SXU football team signs a veteran -- literally

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


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

Page 1 Marist fans 1 26

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.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: BR baseball and McAuley volleyball make big offseason news

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


What month is this?

Oh, yeah, it’s January.

What high school season is this?

Oh yeah, it’s basketball, wrestling, boys swimming, bowling, girls gymnastics, competitive dance and cheerleading seasons.

I almost forgot thanks to those schools next to each other in Chicago – Brother Rice and Mother McAuley.

They have me all messed up.

These two schools have been making big news in non-winter sports with Rice’s baseball team receiving a historic bid to a national tournament and McAuley still basking in its state and national volleyball championships.

First off, Brother Rice accepted a bid to play in the sixth USA Baseball National High School Tournament March 29-April 1 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.

This is the first time a team from Illinois will compete.

This will be the first time any team from the Midwest will compete.

USA Baseball Executive Directors and CEO Paul Seiler boasted that Bother Rice and the other 15 teams are the top high school programs in the country and will embark intruly a one-of-a-kind competitive and developmental experience for these players and programs." 

Each team is guaranteed four games.

The Crusaders will have a roster of players who are no strangers to travelling as many of them have played all over the country on their travel teams.

The Crusaders had a 35-4 mark last spring and was upset in sectional play by St. Laurence. In the summer they finished second in the Lawler Summer Tournament, which features a healthy amount of quality Chicago area teams.

Ryan Kutt (who committed to Illinois), Ryan King (Michigan State), Jack Guzek (Indiana State), Sam Jones (Indiana) and Jake Ridgway (Indiana State) are big-time players for the Crusders and an army of younger players will be getting huge experience and exposure in this competition.

Weather permitting, the Crusaders will have a few cold warmup games against Whitney Young March 16, hosting Morgan Park March 17, at Plainfield North March 18, at Lyons Township, March 20 and at St. Xavier High School in Kentucky, March 25.

As for McAuley volleyball, the attaboys just keep coming., USA Today/AVCA and MaxPreps named the Macs national champions in December and the honors keep rolling in.

What honor did junior hitter Charley Niego win since last week’s deadline for our paper?

Oh, she just won the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.

Think about this – in all the years McAuley has been great in volleyball, this is the first time a Mighty Mac won the Gatorade award.

She also was a third-team member of the USA Today High School Sports national team.

The team was honored with a resolution at a Cook County Board of Commissioners’’ meeting last week.    

There might be a few more honors and national championship banner ceremonies in store and don’t discount the possibility of seeing these players throwing out a first pitch or singing during the seventh-inning stretch of a Cubs game.

These are exciting times for the two schools.

Now let me check the calendar again…

Crusaders fill in the blank in a big way

  • Written by Phil Arvia



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Mike Shepski shoots what turns out to be the game-tying basket to send Tuesday’s game into overtime, and the Crusaders won, 73-65.


Before Tuesday’s visit from neighborhood rival Marist, Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said his team was in need of a “signature win.”

So among his three keys for the game with the previously unbeaten RedHawks — after “box out” and “compete” — was a blank line.

“I told them, we beat Marist, we come back in here and sign the board,” Frasor said. 

After a 73-65, overtime win before a packed house at Brother Rice, the Crusaders signed their declaration of relevance.

“We got that signature win,” Frasor said. “I kind of feel like it’s a statement that Brother Rice is back.”

If so, the Crusaders (16-3) got back on the backs of Mike Shepski and Josh Niego, who combined for 55 points. Four days after scoring 22 points in a 65-45 win Friday over Mount Carmel, Shepski had 29 and hit 6-of-8 3-point attempts on the way to breaking Sean O’Reilly’s career mark at Rice.

Shepski, who now has 197 3-pointers to O’Reilly’s 195, broke the mark as Brother Rice scrambled back from five points down in the final 40 seconds of regulation. At that juncture, he hit a 24-footer from the wing, and with five seconds remaining he banked in an off-balance leaner after faking one defender off his feet to force overtime.

Shepski calls those not-quite-textbook efforts “Dirk-like shots,” after inventive NBA big man Dirk Nowitzki.

“I try to be diverse in my shots,” he said. “But I wasn’t thinking about me being the guy to break the record, to make the big shots.

“Guys like Josh (Boulanger) and (Brendan Coghlan) stepped up for us and made some really big shots tonight.”

Coghlan had 10 points in regulation, taking and making one 3-pointer and each of the last three quarters. Boulanger converted a crucial three-point-play with 55 seconds left in the overtime after a driving Niego dropped him a pass on the low block, giving Rice a lead, at 67-65, they’d not relinquish.

That was after Niego (26 points) opened the extra period with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and a pair of free throws. Marist (19-1) rallied to tie on a three from Morgan Taylor (18 points) and runner from Maurice Commander (12).

Then Niego found Boulanger for a layup, the RedHawks’ Justin Brown fouling out while going for the block.

“I got bumped, I saw Brown coming out to block my shot, so I threw Josh the pass,” Niego said. “In practice I’ll drop them to him and he’ll miss. As long as he makes them in the games.”

Without Brown, who scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added 19 rebounds after scoring 17 with 15 boards in Marist’s 56-53 Friday win over Marian Catholic, the RedHawks went scoreless the rest of the way.

While the loss might impact Marist’s postseason seeding — both the RedHawks and the Crusaders are in the Thornwood Sectional — coach Gene Nolan was unconcerned.

“It was a game of big shots,” he said. “Our kids made some, their kids made more.

“Shepski and Niego are really good, they’re really difficult covers. We’ll get better for playing this game.”

In the immediate aftermath, of course, all the positives were flowing Rice’s way. Even O’Reilly, now a freshman coach at the school, was happy on the night his record fell.

“There’s no better scenario than this,” O’Reilly, a 2008 graduate, said. “Mike’s a great player, a hard worker, and I was 0-3 against Marist. It’s perfect.”

“Our signature win,” Shepski said. “One I’ve waiting for. I loved our team last year — we played hard, and we’d hang around — but we’d end up losing close games to good schools.

“This was awesome.”


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Marist/Rice is nice but about this Marist/Benet doubleheader...

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



The Brother Rice-Marist boys basketball game is usually one of the most intense and exciting events of the season, whether the game lives up to the hype or not.

It did Tuesday.

The two teams battled in front of a loud crowd at Brother Rice and you would be hard pressed to find a more exciting atmosphere in games involving area teams. Brother Rice pulled off the 73-65 overtime win.

But Friday night…

I’m not sure too many events can top a Brother Rice-Marist game but this event will give it a run for its money.

Benet Academy is hosting a basketball doubleheader against Marist with the girls game starting at 6 p.m. and the boys scheduled to start right after that.

That’s a lot of excitement in Lisle. Better than a Rice-Marist matchup? It has the ingredients.

Times two.

Some of these girls/boys doubleheaders have mixed matchups. You might have a really good potential battle followed by a dog. You might have a couple of dogs. You might have a couple of good games.

But this? I don’t know if I could hype this twinbill enough. All four teams are great and, while it’s just one game in the middle of a regular season, there are postseason seeds to plant.

Last year, Benet’s boys took second in the Illinois High School Association state tournament in Class 4A for the second time in three years.

Heading into this week’s action, Benet was 12-5 overall and 1-2 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference and has no interest in falling back even further in the league. It nearly beat Simeon in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament finale in late Decmber.

Marist opened the week 19-0 and was tied with St. Patrick and St. Viator at 3-0 for the league lead.

If that enough isn’t enough of a storyline, Benet has a kid named Jack Nolan, who last Friday scored 35 points – 25 in the fourth quarter!!! – in a 76-73 loss to St. Patrick.

He is the nephew of Marist coach Gene Nolan.

Fun stuff? You bet.

On the girls side, Benet is the two-time defending Class 4A champion and is steamrolling through most opponents in winning 17 of its first 19 games.

Marist opened the season winning 12, losing three and entered this week with a seven-game winning streak.

It will also be interesting to see what the Benet fans will have in store when the RedHawks come to visit.

At last year’s boys game at Marist, a good chunk of RedWings fans game and some students were lifting one of the smaller students up and down.

A few years ago, I was at a game in Lisle when the preppy-dressed-themed students decided to mimic Marist coach Nolan’s moves.

If Nolan put his hand on his chin, hundreds of students put their hand on their chin. If he crossed his arms, they crossed their arms. I’m not sure if they do that for every visiting coach, but it provided some laughs.

So, if you plan on going to either or both games, plan on having a lot of fun.

Girls/boys basketball doubleheaders rarely get as good as this.