroline Andrade and Jenna Haase were equally potent -- between them the trio provided the Mustangs’ offense with 19 homers, 110 RBI and 122 runs, and all three players batted .550 or above. For good measure Salazar also swiped a dozen bases.

            Beyond that highly productive threesome are other key veterans, including seniors Nicole Larkin and Abby Langevin and junior Maddie Vojacek, who’ll pair with Salazar to give Evergreen stability in the pitching circle. Coach John O’Connor also expects input of some kind from juniors Edith Morales and Rebecca Roberts, sophomores Amanda Richter and Megan Quick and perhaps a few freshmen. The pieces would seem to be in place for the Mustangs to enjoy another 20-win season, and O’Connor is figuring on at least a top-three finish in the South Suburban Conference Red and hoping for greater advancement in the state tournament.

* Coach’s comments: “The keys to a successful season will be staying healthy and continued development from our pitchers. We will be a young team and will need to rely on some of our younger players to step up and perform.

“Hitting will be our biggest strength, but we have a group of talented pitchers that may also help our team. With so many young players, I hope our defense can be as solid as we need it to be.” -- O’Connor


2014 Record: 29-9-1.

Head coach: Colleen Biebel.

* Who’s gone: Brooke Wyderski.

* Who’s back: Brooke Wilson, OF, Sr. (.427, 34 RBI, 32 runs, two HRs); Madison Naujokas, SS, Jr. (.445, 10 HRs, 48 runs, 39 RBI); Zariya Gonzalez, P, Sr. (25-5, 1.39 ERA); Vanessa Villasenor, OF, Jr. (.352, 28 RBI, 19 runs); Alexis Rogers, 3B, So. (.353, 29 RBI); Jill Kenny, C. Jr.; Amanda McIlhany, INF/OF, Jr.; Liz Annerino, P, Jr.; Hayley Franks, 1B, Sr.

* Who’s new: Paige Egan, OF Jr.; Emily Reilly, P, Jr.; Emily Luzzo, C/INF, Jr.; Kara Apato, OF, Fr.; Maggie Kehoe, 2B, Fr.

* Outlook: It’s not always easy to follow a coach who achieved the kind of success Denise Bromberek did in her years at the RedHawks' helm, a stint that included a state championship in 2012. However, new coach Colleen Biebel is poised to maintain Marist’s winning tradition, although she’ll have to do so without one very big playing piece: 2014 Player of the Year Brooke Wyderski. Still, plenty of talent is on hand, enough to where the RedHawks should make Biebel’s maiden voyage a pretty enjoyable one.

            Scoring runs should not be a problem, even without the formidable Wyderski anchoring the batting order. Madison Naujokas is one of the area’s best sluggers and she, Loyola University-bound Brooke Wilson, Vanessa Villasenor and Alexis Rogers combined to drive in 130 runs last spring. Naujokas and Wilson both posted averages well above .400 while Villasenor and Rogers each eclipsed .350. Not to be forgotten either is senior Zariya Gonzalez, who is the staff ace and a capable hitter. Her .339 average was something of a bonus, though; of much greater importance to Marist was her 25-5 pitching ledger and 1.39 earned-run average. Senior Hayley Franks and juniors Jill Kenny, Amanda Ilhany and Liz Annerino are other experienced returnees.

* Coach’s comments: “We have a solid group of returners from last year. These girls are competitors and will do whatever it takes to finish strong. Our tough [East Suburban Catholic] conference schedule will prepare us for the state playoffs.” -- Biebel


2014 Record: 23-5.

Head coach: Colleen Kilduff.

* Who's gone: Alex Brown, Bri Gyrion, Jess Alberts.

* Who's back: Amy Balich, SS, Jr. (.395, .600 slugging pct., 22 runs, 20 RBI); Morgan Fleming 3B, Sr. (.412, .700 slugging pct., 25 runs, 22 RBI); Holly Marousek, P, So.; Emily Rux, C, Sr.; Jen Crowley, CF, Sr.; Nicole Majewski, RF, Sr.; Dara Sanders P, Sr.

* Who's new: Molly Murphy, INF, Jr.

* Outlook: A Class 4A regional championship was the culmination of a successful 2014 campaign for the Mighty Macs, who will take aim at some more postseason hardware behind the on-field leadership of Amy Balich and Morgan Fleming. Mother McAuley’s two most prominent returnees from an offensive standpoint joined forces to provide their team with 47 runs and 42 RBI a year ago and Fleming finished with a .412 average and .700 slugging percentage. Balich was right behind her in both categories (.395 and .600, respectively) and augmented her stick work with solid defense -- she was charged with just four errors last season at shortstop.

            Also back for coach Colleen Kilduff is senior Emily Rux, who’ll don the catching gear for the third consecutive season. Jen Crowley and Nicole Majewski are other returning seniors while junior Molly Murphy comes over from Mt. Assisi. Without Jess Alberts in the fold, the Macs need to settle on a new No. 1 hurler -- among the top candidates are senior Dara Sanders and sophomore Holly Marousek.

* Coach’s comments: “The Mighty Macs have a great group of talented young ladies this year who will look to make a run deep into the playoffs. With a great combination of speed and power, the team will be extremely competitive and fun to watch. We have a very talented team with a lot of veterans on it [and] we have strong pitching and defense.

“Our plan is to win conference again but to make it further in the state playoffs.” -- Kilduff


2014 Record: 15-18.

Head coach: Brian Frangella.

* Who’s gone: Reily McTeague, Morgan Jozsa, Elisabeth Childers, Jamie Alberts.

* Who’s back: Mia Loya, INF/P, Jr. (.343, 17 RBI, two HRs; 7-4, 2.35 ERA); Marissa Loya, P/INF, Jr. (.337, 26 RBI, five HRs); Ashley Labuda, 3B, Sr. (.337, 20 RBI); Hayden Landingham, C, Sr. (.360, 14 RBI); Kaleigh Hayes, LF, Sr.; Dana Greene, OF, Sr.; Kacie Heeter, 1B/2B, Sr.

* Who’s new: Natalia Rafacz, 2B/P/OF, So.; Maddie Pagliaro, OF, Jr.; Annabelle Fritz, INF/OF, So.; Kara Melvin, OF, Jr.; Danielle Allen, C, Jr.; Madison Jones, OF, Sr.; Hannah Featherstone, OF, Jr.

* Outlook: Last season the Spartans faced the challenge of dealing with the graduation of four-year starting second baseman and team MVP Rachel Burba. They were successful as they won five more times than they had in 2013. This year presents a similar scenario as 2014 MVP Reily McTeague has departed, but Oak Lawn coach Brian Frangella is confident his girls will again handle the situation with little difficulty.

Mia Loya and Hayden Landingham are returning All-South Suburban Conference Red performers and will spearhead the 2015 Spartans’ attack. Loya will contribute as both a hitter and pitcher. Her sister, Marissa, is also a double-edged weapon -- the latter’s five homers and 26 RBI are the most among Spartans veterans. Another valuable asset is third baseman Ashley Labuda. Others with game experience who are suiting up for Oak Lawn once more include seniors Kaleigh Hayes, Dana Greene and Kacie Heeter.

* Coach’s comments: “We made great strides last year on the field and this team is poised to take the next step. The girls are hungry and we want more.

“Our strengths lie in skill, depth and desire. We went 9-10 last season in conference play, so we’re confident that we can improve there and even compete for a conference championship.” -- Frangella


2014 Record: 6-16.

Head coach: Scott Sobol.

* Who’s gone: Magdaline Bennett, Jasmine Escobedo, Ally Garr, Margaret Keane, Kelly Meloy.

* Who’s back:  Lindsey Kudecki, P/1B, Jr.; Caitlin Fitzgerald, INF, Jr.; Kayla Rybolt, OF, Jr.; Erin Jones, 3B, Sr.; Emily Janozik, C/INF., Sr.; Abby Bennett, OF, Sr.; Dani Jimenez, OF, Sr.; Jessica Banialis, 1B, Sr.

* Who’s new: Amber Anderson, OF/P, So. (.425, four HRs, 20 runs, nine steals); Kellie Tonaskovic, INF/OF/P, So.; Katie O’ Leary, OF, Jr.; Kylie Maloy, P, Sr.; Abby Maloy, C/INF, Jr.; Dana Bunting, P, Jr.; Nicole Pratl, INF/OF, Sr.

* Outlook: Though new to the high school game, incoming Pride coach Scott Sobol brings more than 15 years of fast-pitch travel softball coaching experience with him. And he’s surrounding himself with varsity assistants and JV coaches who are schooled in either fast-pitch or college softball. Sobol inherits a club that welcomes back a healthy amount of experience and possesses a fair degree of depth -- he considers the Pride two-deep at several positions and points to five different girls as possible contributors in the circle. One of them is sophomore Amber Anderson, whose only season at Mt. Assisi resulted in a .425 average and four homers. Three other newcomers are also transfer students.

* Coach’s comments: “I’m very excited about this program. Queen of Peace was kind of down for the past couple of years in softball, struggling to win games and compete, but I believe with the new culture that we’re bringing to the athletic program in general we’ve assembled a team that can compete in the [Girls Catholic Athletic] conference this season.

“I’m really excited about our sticks -- I think we’re going to hit pretty well as a club. We feature speed and power. I think people are going to be a little surprised by Queen of Peace this season and our ability to be competitive. I think we’re going to thrive.” -- Sobol


2014 Record: 22-9.

Head coach: Julie Folliard.

* Who’s gone: Jordan Battels, Victoria Nemec, Molly Pohrebny, Andrea Stengle, Brittany Stengle, Sara Tobin.

* Who’s back: Emily Wetzel, INF/C, Sr. (.483, .560 on-base pct., 1.022 slugging pct., 11 HRs, 40 RBI, 34 runs); Sara Kisiak, P/INF, Jr. (17-7, 2.62 ERA, 117 Ks, 29 walks; .458, .577 on-base pct. .696 slugging pct., 23 RBI); Kaitlyn Fetchko, INF, Sr.; Samantha Waller, INF/OF, Sr.; Lauryn McManus, INF, Jr.; Abby Gentile, INF/OF, Sr.; Hailey Czerwinski, OF/C, Sr.; Savanah Julian, C/3B.OF, Jr.          

* Who’s new: Takesha Powell, OF, Jr.; Becky Wujcik, UTL, So.; Jessica Hayes, C/OF, So.; Meghan Murphy, UTL, Jr.; Bri Senodenos, UTL, Jr.; Katelyn Flahive, P/1B, Fr.; Kelly Lind, OF/SS, Jr.; Gabby Murphy, OF/UTL, Jr.

* Outlook: The Bulldogs will look to build on last season’s regional championship with six starters from that team back in the fold. Richards will no doubt miss Molly Pohrebny and Sara Tobin, but the return of power-hitting Emily Wetzel and South Suburban Conference Red Player of the Year Sara Kiziak ensure another strong offensive presence. Veteran coach Julie Folliard is also counting on third-year varsity player Kaitlyn Fetchko for leadership. Fetchko, who earned all-conference recognition last spring, can hit from either side of the plate and is one of the better defensive third basemen around.

The Bulldogs are seeking a fifth consecutive divisional crown, which would equal the program’s longest championship stretch. Richards was a first-place finisher each season between 1998 and 2002. But neither Folliard nor her girls want to stop there. Another regional title -- and ideally much more -- would suit the entire bunch of Bulldogs just fine.

* Coach's comments: “We return a core of talented and smart players and also added many new players. We will need strong leadership from our returning group to maximize our potential. Knowing this group of seniors, I think their leadership will rise and drive our team to another successful season for the Richards Bulldogs.” -- Folliard


2014 Record: 24-16.

Head coach: Jim Fabianski.

* Who’s gone: Sarah Herold, Karli McLaughlin, Emily Griskell, Brooke Heimerl, Cierra Adamus, Caroline Kuzel.

* Who’s back: Katie Krzus, 1B, Sr. (.412, seven HRs, 32 RBI, 30 runs); Brianna Soltis, C/2B, Jr. (.359, five HRs, 30 RBI); Kristen Zarate, OF, Sr.; Madeline Hanley, OF, Sr.; Kasi Sanders, IF, Sr.; Maddie Poole, P, Sr.

* Who’s new: Ashley Sood, INF, Fr.; Mikaela Arrendondo P/IF/OF, Jr.; Niki Saviano, P, Jr.; Paige Chladek, C/1B, Jr.; Dani Amador, INF, So.; Sam Coffel, OF, So.; Taylor Udarbe, INF, Jr.; Maggie Lehr, INF/OF, Jr.; Brit Beveridge OF, Jr.

* Outlook: The Eagles were one game away from their second Class 4A championship in four years last spring, a run toward the top that many didn’t expect. But Sandburg put everything together in the latter part of the regular season and got on a timely roll. Sarah Herold’s pitching was a big part of the Eagles’ success, but so too was the potent bat work of Katie Krzus and Brianna Soltis -- the former was largely responsible for Sandburg getting past SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue rival Lincoln-Way East in the state semifinals as she went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI. Those two players are among six returnees from the runner-up squad. Jim Fabianski, who was chosen as this paper’s softball Coach of the Year in both 2013 and 2014, is hoping Maddie Poole can step in for Herold and become Sandburg’s latest pitching ace.

* Coach’s comments: “We are going into this season with a positive outlook. We have a core of players returning and many new faces from which we hope to see significant contributions. Last year’s team made a memorable run at state and a good group of girls who are back this season experienced that run. They definitely have a goal to shoot for.” -- Fabianski


2014 Record: 20-10.

Head coach: Kelsey Clifford.

* Who’s gone: Melissa Kelly, Stephanie Brand.

* Who’s back: Breanna Graffeo, 3B, Sr. (.495, 34 runs. .906 fielding pct.); Skylor Hilger, SS, Jr. (.471, 29 runs); Bryanna Cross, C, So (.385); Heather O’Kelly, CF, Jr. (.575); Jalyn Stepney, SS, Jr. (.473, seven HRs); Sarah Wedster, LF, Sr. (.410); Jenna Huseinga: IF, So.; Kaitlyn Blanton, RF, Jr. 

* Who’s new: Erin Buric, P, Fr.; Gabby Graffeo P, So.; April Larson, P, Jr.

* Outlook: With two consecutive 20-win seasons under their belts, the Astros are eager for more and positioned to get it as eight players from the 2014 club return. Twelve of Shepard’s victories came in South Suburban Conference play and it could make a serious run at the Red Division title this spring. Coach Kelsey Clifford has definitely infused the Astros with a positive attitude, not surprising in light of their impressive 73-45 ledger during her four years in charge, and they should have the talent on hand to keep things moving forward.

            Breanna Graffeo, an all-area and all-conference selection as a junior, is Shepard’s big gun. Not only did she compile a sterling .495 batting average and score 34 runs, Graffeo was also an above-average defensive player at the hot corner, as attested to by her .906 fielding percentage. Jalyn Stepney earned all-conference recognition after batting .473, swatting seven homers and leading the team in RBI, Bryanna Cross offers a veteran presence behind the dish and Sarah Wedster will serve as team captain. Skylor Hilger, a top-flight gymnast during the winter, brings athleticism and an agility that will benefit Shepard on both offense and defense and Heather O’Kelly should be an ideal leadoff hitter as well as a competent center fielder. O’Kelly has good speed and a strong arm.

* Coach’s comments: “We’re looking forward to a good spring. We have a great deal of talent this year [and] the girls are looking forward to capitalizing on our veteran experience. We plan on utilizing our athleticism, experience and solid skill sets to push through.

“Breanna’s leadership and her ability as a catalyst at the plate are vital while Jalyn will move runners around and drive runs in. Breanna will share her veteran experience with a core of young pitching newcomers. Experienced outfielders are a gift, and we’re looking forward to Heather, Sarah and Kaitlyn robbing [teams of] hits and stopping runners.” -- Clifford


2014 Record: 3-20.

Head coach: Sarah Bryers.

* Who’s gone: Emily Abbene, Maggie Hynes, Stephanie Lorenz, Briana Minet

* Who’s back: Amanda Collins, 3B/OF/C, Sr.; Noor Elmosa, INF, Jr..; Kyla Frain, SS/3B, Sr.; Stacey Lorenz, OF, So.; Chrissy Magnuson, OF, Jr.; Lexi Minet, OF/P, Sr.; Mia Moustakas, P/3B, Jr.; Sam Owens, 1B/C, Sr.; Abbey Regan, C, Jr.; Brianna Serriella, INF, So.

* Who’s new: Amanda Bell, P, Sr.; Kaley Tsenes, OF, Jr.; Heather Watson UTL, Jr.

* Outlook: New coach Sarah Bryers has a tall task ahead of her as she takes over the reins of a program that endured one of its toughest campaigns. However, 10 players who’d like nothing better than to put the disappointment of 2014 behind them are back and obviously not short of motivation. Only four of those 10 are seniors, which may account for at least some of last year’s struggles as adjusting to varsity competition can be overwhelming for very young players. The Chargers pleased Bryers with the preseason work ethic they demonstrated and she will try to keep them firmly focused on the here and now, rightly figuring that gradual progress is the best method to eventually re-establish Stagg as a force within the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue.

* Coach’s comments: “It’s really been great so far. The girls have a lot of goals to improve. We struggled a bit last year, but we’re a year older and hopefully a year better. We have people in positions that they’re comfortable in and they’re working hard.

“I really think the seniors are trying to prove something in their final season, and the rest of the girls look up to them. We’re working little by little in getting better every single game [by] reflecting on previous performances in order to improve in the next game.” -- Bryers


A final look at a fine hoops season

  • Written by Ken Karrson


 Moraine athletics wrap



A final look at a fine hoops season


By Maura Vizza


What a difference a year makes.

In 2014 Moraine Valley College’s men’s basketball team posted a losing record as it underwent a rebuilding phase after coming up one game short of a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II championship the previous spring. This past season saw another reversal of fortunes.

No, the Cyclones didn’t make it back to the NJCAA final; in fact they didn’t qualify for the national tournament. However, they very much got back on the right track as they captured an outright Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference title -- the first by any school since 2011 -- and reached the Region IV semifinals.

After going 8-22 overall and 4-10 in the ISCC in David Howard’s inaugural coaching campaign, Moraine compiled a 17-14 ledger that included a sparkling 11-3 mark in conference action. And Howard, the ISCC Coach of the Year, wants to continue the upward trajectory next season.

“This program is headed in the right direction,” Howard said. “The turnaround from last season to this one is amazing. It’s a testament to these guys -- they sacrificed for the betterment of the team. They jelled and believed in each other, picked each other up [and] never stopped believing.

“We could have had a 20-win season -- some of those early games we had a shot at winning -- but I can’t complain one bit. We had a lot of ups and downs, but the good outweighed the bad. Overall we had a really good season.

“It’s always nice to say you earned a conference championship outright. It’s a huge accomplishment for these guys.”

Howard’s postseason award, which he said should be shared with assistants James Daniels and Brandon Allen, was only one of a few earned by the program. Niko Cahue and Brian Townsend were both all-conference first-teamers while DJ Deere and Ermias Nega each got a second-team nod.

Cahue will not return to the Cyclones as he became Howard’s first freshman to receive a scholarship from a four-year school. He’ll attend St. Xavier University in the fall. Townsend has used up his eligibility and is looking to enroll at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

Moraine will certainly miss their presence as they combined for 22 double-doubles this season, 13 of them being generated by Evergreen Park alumnus Townsend. Also moving on will be versatile Paulius Ostruskevicius and Richards product Randall Rushing.

Nega and Deere head up the list of returnees, but Howard also expects good things from Calviontae Washington and Jason Roland next season.

“It’s a good group returning,” Howard said. “They know my expectations.”


Even with a fair share of bumps encountered along the way, the Cyclones finished with an ISCC title share. It was Moraine’s first conference crown in five years.

Moraine was co-champion with Oakton College. Both teams went 11-3 in league play.

Individually, Nariman Jaber concluded a superb two-year career with the Cyclones by being named to the All-Region IV and All-ISCC first teams. She leaves Moraine as its all-time leader in blocked shots with 265, which smashed the previous school record by 84. Jaber averaged 4.5 blocks per game and ranked No. 1 in all of NJCAA Division II for most of the season.

Jaber was also ninth in the country in defensive rebounding (205) and 11th in total boards (316). Shavonne Lewis and Rachel Ruzevich (Sandburg) joined Jaber on the all-conference first team while Kailey Foster was pegged for the second team. Ruzevich was among the team’s top three in most statistical categories and a tough defender.

But while there was no denying the Cyclones’ talent level, veteran coach Delwyn Jones felt his club wasn’t “blue collar” enough. For evidence he cited eight games that were lost by eight points or less.

“We were skilled, but not blue collar,” Jones said. “Teams that aren’t tend to lose in the playoffs. It’s when you put your hard hat on, work hard and do your job [that you succeed].”

One player Jones felt filled the bill in that regard was guard Megan Beckow, who will be moving on to a four-year school.

“She’s one of the toughest pieces of dynamite [I’ve seen],” Jones said. “I’m definitely a Megan Beckow fan.”

Foster, the leading scorer in conference play, and Sharnita Breeze will spearhead Moraine’s 2015-16 unit. McKayla Smith saw time three positions this year and will be valuable because of her versatility. Good-shooting Duneya Shatat (Oak Lawn) and Carly Trinley should also contribute on a steady basis.

“I hope these young ladies learned from their experiences,” Jones said. “We got better throughout the season but not to the point where we needed to be, mentally more than anything.

“We did not reach our expectations by any means. However, we’re in a good position for next year.”


One baseball adage of recent vintage must be amended a bit.

Chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball. So too does first-year Cyclones coach Mike Kane.

An assistant at Moraine in the 1980s, Kane returned to Palos Hills last fall after having assisted at both Lewis University and Prairie State College. Along with his assistant John Schenk, Kane wants Cyclones batters to embrace the power game, something they didn’t do last spring when Moraine slugged just one home run.

Kane, a former minor-league player, isn’t actually adopting a swing-for-the-fences mantra, but he does expect the Cyclones’ offense to hit the ball hard.

“I want the kids to drive the ball,” Kane said. “If you strike out, you strike out, but [try to] have a hit -- hit the line drive. I’ve always been a hitter, so I expect our guys to get hits off everyone they face. That’s why I’m confident.”

The Cyclones surprised some teams in a handful of games last fall and Kane expects that trend to continue. After fall ball ended, he talked to each player about what he could do to improve and the work that was necessary to win -- and retain -- starting jobs.

“We all have the same goal -- we want to get better,” Kane said “We want to play well and get better every game, hitting our peak in the playoffs. That’s where we’ll meet our big challenge when we face the other No. 1 pitchers. As long as we play smart baseball, we’ll do it.

“I’ve made the guys look at the [award] banners in the gym and see how few championships we have. That’s going to change. We’re going to go far -- I’m hoping for a sectional.”

The Cyclones went 9-17 last season, but Kane foresees nothing of the same given Moraine’s talent level and desire to rebound from 2014. Heading up the list of returnees are all-conference selections Bobby Neylon and Sheamus Brennan. Brennan will bat leadoff while Neylon will handle chores at third base and occasionally behind the plate.

Other positional players include outfielders Christian Araiza (Shepard), Mike Owens and Jackson Rocha, infielders Mike Rankin (Stagg) and Jason Hine and infielder/pitcher Ryan Kull. Along with Kull on the hill will be Ricky Rogers (Stagg), James Lulek, Matt Schmeski (Shepard), David Kutschke (Evergreen Park) and Jose Hernandez.

Schenk, a four-year starter at Robert Morris University, will work with the hurlers.

“He’s very knowledgeable and intense [and] he works our boys hard,” Kane said of Schenk. “I think our pitchers will do a good job.

“I tell them to pitch to contact, [but] just don’t put it down the middle. Let other teams hit the ball because we’ve got good defense. Our defense is solid.

“They have the motivation after last year’s results. If we work as a team, we’ll be good.”

While the Cyclones have yet to play a game in the area, they did get in some work in Arkansas earlier this month. Moraine crushed North Arkansas College 20-3 in its opener as Greg Wymer hit a grand slam, doubled and totaled six RBI. Kull drove in four runs and included a homer among his three hits while Rankin hit safely twice.

The Cyclones finished with 12 hits in the five-inning contest to make it an easy day for Rogers.


Kutschke threw five solid innings, but Moraine’s offense was limited to four hits by Mesabi Range (Minn.) College and suffered a 5-2 defeat. Araiza had two of those hits, including a double, and Ryan Trokey and Zach Moravec both singled.

Schmeski and Ryan Donnelly each pitched one stanza.

The Cyclones’ bats stayed relatively silent in a rematch versus North Arkansas College and the result was a 5-3 loss for the locals despite decent efforts from Lulek and Hernandez on the mound. Owens (homer, double) knocked in all three runs and Trokey accounted for Moraine’s other hit.

Wymer had both RBI for the Cyclones in an 11-2 setback against Olney Central College.


After a shortened 2014 season, the Cyclones are ready to get some games in and will do so with a freshman-heavy team.

Moraine lost several strong sophomores but has a few big guns back. Second baseman Carly Trinley was the ISCC Player of the Year in 2014 after batting .545 with an .841 slugging percentage. All-conference second-teamer Dana Cummings (Richards) is back to anchor the outfield and will have veterans Samantha Newhall and Kristie Bagus, a pair of Shepard alumni, patrolling the outer reaches with her.

Megan Beckow, who played basketball for Moraine along with Trinley, is another experienced performer. She’ll see time at third base and behind the dish. Throwing to her will be Hannah Theilmann, one of the best pitchers Cyclones coach Mike Veen has seen.

Also expected to play some kind of role for Moraine will be infielder/catcher Alyssa DeChene (Shepard), third baseman Molly Pohrebny (Richards), catcher/second baseman Brittany Dimas, outfielder Kortnie Hanold (Shepard), infielder/outfielder Katlin Krzos, pitcher/second baseman Mercedes Leon (Oak Lawn), pitcher/first baseman Emily Powers (Mother McAuley), outfielder/shortstop Nicole Roney and utility player Kayla Manthei. Manthei played volleyball in the fall while Hanold was on the soccer field for the Cyclones.

“There’s a lot of burden on the youngsters and they’ll have to step it up,” said Veen, a fifth-year coach who led Moraine to a 22-17 overall record last season and 8-4 mark in the ISCC. The Cyclones were second in the league standings and advanced to the Region IV semifinals during the postseason.

Moraine has already lost a few athletes to injury, which means Veen will do some early experimenting with his lineup.

“Things have started out a little chaotic, but I have a feeling it’ll turn out well,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate over the years. I just want us to get in there, give these other teams a good game, not have any injuries and play well together.”

Veen is joined again this year by assistant coach Natalie Wigginton.

            MEN’S TENNIS

Last year the Cyclones suffered only one regular-season loss and wound up second in the Region IV tournament, which landed them a spot in the national event. In 2015 Moraine hopes for even more.

New coach Robert Gates knows about the high level of success the Cyclones have had over the years -- including nine trips to nationals -- and isn’t daunted by it.

“I’m excited about building this program,” he said. “As a team, our goal is to be Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference and region champions. I’m confident in our players.”

Gates takes over at Moraine after 13 years of coaching individual and professional-level athletes. He played NCAA tennis at Alcorn State University, where he was ranked 116th in the nation and won the 2003 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) singles-player national championship. Gates also competed at some smaller professional tournaments.

He’s joined by another high-level tennis player, Robbye Poole, who was ranked in the top 400 worldwide by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

“I’m happy with this great opportunity to coach at the college level,” Gates said. “I’m excited to recruit and have this become a well-known program. And having Robbye here is great. I thought he’d be a perfect fit for the team.”

The two men have some talented players to use as a foundation. Kevin Karczynski is the Cyclones’ top singles performer and equally effective in doubles play, where in 2014 he teamed with Mike Broderick to go undefeated at No. 1. Broderick was 9-0 at third-singles during the regular season.

Bryan Jimenez (Shepard) and Alec Mikes are two other veterans on hand. Notable newcomers include Karim Awwad, Casey Case, Reigh Lamparas and Gregorio Illner.

“I’m excited to help the returners develop and see the first years grow into more leadership roles,” Gates said. “I’ll be supportive of who’s here and will build on that. I’m going to give everyone a chance to compete for spots and for doubles we’ll look for the best matchups.

“I’m looking forward to our match against rival Prairie State, the only team we lost to last year. It’s our first home match this season.”

            WOMEN’S SOCCER

The Cyclones signed their first recruit of the offseason, Stagg’s Alex Abed, who will attend Moraine in the fall. Abed played all four years with the Chargers and was a pivotal figure for the team.

“She has helped solidify a defense that has been one of the main reasons for our success at the varsity level the last four seasons,” Stagg coach Chris Campos said. “She is a tremendous competitor and is always ready for a challenge. She not only gives us a very athletic and reliable defender on the field, but [she] also is someone who has done well scoring goals on set pieces.

“Because of Alex’s knowledge of the game, she can play anywhere on the field. I wish her the very best as she continues her soccer career at Moraine Valley.”

Abed also played soccer last fall for local Inter FC and coach Al Palar, who is the Cyclones’ new boss.

“Alex is as versatile as they come,” he said. “Her athleticism, paired with her understanding of the game, allows her to be effective at every position on the field. She’s quick, strong and technical with the ball. It’s such a luxury for a coach to have a player like Alex on the squad who can be confidently put anywhere on the field and [you] know that the she will do the job well.

“I think my favorite part about Alex is her competitive attitude and how much she hates to lose. Whether it’s a game or a training session, you are only going to get better with maximum effort -- that’s what Alex brings every day. I’m very excited about her decision to sign with the Cyclones and continue her education here.”


Taking a look back

  • Written by Ken Karrson






Taking a look back

Choosing the best can sometimes be interesting


By Jeff Vorva

Reporter Editor

Since the Reporter and Regional News merged their sports sections in 1988, 28 boys' basketball Player of the Year selections have been made.

With Richards’ Jaylan Catledge filling that role in 2014-15, something new has occurred as he is the first sophomore among the honorees. After compiling the long list of area individuals who’ve been chosen as either top player or coach for a season -- beginning in 1994 that also included girls’ teams -- a few interesting tidbits were unearthed.

SUBHEAD: Super Sarah

Sandburg’s Sarah Kustok was the first sophomore Player of the Year and remains the only athlete of either sex to be recognized three times. Her brother Zak, a former quarterback with the Eagles and at Northwestern University, was tabbed as the football Player of the Year once during the mid-1990s.

Kustok, who went on to play four years of basketball at DePaul University, entered the broadcasting field after graduating college. She was a sports television reporter in Chicago and is currently on the YES Network in New York. Kustok recently got a chance to do color commentary as a member of the announcing team at a Brooklyn Nets-Philadelphia 76ers game.

SUBHEAD: Double-winners

Sandburg’s Dave Rettker (1989-90), Shepard’s Steve Payne (1990-91), Brother Rice’s Jim Sexton (1993-94) and Marist’s Nick Valla (2009-10) were picked as either Player of the Year or co-Player of the Year in back-to-back campaigns. For good measure Valla also achieved all-area status in football as a receiver.

While they couldn’t equal Kustok’s trifecta, Mother McAuley’s Anne McDonald (1994-95) and Stagg’s Heather King (2003-04) did manage to repeat as girls’ Player of the Year.

SUBHEAD: Wade-ing in success

The player who enjoyed the greatest hoops success beyond high school was 2000 winner Dwyane Wade of Richards, who played a couple of years at Marquette University before beginning a lengthy NBA career with the Miami Heat that continues today. The Heat have won three world championships since Wade’s arrival (2006, 2012, 2013) and reached the NBA Finals five times.

SUBHEAD: Top player, top coach

The only person to gain both Player of the Year and Coach of the Year status is current Marist skipper Gene Nolan, who collected his third coaching award this season. He was also named the top basketball boss in 2012 and 2004.

Twelve years prior to that initial Coach of the Year designation, Nolan was tabbed as Player of the Year following his junior campaign at Marist.

SUBHEAD: He can coach anybody

Evergreen Park’s Bruce Scaduto has proved to be an equal-opportunity hoops leader. While heading up the Mustangs boys’ squad Scaduto was chosen as Coach of the Year in 2009. Four years later he received the same honor, this time after guiding Evergreen’s girls to a regional title. The female Mustangs have claimed two more regional championships since then.

SUBHEAD: Three wise men

The 1988-89 season saw not one, not two but three men share Coach of the Year honors: Richards’ Jerry Tokars, Sandburg’s Bill Reynolds and Marist’s Ken Styler. Tokars was in his first year with the Bulldogs after coaching more than two decades at De La Salle Institute.

SUBHEAD: Mondo Mundo

Rick Mundo became the first three-time Coach of the Year on the girls’ side as he was recognized in 2000, 2001 and 2002 while guiding Mother McAuley. He also coached the Macs softball team and later returned to the court as the girls’ basketball coach at Shepard.

Not long after Mundo’s three-peat came one by Sandburg’s Christine Bochnak, who was named the area’s top girls’ coach in 2004, 2005 and 2006. On the boys’ side Reynolds and Shepard’s Kurt Enzminger were a part of six straight Coach of the Year awards between them.

Besides his one-third slice in 1989, Reynolds also shared the honor with Tokars in 1988 before winning it outright in 1990. Enzminger also went solo in 1991 and then settled for being co-Coach of the Year with Sandburg’s Randy Voels and Evergreen Park’s Tom O’Malley in 1992 and ’93, respectively.

Back-to-back winners from the coaching ranks include Stagg’s Al Biancalana (1996-97), Richards’ Jack Fitzgerald (1998-99), Shepard’s Tony Chiuccariello (2001-02), Richards’ John Chappetto (2007-08) and Stagg’s John Daniels (2013-14). Chappetto is the only coach to have won a state championship.

McAuley’s Karen Ade was girls’ Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2009.

SUBHEAD: Still waiting

Queen of Peace has not had either a player or coach snare the top award and Chicago Christian’s girls team has been similarly blanked. Evergreen Park is absent a Player of the Year for both its boys and girls teams.

Former St. Laurence coach Tom Pallardy was feted in 2003, but no Vikings athlete has yet been chosen as Player of the Year.

GRAPHIC HEADLINE: Blast from the past



1988 -- Ray Thompson (Argo)

1989 -- Dave Rettker (Sandburg) and Cleveland Anderson (Richards)

1990 -- Steve Payne (Shepard) and Dave Rettker (Sandburg)

1991 -- Steve Payne (Shepard)

1992 -- Gene Nolan (Marist)                                

1993 -- Jim Sexton (Brother Rice)

1994 -- Jim Sexton (Brother Rice)

1995 -- John Economous (Shepard)

1996 -- Chad Harris (Chicago Christian)

1997 -- Wayne Plowman (Marist)

1998 -- Demetrius McDaniel (Richards)

1999 -- Joe Scott (Stagg)

2000 -- Dwayne Wade (Richards)

2001 -- Cory Cummens (Sandburg)

2002 -- Rick Harrigan (Brother Rice)

2003 -- Don Hackstock (Oak Lawn)

2004 -- Dave Telander (Brother Rice)

2005 -- Ross Stuursma (Chicago Christian)

2006 -- Cordelro Yelder (Richards)

2007 -- Jeff Miller (Stagg)

2008 -- Joel Kamp (Chicago Christian)

2009 -- Nick Valla (Marist)

2010 -- Nick Valla (Marist)

2011 -- Darius Draper (Stagg)

2012 -- Michael Kamp (Chicago Christian)

2013 -- Alex Majewski (Brother Rice)

2014 -- Max Strus (Stagg)

2015 -- Jaylan Catledge (Richards)


1988 -- Jerry Tokars (Richards) and Bill Reynolds (Sandburg)

1989 -- Jerry Tokars (Richards), Bill Reynolds (Sandburg) and Ken Styler (Marist)

1990 -- Bill Reynolds (Sandburg)

1991 -- Kurt Enzminger (Shepard)

1992 -- Kurt Enzminger (Shepard) and Randy Voels (Sandburg)

1993 -- Kurt Enzminger (Shepard) and Tom O’Malley (Evergreen Park)

1994 -- Pat Richardson (Brother Rice)

1995 -- Jack Fitzgerald (Richards) and Kurt Enzminger (Shepard)

1996 -- Al Biancalana (Stagg) and Ken Styler (Richards)

1997 -- Al Biancalana (Stagg)

1998 -- Jack Fitzgerald (Richards)

1999 -- Jack Fitzgerald (Richards)

2000 -- Pat Richardson (Brother Rice)

2001 -- Tony Chiuccariello (Shepard)

2002 -- Tony Chiuccariello (Shepard)

2003 -- Tom Pallardy (St. Laurence)

2004 -- Gene Nolan (Marist)

2005 -- John Daniels (Stagg)

2006 -- Ross Douma (Chicago Christian)

2007 -- John Chappetto (Richards)

2008 -- John Chappetto (Richards)

2009 -- Bruce Scaduto (Evergreen Park)

2010 -- Scott Atkins (Oak Lawn)

2011 -- Kevin Pittman (Chicago Christian)

2012 -- Gene Nolan (Marist)

2013 -- John Daniels (Stagg)

2014 -- John Daniels (Stagg)

2015 -- Gene Nolan (Marist)


1994 -- Anne McDonald (Mother McAuley)

1995 -- Anne McDonald (Mother McAuley)

1996 -- Ann Mullins (Sandburg)

1997 -- Katie Schumacher (Mother McAuley)

1998 -- Sarah Kustok (Sandburg)

1999 -- Sarah Kustok (Sandburg)

2000 -- Sarah Kustok (Sandburg)

2001 -- Emily Heikes (Stagg)

2002 -- Tina Hill (Richards)

2003 -- Heather King (Stagg)

2004 -- Heather King (Stagg)

2005 -- Erin Cattell (Sandburg)

2006 -- Maureen Downs (Marist)

2007 -- Kelsey James (Marist)

2008 -- Maureen Mulchrone (Mother McAuley)

2009 -- Haley Stercic (Marist)

2010 -- Jessica Contant (Stagg)

2011 -- None named

2012 -- None named

2013 -- JaTuan Rouse (Marist)

2014 -- LaTondra Brooks (Oak Lawn)

2015 -- Brianna Markusic (Oak Lawn)


1994 -- Gary Bonk (Sandburg)

1995 -- Barb Edwards (Mother McAuley) and Missy Mason (Stagg)

1996 -- Gary Bonk (Sandburg) and Tom Rekruciak (Richards)

1997 -- Barb Edwards (Mother McAuley)

1998 -- Gary Bonk (Sandburg)

1999 -- Brandy Zion (Evergreen Park)

2000 -- Rick Mundo (Mother McAuley)

2001 -- Rick Mundo (Mother McAuley)

2002 -- Rick Mundo (Mother McAuley)

2003 -- Janet Haubenreiser (Oak Lawn)

2004 -- Christine Bochnak (Sandburg)

2005 -- Christine Bochnak (Sandburg)

2006 -- Christine Bochnak (Sandburg)

2007 -- Mary Pat Connolly (Marist)

2008 -- Karen Ade (Mother McAuley)

2009 -- Karen Ade (Mother McAuley)

2010 -- Bill Turner (Stagg)

2011 -- None named

2012 -- Bill Turner (Stagg)

2013 -- Bruce Scaduto (Evergreen Park)

2014 -- Janet Meyers (nee Haubenreiser) (Oak Lawn)

2015 -- Chris Hellrung