Crusaders make best teams in the state sweat

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice players celebrate a state quarterfinal win over Hinsdale Central on Friday.

The conventional wisdom was that heading into this weekend’s Illinois High School Association State Volleyball Tournament, Glenbard West and Lake Park were the top two teams in the state and were ready to butt heads in the state championship game.

On Saturday morning, Lincoln-Way East had other plans, knocking off Lake Park 25-21, 27-25 in the first semifinal at Hoffman Estates High School.

Then, when Brother Rice opened the second semifinal with a 25-21 win over the two-time defending state champion Hilltoppers, it was looking like conventional wisdom was about to turn into unconventional lunacy. But Glenbard West, which had lost just three sets in two years prior to the Brother Rice setback, came back and squeaked out 25-20, 25-22 victories in the final two sets before moving on the beat Lincoln-Way East in three to claim its third straight state title. 

That set up a Brother Rice-Lake Park battle for third and the Crusaders made the Lancers sweat before falling 21-25, 25-20, 25-16.

The Crusaders, making their first state appearance since 2012 and winning their second state trophy in program history, finished 31-11 on the campaign.

Junior middle hitter Dan Littleton showed he could be a monster next season as he had 10 kills and hit .769 against Lake Park while senior Jimmy Baker had 10 kills and a .364 hitting percentage.

In the semifinals against Glenbard West, junior Kyle Springer had 12 kills, Lewis University-bound Joe Kenzinger had 11 and hit. 500 to go with five blocks while Ryan Banky and Baker each had 10 kills as the Crusaders hit .326.

To get to the trophy round, Rice beat Hinsdale Central, 25-17, 25-20. Springer had 10 kills and Banky nine.

Junior setter Matt O’Donnell spread the wealth around and was credited with 102 assists in the three matches and Baker said that was a key to the team’s success this year.

“Opponents have no idea where the ball is going,” Baker said. “Sometimes we don’t even know where it’s going.’’

Players graduating from this year’s team are Kenzinger, Bankey, Baker, Mike McIntyre, Vito Calace, Brendan Ashley, Cal Konecki and Patrick Hollander. Underclassmen on the playoff roster hoping for another state appearance next year are juniors O’Donnell, Springer, Littleton, Alex Culloton, Tom Kleist, Tom Phelan and Sean Badali.


Regional baseball champs lead to exciting sectional matchups

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Since the Illinois High School Association baseball pairings came out, it appeared the Class 4A St. Laurence Sectional would be a battle between four Chicago Catholic League South Blue teams.

The league will have to settle for 75 percent. Reavis’s 5-4 shocker over fourth-seeded Mt. Carmel Saturday at Mt. Carmel’s regional squashed those plans.

But three other teams made it.

Top-seeded St. Laurence won its seventh straight regional title but didn’t have an easy time of it with a 3-2 win over Riverside-Brookfield to win the Oak Lawn Regional. Gage Olszak, Mike McCormick and winning pitcher Jimmy Burnette drove in runs for the Vikings (32-5).

Second-seeded Brother Rice improved to 28-9 with a 5-0 victory over Harlan to win the De La Salle Regional. It’s the Crusaders’ second regional title in a row. Ryan Kutt struck out 13 for Brother Rice.

Third-seeded St. Rita beat Lyons, 5-0 with Steve Washilewski pitching the shutout. The Mustangs are playing with some extra incentive as they are hoping for a huge finish in coach Mike Zunica’s final season.

St. Laurence was slated to play Reavis in the Battle of Burbank on Wednesday and Brother Rice is taking on St. Rita at 4 p.m. Thursday. The sectional championship is at 11 a.m. Saturday.

 Sandburg gets shot at the streak

Sandburg won the Class 4A T.F. North Regional with a 5-3 victory over Lockport on Saturday thanks in part to the pitching of Kevin Lane and that set the Eagles up to try to break the most amazing postseason streak in IHSA baseball history.

Sandburg was scheduled to face Providence Catholic in the opening round of the Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional on Wednesday. Providence is the three-time defending Class 4A champ and entered the game winning 23 straight postseason games despite never being able to win a CCL Blue title.

Stagg was the first area team to get a shot at the Celtics in the Andrew Regional semifinals on Thursday and carried a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. But the Celtics scored runs in the sixth and seventh to stun the Chargers.

“That’s what they do,” Chargers coach Matt O’Neill said.

Baker springs into postseason

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Jimmy Baker could have a wild weekend with sectional volleyball and state track right after his graduation. 


When Brother Rice’s Jimmy Baker graduates tonight, Thursday night, his academic career at the Chicago school will be over.

But his athletic career will continue and he could have one wild weekend in store.

Baker is an unusual two-sport athlete as he competed in both boys volleyball and track and field this spring and the postseason for both sports could be coming to a head this weekend.

After this newspaper’s deadline, the Crusaders’ sectional top-seeded volleyball team competed in regional action and if they won, they would be in action at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at the Reavis Sectional.

Earlier in the day, 182 miles away on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Baker will try his luck in the Illinois High School Association State Track preliminaries in the high jump, triple jump and possibly the 4x200 relay.

If there are no weather issues, he is crossing his fingers that he can qualify for the finals in track, travel with his parents, Jim and Mary to Burbank, help the volleyball team make it to Tuesday’s sectional final and head back to Charleston and do some more damage in the state finals.

“This is my last week of sports and I’m looking at it like I’m going to go out and fun and hopefully do a lot of driving around,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.’’

“It should be a very interesting weekend,” Crusaders track coach Tom Wazio said. “Hopefully he has to drive to EIU twice.’’

Baker’s long jump of 21 feet, 8 inches in the cold weather at the Lyons Sectional won the event and was the 31st-best sectional distance in the state and his triple jump of 44-0 was good for second in the sectional and also 31st. The 4x200 relay team of Rob Groyon, Michael Butler-Kindle, Baker and Ty McCoy ran a 1 minute, 31.18 in the sectional, but that time was 27th-best among qualifiers.

Baker thinks his best shot at the finals is in the high jump if he can clear 22 feet.

“One good jump is all it takes,” Baker said. “I scratched in one meet by a toenail and my coach said that would have been 22 feet so I feel I’m capable of that.’’

Brother Rice’s 4x400 relay team of Josh Boulanger, Butler-Kindle, Ronan Dolan and McCoy finished second with a 3:33.49 to qualify. Justin Palmer claimed second in the 300 intermediate hurdles with a :41.73.

Also at Lyons, Oak Lawn junior Patrick Michaels took first in the discus with a 140-03 and in the shot put with a 52-7 ½.

Also in Class 3A

At Thursday’s Lockport Sectional, Sandburg (which finished third in Class 3A last season) finished sixth out of 15 teams.

The 4x800 team of Peter Demogerontas, Alex Szymanski, Nico Calderon and Martin Skucas) won with a  7:53.69, which was the fifth best sectional time. Last year, a different foursome of Sean and Chris Torpy, Tom Brennan and Dylan Jacobs broke the state record with a 7:37.36 in the finals.

Jacobs claimed the 1600 at Lockport in 4:17.47 – third best in the state.  Ayo Abiona was a sectional champ in the long jump with a 23-0 ½ -- sixth best among qualifiers.

Shepard junior Brian Hauser won the 800 at Lockport in 1:55.85 – the fifth-best sectional time in the state. Senior teammate Caleb Washington took second in the 3200 (9:25.49) while Astros junior Nieko Carter finished second in the 300 hurdles (:39.52, 12th best among qualifers) and third in the long jump (22-7, also 12th best), to qualify for state.

Stagg junior Sam Snell was a sectional champ in the 400 (:49.90) and he also claimed third in the 200 (:22.08) to qualify for state. Senior teammate Anthony Koncius claimed third in the 800 (1:57.09).

Class 2A

St. Laurence finished second in the Lisle Sectional on Friday with 67 points, well behind champion Marmion’s 115.

Lonnie Chambers took first in the discus with a 140-5 and Junior Tyree Colbert qualified with a second-place finish in the high jump with a 5-9.

Junior Toriano Clinton took fourth in the long jump with a 21-4 1/4 and junior teammate Alex Saunders claimed fourth in the triple jump with a 42-8 1/4.

Evergreen Park’s 4x200 relay team of Colin O’Dwyer, Eric Williams, David Torres and Tajuan Ingram finished first with a 1:33.55 and 4x100 team of Dwyer, Ingram, Damon Turner and Williams finished second with a :44.46.

Mustangs junior Kobe Green took second in the triple jump with a 43-6 ½ (13th best sectional distance) and second in the 110 high hurdles (:16.18). Turner took second in the 300 intermediate hurdles with a :41.73.

Class 1A

Chicago Christian finished third at the Seneca Sectional on May 17.

Senior Ben Friesen won the sectional title in the 400 with a :50.84, good for sixth-best in the state among qualifiers. Last year, he finished fifth. Even though he didn’t win the long jump, his second-place sectional finish (22-1) to Immaculate Conception’s Jordan Rowell (22-6) was third best in the state.

Junior Braydon Roberts won the triple jump with a 42-09 – fifth best in the state.

Sophomore Casey Starostka was second in the discus (127-7) and senior Connor Pearson qualified in the 200 dash (:23.21).


Wait 'til next year for Mighty Macs

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mother McAuley water polo players lift the state fourth-place trophy on Saturday in Lincolnshire. They hope to hoist a state championship trophy next year. 

The players barely dried off and seconds after receiving their fourth-place medals, some Mother McAuley girls water polo team members were already looking ahead to next year.

The Mighty Macs finished the 2017 campaign losing to Stevenson, 13-7, in the semifinals and Fenwick, 8-5, in the third-place game of the Illinois High School Association Girls Water Polo State Finals Saturday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. It was the second year in a row the Macs finished fourth.

But this year’s team, which finished 24-8, came into the season with no seniors and a lot of question marks. So a fourth-place finish was not taken lightly.

The girls water polo state series started in 2002 and McAuley won the first two state championships in the history of the tournament and added another title in 2007. With a wealth of talent scheduled to return next year, the Mighty Macs should be one of the favorites to grab the top trophy in 2018.

“Next year, we’ll be first,” junior goalie MaryKate McKendry predicted. “We’re coming in strong. We will have a lot of seniors – it’s going to be great.’’

Some off the offensive weapons who are scheduled to be back include West Lawn’s Paulina Correa, who scored more than 100 goals this season, Becky Schofield, Jillian Mueller, Kate Fischer, Chloe Ryan, Katie Alberts, Hannah Engquist and Erin Breakey, who all had double-digit goal or assist totals this year.

There could be a couple of secret weapons in the mix although they don’t figure to be secret too long.

Team manager Jill Schultz won a medal but plans on resigning from that role to get back in the pool. Schultz was a scoring machine for the Bremen Coop team and made all-state third team in 2015. In 2016 she transferred to Mother McAuley and had to sit out a year. Her sister, Maddie, is an eighth grader who will likely join the team next year. Jill’s older sister, Hannah, was an all-state player who is one of the top players at Iona College.

Stevenson won the state championship with a wild 14-13 double-overtime victory over defending champion Naperville Central. The Mighty Macs are hoping to have a spot in that final game next year.

“It was nice winning fourth place, but next year we don’t want to finish fourth,” Correa said. “We have everybody back. Naperville Central is losing a lot of players. Stevenson might be losing one or two. Fenwick might be losing four.

“But us? We’re gaining. We’re not losing. I’m really proud of us.’’

The work for a potential state championship begins now for the Macs, but they will enjoy the moment of bringing home the school’s 12th top-four trophy.

“I’m not disappointed – we got a medal,” McKendry said. “We played in state and played in the Final Four. We made it. A bunch of schools can’t say that. We have the privilege to say that.’’


Season on the Brink(man) for Strus

  • Written by Jason Maholy


Forty years after his mother, then known as Debbie Brinkman, began what would be a Hall of Fame volleyball career at DePaul University, Max Strus is planning to take the court for the first time as a member of the Blue Demons men's basketball team later this year.


And he plans to do whatever is necessary to help bring winning basketball back to a program that during his mom's college years was the toast of the town. 


Strus, who grew up in Hickory Hills and was a standout player at Stagg High School – was the Regional-Reporters’ 2014 Boys Basketball Player of the Year and is finishing his first year at DePaul after transferring to the Chicago school from Division II Lewis University. After redshirting his junior season, per NCAA transfer rules, the 6-6, 217-pound guard is excited to get back on the hardwood.


“I can't wait,” Strus said. “I mean, it's going to be different than the opponents we had at Lewis, but I'm ready to go to that next level and play against those high-level teams.”


Those teams will include fellow Big East members Villanova, Xavier, Butler and Marquette, just to name four of the seven conference squads that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. DePaul finished the 2016-17 campaign 9-23, and 2-16 in conference play, but Strus sees brighter days ahead for the Blue Demons


“Obviously, we had a rough year last year,” he said. “Hopefully [those schools] can think about DePaul next year or the year after that. I want to leave a big mark at DePaul like I did at Lewis.”


Strus earned myriad accolades during his two years at Lewis, among them Great Lakes Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, and being named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-American Team as a sophomore. He averaged 20.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a sophomore, and that season set the Flyers' single-game (52 points) and season (666 points) scoring marks.


Strus' success gave him the confidence he could play at a higher level, and Lewis granted him his request to be released from his scholarship. Pac-12 power Oregon – which was coming off a run to the Elite Eight in the 2016 NCAA Tournament – and perennial Big East title contenders Xavier and Butler were among the schools that inquired about Strus' services, but he chose to say close to home.


The opportunity to be a big part of rebuilding a program was a major factor in Strus going to DePaul. He also built a strong relationship with Blue Demons assistant coach Fred Carter, who sold him on the program and head coach Dave Leitao. He also doesn't mind that DePaul will begin playing in the fall at the new Wintrust Arena, which is under construction near McCormick Place.


“We're trying to get back to where DePaul's been in the past,” he said. “I really believed in them and they believed in me, and we want to turn this program around.”


Strus' mom, Brinkman, was at DePaul from 1977-81, and Blue Demons men's basketball was in the late 1970s and early 1980s among the most popular and successful teams in Chicago.


Led by coach Ray Meyer and future NBA stars including Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, DePaul advanced to the Final Four in 1979 and earned Regional No. 1 seeds the following three seasons. Between 1976 and 1992, the Demons qualified for the NCAA Tournament 14 times; however, they have not had a winning season since 2007.


Strus admitted being relegated to the role of observer as his team struggled last season was challenging.


“It's hard to sit out when you want to get out there and help your teammates,” he said. “It's extremely difficult. After having a year like I had at Lewis and then coming here and having to sit out and watch games, and not being able to play…I had a hard time with it.”


But those days are over, Strus added, and he is now as focused as ever on improving every aspect of his game, and playing basketball again. While no one is looking for him to be any sort of savior, he doesn't mind the pressure of being counted on to lead and carry a team.


“If I have to be 'the guy,' you know, I'll be that guy, but everybody wants to be the guy, of course,” he said. “I just want to win, ultimately we all just want to win, so I'm going to do whatever it takes to help the team. Whether that's defense, rebounding, scoring; whatever they want me to do I'm going to do to the best of my ability. I'm just looking forward to actually playing in a game this year and getting back on the court.”


Can he replicate what he did his sophomore year at Lewis?


“If I could do that again I'd be very happy,” he said. “I'm hoping I can keep playing like I did at Lewis, keep doing what I was doing and be that guy again; so, we'll see what happens.”