Stagg's girls turnaround includes win over rival Sandburg

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandburg’s Erin Greenfield (left) collides with Stagg’s Sydney Downs as the two wrestle for the ball Thursday night in Orland Park. Stagg ended up winning the District 230 rivalry game, 43-41.

There were times when the bus rides home were quiet.

There were times the Stagg girls basketball players came back to Palos Heights after suffering blowout losses or heartbreakers as they compiled records of 3-25 and 11-17 in the past two seasons with a host of underclassmen getting a chunk of playing time.

But they never got discouraged.

“We never got down on ourselves – we always thought about the next game,” senior Jaime Ryan said. “We were looking for when our time would come.’’

That time has arrived.

The Chargers opened the season with a 7-2 mark, which included a thrilling 43-41 victory over District 230 rival Sandburg Thursday in Orland Park to open the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue season.

Ryan (16 points), junior Nicole Vacha and Sydney Downs came up with big baskets and free throws in the closing minutes of the game to preserve the victory.

“It’s a lot of fun for them,” Chargers coach Bill Turner said. “The experience that we have now is paying off from the two earlier years when we did take our lumps. They think this is their year. It’s a good feeling.’’

In the past, there were times when things just wouldn’t go right for that Chargers. But in crunch time against the Eagles (5-4 after Saturday’s opening round-win at the Oak Lawn Tournament) shots fell, including an awkward-looking off-balance inside basket by Vacha. She wanted to execute a reverse layup but stopped in the middle of her follow through.

“Sometimes I get yelled at when I do a reverse,” Vacha said. “So I stopped and threw it up there.’’

The Chargers opened up with a 60-24 home win over Tinley Park and played eight straight on the road. They were scheduled to play Tuesday night against Oak Lawn in Palos Hills. Their only losses were to Lincoln-Way Central (46-32) and Andrew (65-55).

Some Sandburg players were tearful after the game. While it is an early-season game and the two teams will play again Jan. 22 at Stagg, this was still an emotional encounter.

“This team competes, plays hard and wants to win and that’s the emotion that you want to see,” Sandburg coach Nick Fotopoulos said. “It’s a big rivalry game and there are a lot of emotions in the game.’’

The team has been battling with the loss of guard Morgan McAuliffe, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the season. Against the Chargers, the Eagles had a balanced scoring attack with Natalie Stavropoulos leading the way with nine points.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Smile! We've come full circle with Queen of Peace/St. Laurence

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photos by Jeff Vorva

The final game at Queen of Peace in late January was sad (bottom photo) but things were a lot happier at the historic first girls basketball game at St. Laurence on Nov. 28 (top photo). 



Many sports outcomes are judged by wins and losses.

This one, however, is judges by tears and smiles.

When Queen of Peace officials shocked the south suburbs in January by announcing the school was closing, the basketball team was going through one of its best seasons in school history. The team was hit hard by the news and during its final home game ever against Kennedy, I took photo of underclassmen on the bench during a Senior Night speech and the players were crying and looking as miserable as you could look.

I still feel bad every time I see it.

Well, 11 months later, we have come full circle.

Neighboring St. Laurence opened its doors to girls for the first time and many players on coach George Shimko’s final team at Queen of Peace are now on his first team at St. Laurence. They switched from green and white to black and gold. They went from being the Pride to proudly being the Vikings.

After playing a handful of games at a Thanksgiving tournament in Beecher, the Vikings played their first home game in their new gym on Nov. 28.

And then came the full-circle moment.

It didn’t come on the scoreboard as the team dropped a 48-41 decision to DePaul Prep in front of a few hundred fans.

It came before the opening tipoff.

It actually came a few seconds after the National Anthem and a few second before the starters were announced.

With Alan Parsons Project music in the background a la’ the Chicago Bulls and public address announcer Pat Griffin was yelling at the crowd to go crazy, the players on the bench were smiling and yukking it up.  

Yep – full circle.


“It doesn’t matter if we won or lost –we were together,” senior Erin Foley said. “All during school, I pictured myself at Peace and it was weird coming here after school and this being our home gym. The fans were really welcoming and it thought it was a really good turnout. ‘’

Foley scored 12 points and had four rebounds and two assists in the home debut. Ashley Murphy had 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Ashley Kevin added eight points and four rebounds.

Kevin said that she appreciates the “support and love” from those who helped her and her teammates make this unexpected transformation. A year ago, no one saw this coming.

“It’s definitely crazy,” she said. “If you asked me a year ago what I would be doing senior year, I would not have expected this.’’  

Here are a few photos from the first St. Laurence girls basketball home game:



Wild night of hoops in reconfigured CCL

  • Written by John Romando and Jeff Vorva


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Nick Bowes (left) and Marquise Kennedy put the defensive clamps on Bishop McNamara Friday night in Kankakee. Brother Rice won its 27th straight game against the Irish.  



There are some changes to the structure of Chicago Catholic League basketball this season and the new format started up on Friday night.

But no matter the format, thrills and wild games seem to never change in the CCL.

St. Laurence and Brother Rice were in the middle of some noteworthy crossover games on Friday night as St. Laurence beat St. Joseph for the first time since 1977 with an 84-81 victory in Burbank while Brother Rice beat Bishop McNamara for the 27th straight time with an 82-51 triumph in Kankakee.

Battling through two brutal cramps that kept him out of the game for two different periods of time, St. Laurence guard Isaiah Harvey scored 34 points, including the game-winning three-pointer with 3.6 seconds left in the game.

“We talked all week how in order to beat this team it would take toughness and making free throws,’’ first-year Vikings coach Jim Sexton said.  “To beat a storied program and ranked opponent like that at this stage of our program is unbelievable.”

Harvey, a native of the Virgin Islands, came up huge in the game as the Vikings improved to 6-0 while St. Joseph fell to 5-1.

“He’s the heart and soul of this program,” Sexton said. “He is the engine that makes it go. I told him from the beginning of the year when he has great energy, we are great. When he doesn’t, we struggle. He has lived up to it, bringing great energy every game this year.”

Brother Rice improved to 4-1 with the win over Bishop McNamara as Josh Boulanger led the Crusaders with 16 points.

Bishop McNamara and Wheaton St. Francis are leaving the league next season and the Crusaders enjoyed a 27-game winning streak against McNamara.

“The last two years, I feel like we should have lost to them – they were really good and we were lucky to beat them,’’ Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said. “We obviously didn’t want to lose the final time we play them.’’

The league is now broken up into a nine-team Blue Division and a nine-team White division based on success rate. Teams will play eight division games and three crossovers. The postseason tournament was eliminated.

“The kids liked the tournament and as coaches, we should have thought about that,” Frasor said. “There are some logistical things – the Class 1A schools had some trouble with it (due to the start of the state playoffs).

“But I like the alignment of putting the top schools together because I remember playing in the Catholic League and it was a who’s who every night. You can’t point at the schedule and say ‘that’s a win.’ That’s how it’s going to be in the Blue. Fenwick is the top dog, but anyone can win a game on any given night.’’

St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore, who is in his 49th season and is the only coach to win more than 1,000 games in the Illinois High School Association, has seen his share of changes over the decades.

“I was never in favor of the tournament, I thought it was just too much,’’ he said. “I like this (format) from the standpoint of we play everybody in our division. Crossover has to be this way because some teams will cross over against good teams and weak teams, but this is the best we can do at this point.”

Sexton’s team is in the White Division and his troops are hoping for another change next year.

“We prefer to be in the top division, but I know it gets reorganized every year, and we are hoping to get enough wins this year to be in that top division next year, no matter how they cut it,’’ he said.

 Shot of the year (so far)

The boys basketball season is in its infant stages, but it’s going to take a heck of a great shot to upstage what sophomore Sami Osmani did on Saturday.

The Oak Lawn guard buried a 3-point basket from half court at the buzzer to give the Spartans a 53-50 victory over Chicago Christian in a non-conference game in Oak Lawn.

The Spartans won four of their first five games of the season.

Chicago Christian fell to 2-4 and it was the Knights’ third straight heartbreaking loss of the season. They dropped an overtime decision to Andrew in the third-place game of the District 218 Thanksgiving Tournament followed by a 60-57 road loss to Timothy Christian on Friday and the Oak Lawn setback on Saturday.



RadHawks come and RedHawks go but winning stays

  • Written by Phil Arvia



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist’s Morgan Taylor looks to make a move against Richards on Friday. He scored 36 points in the RedHawks’ District 218 championship win at Shepard. 


Gene Nolan has arrived at a philosophy that, so far, suits the current Marist basketball season.

“You want kids to be happy where they are,” the coach said. “Everyone wins when they’re happy where they are.”

He was speaking of the transfers who left the Marist program — Maurice Commander to Curie, Chase Robinson to Oak Park-River Forest and Malik Onyeali to Hyde Park — after a 27-4, 2016-17 campaign. But, in the wake of a 74-51 title game win Friday over Richards in the District 218 Thanksgiving Tip-Off Classic, he might easily have been talking about that game’s RedHawks stars.

Morgan Taylor, last year’s starting quarterback who gave up football to concentrate on basketball and who transferred from Brother Rice in 2015, had 36 points. Jack Ellison, who transferred to Marist after playing last season for Chicago Christian, added 16.

“Me, Morgan and Dave (Daniels, who added seven points and a team-high 10 rebounds) have been playing with each other for six or eight years — they were pushing me to transfer,” Ellison said of his teammates with the AAU Illinois Fastbreak. “From my first practice, I knew I’d be happy here. I like being pushed, and that’s what they do every practice.”

The RedHawks (4-0), who never trailed, consistently pushed into the paint against Richards (2-2) in winning the Classic for the fifth time in six years. Starting with the game’s opening bucket, Taylor made it his mission to get to the rim, showing a deft array of finishing moves that left him 10-of-15 from the floor and a toughness that helped him to 16-of-21 shooting from the line.

“Coach Nolan was a good outside shooter in his day, so we’re working on that, too,” Taylor said. “But it’s whatever the game calls for — today, that was getting to the basket.

“Being really aggressive playing football, being used to contact, that’s what I lean towards.”

Why walk away from football, then? After all, Marist went undefeated in its conference for the first time ever with Taylor at quarterback, then rolled through a perfect regular season without him before bowing out in the state quarterfinals early this month.

But, so strong was basketball’s pull, Taylor opted to end his football career despite knowing how good that team would be and that three of his hoops teammates were transferring.

“When we were playing AAU, I heard the guys were leaving,” he said. “A little while later, after I picked up my first (basketball) scholarship offer, from Minot State, I decided basketball was my future. My father was a little mad, being a football guy.”

Speaking of the football guys, Taylor added, “I went to every game and cheered them on. Those guys are still my brothers.” 

Richards was led by Kajaun Wines with 14 points. Albert Jones had 12 points and his older brother, Trevon, had six points and nine rebounds.

“We got in foul trouble early,” Bulldogs coach Chris Passafiume said. “We tried to keep (Taylor) out of the lane, but after a while you just have to tip your hat to a guy like that.”



SXU ready for wild rematch with Morningside

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

SXU running back Mike Ivlow ran for 233 yards – the second most in school history – in Saturday’s first-round win over Grand View.



It’s one thing to rack up early double-digit deficits to St. Ambrose, St. Francis (Illinois) and Olivet Nazarene University during the regular season and make comebacks for wins.

It’s another to get down 10 points to a nationally ranked team in the first round of the NAIA playoffs on a cold, windy, rainy and snowy day.

But St. Xavier University’s football team knows how to play catch-up and, like it did against the aforementioned trio, dominated the rest of the way as it beat Grand View University, 39-23, in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series in front of an announced crowd of 1,000 fans at Deaton Field in Chicago on Saturday afternoon.

The eighth-ranked Cougars (10-1) visit third-seeded Morningside College (12-0) at noon Saturday at Olsen Stadium in Sioux City, Iowa, in the quarterfinals. The last time these two teams hooked up was a snowy first-round playoff game in 2015 and Morningside won a wild 75-69 game in four overtimes.

Early in the Grand View game, the Cougars had to stay on the ground because of the weather conditions and were able to open up the passing game in the second half. Senior Mike Ivlow ran 34 times for 233 yards and caught a touchdown pass for 36 yards. He even booted a 53-yard punt on a day that saw three Cougars record punts. Alex Martinez threw for 207 yards and three touchdowns.

“It was almost impossible to punt and throwing the ball was a nightmare, too,” SXU coach Mike Feminis said. “We gave up the lead but told the guys to ‘stay the course, stay the course.’ I couldn’t be prouder.’’

Ivlow remembered losing 41-37 in the regular season to Grand View his freshman season and looked forward to this rematch.

“We have to do whatever we have to do to win,” Ivlow said. “I couldn’t be happier with this win. This is one of those games where I really wanted to beat these guys really bad. We get another week of football and that’s all you can ask for.’’

Grand View (9-3) entered the game averaging 512.7 yards per game but the Cougars defense held the Vikings to 332 yards. Tim Walsh racked up two interceptions, Josh Hettinger had 15 tackles and Tionte McDaniel added 12. The defense recorded eight tackles for loss for 34 yards.

Morningside is averaging 52.3 points and 585.7 yards per game. The Mustangs opened the season with a 41-24 victory over St. Francis (Illinois), a team SXU beat 30-28. Morningside advanced to the quarterfinals with a 63-7 victory over Sterling.

Senior running back Bubba Jenkins has 1,904 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns for the Mustangs this season while junior quarterback Trent Solsma has thrown for 3,665 yards and 48 TDs.      

Other quarterfinal pairings for Saturday are Northwestern (Iowa) at St. Francis (Ind.), Georgetown (Kentucky) at Reinhardt (Georgia) and Southern Oregon at Lindsey Wilson (Kentucky). Northwestern, Georgetown and St. Xavier are the only teams still alive with losses.