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Emulating Coach K: Wujcik credits longtime football coach for his baseball longevity

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards coach Brian Wujcik won his 500th career baseball game on May 2.

Some coaches who are lucky enough to land a head coaching gig at a young age are hotshots who are ready to make that job a stepping stone for something bigger and better.

Brian Wujcik, however, was not like that.

He grew up playing baseball at Richards and was an offensive star at the University of Iowa and when he was named the school’s head baseball coach for the 1992-93 season he wasn’t looking to leave. There was a guy at the Oak Lawn school – football coach Gary Korhonen – that Wujcik looked up to.

“Twenty five years go by in a hurry,” Wujcik said. “One of the blessings that I’ve had is to have an opportunity to work in the same building as Gary Korhonen. He was a coach here for (35) years (and won 315 games – sixth highest in the state) so I got a chance to witness the longevity, the stability and the dedication to a program. That was a big inspiration. I tried to emulate his program and run the baseball program the same way.’’

Wujcik picked up his 500th career victory on May 2 in thrilling fashion as the Bulldogs beat Shepard 7-6 in a South Suburban Red contest in Oak Lawn. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh, Nike Gall hit a two-run single to drive in the tying and winning runs.  

In 1986, Wujcik and Reavis star Mike Budds were named the first Regional-Reporter co-Players of the Year and when Wujcik went to Iowa, he set a school and Big Ten record when he drove in 10 runs in one game. He also set a school record with 12 doubles in a season and won a league batting title.

But playing the sport and coaching it are two different things, as he found out in his rookie season as the boss.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “My idea of practice was putting on a glove and showing the kids that I could still play. It took me a little while to realize that what I needed to do was teach them instead of going out to play with them.’’

The coach’s 500th win was memorable with the walk-off hit and celebration. Hie doesn’t remember much about the first win.

“It took five games and it was against Bloom,” he said. “I don’t know any of the details.’’

His players joked about his gunning for 1,000 victories but he is not sure that will be in the cards.

“I know Jack Kaiser at Oak Park River Forest coached for (more than) 45 years,” he said. “I don’t know if I have that in me.’’

 

Area Roundup: News on Oak Lawn's Hansen, new St. Laurence coach Nye and soccer seeds

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Hansen

Last year, Oak Lawn native Marc Hansen was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America first team as a junior.

This year, he made the second team.

To outsiders, that may sound like a downturn from 2016 but the former Oak Lawn Community High School star changed positions and spent a lot of time in the front row this year after three years of mostly back row work. He had just 31 kills and seven blocks in 75 career matches before moving to outside hitter this season.

Hansen had 257 kills and a .320 hitting percentage and added 32 blocks for Carthage this season. He still found his way to make big plays in the back row as he racked up 147 digs.

Carthage was one of the top teams in the country in NCAA Division III play but was shocked in the semifinals of the Midwest Collegiate Volleyball League tournament and did not receive a bid to the nationals, despite finishing 20-3.

 

Nye joins St. Laurence staff

Another coach with heavy Brother Rice ties was added to St. Laurence’s staff.

Former Brother Rice football coach Steve Nye will serve as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator and was hired as a dean of students. The move was announced shortly after former Brother Rice basketball star Jim Sexton was named as the Vikings’ basketball coach.

Nye brings more than a quarter century of high school teaching and administrative experience to the Burbank school. He comes to St. Laurence from Montini Catholic High School, where he helped revamp the school’s disciplinary systems and procedures as the school’s dean. He has previously served as assistant athletic director and assistant admissions director at York High School and Brother Rice.

“I’m thrilled about the opportunity to join the St. Laurence family,” Nye said. “It is a unique time to join a school with such a storied history and exciting vision for the future.”

A resident of the Beverly neighborhood and member of Christ the King parish, Nye also brings a strong coaching background to the Viking Football team.

He served as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator for Montini, who won the 2015 IHSA 6A Football Championship and were finalists in 2014. Nye was Brother Rice’s head football coach for 13 seasons until 2012. He led the team to a state semifinal appearance, three state quarterfinal appearances and ten state playoff appearances.

“Coach Nye’s history of winning football games complements our Viking tradition well,” said St. Laurence Football Coach Harold Blackmon. “As someone who knows the Chicago Catholic League, I am confident that he will help us build on our recent success.”

Nye replaces coach Bobbie Howard, who will coach at the sophomore level as he pursues his master’s degree.

St. Laurence made it to the state semifinals two years in a row. They made it that far in Class 5A in 2015 and Class 6A in 2017.

 Soccer seedings

The last time an area girls soccer team made it to the Illinois High School Association state tournament finals was 2010, when Sandburg finished second in Class 3A.

The coaches around the region are not confident anyone will get that far this year, if the seedings are any indication.

At the Sandburg sectional in Class 3A, the hosts drew the third seed behind Lincoln-Way East and Andrew. Stagg is sixth, Mother McAuley eighth, Shepard 10th and Oak Lawn 17th in the 17-team tournament.

In Class 2A, Marist is hosting a sectional and the hosts are also seeded third behind Lemont and Tinley Park. Evergreen Park is seventh and Richards is eighth.

In Class 1A, Chicago Christian is seeded third in the Manteno Sub-Sectional and Queen of Peace is fourth out of nine teams. 

 

SSC Blue baseball season officially sworn in

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence sophomore pitcher Marius Balandas bears down in his victory over Mt. Carmel on Saturday.

A fan arrived at the St. Laurence/Mt. Carmel baseball game at Haggerty Field in Chicago a little late on Saturday morning.

He looked and then squinted at the scoreboard, which showed that St. Laurence had scored nine runs in the top of the first inning.

“Holy (deleted)!” he said. “Is that NINE runs?”

That reaction came moments after one of the Mt. Carmel players walked off the field in disgust and shouted a dark oath of his own.

Now that’s putting the blue in the Chicago Catholic League Blue.

The powerhouse league got off to a wild start including St. Laurence’s shocking 11-1, five-inning, slaughter-rule victory as well as Brother Rice’s 16-1 slaughter-rule victory over Loyola in Wilmette and St. Rita’s 2-0 victory over three-time defending Illinois High School Association Class 4A state champ Providence.

There will likely be more cussing in anger and amazement before this season is done. After all, the stakes and emotions are high in a league that arguably has had the most success in state play in recent years. In seven of the past eight years, the Class 4A state championship game has seen either one or two CCL Blue teams participate.

Another wild year appears to be in store, if Saturday is any indication.

The preseason rankings from the Prep Baseball Report website saw Brother Rice as the No. 1-ranked team in the state with St. Laurence third. Things got shuffled around a bit after Rice went on the road and out of state to suffer some losses against powerhouse national teams in the USA Baseball National High School Tournament and fell to ninth. St. Laurence took over the No. 1 spot.

Heading into Saturday, CCL Blue teams had played a crossover game against each of seven CCL White teams, which counted in their league record and the eight Blue teams combined for a 50-6-1 record.

Brother Rice (which went 21-0 in league play last year), Mt. Carmel and Loyola each posted 7-0 marks against White teams while St. Laurence, Providence and St. Rita were 6-1.  St. Francis was 5-1-1 and Marmion 6-2.

Now it’s time to mix it up against each other for 14 games and Saturday was just the beginning.

The St. Laurence triumph was the most surprising as the No. 1 team in the state according to PBR dominated against No. 4 Caravan. The Vikings scored nine in the first with the big blow coming via Zach Verta’s grand slam over the right-center fence.  Matt McCormick drove in a pair of runs while Tim Molloy, Tommy Farrell and John Peterson also brought runs home in the first.

That gave sophomore pitcher Marius Balandis a lot of breathing room and he responded by allowing a run on three hits with seven strikeouts to improve to 5-0 and the Vikings’ pitching depth is even more dangerous this season with his presence.

Ryan Kutt had three doubles and four RBI and was the winning pitcher as Brother Rice whipped Loyola. Pat Mayo added three hits and drove in three runs to give the Crusaders their 10th straight win.

St. Rita’s Steve Washilweski shut out Providence in New Lenox.

There are plenty of huge games coming up in this league but it appears the two-game series between Brother Rice and St. Laurence on May 10 (in Chicago) and May 11 (in Burbank) could be the main event.

 

 

St. Laurence hires Sexton to replace outgoing Maley

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Jim Maley, crouched next to the scorer’s table, resigned as St. Laurence’s boys basketball coach for another job and Jim Sexton (seated on the last chair on the right) will take over.

 

Jim Malay has big shoes to fill. So does Jim Sexton.

Maley stepped down as St. Laurence boys basketball coach last week to reportedly accept the job at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates and was immediately replaced by his assistant coach Sexton, the school announced Friday.

Maley will take over for retiring Tom McCormack, who coached at Conant for 31 years, won 573 games and 13 regional titles. Maley coached the Vikings three years and posted a 40-50 record. While that record won’t get him into any Halls of Fame, he provided a three-year spark after the program went 51-137 the previous seven years. He will also miss a chance to coach one of the strongest sophomore classes at the school in recent memory.  

"This is a very bittersweet moment for me,” said Maley. “I absolutely love St. Laurence, my players, my students and the people I work with. While I'm excited for the next opportunity, I'm saddened to leave, however the program is in great hands. 

“Hiring Jimmy as an assistant was one of the best moves I've made. His passion, knowledge, and basketball pedigree will make him an excellent head coach. I truly believe that he, the returning players and coaching staff, will take another step forward and become a force in the Catholic League.  While I'm no longer the coach, I will be a huge fan of him, the program and the school."

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in the Maley era was in 2016, when the 13th-seeded Vikings finished fourth in the Chicago Catholic League Tournament.

Sexton is a Brother Rice graduate and Evergreen Park native who earned the Regional/Reporter Player of the Year honor in 1993 and 1994. He played college basketball at Creighton University and was a member of the first-ever NCAA tournament team at UIC. In high school, he was a three-time All-Catholic League player and earned All-State honors his senior year.

He is the 10th boys basketball coach in St. Laurence history. He served as assistant varsity coach and director of player development on the Viking basketball staff for the past two seasons. Sexton co-founded Beyond The Arc Academy, a basketball club in Evergreen Park that coaches and trains more than 250 boys and girls grade school basketball players.

“I’m privileged to have the opportunity to work with a great administration, group of coaches and, most importantly, group of student-athletes at St. Laurence,” said Sexton. “I truly appreciate the faith President Joe Martinez, Principal Jim Muting and Athletic Director Tim Chandler have in me to continue to move St. Laurence basketball into prominence, not only in the Catholic League, but in the state of Illinois. I would also like to thank coach Maley for putting the program in a positive place in which we can continue to build.”

 “Viking Basketball has come a long way in recent seasons, and we are excited for coach Sexton to take us to the next level,” said Chandler. “With coach Sexton, we will be able to provide continuity with the program that will allow us to have a seamless transition. We thank coach Maley for putting the team on the right track the past three seasons and wish him the best in the future.”

Current fifth through seventh grade boys can meet Sexton at a free basketball clinic from 930 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Students can sign up at www.stlaurence.com/clinics. For any questions about the clinic, contact Director of Admissions Joe Spano at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

This is the second area boys coach to resign. Earlier, longtime Stagg coach John Daniels left to spend more time with his family and his position has not been filled yet.

 

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Baker gets a jump (or several) on the weekend

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Last week, Jason Maholy wrote a front page story on Brother Rice’s Jimmy Baker in the Regional-Reporter on how the senior is trying to play both volleyball and participate on the track and field team.

Now for a quick update.

Between Baker, track coach Tom Wazio and volleyball coach Dan Dwyer, they have all worked out a schedule that everyone could live with. Wazio said that if there is a big volleyball tournament on a weekend the track team has a meet, he agreed to let Baker play volleyball.

On Friday, there was the first round of a big volleyball tournament – the Smack Attack. It’s one of the best in Illinois. And a portion of it was at Brother Rice. That night, the Crusaders track also hosted a pretty big track meet – the Rice Relays.

This time Dwyer agreed to allow Baker to miss the first match of the Smack Attack so that the kid could get some jumping in. Baker led his team with a 5-foot-8 high jump, was second with a 19-0.5 long jump and was second in the triple jump with a 39-4. The Crusaders’ three jumping teams scored 26 points to help Brother Rice win the 10-team event with 79.5 points. St. Laurence was second with 73 followed by Marist with 60 and Evergreen Park with 55.5.

After track, he made it back to the gym and helped his team win a pool match over Cathedral from Indiana.

The next day, the third-seeded Crusaders played three matches and finished second.

“I had a personal best in the high jump and my long jump…I really didn’t do that well,” Baker said. “In the triple jump, I jumped and headed right to the volleyball match with about five minutes to spare. It was a lot of fun.’’

His Friday fun sure beat last year at this time. In an opening-round Smack Attack battle with Payton High School at Brother Rice, he injured his left knee and ankle.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year,” he said.

Tweet of the week

Second guessing coaches and managers is common in the Twitter world but this rip job is unique.

Last week, a Tweeter wasn’t happy with a St. Xavier University baseball loss and wrote: “Poor coaching decision cost the cougs in a 5-4 loss game 1. Gotta go get em game 2 @gosxucougars.’’

The kicker? The man who wrote the tweet was SXU coach Rocco Mossuto.

He was ripping himself.

Ratings of the weak

The National Women’s Soccer League was thrilled with its TV deal with the Lifetime Network for a Game of the Week all season.

But the Awful Announcing website is reporting awful ratings for the first Game of the Week on April 15. 

The Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride played in the debut game and an estimated 82,000 watched the match.

Interestingly, the pregame show drew 131,000 viewers. What could be more captivating about a pregame show than the match itself?

Nothing.

The theory is that the showing of a dusty old movie, “Two Weeks Notice” starring Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock may have helped. This 2002 movie drew 237,000 and some continued to watch the pregame show for a while before they realized Grant and Bullock were not coming back on the screen.

Even worse news for the league – the Game of the Week picked up less viewers than the 118,000 folks who watched Skip Bayless on ‘The Undisputed” the day before on FS1, and he has been a laughingstock in the ratings game since bolting ESPN.