Top 10 sports stories of the year unveiled rare treasures

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 perfect

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nicole Nonnemacher of St. Xavier is just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game and strike out every batter she faced.


This year was pretty rare when it came to area sports.

Like most years, it had its share of highs and lows. But for some reason, 2015 featured a fair share of accomplishments that you hardly ever see. Some you may never see again.

To quote legendary coach Bob Hallberg, who made the top 10 list for being the first coach in history to lead a men’s and women’s college basketball program to No. 1 in the nation: “There are very few people in this world that can say they did something that nobody else has done. If you climb Mt. Everest, you are not the only guy who did it. More than one guy have walked on the moon.’’

So, here are the top 10 area sports stories for 2015:

$11.       A perfect afterNonn for SXU pitcher

St. Xavier University junior pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher became just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game while striking out all 15 batters that she faced.

She beat Trinity International University, 9-0 on April 14 in Chicago, striking out 15 and threw 57 pitches – 50 for strikes. TIU hitters made contact just five times and all were foul balls in the 73-minute doubleheader opening game. Thirteen of the 15 strikeouts were swinging and two were called.

The Bloomington native joined Central Baptist Arkansas pitcher Emily Guess, who did it twice in two games in 2011, once in a 27-0 win over Hillside Free Will Baptist (Oklahoma) and once in a 13-0 win over Crowley’s Ridge (Arkansas) four days later.

$12.       Moraine player drafted into the NBA

For the first time in the history of Moraine Valley Community College, a former Cyclones basketball player was drafted by an NBA team.

Richaun Holmes, who played at the Palos Hills school in 2011-12, was drafted in the second round and 37th pick by Philadelphia on June 25.  The 6-foot-9 Holmes moved from Moraine to Bowling Green. Before coming to Moraine, he was a good, but unheralded player at Lockport High School.

“Moraine gave me a running start to hone my skills,” he said. “Nobody (on the Division I level) was knocking at my door).’’

$13.       First in state, fourth in nation

Sandburg’s boys cross country team won its first Class 3A boys cross country state championship in November and one month later, finished fourth in the nation in the Nike Cross Nationals event in Oregon.

For the Eagles, the state win was “surreal” according to senior Sean Torpy, who finished third in the state individual to lead his team. The national finish, however, was not as high as the Eagles wanted as they were ranked No. 1 in the nation by multiple national websites for most of the year.

 “It was a heck of an effort,” Torpy told MileSplit USA after the race. “We were wishing we could finish higher.’’

$14.       Marist’s whirlwind state softball championship

The Illinois High School Association Class 4A state softball championship title game between Marist and Lincoln-Way East was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on June 13.

But an ominous weather forecast for the East Peoria area forced officials to start the game in the morning. By 5:30, players, coaches and fans were in the Marist cafeteria in the middle of a celebration of that morning’s 1-0 victory over East eating cake and celebrating.

One player echoed Torpy’s sentiment on winning the state title.

“The entire experience has been surreal,” said Orland Park’s Brooke Wilson, who was also on the 2012 state title team and became the first female athlete in the school’s history to win two state championships.

$15.       Gold Coyne

Last year, Palos Heights native and Sandburg graduate Kendall Coyne helping the United States hockey team to a Silver Medal in the Olympics was the No. 1 story. This year, she makes it to the top 10 again by helping the U.S. beat Canada, 7-5, to claim the Women’s World Championship in Sweden on April 4.

She had a goal and assist in the Gold Medal game.

She has won three gold medals and a silver medal in world and Olympic competition.

$16.       SXU Women reach No. 1

St. Xavier’s woman’s basketball team picked up the No. 1 ranking in the nation among NAIA Division II schools for the first time in the program’s history on Dec. 8.

Coach Bob Hallberg became the first coach in history to lead a men’s and a woman’s team to No. 1 in the nation. He also coached Chicago State’s men to No. 1 in the nation when it was an NAIA school in 1983.

$17.       Vander Laan’s the man

Former Chicago Christian football star Jason Vander Laan is leaving Division II Ferris State with an armload of records and awards.

The senior quarterback most impressive feat in his final year is that he set the record for most career  rushing yards by a college quarterback. 

Vander Laan finished his career with an NCAA record for any division with 5,953 rushing yards and if the only player in NCAA history to run at throw for at least 1,000 yards in all four years of play.

$18.       Big football scores                              

En route to finishing second in the state in Class 8A, Marist’s football team, which had four losses heading into the playoffs, knocked off Barrington, 59-56, in the quarterfinals in Chicago. The game set an IHSA record for most points in a Class 8A playoff game. Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky accounted for 633 yards and eight touchdowns.

One week later, 16th-seeded St Xavier University nearly knocked off No. 1 Morningside in the first round of the NAIA playoffs and suffered a 75-69 loss in four overtimes. It was the highest scoring playoff game in NAIA history and the second highest score in any NAIA game ever played.

9. Half-Marathon hi-jinx

For the first time in the eight years of the running of the area’s half-marathon and 10K race in Palos Heights a bandit entered the 10K race and won it. The man claimed to be from Cicero and his name was Juan Munoz but he didn’t officially enter the race or pay the fee to run in the May 3rd race.

Race co-director Mel Diab said bandits usually show up in bigger events.

Meanwhile on the women’s side, the half marathon was won by Kailey Green, whose family wasn’t there to see it because they were in downstate Washington moving into their new house after their old house was destroyed by tornado on Nov. 17, 2013.

10. A fixed broken record

Brianna Markusic became Oak Lawn High School’s all-time girls basketball scorer on Jan. 29, but leading up to it, she wasn’t sure whose record she would try to break.

Kathy Krzak owned the record from 1995-99 with 1,235 points. But LaTondra Brooks was deemed the scoring leader by OL officials with 1,448 points, which caused some protest from Krzak’s family because 1,132 of those points came with Oak Lawn from 2011-14 and 316 came as a member of a Missouri varsity team when she was a freshman.

Oak Lawn officials reversed their decision and Krzak, who is married and goes by the last name of Levin, was back to No. 1 and was in the Oak Lawn gym to watch Markusic break her record.