Marist ready for Loyola in state title game

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE one reporter cut out photog on left and guy in gray on right




photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist senior defensive lineman John Carmody was honest.

The kid is a part of the Class of 2016, which had a losing record as freshman, a losing record as sophomores and last year’s 4-5 mark on the varsity.

The seniors also experienced a season in which they were 5-4 and lost their last two regular season games to Nazareth and Joliet Catholic. Out of 526 teams to ever play in a state title game, only four had four losses.

Other Redhawks players and coaches were saying they believed in themselves and were not surprised they got this far. But Carmody stood on a frozen Marist field after his team qualified for the Class 8A state title game with a 31-16 victory over Waubonsie Valley  with a big smile and when he was asked if he thought he would ever see this day, he was frank.

“No, never!” Carmody said. “I never even imagined it. It’s unbelievable when you think about it.”

It’s believable and a reality and now the task at hand is to try to beat unbeaten Loyola in the state title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

It’s just the second time the Redhawks (9-4) have made it to the state championship game and both came under coach Pat Dunne’s watch. In 2009, Maine South ended the RedHawks run with a 41-17 win in Champaign. That team was a bit of a surprise to make it that far but the 2015 squad is even more unlikely as it pulled it off from the 23rd seed out of 32 teams.

“Nothing is a surprise about this team,” Dunne said. “They have believed and I’m telling you, their attitude has never ever changed. They believe in each other. They are such a great family together and without a doubt, I believe in these guys more than anyone.’’

To get to Saturday’s semifinal, the RedHawks had nailbiting three-point wins over Niles Notre Dame (17-14), Barrington (59-56 in the highest scoring Class 8A playoff game in history) and Oswego, 38-35.

Waubonsie, seeded 30th and coming in with an 8-4 record, wasn’t an easy team but the RedHawks were able to have some breathing room most of the night.

Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky continued his statistical assault with 103 yards and two touchdowns in the air and 186 yards on the ground including a 71-yard scoring dash that gave the RedHawks a 24-9 lead. He now has more than 3,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

The Warriors tightened things up in the fourth quarter and Marist nursed a 24-16 lead when Carmody came up with a sack to stall a potential game-tying drive. Darshon McCullough’s 18-yard run iced the game on the icy night.

Receiver Liam Keffer caught two touchdown passes including the first score of the night where he caught the ball at the right side of the end zone with his feet dangerously close to the out-of-bounds line. Waubonsie players signaled he was out of bounds but the only arms that mattered – the referee’s – signaled a touchdown.

After the game, the players met with fans in the stands and jumped into a snowbank past the north end zone courtesy of an afternoon storm that dumped 11 inches of snow in some suburbs.

“You always dream of playing in the snow,” Carmody said.

“The weather wasn’t an issue, we know we can score points,” Skalitzky said. “If everyone does their job, we can score on anybody. It might have been pretty rough to play in the afternoon (during the blizzard). I was watching some of those games.

“But I would have played in whatever conditions there were.’’


JEFF VORVA'S EXTRA POINT: Big games and bad weather bring out goofiness in football players

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nazareth lineman Gavin Smith was one of a handful of Roadrunners who did snow angels after beating St. Laurence to get to the Class 5A title game.


There is something about Mother Nature colliding with a big game that brings out the goofball in some football players.

A few years ago, I covered the final regular-season game of a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in ages and after it won its game to qualify on a very rainy night, some big players found a mud puddle to jump into and frolic and scream.

The coach of that team went ballistics and did some screaming of his own.

He was not happy.

That bring us to Saturday. You may have heard the rumor that it snowed that day.

The snow and cold weather were the hot topics during Semifinal Saturday.

This was the day that 32 Illinois High School Association teams faced a situation in which they either experience the joy of going to this week’s state championship game or were zapped off the face of the playoff Earth.

And it was cold and/or snowy at all 16 games.

I could call this column the “Whine Guy” and spend the rest of it complaining about my misadventures with trying to take photos at the Nazareth-St. Laurence game in the heavy wet snow in Burbank, but I won’t. I have just one thing to say. Even though I covered the camera with two layers of plastic, I am praying that not wet stuff got into the guts of the company camera. Please pray along with me…

The players had to play in that stuff and when it was over and Naz pulled off a 34-0 victory to advance to the Class 5A title game, some of the Roadrunners players blew off some steam by getting down on the ground and making snow angels.

Like with the mud puddle scene a few years ago, I was amused, especially when big linemen types were acting like little kids.

Hours later, Marist punched its ticket to DeKalb and the Class 8A state championship contest with a 31-16 victory over Waubonsie Valley.

It was cold, but by then it stopped snowing and the Marist athletic department and administration had the field in great shape.

But the snow had to go somewhere.

It was pushed into big piles at  the north and south fences, a few feet from the end zones.

After the game, several relieved RedHawks jumped onto those piles past the north end zone and hooted and hollered for a little while.  

In an age where high school kids think they are too cool to show any emotion, I like the fact that these big guys can let loose a little and have some unbridled fun. They put in a lot of hard work starting under the hot August sun and to finally get to a point like this…

Now, if one of these guys gets really sick because they exposed their sweaty bodies to the freezing snow -- that may be a problem.

But, heck, this was all unscripted merriment and hopefully no one fell ill because of it.

Look out DeKalb – if there is any snow around Huskie Stadium and either of these teams win, they will find it.

(subhead) Player of Year honors coming

With Marist’s football team playing deep into November, we had to push our fall sports Players of the Year stories back. Next week, we will carve out some space for the Redhawks on the front page and after that, get the best of the best stories rolling.

So, on Dec. 10, 17 and 24 we will announce our top players for boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming, girls volleyball and football and that takes us to Dec. 31, where we will have our top 10 area sports stories of the year.

Happy New Year, er, Happy Thanksgiving


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: No matter how you size it up, elite is elite

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 with JV col

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandburg volleyball player Jake Hanes (middle) and wrestlers Rudy Yates (left) and Louie Hayes are now a part of the two percent of 8 million athletes who play high school sports and go on to a Division I college to participate in athletics.  

Here is the cool thing about sports.

No matter if you are 6-foot-10 or if you barely weigh 100 pounds, if you put in time and energy to be an elite athlete, you will usually get rewarded.

It’s a lot like life. Work your butt off and you should succeed. OK, sometimes people can work their butt off and not only fail, but have to go butt-less the rest of their lives.

But that’s life.

On Nov. 11, it was national signing day and athletes from all over the country either signed for scholarships at NCAA Division I, II, NAIA or junior college schools or announced their intentions of attending an NCAA Division III school.

There were elite basketball players who announced their futures in front of microphones and cameras and there were some athletes who signed without even their high school’s athletic directors knowing about it.

Since this is an early signing period, it’s not as crazy as it will be later in the school year when the football players and all of the others make their decisions. I e-mailed the athletic directors in the area and it appears that 25 signed or committed last week.

The biggest group came from Sandburg, where 10 athletes from eight different sports showed up for a special gathering at the school. Sandburg athletic director Mark Krusz ran the show and beamed like these athletes were his own sons and daughters who were heading to college. It was almost like a holiday for him.

It’s not an easy accomplishment for these athletes.  

Depending on what study you want to read or believe, there are roughly 8 million students playing high school sports and only about six or seven percent who go on to play college sports. About two percent play on the Division I level.

Yet, there in the room were six Sandburg athletes inking letters-of-intent to play at Division I schools including 6-foot-10 volleyball player Jake Hanes and wrestlers Louie Hayes (who wrestled last year at 106 pounds) and Rudy Yates (126 pounds).

Hanes is heading to Ohio State. I’m sorry, I mean The Ohio State University.

Hayes is heading out east to the University of Virginia.

Yates chose the University of Northern Iowa.

I wanted to pose the three together and Hanes was all for it. He even stuck his long arms out. The body language on the wrestlers indicated they weren’t all that thrilled with my idea but they still played along.

The idea behind the photo was to point out that here were three of the best athletes in the country celebrating together a great accomplishment no matter if their bodies were big or small.

Elite is elite.

They all had their crosses to bear. Hayes and Yates probably heard all kinds of insults growing up. Hanes probably hit his head on a low ceiling or two and likely found hotel beds to be a little on the tiny side. He’s probably heard a few insults as well.

But none of that matters. These three found a sport they love and put in many hours of training and working out to get to this point. They sacrificed some of their summers and offseasons to participate on the club level to get to the point where college coaches were drooling to get them.

This was no accident.

Other DI athletes from Sandburg were wrestler Brian Krasowski (University of Pennsylvania), swimmer Clare Lawlor (Rutgers) and basketball player Victoria Stavropoulos (Georgia Southern University).

Volleyball player Caroline Stefanon is heading to Division II Lewis University, swimmer Kevin Stratton is going to Division II Drury and softball players Paige Chladek and Niki Saviano are taking their pitching and catching talents to Division III Lakeland.

Nine players from Marist signed or committed.

In girls basketball, Dajae Black is heading to Lewis while Tehya Fortune and Katelyn Rosner are heading to the University of Illinois—Springfield.

Class 4A softball champions Lizzie Annerino (Boston University ) and Madison Naujokas (James Madison) will play in college.

Volleyball stars Allyssa Rizzo (Montana State University), Anne Marie Stifter (University of Chicago) and Emily Sullivan (Spring Hill College) announced their choices.

And in a pretty cool twist, Maura Smith, who is not on the powerhouse Marist squad, was able to grab some college attention through her club team, the Chicago Elite, and is headed to Grand Valley State in Michigan.  

At Mother McAuley, softball player Amy Balich is headed to The Ohio State University, volleyball player Jane DeJarld committed to Boston College while teammate Kaitlyn Johnson is heading to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and water polo star Claire Mueller hopes to make a big splash at St. Francis in Booklyn.

Others who took advantage of the early signing period, according to information supplied by the athletic directors, were St. Laurence baseball player Anthony Rios (Lewis), Shepard softball players Skylor Hilger (DePaul) and Heather O’Kelly (Benedictine in Mesa, Ariz.) and Richards baseball player Chris Zeschke (Lewis).

There will be plenty more to come in the coming months.

So big or small, high-profile sport or minor sport, these athletes are entering a world few will experience.


A Skal-ding 633-yard performance by Marist QB

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva 

Marist quarterback Brendan Skalitzkiy threw for 445 yards and ran for 188 and had a hand or foot in all eight of the Redhawks’ touchdowns Saturday night.


Marist senior quarterback Brendan Skalitzky had accounted for 630 yards of offense and seven touchdowns.

He threw for 442 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 188 yards and three TDs.

And his team was losing.

Time was running out.

The season was almost over.

But on a night when big scoring plays ruled, the Skalitzky hooked up with tight end James Dunican for the first time in the game for a 3-yard TD completion with 12 seconds left and the RedHawks went on to win a 59-56 Class 8A second-round football playoff game over seventh-seeded Barrington Saturday in Chicago. It was the highest-scoring 8A playoff game in state history.

Those three precious yards kept the 23rd-seeded RedHawks (7-4) alive as they visit Oswego at 6 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.

“We practiced that play and we did it against Joliet Catholic,” Skalitzky said about a 35-28 win over the Hilltoppers on Oct. 23 to get into the playoffs. “We were waiting for it all game. It was perfect. James is one of the hardest workers on the team and he does a great job blocking and I’m so glad it went to him.’’

Dunican waited his turn and it came in the 11th hour with 12 ticks on the clock.

“I trusted my coached that they would call a play like that for me and I did my job,” Dunican said. “That’s probably the biggest play of my life. It’s a great experience and I can’t wait for next week.’’

Coach Pat Dunne called this one of the wildest games he has ever coached, and that’s saying something.

Dunne’s wide open style of football has leant itself to a 64-64 double OT win over Carmel in 2011, a 56-51 win over Joliet Catholic and a 42-37 win over Nazareth in 2012. This year, the team beat Niles Notre Dame 49-42 during the regular season.

So the man knows wild football games.

Skalitzky, who could be heading to the Ivy League to play football next year, said his big night was a product of his offensive line and running back-receiver Darshon McCullough, who had five catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns.

“Any time he touches the ball he can break free,’’ Skalitzky said.

Dunne is glad he has at least one more game to watch his signalcaller work his magic with this explosive offense.

“You can talk about the best quarterbacks around and he throws well and runs well,” Dunne said. “His stats have shown what he could do all year. He’s such a great team player. And he’s a great leader. He can hurt you in a lot of different ways.’’

Barrington closed its season at 9-2, It was the most points the Broncos scored this year but it was offset by the fact that it was the most points they gave up in 2015. Its only other loss was a 26-24 setback to Palatine, which is still alive in the Class 8A quarterfinals and plays Brother Rice.

Marist is making the most of its postseason as it knocked off Niles Notre Dame, 17-14, in a rematch in the opening round and another three-point win on Saturday.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Judy, Judy, Judy -- Naperville runner makes my day

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




A few thoughts from another busy week of sports:

Not to sound like a grouch but at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, when most respectable people are still sleeping, I was in a demanding mood as I started my drive to Peoria.

I was heading to the Illinois High School Association State Cross Country event at Detweiller Park and I haven’t covered that event since the early 1980s. My hair was longer, I was skinnier and the event was massive. That’s all I remember about it.

My mission on Saturday was to cover our area teams including the top-ranked boys team in the nation -- Sandburg.

For most people, that would be enough.

But at 5:30 a.m., I grumbled to myself that I wanted to see some history. I don’t know when the next time I will go back to the meet, so I want to see something people have not seen before, dang it.

I was hoping to see one of the longest records in IHSA history fall. A guy named Craig Virgin, who looks a little like Ryne Sandberg, ran for Lebanon and set the meet record in 13 minutes, 50.6 seconds. That was back in 1972.

Since then, only two runners, who, like a Virgin, have gone under the 14-minute barrier – Neuqua Valley’s Chris Derrick (13:52 in 2007) and the great Lukas Verzbicas of Sandburg (13:52 in 2010).

Fithian Oakwood senior Jon Davis, a Class 1A runner, thought he could have a shot at breaking the Ryno-lookalike’s mark. He had a great race and gave it a great effort and was 45 seconds in front of his nearest competitor. But he finished at 14 minutes flat and my chance to see history fell flat.

Earlier in the day, in the Class 1A girls race, Effingham’s Anna Sophia Keller was taking aim at Glenbard West’s Madeline Perez’s 2012 mark of 16:02. The junior won her third straight individual title with a 16:21 but no record.

She did however, lap a couple of competitor on the three-mile course.     

That’s not an official record, but I couldn’t find anyone around the park who didn’t day “I’ve never seen THAT before.’’

So I was ready to call it a day on seeing a huge record fall until the girls Class 3A race.

Naperville North’s Judy Pendergast, who finished 23rd in the state as a freshman, 44th as a sophomore and had all kinds of health issues her junior year but still zoomed up to ninth place in the state meet with a 17:06, was ready for the challenge.

This year, she was having a superb season and some thought she had a shot at breaking the 16-minute barrier. I wasn’t so sure. But I was there at the finish line, camera in hand, just in case.

She not only broke the record, she stomped that record into powder with a 15:54.

“The power of what she did was pretty impressive,” her coach, Dan Iverson said.

So I was able to watch some great history before settling in for the main event – Sandburg’s state title.

 Power play

I took so many photos at the cross country meet that during the first quarter of the Lincoln-Way North-Richards my camera battery was getting a little low.

After the quarter ended with the score at 0-0, I was able to find an outlet for my charger on the Bulldogs scoreboard. So for a good 15 minutes or so, I was working the scoreboard harder than the two offenses were.

Lucky I didn’t have that problem when I got to the Barrington-Marist game. With the two teams scoring 115 points, I might have short-circuited the board if I plugged my charger in there.  

 Hoops, there it is

The next two issues of this newspaper will have an extra treat for basketball fans. We will have a special section for the girls and women next Thursday and the boys and men on Nov. 26.

These sections will have capsules, photos, rosters and schedules of our area high schools and colleges. We hope this will kick off what promises to be an exciting season on the right foot.

  Players of the Year

In lieu of all-area teams for two sports, we are opening things up and will be presenting Player of the Year stories starting soon.

We will be honoring the top players from nine fall sports – boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming, girls volleyball and football.  Anthony Nasella and myself will be cranking those stories out and we will start running them two or three at a time starting either next week or Nov. 26, depending on how many football teams are still alive after the quarterfinals.