Written by Jeff Vorva
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.