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Changes are coming to CCL, including vanquishing hoops tourney

  • Written by Frank Gogola

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Mike Shepski dribbles by St. Laurence’s Isiah Harvey in a game on Jan. 31. The two could face each other Sunday in the second round of the last Chicago Catholic League Tournament. 

Major changes are coming to the Chicago Catholic League, especially in boys basketball.

After a four-year run, this season’s ongoing CCL basketball tournament will be the last one. CCL basketball teams and other team sports will be realigned from a geographical model to a parity model in hopes of balancing competition and marketing the league.

Both changes were voted on and approved by the 18 CCL athletic directors by a majority vote. Specifics of the realignment are still being discussed.

Southwest Regional Publishing area schools that will be affected are Brother Rice, St. Laurence, St. Rita and Mt. Carmel.

Here are some of the more pressing issues:

End of the conference tournament

Area coaches and athletics directors spoke strongly in favor of wanting to keep the CCL tournament.

St. Rita athletic director Mike Zunica, St. Laurence AD Tim Chandler and Mt. Carmel AD Dan LaCount said they voted in favor of keeping the tournament.

While teams from most other conferences are playing through their conference a second time, CCL teams did so in a bracket format.

“The finality of the state tournament is like boom, you lose and your season is over, so you have to make every possession matter,” Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said. The CCL tournament “gets you in that mindset before the state tournament.”

When Gary DeCesare started coaching at St. Rita in 2009-10, he was looking for a way to prepare for the state tournament other than just practices. League coaches bought in on the tournament idea, and he and Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino ran the first tournament following the 2013-14 season before the CCL took it over.

“The level of competition absolutely prepares them for the state tournament,” DeCesare said. “Everybody’s goal is to win a state title. This gives a Chicago Catholic League teams a chance to win a tournament, a championship.”

In the tournament’s first three years, Fenwick in 2016 was the only regular-season champion from the CCL North or South to win the tournament.

“Teams that weren’t in the running for a conference championship at the end of the season still had something to work toward at that point,” Chandler said. “It was awesome for the kids and the program to have a couple upsets and create that buzz. It almost had that March Madness feeling.”

The main opposition to the CCL tournament came from smaller schools. CCL teams in 1A or 2A start regionals one week before 3A and 4A, so they have almost no time off between the CCL tournament, which has a consolation bracket, and regionals.

Other issues were logistics and travel. Some games sites were set while others were determined by wins and losses, which could be an issue at co-ed schools if girls basketball was hosting a regional. There was a noticed a lack of interest in weeknight and neutral-site games, especially in the consolation bracket, with schools spread out in the northern, western and southern suburbs.

Zunica said there won’t be any CCL tournaments “in the near future.”

Conference realignment

CCL basketball realignment is part of an ongoing process to make the conference more appealing through a parity model that groups teams based on success.

The main factors in the parity model are conference records from the last two years, enrollment of male students instead of total enrollment since some schools are co-ed, and participation numbers in that sport to account for roster depth of larger schools, according to Providence Catholic athletic director Doug Ternik, who is on the CCL Parity Committee.

“Teams want to join a league where they know they can have a chance to compete,” Zunica said. “If you have different conferences with parity where that team could envision themselves in one of those divisions and have the ability to compete, then that would be attractive. That is the entire goal: to always be attractive to somebody if we wanted to expand.”

The realignment also evens out conferences. After Hales and Seton closed, the CCL South was left with eight teams and seven conference games, and the CCL North had 10 teams and nine conference games.

The proposed basketball model will be two nine-team conferences. They’re expected to play eight division games and three crossovers since there won’t be a tournament.

In the fall, soccer was the first to use a parity model, and boys volleyball will have a parity model this spring, although those were based more on an eye test than a scientific model. Baseball is expected to make the switch in spring 2018 and football in fall 2018. Other team sports will go to a parity model in the future.

It’s a great way to keep things fresh in the league, interest outside schools and make sure we remain the best conference in the state,” LaCount said.

Teams good at basketball but bad at soccer may be in the top basketball conference and a lower soccer conference. Not all sports using the parity model will be limited to two conferences. Football is expected to be four.

Parity model data will be rerun every two years to promote or relegate teams based on success. There’ll be an appeal process for school to appeal up or down a division, LaCount said.

Basketball realignment changes will continue to be discussed. They need to be approved by the school presidents and are expected to become official in May.

 

Rice wins CCL South

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor won the Catholic League title Friday night against Leo. He also won the crown as a player 12 years ago. 

 

Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor was a senior on the Crusaders’ 2005 team, their last — until Friday night — to win a Catholic League South title.

Josh Niego, this year’s leading scorer and rebounder, was asked what he knew about that squad.

“I know they shared it,” he said.

Consider that the closest thing to smack talk in the aftermath of Brother Rice’s 55-45 win over Leo, with which the Crusaders (20-3) closed out a perfect 7-0 league season.

Except that it wasn’t smack at all. It was Niego, who went over 1,000 points for his career in a 60-45 win Tuesday over St. Laurence, relaying yet another lesson taught by his coaches.

“It still bothers coach today,” he said. “Winning outright was huge for the whole program.”

Wearing the net he’d helped cut down minutes earlier around his neck, Niego said he was happiest for “everybody. … It’s the guys, the Brother Rice community, our relationship with the coaches — it’s all about the coaching. They make us look good by putting us in the right places, and we make them look good by making shots.”

In the win over Leo (17-6, 5-2), they did so, especially, early, and especially when Mike Shepski was shooting.

Shepski, Brother Rice’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, went 4-for-4 from outside the arc in the first half, as the Crusaders stormed to a 32-19 lead. His sixth trey on the night — and 210th on his career — gave Rice a 48-28 lead at the outset of the fourth quarter.

But Shepski, who finished with a game-high 24 points, wasn’t the only Crusaders sharpshooter. Jack O’Connor was 3-of-6 from 3-point range on his way to 11 points and Niego and Brendan Coghlan each added a trey as Rice finished 9-of-15 (.600) from long distance.

Overall, the Crusaders were 19-of-35 (.543) from the field for the game.

Leo, which prefers a deliberate style and working the ball inside, wasn’t given many of those looks from a packed-in Rice defense. The Lions went 3-of-11 from 3-point range and were led by Aamir Holmes’ 12 points.

“Leo’s a good team,” Shepski said. “We knew we had to work the ball around every possession and get good shots. We did, and we’ve got so many good shooters.”

After Leo opened the contest with a bucket for its only lead of the game and Rice answered with a Josh Boulanger put-back, Shepski hit his first trey from the top of the key to put the Crusaders in the lead for good. He closed the quarter with another from the same spot.

“That’s a big thing for confidence and rhythm,” he said, “getting the first couple to go down.”

Not that Shepski ever lacks for confidence.

“He’s so explosive with the ball in his hands,” Frasor said. “We don’t really draw up plays for him. We live with a lot of his shots we wouldn’t let anybody else on the team take — I’m fine with that.”

Too, Frasor will live with making room for another championship banner in the Rice rafters beside that of his ’05 squad’s.

“This is better — this is so much fun,” Frasor said when asked to rank cutting down the nets as a player or watching his charges do so as a coach. “It’s fun seeing other guys have success. I want everyone in our program to enjoy helping others succeed.”

From his playing days at North Carolina, Frasor took a motto from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.

“‘It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit,’” Frasor said. “That’s what we believe, and that’s the way these guys play.”

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: If Queen of Peace can't be saved, there still might be a happy ending

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

 

The last sporting event ever in the Queen of Peace gym – followed by a two-hour Senior Night celebration for the girls basketball team – took place Thursday night in Burbank and it was an evening of cheers and tears.

Just two days prior, the players found out that the Queen of Peace community was about to be torn to pieces as the school is scheduled to close after this school year. The timing of the announcement was not great as the Pride is going through a historic season and entered this week’s action with a 25-1 record, including Thursday’s 73-33 win over Kennedy.

Look, I realize that this is going to affect a lot of people and not just the student-athletes.

I feel bad for any freshmen, sophomores and juniors who developed deep friendships that might be in jeopardy.

I feel bad for any student who has had their lives changed by some of the teachers and may not see their mentors again.

I feel bad for the teachers who have to scramble to find new jobs and new Principal Catherine Klod. This decision has practically reduced her to Principal-For-A-Day status.

But, I’m the sports guy and this is the sports section and I am also feeling sorry for the players who have to deal with all of this dread during a great season.

The basketball announcer at the Pride’s games, Pat Griffin, is a barrel of optimism that the school will not close. During the senior night celebration, he gave a rousing couple of minutes of yelling and trying to get everyone involved.

“I want you to write to Oprah Winfrey!” he bellowed to hundreds of parents and students. “I want you to write to Ellen DeGeneres! I want you to write to Gloria Steinem! To Jane Fonda…I know you young girls are looking at me because you don’t know them…but they are all people who are powerful women.

“You know what? There has to be a chance! There has got to be a chance! So I want everybody to do their homework and look up these names and write to them. Parents, play the lottery. Whatever you can do. Whatever you can do to save this for these girls. Right?  Will you do that for me?’’

The sentiment was loud. But insiders quietly are highly doubtful the school will be opening back up again in August.

Senior Jessica Potter was a freshman at Mt. Assisi when the Lemont school closed down and she has some experience with the heartbreak of a school shutting the doors.

“It’s possible (to have Peace saved) but I’m trying not to get my hopes up that much,” she said. “We tried so hard to keep Mt. Assisi open but it just didn’t work. Maybe this will be the second chance.’’

In the event that doesn’t happen, there is one alternative happy ending that Potter and her pals who came from the shuttered Lemont school can offer to the Peace students who are feeling blue right now.

The next school might actually work out even better. It worked for them. The ex-Assisi students never knew how well things would have turned out at Mt. Assisi, but some of them do know their time at Peace was successful and fun.

“A lot of Peace students are upset because they don’t want to leave their friends from here,” Potter said “They want to try their best to go to the same school. The Mt. Assisi girls that came here are being really supportive and being there for them because they knew what they felt.

“After freshman year when I came here, I made a lot of new friends,” Potter said. “I feel like that’s going to happen to them. They will make new memories at the new school they go to.’’

If Peace cannot be saved, that would be something worth yelling about.

SXU football team signs a veteran -- literally

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo courtesy of Conor McHale

Conor McHale, a former Marist High School football player and Marine, signed up to play at St. Xavier University. 

Football practice is usually pretty tough and college football practices are not considered easy.

But St. Xavier University has a recruit who may not find them as daunting as perhaps some other new players.

Conor McHale is one of five athletes to sign with the Cougars last week and the 23-year-old Marist graduate has already been through basic training with the Marines and has been deployed in the Middle East three times.

Now the Alsip native is back home and looking for an education. He also wants to try his hand at football again. He has no dreams of an NFL career. But he wants to play on the college level.

“My main focus is school obviously,” McHale said. “I’m a little too old to be playing games. Realistically, it’s time to focus on school but I also wanted that aspect of sports back in my life. Sports and the military intertwine pretty well. You have the work ethic and the general nature of the camaraderie in both of them.

“I want to surround myself with that again.’’

The 5-foot-10, 210-pound outside linebacker candidate said he was a starting nose guard for Marist’s 2009 team that took second in the state in Class 8A when he was a junior and that RedHawks assistant coach Mike Brennan helped broker talks with SXU coach Mike Feminis.

McHale was not able to play football during his five-year military career so he is not sure what to expect this season.  

“I’m not going to go into the season with any expectations,” McHale said. “I’m going into the season with an open mind. I’ll work for a spot just like anyone else.’’

Feminis is happy to have someone with McHale’s background on the squad.

 “Although he hasn’t played since his high school days at Marist, he is coming to SXU to earn his degree and play some football,” SXU football coach Mike Feminis said. “We can’t thank the men and women who serve our country enough for their sacrifices, so having a guy like Conor on our team is really special.’’

The Cougars also signed Evergreen Park running back Eric Williams Jr., a two-year starter.

“We’re ecstatic to land Eric,” Feminis said. “He is really quick and similar to (current SXU running back) Jamarri Watson, who had an excellent season for us.’’

Others signed were wide receiver Elliott Pipkin (Oswego), quarterback Luke Nolan (Crystal Lake South) and linebacker Patrick Olson (Valparaiso, Indiana).

 

Marist students create FAN-demonium at Benet

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick

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Photo by Aaron FitzPatrick

Marist senior Tom Englehart (wearing No. 55) directs the Marist student section Friday night at Benet.

The Marist boys and girls basketball teams both wore their game faces last night as they swept league rival, Benet, on the road in Lisle in key East Suburban Catholic Conference league games.

And their student section wore their game jerseys. The high-energy fans represented over 20 different teams from five sports while still loudly representing their beloved RedHawks as the girls came up with a RedHawks 64-45 win over the two time Class 4A champion Redwings while the boys followed suit with a 49-45 win.

The spirited student section donned local staples such as the Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs and their own Marist jerseys. They wore popular college jerseys such as Duke and Kentucky. And they even showed a bit of sports sophistication with some creative throwback jersey’s like a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar UCLA jersey. While Lew Alcindor would have been more accurate, the sentiment was there. There was even a form fitting Marist wrestling jersey on display.

“We’ve done a lot of things in the past. We figured a ‘Jersey Theme Night’ where you just rep whatever your favorite team or sport is. Just something simple,” said Marist senior Tom Englehart. “It’s not too hard to pick out your favorite jersey, wear it to a game and cheer on the (teams).”

He led the raucous bunch in a variety of chants and cheers throughout the night and even led the gang in some halftime stretches to stay loose for the rest of the night.

“We’ve got a repertoire of different cheers to go with so we’ve always got something cooking,” said Englehart.

The RedHawks had plenty of whatever Englehart and the Marist students were cooking.

The girls game gave coach Mary Pat Connolly a rare road win against the two-time defending state champs. Abby Callahan had 17 points for Marist and Julia Ruzevich had 13.

“We haven’t had a win against Benet in maybe four years and we haven’t had a win here in I don’t know how many and I’ve been here for all 15 of them,” said Connolly.

The win kept Marist at the top of the ESCC with a 4-0 record and after a tough 55-54 loss to North Lawndale at the Kenwood Shootout, the RedHawks entered this week’s action with a 21-4 overall mark.

 “We played really, really well,” she after the Benet win. “We stepped up our defense to another level.Everybody that was on the floor made key shots. We shot well. We had balanced scoring. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls. From beginning to end, I thought we fought really really hard.”

The student section needed to cook something with a little more spice for the boys game and the RedHawks needed every bit of it with their tight win in the nightcap.

The RedHawks were coming off of their first loss of the season after 19 straight wins three days prior with an overtime setback at Brother Rice. RedHawks fans were eager to see how the team would respond with another tough road game.

“It was a great win to get back on our feet,” said RedHawk guard, Morgan Taylor. “Some guys were a little down after that (Brother Rice) game but we had to come to practice, work hard and really focus on this one.”

Taylor said practices leading up to the Benet game started sluggish but they quickly got the cobwebs out of their heads to focus on the Redwings.

After Marist led by as much as nine, Benet cut the lead to two points with 40 seconds left. It was time for a gut check and the RedHawks responded. Taylor made four of six free throw attempts down the stretch including a big one with 17 seconds left to keep Marist’s advantage at four points.

“We just had to stay confident,” said Taylor. “We just had to play our game and keep up with ourselves.”

Maurice Commander led the RedHawks with 14 points.

After Friday night, Marist, St. Patrick and St. Viator were on top of the ESCC with 4-0 marks. For those looking ahead, Marist will host St. Viator Feb. 10 and St. Patrick Feb. 17.