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Moraine enjoys cider celebration after earning third national soccer bid

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Moraine Valley women’s soccer players spray each other with sparkling cider Sunday to celebrate a sparkling 5-2 victory over Waubonsee on Sunday to win the Region IV title and qualify for nationals for the third straight year.

In the first half, there was rain.

After the match, there was champagne.

Well, actually it was Martinelli’s Gold Medal sparkling cider, but it had the same vibe of a champagne celebration Sunday afternoon after Moraine Valley Community College’s women’s soccer team beat Waubonsee 5-2 Sunday in Palos Hills to win the Region IV tournament and advance to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I National Championship for the third year in a row.

Pool play begins Monday in Melbourne, Fla.  As of this paper’s deadline, the field was not seeded.

Moraine is ranked 14th in the nation and brings in a 17-0 mark and this is the third time that third-year coach Al Palar has taken an unbeaten team to the nationals. But the Cyclones were 0-4 and outscored 16-2 in those matches.

Palar thinks that could change this year.

“The last two years we were successful because we had one or two difference makers and quite a few role players,” he said. “This year, we have a complete team. We defend really well and every match we create (offensive) chances and we’ve beaten a ranked team already (Parkland College, 2-1 in overtime on Sept. 2) and that’s the type of team we will see at the national tournament.’’

Palar earned the Region IV Coach of the Year Award and Brooke Janeczek was named the Player of the Year. The freshman who played at Lockport High School scored 25 goals during the regular season for the Cyclones and she said that was a huge surprise.

“I played defense until my junior year and then I played forward and I scored a few goals but this is kind of new for me,” she said. “I didn’t know that this was in me.’’

Janeczak scored two goals in Sunday’s win while freshmen Samantha Moran (Sandburg), Karen Montoya (Eisenhower) and Bedour Elbeitoni (Stagg) also scored goals against Waubonsee.  The Cyclones beat Waubonsee buy the same 5-2 score during the regular season.

Other players on the squad are sophomore Edith Benitez (Reavis), freshman Zaida Chacon (Queen of Peace), freshman Claire Collevy (Marist), freshman Sylvia Kordaczka (Lockport), Zulma Montoya (Eisenhower),   freshman Yesenia Perez (Eisenhower) , sophomore Grace Rollins (Oak Forest), freshman Patricia Rzadkosz (Reavis), sophomore Jillian Steinke (Andrew), sophomore Eve Stolzenbach (Beecher), freshman Abby Tiemersma (Chicago Christian), and freshman Jennifer Warja (Andrew).

Palar grew up in Plainfield and was a four-year starter at St. Xavier University. He helped the Cougars make it to the NAIA nationals his junior season.

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- Long season comes to quick end for Fire

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

A worn out Bastian Schweinsteiger wipes his face after the loss to the Red Bulls. There is some speculation that this was the German star’s final game in a Fire uniform. 

 

Is that all there is?

Really?

Chicago Fire management started re-tooling a roster that had finished with the worst record in Major League Soccer since November.

Then there was the long season from March through October -- a season which saw the team with an 11-3-5 mark on July 5 and tied Toronto with the best record in MLS. A team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. A season in which the Fire drew 20,000 or more fans six times at home. A season that saw the Men in Red seeded third in the East Division and they got to host a playoff game on Oct. 25 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

 

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And about those playoffs?

Is that all there is?

I was kind of hoping the playoffs would be special. But it really wasn’t much of anything. There was an empty feeling after a 4-0 loss to the sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls in front of a so-so crowd of 11,647.

The Fire continued to show that on the Chicago sports food chain, it is a distant fifth. With the exception of the rabid soccer fans on social media, hardly anyone was talking about the playoff game twixt the Fire and New York Red Bulls in the knockout round of the playoff.

Until Sunday, night, we didn’t even know who, what, when and where this game would be played. So I don’t blame the fans for not showing up. There was little heads up.

Heading to the game, I listened to the radio and a WSCR update never mentioned there was even a Fire game being played. Most sports fans in my circles didn’t even know there was a playoff game.

The Fire was most noted for signing German star Bastian Schweinsteiger and he played just 25 minutes in the second half of the knockout game and 44 for the final six games of the year because of injuries. Speculation is that he might not be back next year and this may have been his last game in a Fire uniform.

The other major story of the year was Nemanja Nikolic’s goal explosion as he set a team record and earned the MLS’s Golden Boot with 24 goals. But he, like the team, was blanked in the final regular game of the season (a 3-0 loss to Houston) and the knockout game.

Social media posters, who have been quick to praise the team when things were going well, have been quick to turn on second-year coach Veljko Paunovic because of the way things ended. He took the brunt of the blame for the loss.

“It's my fault obviously it's my fault,” he said. “If there was anyone to blame it's me. We all can do better." 

Promising newcomer Djordje Mihailovic of Lemont went down with an ACL injury that is so bad, he is expected to miss a chuck of next season as well.

So making the playoffs wasn’t all that much fun.

But it was a fun season. I would not trade it for 2016 or any of those losing seasons since the team made the playoffs in 2012. I don’t know if the Schweinsteiger signing was the failure some critics claim it is, but when he was signed March 31, it energized this club and the wins piled up.

Signing Nikolic and Dax McCarty were successes. Losing people such as Michael De Leeuw and John Goossens to injury were tough breaks.

The bottom line is that this team wasn’t built for a championship. It was built to improve and that’s what it did. In that regard, the season was a success.

Now General Manager Nelson Rodriguez will hope to wheel and deal the team up another level.

And what about Basti?

"As Nelson Rodriguez said, we are in talks, we will see, it's the same like with any player here,’’ Schweinsteiger said.

The needle is pointing up on this team, but it’s a crazy league in which successful teams can turn mediocre in one season.

I’ll enjoy the fact that this team went from awful to pretty good in a year and feasted, even if the ending featured a lot of empty calories.

 

Evergreen Park's senior moments help rock Oak Lawn

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

For a second or two, a referee is able to match Evergreen Park’s Jalen Lynch stride-for-stride but Lynch passed the ref and the Oak Lawn defense in a 61-yard run in the Mustangs’ 49-24 shocker over Oak Lawn Friday night. 

 

Four years ago, Evergreen Park’s current seniors arrived expecting one thing, and in the seasons since have mostly gotten something else.

Friday, Oak Lawn visited the Mustangs expecting to make a bit of history, but may have instead become a page in someone else’s scrapbook.

With a wild, 49-24 win on Senior Night, Evergreen Park may not have stolen the Spartans’ mantle as a South Suburban Red team on the rise. But at the very least, the Mustangs, whose seniors saw their forebears go 10-1 when they were eighth graders and reach the 4A semifinals the year before that, sense a reversal of fortunes that had them sliding from 6-4 to consecutive records of 3-6 their sophomore and junior seasons. With Friday’s win, they improved to 3-5 overall, won their first conference battle and broke a five-game losing streak but are not eligible for the Illinois High School Association playoffs.

“We’re not going to make it this year, but in a couple of years we’ll be back in the playoffs,” senior defensive lineman Robert Hicks said. “I feel like our program has definitely taken a step in the right direction.”

“Starting with this game, this is the start of our program — we’re going to be good in the future,” senior wideout Bomani Robinson said. “We lost our playoffs, we wanted to take theirs.”

Indeed, Evergreen Park may have dealt a death blow to the postseason hopes of the Spartans (4-4, 2-3). Oak Lawn last won five games in 2009, the last of its eight playoff berths in the school’s 64 seasons of football.

Now, the Spartans have to beat crosstown rival Richards (6-2, 5-0) to even be considered for an at-large berth, which are awarded based on opponent wins — and Oak Lawn entered the week tied for the lowest such total in its conference.

“We’re making progress,” said third-year Spartans coach Nick Novak, whose first two teams went 1-8 and 3-6. “But sometimes you move a boulder, sometimes a little pebble.”

Evergreen Park rocked it on this occasion. Though Oak Lawn rallied from a 21-7 deficit last year to beat them, this time the Mustangs barely blinked when their 21-3 lead at the 8:27 mark of the third quarter turned into 24-21 deficit 6 1/2 minutes later.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback Jack Manso connected on a deep ball up the hash marks to Trevon Woods, who turned it into a 35-yard touchdown. It was the third touchdown pass of the day for Manso (9-of-19, 277 yards) and gave Evergreen Park the lead for good.

“Jack comes out and plays like he wants to win,” said Robinson, who had touchdown catches of 31 and 24 yards among his six grabs for 172 yards. “He acts more like a senior than most of us on the team.”

In less than five minutes, Evergreen scored three times more to end the suspense: on a 2-yard run by Dave Torres after Oak Lawn botched a punt snap; an eight-yard Myron Harris run; and a 10-yard interception return from Karlton Carpenter.

“It was a perfect Senior Night,” Manso said. “It was the seniors’ last game here.  I love to play good for them — I didn’t want to ruin it for them.”

Manso didn’t, guiding a surprisingly vertical passing attack.

“We haven’t passed in the past like that,” Manso said. “Today, we saw no safety back, so we figured, ‘Hey, let’s throw the ball deep.’”

“We took what they gave us,” EP coach Jerry Verde said. “And they were giving us Bomani on the outside.”

It was probably in an effort to slow Jalen Lynch. The senior running back took Evergreen’s first play from scrimmage 61 yards for a touchdown and finished his day with 180 yards on 18 carries.

Robinson’s first scoring grab, with 4:45 left in the first quarter, made it 14-0. Donal Nugent had a 38-yard field goal to cut it to 14-3 early in the second.

It was 21-3 when the Spartans rallied, scoring on a 56-yard screen pass from Mark Virruso to Nick Puente, a 55-yard return of a blocked field goal by Jalan Gaines and a 10-yard interception return by Jaime Marinez.

Puente, who went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season, finished with 112 tough yards on 27 carries. Virruso went 10-of-19 for 107 yards, but in the Spartans’ option game managed only three yards on the ground.

“Our key was stop (Puente),” Robinson said. “Our next key was stop the quarterback. Read the option, flow to the ball.”

The Mustangs finish their season at Tinley Park. Verde, who won the 2012 6A title at Crete-Monee before moving to his alma mater, Marian Catholic, for three seasons, is grateful for the steps his team has taken in two seasons at Evergreen Park.

“I wish we were playing to get to the playoffs, but we’re not,” Verde said. “Still, these kids have been great. They show up to do the work every day. We’re in a great community that’s really supportive of us — I mean, Week 8, no playoff hopes, the kind of crowd we had, that’s impressive — I feel blessed to be here, truly.”

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- High school football changes could be afoot

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

A proposal could be in the works that would allow football teams with two or more wins into the playoffs. That would help a team like Evergreen Park, pictured, which enters the final week of the season with a 3-5 mark and no shot at the playoffs. 

 

 

Food for thought for those who aren’t very hungry…

While it’s not official yet, word is that come November, the Illinois High School Association will listen to a proposal that would drastically changes the landscape of playoff football.

The idea is that there will be an eight-week regular season instead of nine and that any team with two wins or more gets in. Currently teams that win their conference, win six games or some teams who win five games and are subject to a tiebreaker (most opponents wins) get in.

Those 0-8 or 1-7 teams can optionally schedule each other in Week 9 for an extra game.

Wow!

I can’t tell you how different that would be. We would be starting the playoffs this weekend and a bunch of 8-0 teams would be opening up with 2-6 opponents. There might be some intriguing 4-4 teams playing each other.

I don’t like it or hate it. But it would be a huge shock to the system.

Coaches and athletic directors are getting sick of the problems caused by non-conference scheduling and letting in almost everybody would alleviate some of those problems. Some of the powerhouses might actually find teams in Illinois to play instead of going to other states. Some teams might decide to play tougher non-conference teams rather than bakery pastries without fear of missing the playoffs.

If this proposal goes on the books next month, one expert doesn’t think it will be passed this year.

Tim O’Halloran, also known as Edgy Tim, who is a high school guru on his own website and Comcast, or NBC Sports Chicago or whatever the heck they call themselves these days, told WJOL radio that November might be too late for principals across the state to agree on this, but it could be in play for the 2019 season.

Stay tuned. A year two from now, we could be getting ready for the first round of the playoffs rather than the last week of the regular season.

 I told you so…

Looking back at my preseason baseball picks, I had the Cubs pulling off unlikely back-to-back titles and beating Houston in the World Series.

Heading into this week’s action, I am still able to brag about those picks.

Some of my other brilliant picks? Well…not so brilliant.

I had Boston winning the American League East (yaaaay) but Baltimore as a wild card (booo).

I had Detroit winning the Central (argh) with Cleveland as a wild card (ehhh). And I had Houston winning the West (yaaaaay again!).

In the National League, I had the Cubs winning the Central (yaaay some more) and St. Louis to take a wild card spot (Cubs fans are cheering I got that one wrong). I thought the New York Mets would win the East (yikes!) and the San Francisco Giants to win the West (double yikes!) and Los Angeles to nail the second wild card slot.

Oh, and did I tell you I had the Cubs and Houston in the World Series?

IHSA geography 101

It’s always easy to make fun of the way the IHSA divvies up its postseason tournaments and meets by geography but this one is a doozy. And I don’t even like the word “doozy.’’

Sandburg’s girls tennis team played at the Shepard Sectional and singles events were held at Moraine Valley Community College on Friday while doubles were held at Shepard. Most schools do that. They don’t have enough room to accommodate all the matches, so they go to two sites.

Andrew also held a sectional and split into two sites.  One was at the Andrew campus in Tinley Park. The other was at -- you guessed it – Sandburg.

So Sandburg players left the school for a sectional and while their bus passed the Sandburg court, there was another sectional being played right at their own digs.

 

 

Marist states case by routing previously unbeaten Nazareth

  • Written by Phil Arvia

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

From left, Aiden Hackett, Gavin McCabe and Delonte Harrell celebrate Harrell’s first quarter touchdown in Marist's 42-0 win over previously unbeaten Nazareth.

 

 

For weeks, Marist’s football players had heard the refrain:

“You haven’t played anybody,” junior defensive back Charlie Laurencell recited.

The RedHawks, outwardly, shrugged. But the argument had at least some merit. Only one of their first six foes had a winning record and the last four — victims by a combined 206-47 — had but four wins between them through six weeks.

“No disrespect to our opponents,” quarterback Mike Markett said. “We beat everybody they put in front of us.”

Friday, the schedule put a Somebody, fellow unbeaten and East Suburban Catholic co-leader Nazareth, in front of the Redhawks and Marist ran over the Roadrunners 42-0 in Chicago.

“To go up against a 6-0 team and beat them by 42, that’s one of the best feelings ever,” said Laurencell, who capped the RedHawks’ 28-point first half by diving into the end zone with a 27-yard interception return. “But we know we’ve got more work to do.”

Nazareth coach Tim Racki, for one, is convinced the RedHawks will be working deep into the postseason.

“They’re going to make a long run in the playoffs,” Racki, who coached Nazareth to the 6A state title in 2014, said. “I give all the credit to Marist. It got away from us because that’s a great 8A playoff team over there — they just keep coming at you with their speed and strength.”

Nazareth, with wins over De La Salle, Carmel of Mundelein and Benet Academy, sported a worthy resume and a stingy defense that had allowed an average of 9.6 points per game after starting the season with a forfeit win over Dunbar. But the Roadrunners were no match for the multi-pronged Marist attack.

After driving 72 yards to Marist's eight with their first possession -- and having nothing to show for it but a missed 25-yard field goal attempt -- the Roadrunners fumbled away their only other trip to the Marist red zone.

“They’ve got a powerful line, tremendous skill,” Racki said. “You stop something, they come at you with something else.”

“We like to take what they give us, move fast and step on their throats,” Market said.

Against Nazareth, the first step belonged to Delonte Harrell (20 carries, 102 yards, 3 touchdowns). Harrell scored the RedHawks’ first two touchdowns, a seven-yarder to cap a game-opening drive in which he carried seven times in 12 snaps, and a one-yarder to finish an eight-play drive in which he had five runs.

Markett (10 carries, 105 yards) didn’t find the end zone himself, but while going 9-of-14 for 156 yards he did manage touchdown passes to T.J. Ivy and Jadon Thompson.

Ivy, a West Virginia-bound tight end, bashed his way in from 13 yards out to make it 21-0 with 3:10 to play in the second quarter.

“We can be as good as we want to be,” Ivy, a 6-foot-5, 229-pound senior, said. “We have a lot of weapons. We create mismatches.

“Nobody is going to be able to stop us as long as we play like we can.”

Thompson, a sophomore, got his first touch of the night in the third quarter, when Markett hit him in stride on a deep route over the middle, and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown — his seventh score of the season.

The final Marist touchdown came on a one-yard Harrell run with 5:28 left in the third quarter. A running clock ended Nazareth’s misery quickly thereafter.

For the game, Marist outgunned Nazareth 416-253. The Roadrunners were forced to the air early, quarterback Bobby Grimes finishing 10-of-26 for 158 yards.

“Our guys, they’d heard all that stuff about not being challenged yet,” first year Marist coach Ron Dawczak said. “They were looking forward to this game all week. That was huge.” 

The RedHawks have another tough opponent as they visit Benet (5-2, 4-1) Friday. The RedHawks have not won in Lisle since a 17-14 triumph in 2011.