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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Ho, ho, ho and oh, no, no moments for SXU women's basketball

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Xavier’s Kara Krolicki, who set the school record for most career points on Thursday, tries to get by the Concordia defense on Friday.

 

It’s been a very odd holiday season for No. 1 ranked NAIA Division II team in the country – the St. Xavier University’s women’s basketball team.

There were times the Cougars received bars of goal and times they received lumps of coal in an 11-day stretch to end 2017.

The first bar of gold was when they got to go to Hawaii to play a couple of games. The first lump of coal was when they were shocked by unranked Wayland Baptist University (Texas), 84-77, on Dec. 19 as they committed 22 turnovers.

The second bar of gold came with a 55-52 survival against Carroll (Montana) the next day.  The second lump of coal was that they scored just six points in the third quarter to let Carroll back into the game.

The third bar of gold came Thursday at the Shannon Center with a 105-53 win over Goshen in the SXU Holiday Classic as Kara Krolicki became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,331 points after her 25 performance. The third lump of coal came Friday when the highly anticipated battle with No. 2 Concordia (Nebraska) turned into a rout in a 81-60 loss on the second day of the Holiday Classic and Krolicki was held to three points.

A fourth bar of gold came with the performance of freshman Meg Knutson, who came all the way from Florida to turn up the heat during these single-digit days as she scored 15 points against Goshen and 12 more against Concordia and was given an All-Tournament plaque on her 19th birthday. But she couldn’t totally enjoy the moment because of the blowout loss.

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It was the first time the Cougars lost by 20 or more points since March 13, 2014 when they dropped a 68-43 decision to the College of the Ozarks in the first round of the NAIA National Tournament  -- a span of 119 games.

Veteran coach Bob Hallberg may have forgotten what it’s like to get beaten so soundly, but he had a bad reminder on Friday.

“This wasn’t a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 – it was a battle between No. 1 and No. 30,” Hallberg said.

The next NAIA poll comes out Tuesday and the Cougars will be bumped from the No. 1 spot but might not fall too far down.

Things started out well as they took a 17-9 lead against Concordia (15-0) but then – POW. They committed 28 turnovers, which had Hallberg hot.

“We cannot be that careless with the ball and expect to be in the game,” he said. “And in a big game, your stars have to step up. The stars didn’t step up. Anybody can play against cupcakes. They put a little pressure on us and we acted like we never played basketball before.’’

What’s next for the Cougars (12-2) after being steamrolled and committing 28 turnovers?

They took a couple of days off and were scheduled to be back at practice on Tuesday. Hallberg was at a loss as to how to fix the turnover problem.

“There are certain skills that you can teach,” he said. “But you can’t teach (preventing) panic. You can work on shooting. You can work on boxing out. The mental aspect of taking care of the ball? You can’t teach that. It’s just something they have to do.’’

Knutson said. “We’re just going to have to come back and work harder than we have been working.’’

The Cougars open 2018 with a home game against Governors State University on Saturday and visit Trinity Christian College on Wednesday before hitting a tough stretch of hosting Cardinal Stritch (which received votes in the latest poll) on Jan.13, 14th-ranked University of St. Francis in Joliet on Jan. 17 and 13th-ranked Olivet Nazarene in Kankakee on Jan. 20.

 

Regional/Reporter Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

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Photos by Jeff Vorva

Queen of Peace closed and St. Laurence opened its doors to girls. Many of the Peace players went to St. Laurence and players listened to the “Star Spangled Banner” in the first girls home basketball game at the school at the end of November.

 

In 2016, some of the killer stories in area sports were of a national scope including, Mother McAuley winning multiple mythical national championships in girls volleyball, a Super Bowl champion in Orland Park native and Denver Broncos starting offensive lineman Michael Schofield, and former Richards star Dwayne Wade returning home to play with the Bulls.

Well, a lot has changed in 2017.

McAuley lost to Marist in the supersectional (more on that later), Schofield is now with the Los Angeles Chargers and Wade is now teammates with LeBron James again – this time in Cleveland.

As for the area?

Don’t worry about that. There have been plenty of great stories on a local, state and even national level that happened. Here are the top 10 Regional/Reporter stories for 2017:

1. Queen of Peace closing

This is a story that started in January and hung around for the whole year.

Officials announced the all-girls school was closing after school year and that caught a lot of people off guard – especially student athletes. Toward the end of January the basketball team which was experiencing on of its best seasons in school history, played the final sporting event in the gym and tears flowed freely.

There were a lot of other “lasts” at the school, including the final sporting event held at the Burbank school – a regional softball game on May 27.

The fifth-seeded Pride was 9-20 and took on fourth-seeded De La Salle. De La Salle has beat the pride 11-4, 8-7 and 16-6 during the season. Coach Kelly Small was relived of her duties in early May and her replacement, Stephanie Ruvalcaba took over but she had a family function and couldn’t coach that day. So JV coach Andy Schindel, the Pride’s third coach of the month, took over and Peace came up with a stunning 10-3 victory.

“This game was very memorable and everyone is going to love it,” said Amber Anderson, a senior who transferred to the school after her first school, Mt. Assisi, closed after her freshman year.

Meanwhile, St. Laurence officials made the bold decision to allow girls to come to their school next door and from August through now, there have been a tone of “firsts” for its athletic program and that will continue into the spring.

                               

2. Dylan Jacobs’ fast times

Sandburg senior Dylan Jacobs opened eyes all over the country on Sept. 29 when he ran 13 minutes, 57.50 seconds in a regular-season meet over the Detweiller Park Course in Peoria, which was the fifth best-time in Illinois history and was the top time in the nation at the time.

Although a viral infection helped prevent him from winning the Illinois High School Association Class 3A title (he finished sixth) and soggy conditions prevented him and race winner Danny Kilrea of Lyons Township or anyone else from testing Craig Virgin’s 1972 state record of 13:50, Jacobs made up for it earlier this month.

The running star won the Foot Locker National Meet in 15:19 (on a 5K course) in San Diego on Dec. 9. Two-time Foot Locker national champion and former Sandburg star Lukas Verzbicas was holding up the finish-line banner. Sandburg became the first high school to boast two Foot Locker national champs.

3. Marist wins state and national championship

Marist’s girls volleyball team won the IHSA Class 4A state championship on Nov. 11, knocking off Minooka, 22-25, 25-22, 25-15 at Redbird Arena in Normal.

To get there, however, the RedHawks had to beat defending state champ Mother McAuley, 25-21, 25-16 at McAuley in front of 2,500 fans in supersectional play. It snapped a seven-match losing streak against the Mighty Macs and the RedHawks (41-1) avenged their lone loss of the season.

FloVolleyball.com gave its mythical national championship to the RedHawks a few weeks later.

4. College March Madness

There was a wild stretch in March when St. Xavier runner Ellie Willging won an NAIA Division II national indoor championship the 5K, the Cougars’ women’s basketball team finished second in the nation and Moraine Valley’s women’s basketball team qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament for the first time since 1989.

The Cyclones finished in the top-12 in the nation among Division II teams after finishing 1-2 in the tournament.

Willging, by the way, also won the 10K outdoor national championship in late May.

5. Legends lost/retired

Brother Rice wrestling coach Bill Weick died at age 85 in August. He had coached a state title at Tilden Tech in 1949. He took over at Brother Rice and coached the school’s first state champ, Rudy Yates, in 2013. Under his watch, 41 Crusaders qualified for state.

Former Richards football coach Gary Korhonen died Dec. 2. He had coached the Bulldogs to a pair of state championships and had 315 career victories. When he retired, he had the most victories in IHSA history.

Legends who retired this year were Shepard assistant wrestling coach Jim Craig (55 years in the wrestling coaching business), Oak Lawn assistant girls basketball coach Mark Kleeman (42 years coaching various sports), Chicago Christian track coach Jim Kwasteniet (36 years), and Sandburg water polo/swimming coach Jim Caliendo (38 years).

6. From TDs to Alicia Keys

Former Shepard football player RJ Collins’s first year out of high school didn’t find him playing college football on TV on Saturday afternoon, but he was on television on a Tuesday – March 13 – when he sang on The Voice.

Judge Alicia Keys gushed “We need beautiful black men on my team,” while judge Adam Lambert proclaimed “That’s the winning voice right there.’’

That didn’t happen as Collins was beaten in the second round a week later.

7. Big-time bowling

In a two-week span in February, two area bowlers had big-time performances.

Richards senior Alexandra Wozniak rolled a 300 in sectional play at Palos Lanes in Palos Hills on Feb. 11. It was the first perfect game of her career.

The following week, Sandburg junior Sophia Jablonski became the first IHSA state champion in the wheelchair division.

8. Hey there Delilah

The Southwest Half Marathon turned 10 in May and the women’s winner was a big name in running as well as a big name in musical trivia.

Former Queen of Peace athlete Delilah DiCrescenzo was a world-class runner and steeple-chase athlete finished the Southwest race in 1:38.52 after taking a few years off of competitive running. She was also the subject of the 2006-2007 mega hit “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s.

9. Friesen’s anxious 48 hours

Chicago Christian’s Ben Friesen shocked the track world when he ran a :49.75 in the 400 on May 27 to finish first in the IHSA Class 1A State Track and Field prelims in Charleston after coming into the race with the sixth-best sectional time.

Class 1A athletes have the next day off and resume for the finals on Saturday so he had two days to think about. He went to prom on May 26 and the next morning headed back to Charleston where he finished fourth in the state in the long jump. Four hours and one nap by a tree later, he was able to win the 400 with a :48.65.6 and became the first Knights state champ since Bob Warnke won the 200 in 1993.

10. Sandburg ends Providence’s baseball streak

Never in the history of IHSA baseball has any team won three straight state titles until Providence won the Class 4A titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In all three years, the Celtics were far from the favorites to even get to the Final Four and did not win conference championships in the Chicago Catholic League Blue those three seasons.

But they had some magic in the postseason for three years and were able to claim another regional title before running into Sandburg. The Eagles snapped the Celtics’ 23-game postseason winning streak with a 12-10 victory on May 31 at the Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional.

Andrew Tennison had two homers for the Eagles in the historic win.

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Cider and flowers among favorite moments of 2017

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 3 19 SPRAY

 

Photo by Jeff Vorva

The cider flows all over as Moraine celebrates a women’s soccer national bid for the third year in a row.

 

To quote the great minds of the longtime broken up rock group Oingo Boingo, we close our eyes and another year has come and gone.

And that means it’s time for me to open my eyes and publish my moment of the year.

I sort of stole this idea from a local daily paper I used to work at. The bosses wanted the writers to pick their favorite behind-the-scenes story of the year, whether it was humorous or touching or whatever. I wrote about everything from a Cub relief pitcher belching really loud while the press was talking to Sammy Sosa to writing a story in the Cubs’ dugout to save time so I could watch my son’s All-Star game.

Since coming to the Regional/Reporter, I modified it to the top moment that I experienced in a calendar year.

This year I have two. A tie.

The first came during the early stages of our Top Sports Story of the Year – the closing of Queen of Peace.

It was on Jan. 26 against Kennedy. It was senior night for the basketball team, which was going to play in its final game ever in that gym. The wounds from the news of the closing of the school were still fresh and emotions were running high. 

Before the game, Pride coach George Shimko walked toward the middle of the court with flowers in his hands.

So, I figure he’s going to present the flowers to his players and everyone would have a good cry and we can get on with the game.

Well, Shimko wasn’t giving his players the flowers. These were for Kennedy seniors Sabrina Ricci and Patty Kapusciak.

I thought that was a pretty special moment, although I was a little late jumping on that train. Shimko said that he’s been presenting visiting seniors with flowers on his team’s senior night for years.

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I’ve seen a lot of senior nights from when I was a senior in high school to now, when some people try to  give me senior citizen discounts (Hey, I’m not that old!) and I can’t recall the visitors receiving flowers.

Favorite moment No. 2 came Nov. 5. It was supposed to rain like heck that day and I was ready to cover Moraine Valley’s noon women’s soccer battle at home with Waubonsee. The winner was to go to the nationals in Florida. There was a lot on the line.

So the weather was cooperative until noon and it was raining hard in Palos Hills. And the wind was kicking up. And I was having trouble taking photos and keeping the camera dry. I may have uttered a few dark oaths at that point, despite the fact I had gone to church a few hours prior.

This was not a day I was expecting any special moments.

Well, at halftime the rain stopped and Morraine was in the process of beating Waubonsee, 5-2, and I was looking forward to some postgame celebration photos. This was going to be the third year in a row the Cyclones qualified for nationals and – darn the luck – I was on one side of the field when the final horn sounded and the players were celebrating way on the other side and by the time I got close enough for decent shots, they had dispersed.

I may have uttered a few more dark oaths at that point and I was thinking that I might have to go back to church for the 6 p.m. mass to offset my mutterings.

After congratulating the opponents and receiving a few awards, the Cyclones then brought out some boxes and proceeded to have a champagne celebration. Well, it was actually a sparkling cider celebration but at the time I didn’t know that. When I saw one of the players take a swig, I thought “Uh, oh – someone could get in trouble for this.’’

But it was cider and after watching the comedy of some of the players and coaches trying to bite the tops off the bottles, it was party time and these players were spraying each other like they just won the World Series. It was a really neat moment watching the liquid fly and the laughs.

One note – Cyclone Claire Collevy somehow suffered a bloody nose in the celebration and blood was all over the top of her jersey, but her smile indicated she wasn’t in too much misery.

Again, I was a little late on this one. They had started this tradition a year before but this was the first time I saw it.

The Cyclones lost two matches at nationals but they will always have that memory of celebrating with cider.

So will I.

 

 

 

SXU women enjoying life back at No. 1

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 SXU 12 12 14

Photo by Jeff Vorva

SXU’s Chanel Fanter scores on a layup Saturday against Judson University. Fanter had 22 points and the Cougars rolled, 95-51.  

It never gets old.

For the third season in a row, St. Xavier University’s women’s basketball team has been ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Division II polls after spending a little time this season at No. 2.

The first time it happened was two Decembers ago and it was a novelty. Coach Bob Hallberg and then-sophomore Kara Krolicki made an appearance on CLTV to talk about the accomplishment.

“We don’t get ESPN following us too much so it’s nice to get some hoopla,’’ Hallberg said at the time. We’ve enjoyed the attention. For the rest of your life, you were able to say you were ranked No. 1.’’

A lot has happened in the past two years, including a glorious run to the NAIA National Championship game last season, and  the Cougars fell to Marian (Ind.) 66-52 despite owning a 30-23 halftime lead.

The early polls had Marian No. 1 and SXU No. 2 this season and when Marian was knocked off 71-60 by St. Francis (Illinois) on Nov. 11 in Joliet, the Cougars were glad they were able to move up to the top spot.

Yes, it’s been done before, but it doesn’t get old for the Cougars.

“Being No. 1 is always cool,’’ Hallberg said. “But it’s a challenge. At this level of play, it’s so important to sustain your program. Some schools of this size can get killed by graduation. It may happen next year with us, but we’ve been able to replace some very good players. You don’t want to have a down year.  We have to keep getting good players to keep going.’’

And having a No. 1 ranking is not a bad recruiting tool.

The Cougars entered this week 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference after beating Judson University, 95-51, in a league game at the Shannon Center on Saturday.

Sophomore Chanel Fanter had a monster game with 22 points (including connecting on all four of her 3-pointers), nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Krolicki, a senior who is the reigning NAIA Player of the Year, added 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Brittany Collins came up with 13 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Judson (7-5, 4-2) was able to score 35 points in the first half but the Eagles were stymied in the second half, scoring just seven third-quarter points and nine points in the final 10 minutes. The Cougars scored 51 second-half points.

“I think when you are ranked No. 1, you have to protect that,” Fanter said. “People come in there and step up their game. Once we get things going on offense, it’s tough to stop us. We have the type of team where if you shut four of us down, we will have one person who can go off and score. We have a well-rounded offense.’’

As for the pressure of being No. 1?

“There’s no pressure on us – but there is also no pressure on the other team,” Hallberg said. “You can make another team’s season if they beat you. When teams come in not expecting to win, they play a lot looser. You have to continue to play hard.’’

The Cougars visit Robert Morris University at 1 p.m. on Saturday and get ready for a trip to Hawaii in the Hoop and Surf Classic on Tuesday and Wednesday, facing Wayland Baptist (Texas) and Carroll College (Montana).

They return home for a huge two-game set at the SXU Holiday Classic, playing Goshen College on Dec. 28 and the second-ranked team in the country, Concordia University of Nebraska on Dec. 29.

 

Stagg's girls turnaround includes win over rival Sandburg

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandburg’s Erin Greenfield (left) collides with Stagg’s Sydney Downs as the two wrestle for the ball Thursday night in Orland Park. Stagg ended up winning the District 230 rivalry game, 43-41.

There were times when the bus rides home were quiet.

There were times the Stagg girls basketball players came back to Palos Heights after suffering blowout losses or heartbreakers as they compiled records of 3-25 and 11-17 in the past two seasons with a host of underclassmen getting a chunk of playing time.

But they never got discouraged.

“We never got down on ourselves – we always thought about the next game,” senior Jaime Ryan said. “We were looking for when our time would come.’’

That time has arrived.

The Chargers opened the season with a 7-2 mark, which included a thrilling 43-41 victory over District 230 rival Sandburg Thursday in Orland Park to open the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue season.

Ryan (16 points), junior Nicole Vacha and Sydney Downs came up with big baskets and free throws in the closing minutes of the game to preserve the victory.

“It’s a lot of fun for them,” Chargers coach Bill Turner said. “The experience that we have now is paying off from the two earlier years when we did take our lumps. They think this is their year. It’s a good feeling.’’

In the past, there were times when things just wouldn’t go right for that Chargers. But in crunch time against the Eagles (5-4 after Saturday’s opening round-win at the Oak Lawn Tournament) shots fell, including an awkward-looking off-balance inside basket by Vacha. She wanted to execute a reverse layup but stopped in the middle of her follow through.

“Sometimes I get yelled at when I do a reverse,” Vacha said. “So I stopped and threw it up there.’’

The Chargers opened up with a 60-24 home win over Tinley Park and played eight straight on the road. They were scheduled to play Tuesday night against Oak Lawn in Palos Hills. Their only losses were to Lincoln-Way Central (46-32) and Andrew (65-55).

Some Sandburg players were tearful after the game. While it is an early-season game and the two teams will play again Jan. 22 at Stagg, this was still an emotional encounter.

“This team competes, plays hard and wants to win and that’s the emotion that you want to see,” Sandburg coach Nick Fotopoulos said. “It’s a big rivalry game and there are a lot of emotions in the game.’’

The team has been battling with the loss of guard Morgan McAuliffe, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the season. Against the Chargers, the Eagles had a balanced scoring attack with Natalie Stavropoulos leading the way with nine points.