Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Red Stars hope for bigger kick with return to Toyota Park

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




In an area such as this, where professional teams such as the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks have such a stranglehold on sports fans, it’s hard to break in and survive.

So when a new venture of a women’s soccer team popped up in 2009, I have to admit that I figured it would last three or four years before dissolving like many other sports ventures that dared to go up against the big five.

But the Chicago Red Stars are still around. They have gone through rocky times and I’m not actually sure how strong and stable the organization is financially, but I do know two things:

1—They are still here.

2—They are coming back home.

The team announced last Thursday that it will play its 2016 home games back at the 20,000-seat Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The Red Stars started there in 2009 and 2010 and left for the 3,000-seat Benedictine University venue in Lisle for the last five years.

Coming home will be like a new beginning for the franchise.

 “In 2016, it’s time to return to our original home – Toyota Park. Our fans and sponsors will now enjoy an exciting game day environment in a major league stadium, while our players and the rest of the teams throughout the NWSL will enjoy the benefits of competing on a world class, natural grass pitch,” said Arnim Whisler, owner of the Chicago Red Stars in a statement.  “It was hard to leave Toyota Park in 2010, but we are thankful for the warm reception and incredible support of Benedictine University and the Village of Lisle over the last three years.  It gave us an intimate and affordable setting as our club and the league have grown.”

Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek said Thursday he is glad to see the Red Stars back in his town.

“Women’s soccer has been growing and we think they can get a couple of thousand fans per game next year,” he said. “This is exciting.’’

The trouble with women’s soccer is that the casual fan only seems to get excited about it when the USA does well in the World Cup.

One selling point for the Red Stars is that the National Women’s Soccer League is so strong that fans will get to see every member of the 2015 World Cup champs on their respective team at Toyota Park in 2016.

Another selling point is the price. Officials say that more than 25 percent of the seating will be priced at $25 or less.

Also, parking will be free.

So in this second go-around at Toyota Park, the organization has a solid game plan.

But what is on the field will be just as important.

In 2009, the Red Stars won their first game of the year and then proceeded to go nine straight games without a win and built up an ugly 451-minute stretch without a goal. That doesn’t put fans in the seats.

The team has changed leagues a couple of times and had some decent seasons in Lisle and is coming off an 8-3-9 season and it made it to the semifinals of the National Women’s Soccer League Tournament. So the product on the field in 2016 should be pretty decent.

The Southwest Regional Publishing group, of which this newspaper is a part of, plans on giving the Red Stars coverage we hope to step up our coverage on the Chicago Fire as well. The Fire has done an outstanding job staying alive despite the big five.

All the ingredients are there for a better experience at Toyota Park for the Red Stars this time.

Will the Red Stars be able to start knocking off one of the big five? That’s highly doubtful.

But if they can put a product on the field that will bring fans back to Bridgeview game after game, perhaps they can carve a nice niche out for themselves and stay around awhile longer.Columnsig924


Reporter-Regional Players of the year: Boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photos by Jeff Vorva

When Sandburg senior Ryan Kozlowski was suddenly brought up to varsity team his sophomore year when the Eagles entered the IHSA state playoffs, the talented underclassman got a taste of varsity action on a higher stage.

That experience stoked Kozlowski’s desire to be the best and two years later, he has been named the Reporter/Regional’s first Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

In 2015, Kozlowski scored a team-high 16 goals and helped Sandburg capture a regional championship before the team was denied further advancement on a rain-soaked field against rival Andrew in the sectional.

“I’ll never forget how excited I was with that experience as a sophomore and being able to play during an important part of the season,” Kozlowski said. “I had lots of club experience, but you learn so many parts of the game when playing varsity soccer. I’ve learned so much in the past two years.”

Kozlowski said that as a senior leader, he also learned the value of friendship with just about every player on the varsity squad this season.

“I only knew a couple of the guys on the team at the beginning of the season, and I know I’m happy to say that I’m pretty good friends with all of them,” he said. “This was a great group of guys to play with and go to battle with.

“We proved all season that we were a team that could battle back and was always in the game.”

Kozlowski said a great deal of his success is attributed to the guidance of head coach Desi Vuillaume, who said Kozlowski led by example.

“Not only did coach show me how to be a better player, he showed how me to class act off the field as a well as on,” he said.

--Anthony Nasella




One of Sandburg freshman Hannah Kilbane’s biggest accomplishments on the golf course this fall was relatively quiet.

The Eagles were at the Marian Catholic Class AA Regional at the Lincoln Oaks course in Crete and fired a 302. Emilyee McGiles was the talk of the tournament by winning the tournament with a 68.

The oohing and aahing over the dominance shown by the team and McGiles overshadowed an amazing nine-hole stretch by Kilbane, who followed up a front-nine 40 with a stunning back-nine 32.

Kilbane’s other accomplishments were not so silent. She won the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue title (shooting a 79) and was the top Eagles scorer in their second-place finish (73) in sectional play and sixth-place finish in the state tournament (164 in two rounds).

The freshman was named the first Reporter/Regional Girls Golf Player of the Year.

It was not the easiest situation to come into. Two years ago, the Eagles qualified for state for the first time in school history and they finished 11th. In 2014, the Eagles took fifth in the state and while they had plenty of talent back, they lost an ace in graduated Frankie Saban.

During an undefeated dual season, the Eagles had shared the wealth with seemingly a different player leading the team every match.

Little did the St. Michael graduate know that she would become such a postseason force. She said she felt welcome right away.

“It’s been really fun because my team has really been awesome,” she said. “No one put any pressure on me. I put pressure on myself because I really wanted to do well.’’

Kilbane said she started getting serious about golf four years ago and has participated in United States Kids Golf events. But her debut as a freshman was anything but kidding around.

--Jeff Vorva





One game.

That’s all Sandburg freshman Anna Loureiro lost at the Sandburg Sectional in October and that came against Stagg freshman Karolina Wolowiec.

The young sectional champion advance to the Illinois High School state tournament and won her first two matches, which put her in the top 32. Although she lost her next two matches to bow out of the tournament on the second day, her finish was the best in the area and the start of what could be an amazing prep career as she is named the first Reporter/Regional Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

Since the end of her first high-school season, Loureiro went back to the United States Tennis Association circuit. She competed a tournament in Dayton, Ohio in late November and is ranked No. 213 in the nation among 14-year-olds. She has a 60-31 mark in USTA competition and said that her biggest accomplishment was finishing second at a Level II tournament two years ago.

After facing some of the best players in the country during the offseason, she was able to go 26-6 in her first season for coach Brian Ostrander at Sandburg.

“I didn’t think I would do this well,” she said. “I tried not to put too much pressure on myself. Even though the players are older, I expect the best from myself.’’

She said she’s played serious tennis for six years. After she found out she had a knack for playing badminton when she was eight, she decided to give tennis a chance because it was more of an intense sport.

She said she fell in love with the sport because of its individual nature.

“I love how it’s just me on the court and no one else,” she said. “Even though it’s really intense, it’s just me and all I can do is rely on myself.’’

--Jeff Vorva




When the Chicago Christian boys golf team advanced to the IHSA Class 1A state finals this past season, it was the first time junior Pete Vos had ever competed on such a prominent stage.

And the way Vos and his teammates performed at the state finals – with the team finishing fifth and Voss placing 10th individually – it would have been easy to mistaken the group for a team which competed in the finals before.

And that’s what made Vos’ performance all the more impressive as he shot a 79 on day one and concluded with an 81 on day two at state and earned the Reporter/Regional’s first Boys Golfer of the Year honor.

“We all just wanted to go down there and have fun and also represent the name of our school,” Vos said. “I knew it was going to be a unique opportunity, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the competition would be tough, and I definitely didn’t expect to golf so well.”

But to hear Chicago Christian head coach Colin Brookyse tell it, he wasn’t very surprised of Voss’ success this season.

“He’s been our No. 1 golfer all year, and he’s averaged about a 38 for nine holes all season” Broekhuis said. “He was so consistent and is very laid back on the golf course. He and our No. 2 golfer (fellow junior) Nate Kamp both love golf and love coming to practice. They golf all summer long.’’

Vos said he was grateful for where he finished at State but said he had his focus on a loftier height at the state meet.

“The place was great, but I was more focused in honoring the Lord Jesus Christ in what I did,” he said. “It was a memorable experience.”

--Anthony Nasella


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- SWSC super football conference could be super confusing

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Pay attention, class.

There may be a quiz later.

I was good at general math but not algebra. And the new SouthWest Suburban Conference football schedule for next year and beyond have me scratching my head.

Here’s the deal.

The conference has 16 schools broken into two divisions. The Blue has eight of the biggest schools and the Red has the other eight.

Joliet Central and Joliet West will leave the Blue to join the South Suburban Prairie Conference and Lincoln-Way North is leaving the Red because the school is closing down.

This is the easy part. If you take away three from 16, you have 13 teams left. I get that.

But here’s where the powers that be throw a little curveball when it comes to next year’s football schedule and possibly beyond that.

Instead of having one division with seven teams and one with six (like they will be doing for most of the other sports such as volleyball, basketball and wrestling) the SWSC officials decided to have one big 13-team super conference for football.

The trouble is, there are nine weeks to play football during the regular season.

This is where it starts to feel a little like algebra in my mind.

Bradley Bourbonnais Athletic Director Mike Lehning, who is the conference representative, tried explaining it to me recently.

“Who you play is based on a combination of size of the school and your record in the conference for the last four years,” he said. “You obviously can’t play everybody. It’s 50-50 based on the size of your school and your record as to how tough your schedule it.’’

But the schedule won’t be 50-50.

Some schools will play seven conference game and some will play six.

“If it happens that a team is 7-0 and a team that is 6-0, we will have conference co-champs,’’ he said.   “Some crazy things will have to occur for that to happen, but it could. Same if one team is 6-1 and a team is 5-1.’’

It’s a little like the old Big Ten Conference or even the current East Suburban Catholic Conference where no one plays everyone.

The two local teams in the league – Sandburg and Stagg – have interesting schedules.

Sandburg has six conference games. The Eagles will open the season with two non-conference games and will play Thornton the third week, Bolingbrook, Stagg, Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way East, a  non-conference game week eight and finish the regular season against Lincoln-Way West.

Stagg will play two non-conference game and dive into a seven-game conference schedule by playing Bolingbrook, Lincoln-Way West, Sandburg, Thornridge, Thornwood, Lockport and Andrew.

Some teams will have holes in their conference schedules.

“One team will be out every week,” Lehning said. “Some schools will have to find non-conference games during the season. What’s lucky is that there are other conferences in similar situations. The DuPage Valley Conference is one. The Big 12 --- which is between Peoria and Danville – doesn’t have 12 teams. They are looking for games in the middle of their conference season.

“I’m not speaking for the other schools in our conference, but those are other conferences with teams available. We have Urbana in week 7.  For us, that will work. I don’t know where the others are going.’’

He said this setup will “go on as long as we have an odd number in the conference.’’

When it comes to the other sports in which all 13 conference members have teams, it will continue to be broken up into the Blue and Red.

In 2016-17, the Blue will feature Sandburg, Stagg, Lockport, Bolingbrook, Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East.

The Red will have Lincoln-Way Central, Bradley, Andrew, Thornton, Thornwood, Lincoln-Way West and Thornridge

That’s the easy math.

The tricky part is that it will likely change in 2017-18.

Right now, the conference teams are broken up by enrollment figures from this school year so they can get rolling on finishing up the schedule.

But 2017-18 will be using the enrollment figures from 2016-17, which are expected to be different.

 “The numbers of enrollment are going to change,” Lehning said. “Because North won’t exist, all the populations in the Lincoln-Way schools will increase. We won’t know those numbers until next fall. So this is a one-year deal.’’

Got all that? Good. The quiz will be coming shortly.

When I stop scratching my head.

 What’s in a name?

I once went to high school with a kid named Ronald McDonald and knew another kid named Richard Nixon.

They were named long before Ronald was a clown and Nixon was not a crook.

Both kids received some commentary from their peers for most of their lives and let me make this perfectly clear, it was not all flattering.

I once covered a basketball game in which the coach smartly used his nickname. Chuck Manson sounds a lot easier on the ears than his given name – Charles Manson.

This year, I saw a couple of names pop up in the world of high school basketball from a couple of players who probably enjoyed their names a lot more than they do now.

In Libertyville, there is an emerging star named Drew Peterson.

At Morgan Park Academy, one of the top scorers is Isis Rodriquez.

Tough times to have those names.

 Players of the Year revealed

Is football finally over?

OK, now we can finally run our fall athletic Player of the Year stories. Anthony Nasella and I have been busy getting these bad boys together and we are recognizing the best of the best in nine sports including eight that we’ve never given postseason recognition to.

We have four on our front page this week.

Next week, look for our Player of the Year winners in boys cross country, girls cross country and girls swimming.

Finally, on Dec. 24 we will run our girls volleyball and football Player of the Year stories.

And I am already digging into the vaults for our top 10 sports stories of the year for 2015, which will run Dec. 31, and have gotten through June and already nine stories have jumped out at me. A lot has happened since then so it’s going to be a year in which it’s going to be hard to choose.

That’s what makes it frustrating.

And that’s what makes it fun. 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Loyola had scrambled a lot of good teams this year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



DeKALB -- “Screw em’.’’

That was what one of the Marist assistant football coaches told his troops after the RedHawks were soundly beaten 41-0 at the hands of Loyola in the IHSA Class 8A state championship game Saturday night.

The coach was referring to the attitude to take from any criticism that the players may receive for their poor performance in the title game after putting up such a great effort to get to that game.

I won’t sugarcoat it. The RedHawks laid something on the Huskie Stadium field that could be fried, boiled, scrambled or turned into an omelet.

This was the first time under coach Pat Dunne’s watch that the team has been shut out. The team was last blanked in the fourth week of the 2007 season, 55-0 by Joliet Catholic, and ran off 96 straight games of scoring at least seven points before this game.

The trouble is that there were thousands of people all across the state watching this game on television and they saw the worst of Marist against a team that has been making good teams look bad all year.

Ever hear of Milwaukee Marquette? That team finished 10-3 this year and made it to the state semifinals in Division 1 in Wisconsin. Not a bad team. The Ramblers beat Marquette 35-0 to open the season.

Maine South is traditionally a state power. The Ramblers gave the Hawks their worst beating of the year, 49-8 in the second game of the season.

Brother Rice was up next. The Crusaders came into the game whipping Michigan power Brother Rice of Bloomfield Hills, 56-20 and Crete Monee (which finished second in Class 6A) 49-21 in the first two games of the season. Loyola beat the Crusaders 28-0 for Brother Rice’s worst loss of the season.

Notice a trend here? This wasn’t some cream puff the RedHawks were playing.

Loyola was beating the stuffing out off almost everyone it played including a 49-21 win over Mt. Carmel and a 56-14 win over St. Rita, which admittedly had a down year but it’s still St. Rita.

It appeared maybe there would be a chink in the Rambers’ armor when they barely beat one of the strongest teams in the state, Homewood-Flossmoor, 34-28 in the quarterfinals on Nov. 14 and survived Palatine, 24-22 in the snowy semifinals on Nov. 21.

But on Saturday, the familiar Ramblers were back and Marist was on the receiving end of another Rambler pounding.

Those who only saw Marist play in this game did not see the whole picture.

The RedHawks made it to the playoffs with a 5-4 regular season mark and paid for their sins by drawing the 23rd seed out of 32 teams.

They first knocked off East Suburban Catholic Conference champ and 10th seed Niles Notre Dame for the second time this season, 17-14.

Then they beat seventh-seeded Barrington, 59-56 in the highest scoring Class 8A playoff game in history. It wasn’t a very fundamentally sound football game but few games could match it for its excitement and quarterback Brendan Skalitzky accounted for 633 rushing/passing yards and the team needed every one of them.

In the quarterfinals, it was another rollercoaster ride on the road with 15th-seeded Oswego and it took a Rob Topps III interception with 40 seconds left to preserve a 38-35 victory.

The semifinals saw another upstart team, 30th-seeded Waubonsie Valley, come to town and the RedHawks pulled off a 31-16 win and the players celebrated by jumping into snow drifts.

Those four games are unforgettable for anyone who saw them.

Those four games showed what Marist was made of this year.

And for anyone who squawks at the RedHawks for getting embarrassed to a team that humiliated the likes of Maine South, Mt. Carmel, Brother Rice, St. Rita and others…

That assistant coach had two words that said it best.

Painful from the start

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 M 25 option 2 crop tight around kid and sign

Photo by Jeff Vorva

The first play of the game went wrong for Marist as Darshon McCullough injured his right ankle during a kickoff scrum and, after missing the first offensive series, said the injury affected his running during a 41-0 loss to Loyola in the Class 8A state championship game.


DeKALB -- The Marist crowd was fired up.

The players were yelling.

The coaches were hollering and gesturing.

The big game was ready to go.

It was show time.

The IHSA Class 8A State Football Championship was about to begin with underdog Marist, seeded 23rd taking on No. 1 Loyola. The RedHawks were ready to receive the kickoff and try to establish things early. But on the kickoff return, 10 Redhawks came out of the scrum and one, senior Darshon McCullough, collapsed on the frozen Huskie Stadium turf with an ankle injury that kept the running back/receiver out of the lineup for the first series – a quick three-and-out.

The rowdy crowd got quiet for a few minutes while their star back was prone. That wasn’t the way the RedHawks wanted to start. The tone was set and bad things kept happening to Marist all night in the 41-0 setback Saturday night. The RedHawks had gone 96 straight games without being shut out until that contest.

McCullough played in the game and put up some good receiving numbers (six catches for 113 yards) but only ran the ball once for a seven-yard gain as the RedHawks were held to minus-two yards of rushing on the night.

Would a 100 percent healthy McCullough have made a difference? That’s debatable but his tender right ankle and the Ramblers’ Fort Knox-like first-string defense made life miserable for the RedHawks in the title game.

“I’m not sure what happened – I think somebody bumped into me and I just landed wrong on my ankle,” said McCullough, who entered the game with 607 yards rushing and 1,003 yards receiving. “It did affect me, but I had to have a mental toughness.

When I first hurt it, I thought it was worse than I expected.’’ The usually high-octane Marist offense was held to 174 yards and 116 of them came on the final two drives of the game during the running clock after Loyola (14-0) took a 41-0 lead.

Meanwhile the Marist defense had fits with the balanced Ramblers attack as Loyola had 208 yards on the ground and 195 in the air. Quarterback Emmett Clifford threw for 195 yards and a touchdown and added a rushing touchdown. Dara Laja, who entered the game with 1,702 yards for the Ramblers, ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jack Marwede carried the ball two times for three yards resulting in two touchdowns.

Marist (8-5) upset No. 10 Niles Notre Dame, No. 7 Barrington and No. 15 Oswego to get to the 8A semis and beat 30th-seed Waubonsie Valley to get to DeKalb. Few thought the team would get this far.

“The last five weeks sums up this group of seniors,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “What they’ve done and how they’ve done it showed resilience, perseverance and determination. That will not only help them this year but throughout their career. This is a special group that will be successful throughout their lives. “It hurts now, but they learned some life lessons.’’

Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky was bottled up most of the night as he was sacked five times. He was 13 of 32 for 176 yards and an interception. He ran 13 times for 17 yards. On the season, he finished with 3,705 yards passing and 1,084 yards rushing for 4,789 total and accounted for 47 touchdowns.

“They were fast and that was the best defense we’ve seen,” the senior signal caller said. “This was a season I will never forget. I’m proud of our guys and we never gave up. We made it to the state championship. “We didn’t get the ultimate goal but I’m still proud of our team.’’