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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Let's get ready to capture some exciting moments

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

 

Greetings, sports fans.

I promise you we’re going to have some fun.

My name is Jeff Vorva and I am the new sports editor of the Southwest Regional Publishing, which covers 12 high schools and three colleges for the Reporter and Regional News and 11 high schools for five other newspapers in Chicago and the suburbs.

First, a little about me.

I started out as a sportswriter in 1977 when I was in high school. I did it for 30 years -- including 10 years of covering the Cubs – before doing mostly news from 2008 until now. I’ve covered a lot of area sports over the years and have two kids who have played high school sports so I know the perspective of a parent all too well.

I may be the new guy to this section, but my driver’s license suggests I am no new guy.

After talking with the big bosses at our company, we agreed to take a new approach and philosophy to the way sports will be covered in the seven papers including this one.  We want to be proactive and not reactive.

Like many weekly papers in the country, we come out on Thursday. Most people are getting excited for the games coming up over the weekend, which are 24-to-48 hours away. Yes, it’s nice to highlight last week’s games, but that shouldn’t be the main focus.

For the first time in a long time, we are having reporters actually out there covering games. Being at the games, and not just relying on phone calls from coaches, gives reporters flavor, emotion, the ability to monitor injury situations and gain extra insight that you just can’t get when you are not there. It sounds simple – Journalism 101 – but that’s been lacking I company-wide and we are changing that.

If we’re not at the game, we can’t capture the emotions from Friday’s come-from-behind Richards win.  We also want to quote more athletes in our stories when possible.

Minor sports are going to get more play. Football and basketball will be king, but last week, Sandburg’s nationally-ranked cross country team graced the front page along with a story about Brother Rice’s football team. This week, Evergreen Park’s swimming team was featured for its workout/tribute to 9/11.   

A good story is a good story whether comes from a football stud or a 98-pound badminton player. We would love to tell them all.

We’ll try to tackle some issue stories. During my tenure as Reporter editor, I wrote about the possibility of the IHSA voting to disband football conferences, including the storied Catholic League. Already I am thinking about a future piece on how some football-heavy schools are not even fielding sophomore teams this year because the numbers are down.

Oh, and when it comes to non-high school sports?

Youth sports, bowlers, beer-league softball players, golfers, stock car racers and other area athletes can all submit their news to us via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  We are not taking faxes, but we’ll take phone calls at 708-448-6161 for anyone with tips on athletes or teams we should know about. This isn’t just about high school and college sports.

This column will usually appear in this section weekly and if you read me the past three years in the Regional and Reporter, you know that anything goes. I hope to keep it mostly local but if there is something on my mind on the state, national or professional level, I’ll probably be barking about it. Or laughing about it.  

So get ready. Things are going to change and we’re not going to please everybody. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere but we’re going to be physically at more events than we ever were.

 We are going to try to be as compelling and fun as possible week and week out.

Now let’s get to work…

EP's swim team's mighty 9/11 tribute

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 EP WORKOUT

 

Submitted photo

 Bridget Donoghue, left, and Grace O’Toole of Evergreen Park get some lifting in during a tribute to 9/11 last Wednesday.

Pooped and proud.

That’s how some members of the Evergreen Park girls swimming and diving team felt last Wednesday felt after a morning workout.

It wasn’t just a typical workout.

It was a special – and very challenging – workout that coach Sarah Marshall put the 30 members of the program through.

The athletes did a Hero Workout of the Day in honor of Friday’s 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attack of the Twin Towers in New York, which caused major death and destruction.

Because the Mustangs were in between Thursday and Saturday meets on the actual anniversary, they couldn’t work out Friday. So they chose Wednesday.

Marshall, who is also a coach at Stone Age Crossfit, devised a program that featured a 2,001-meter run (the attacks happened in 2001), 11 box jumps, 11 thrusters at 45 pounds, 11 burpee pullups, 11 power cleans at 75 pounds (in memory of Flight No. 175) 55 reps of other lifts and exercises and one more 2,001-meter run. The session lasted more than an hour.

“I was pretty tired and I was pretty proud with what she accomplished,” senior captain Kali Pytel said. “We all got through it. We’re all pretty strong, I think. We wanted to do well and to stay motivated.’’

“I was dead tired,” senior captain McKenna Moran added. “I was really exhausted. Mostly my arms were hurting. But I was fine throughout the day. I’m used to rough mornings.’’

The swimmers don’t want to forget an event that they really don’t remember.

The senior captains have heard a lot about the attacks, but don’t remember it firsthand.

 “I was three and the only thing I remember is my mom told me that she had to pull us out of preschool early,’’ Moran said.

Marshall said she was “overjoyed” one of the swimmers came up with the idea.

“Not only are very difficult and grueling workouts, but they are so meaningful and powerful to do because you know you can't give up or slow down [because you are] thinking of who you're honoring during the workout,’’ the coach said. “The girls also coordinated to all wear red, white and blue during the workout to honor our country and the sacrifices so many make for our freedoms.

“I thought it was pretty amazing of my girls to want to do the workout and do it with pride. The memory of September 11 is so near and dear to my heart, like so many Americans, as my husband is a US Marine and has served our country in the aftermath of 9/11. I might be biased because of my thoughts on how important it is to never forget what happened that day 14 years ago, or because I think the world of my girls, but I think what they've done is pretty amazing.’’

And the swimmers had some fun with it.

“It was a cool idea and it brought the team together,” Pytel said.

CAPTION –

Submitted photos

WORKOUT 1 –

Everything's Jake after talk with coach

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 COACH and NO 11

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards coach Tony Sheehan gives an encouraging talk at halftime to quarterback Jake Moran. Richards trailed 14-0 at halftime and went on to stun No. 4 Lemont 28-24.

 

Richards junior quarterback Jake Moran engineered an offense that produced no points and seven yards in the first half of Friday night’s game at Lemont.

He even threw an interception to give the Indians, ranked fourth in the state by the Associated Press, the ball at the Bulldogs 1-yard line and Lemont came up with an easy score and led 14-0 at the break.

“I had a horrible first half and I could not complete a pass,” Moran said.

Time for a quarterback change?

Nope.

Time for a talk.

Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan had what could have been the most important two-minute talk of the season with a player so far when he took Moran aside before the start of the third quarter. The result was that the Bulldogs avoided an 0-3 start by stunning the Indians, 28-24. Moran threw three TD passes in the second half and junior running back Anthony Quinn bulled into the end zone with 58 seconds left for what turned out to be the winning score.

Earlier, the coach was face-to-face with Moran during the halftime chat and tapped the side of the player’s helmet when the skull session was over.

“I told him ‘look, I have faith in you – go out and do the job,’ ’’ Sheehan said. “I told him I knew he could do it.  I told him to be calm. Stay calm. I told him to make his reads and we’re going to make plays.’’

“He told me I needed to compose myself,” Moran said. “My offensive line was giving me plenty of time to throw the ball. He told me I had to get it together and in the second half we figured it out.’’

Moran called the Lemont battle a “must win” and the team’s next battle is Friday against unbeaten Reavis in Oak Lawn in the South Suburban Red Conference opener. The Rams beat South Bend (Adams) out of Indiana, 33-27, Chicago Washington, 49-12, and Evergreen Park, 48-21.


“We have to put a full game together because we have a tough one against Reavis,’’ Sheehan said. “We have to put a full 48 minutes together.’’

The Bulldogs, who two years ago finished second in the state in Class 6A, dug themselves a hole when they blew a 23-2 halftime lead against Lincoln-Way North and lost 30-29 in Frankfort. They followed that up with a 35-20 home setback to Geneva and getting down 14-0 at Lemont was not a recipe for a win.

Moran hit Jared Moore with a 27-yard touchdown pass, Nate Gimza with a 76-yard scoring strike and a 77-yard score to William Bridgewater to help the team get back into the game.

In the closing minutes, the Bulldogs were on the Lemont 2-yard line.

In Week 1, Moran and his offense were in a similar situation as the team opted for a 2-point conversion against Lincoln-Way North and was Moran was stopped short.

This time the ball went into the hands of what some people on the Richards sidelines are calling the “Mighty Quinn.’’

“It was definitely a similar feeling,” Moran said. “After that first game, our O line wanted to run a dive play. We knew we had to get the ball to Quinn. He’s the hardest worker on this team and we knew he would come through for us.’’

“I was thinking ‘I gotta score,’ ’’ Quinn said. “I had to find the gap and go.’’

Nationally ranked Sandburg CC team nearly knocked off by Lyons

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 Max

 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandburg’s Max Lehndhardt’s third place finish at Lyons helped the nationally ranked Eagles win by one point on Saturday.

 

“THIS MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

Those are the words – capital letters and all – that appeared at the top of Sandburg’s boys cross country running blog written by Eagles assistant coach Tom Novak in late August. The Eagles were getting some preseason plaudits from the internet and they weren’t small. The coach wanted the team to keep things in perspective.

MileSplit USA ranked the Eagles No. 2 in the country behind Christian Brothers Academy of New Jersey. Another national website, Tullyrunners.com, ranked the Eagles third behind American Fork of Utah and Christian Brothers.

The Eagles were able to open the season taking the top eight spots and dominated in the SouthWest Suburban Conference preseason meet. They looked every bit the national power they were hyped up to be.

However, Saturday, the Eagles were nearly knocked off against a team who was not ranked in either national poll. Sandburg sweated out a one-point victory over host Lyons Township in the 12-team Lions Pride Invitational in Western Springs. The Eagles finished with 36 points to Lyons’ 37.

Lyons’ Vince Zona (14 minutes, 50.28 seconds) and Connor Madell (14:55.14) hogged up the first two spots and that put the pressure on the Eagles.

Sandburg’s Max Lehnhardt (14:59.20) was third. Teammates Sean Torpy (seventh), Tom Brennan (eighth) and Chris Torpy (ninth) and Brandon Lukas (12th) were not far behind and finished just high enough to win the meet.

“Lyons ran incredible today,” Lehnhardt said. “We talked about not taking anybody for granted and we really didn’t.”

Still, having that national ranking is a pretty big target.

“Whether we are ranked the No. 1 team in the nation or the last-place team in the nation, it wasn’t going to mean anything to us,” Lehnhardt said. “I guess, sure, it’s cool to see you are ranked high but we’re not going to categorize ourselves in what other people think we’re ranked. We’re just going to focus on what we have to do. That’s all.

“We love the pressure,” he added. “Obviously we’ve done a lot to get to this point and we welcome the pressure.’’

Other Lyons runner scoring points and nearly pulling off the stunner were Danny Kilrea (ninth), Matthew Begeman (10th) and Alex Pall (15th), son of former Evergreen Park star and major league pitcher Donn Pall.

Lyons coach Mike Danner said some his juniors were a little “gun shy” but was happy with the Lions’ performance. He said his team didn’t get caught up thinking about Sandburg’s national rankings.

 “Let me put it to you this way I have expectations and the boys have expectations,” Danner said.  “Usually mine and theirs are pretty close together. That’s the only thing we concern ourselves with. I was happy with what we did but we have some work to do. And we know it.’’

Other notable performers from the area were Stagg’s Jared Tarantino (36th), Marist’s Kyle O’Farrell, and Brother Rice’s Joe Sweeny (50th).

Lyons’ girls dominated with 30 points while Valparaiso was second with 50 points. Sandburg took fourth with 133 points.

Lyons’ Vanessa Flaherty was fourth with an 18:29.72 followed by teammates Hannah Dutler (fifth) Brianna Liddell (sixth), Natalie Jaramillo (seventh) and Megan Ng (eighth).

Sandburg’s top placer was Grace Foley (15th).

 

Unranked Brother Rice racks up 105 points against quality programs

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 BR 8

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice quarterback Cam Miller has thrown for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Crusaders’ first two victories over quality programs.

Brother Rice’s football team was shut out of state and Chicago area preseason polls.

And nationally, Athlon Sports’ Ryan Swartz called the Catholic League Blue conference one of the top 10 in the nation but predicted the Crusaders would be “down” this year. 

The Crusaders tried to make a statement on the field by going up 42-0 and hanging on for a 56-20 home victory over Brother Rice of Michigan, a program with an all-time winning percentage (.753) that is ranked in the top five in Michigan. And the Warriors brought 10 state championship trophies back to their school.

Still, there was no love from the polls.

The players and coaches claim not to pay attention to rankings but the Crusaders made another statement on Friday night with a 49-21 road victory over Crete-Monee, a team that was 77-27 in the past nine years with a Class 6A title in 2012.

These aren’t some sub-par Chicago Public League teams the Crusaders are kicking around, yet they are having trouble finding anyone from outside the South Suburbs to buy in just yet.

The team can change that when it visits Loyola at 1:30 p.m. to open Catholic League Blue play. Loyola was ranked second in the state in the Associated Press Class 8A poll last week. In 2014, Brother Rice beat Loyola, 16-13 during the regular season in Chicago and the Ramblers returned the favor with 31-14 triumph in the Catholic League championship in November.

The mantra around South Pulaski Road is that the polls are useless – especially this time of year.

“We don’t worry about that stuff -- we just move full steam ahead,” Rice coach Brian Badke said. “It doesn’t matter what’s at the beginning, it’s where you are at the end. The kids know that. We have our goals that we want to obtain and we’re always focusing on that.

“None of these guys read the newspapers anyway.’’

Assuming that some do, they will see that their new signal caller, senior Cam Miller of Evergreen Park is racking up some big numbers. Through his first two varsity starts, Miller has thrown for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Like his coach, Miller quickly dismissed talk about being ignored by the pollsters.

“Rankings don’t mean anything to us – we’ll just play our game and hopefully get the wins,’’ he said.

 Miller got two looks at Loyola last year from the sideline and is ready for the challenge.

“Loyola probably has the best defense we will play all season,” Miller said. “They are so fundamentally sound. We’ll have to work hard and hopefully they won’t be able to cover all of us.’’

One of his favorite targets for big plays is Ricky Smalling who has 16 catches for 293 yards and five touchdowns. Branden Houston and Julian Blain are also dangerous receivers and when the Crusaders get tired of throwing the ball, Clifton Taylor can chomp up a few yards.

“It’s unreal how we’re playing – not only just the offense but the defense is playing well, too. Everything is clicking,’’ Miller said. “It’s electric – it’s so much fun.”

 Badke wants his team to play four quarters of strong football and wants a tighter defense against Loyola.

“We just don’t want to take our foot off the accelerator,” Badke said. “I felt we came in focused and scored 21 points off the bat (against Crete). But we took our foot off the accelerator. We can’t do that.  The kids know that. We have a big test coming up on the road.’’