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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- Florida volleyball team escapes serious wrath of Hurricane Irma

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Volleyball players from Berkeley Prep, here celebrating a Silver Division quarterfinal victory at the ASICS Tournament at Mother McAuley on Oct. 1, feel lucky that Hurricane Irma didn’t do much damage to them. 

 

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria didn’t have an agenda.

They didn’t pick and choose who they were going to destroy and kill. They didn’t have a say in who was going to be lucky and who was going to be spared.

All they did was blow through Texas and Florida in the United States and messed up some other countries as well.

And they let the chips fall where they may.

Coaches and players of the Berkeley Prep volleyball team from Tampa, Fla., had their world turned upside down for a brief time in mid-September. They were bracing for a monster storm and feared for their lives and property on Sept. 10 when the storm was scheduled to hit.

Instead of a monster crushing them, they received the equivalent of a bully kicking them in the shins.

Sure it hurt.

But look at the TV.

Look what happened in Miami.

Look what happened in Houston.

Look what happened in Puerto Rico.

The team spent a weekend in the area and won the Silver Division championship of the ASICS Challenge at Mother McAuley on Sept.30-Oct. 1. For the coaches and players on this team, life has returned to normal.

“I feel so lucky,” Berkeley senior Anders Douglas said. “Compared to everyone else, I feel so fortunate. I have a friend in Puerto Rico and he was telling me how awful it is over there. His dad has an office building with a generator and he’s been living in the office all this time.’’

First-year coach Mackenzie Dagostino, who has come to the ASICS Challenge at McAuley  as a player, took over the program for her dad, Randy, who won 849 matches and 15 state championships. It’s likely her father had some crazy weeks in his time, but even Pop might not have gone through the strange type if week after Irma hit.

The school had a few busted shingles, but because of the damage throughout the area, there was no school for most of the following week. That meant there was no practice. And the team was hosting a tournament with national teams including Walton High of Georgia, which, at the time was ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps. The team was able to get one practice in before the tourney and eventually finished second, losing to Walton 25-16, 25-18.

Dagostino didn’t have power in her house for six days.

 “The first couple of days aren’t that bad – you have ice and you have food on ice and plenty of water,” she said. “But the longer people went without power, the more they panicked. You definitely saw that in the area. People were actually chasing after ice trucks.

“At the end of the day, we all made it through without power. There are ways to get around it. There were a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches consisting of our meals.’’

Players were encouraged to stay as fit as they could during the dramatic week.

“We still had to stay active, even in the house,” Douglas said. “I had to make sure I was still in shape when we came back. We were supposed to be off for two days but the closer the hurricane got, the track was supposed to come right over our campus, so it ended up being five days.

“I was able to run outside before the rain came. Once we had to stay inside, I did a lot of squats and jumps.’’

Tampa did get plenty of damage but it woulda-coulda-shoulda been worse.

The town is living a relatively charmed life. It has not suffered a direct hit from a hurricane that is Cartgory 3 or higher since 1921.

Hurricanes may not have an agenda, but they don’t seem to want to mess around with Tampa too much.

 

Marist wins ESCC, er, ASICS Classic

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist’s volleyball team was cheering all day Saturday after winning the ASICS Challenge.

The ASICS Challenge brings in 24 girls volleyball teams from across the country.

But this year, it could have been renamed the ESCC Challenge.

Three members of the East Suburban Catholic Conference gobbled up spots in the final four of the tournament along with Assumption of Kentucky, which was ranked first in the nation in a Sept. 20 poll by USA Today and second in its Sept. 27 poll.

When the smoke cleared, it was fourth-seeded Marist which won its first ASICS title after an 18-25, 25-13, 26-24 victory over ESCC rival Joliet Catholic Academy Saturday at Mother McAuley High School. The RedHawks, which improved to 23-1 with the victory, were down 24-20 in the final set and came back to score six straight against the 10th-seeded Angels for the title. The RedHawks also trailed 11-4 at one point in that deciding set.

The two powers were scheduled to face each other again Tuesday night in Joliet.

Top-seeded Assumption beat the ESCC’s Marian Catholic 25-21, 25-21 in the third-place game.

“You probably wouldn’t expect the conference having three teams in the final four ahead of time with all the teams that are here,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “This says a lot about our conference. That doesn’t even include a team like Benet and other big-time teams who are not in this tournament.

“The fact that we play each other throughout the season gives us the type of preparation for these kind of matches that maybe some of the other conferences don’t.’’

Savannah Thompson, who made the all-tournament team, had 15 kills and 18 digs against Marian while Maggie Meyer had 19 kills, Grace Green came up with 18 digs and Molly Murrihy had 42 assists and four blocks. Katie Canavan put on a serving show with well-timed aces in the final set.

The championship showdown was set up by an even more impressive accomplishment when the RedHawks stunned Assumption, 25-16, 25-20 in the semifinals. Assumption won the ASICS tournament 13 times.

Marist is the third team from Illinois to claim the title. McAuley won it five times including last year and Cary-Grove won it in 2010.

McAuley finished fifth after being upset by Joliet Catholic, 25-18, 25-22 in the quarterfinals. Charley

Niego was named to the all-tournament team.

Sandburg, which was seeded 21st, claimed a pool victory over 12th-seeded Downers Grove North and finished as the silver consolation champion – 13th.

Teams were represented from Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Wisconsin, Utah, California and Florida.  

 

Williams blooms in Flowers' absence

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards’ sophomore Leshon Williams was able to do damage against Eisenhower in his first start on Friday.

It didn’t matter to senior inside linebacker Curtis Hale that Eisenhower was 5-0 overall and his Richards team was just 3-2 when the Bulldogs traveled to Blue Island on Friday.

Both teams were unbeaten in the South Suburban Red. Besides, he said, “To tell you the truth, the conference always runs through us.”

Except nobody was running through the Bulldogs in a 34-3 win that saw Richards do the trampling — even without junior leading rusher Derek Flowers. With Flowers sitting with what Richards Athletic Director Ken Styler said was for a code of conduct violation, sophomore running back Leshon Williams had the game of his young life, running for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.

Meanwhile, Eisenhower’s Tim Baity, who entered the evening as one of the top rushers in the South Suburbs with 835 yards and 12 touchdowns on 78 carries, was limited to 84 yards on 17 tries. On the Cardinals’ first possession, Hale stopped Baity for no gain on third-and-one and fourth-and-one, setting the tone for the evening.

“Our coaches had a great plan,” Hale said. “Basically, my job was to run at the guards and fill the gaps. We knew (Baity) was a good back and we were going to have to step it up.”

The Bulldogs (4-2, 3-0) stepped up on both sides of the ball, limiting Eisenhower (5-1, 2-1) to 191 yards of total offense while rolling up 420 yards of their own — 341 on the ground.

“We said all week, ‘It’s just another game,’” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “They were 5-0 … but we were battle-tested. We’ve played a tough schedule, and it prepared us for this.

“We knew schematically they had some things we could exploit. We thought we could pound the ball at ‘em.”

Flowers, who has 611 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, helped Williams all week despite knowing he wouldn’t play.

“Derek motivated me,” Williams said. “He told me to treat it like a regular game, don’t let the hype get to me. — even though, with them being 5-0, this was basically for the conference.”

Williams had a 14-yard carry for Richards’ first score. A 28-yard field goal from Luis Torres made it 7-3 late in the first quarter, where the score remained until quarterback Sebastian Castro (9 carries, 79 yards) had a four-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, set up by a 55-yard Williams burst.

The Cardinals weren’t really out of it until Richards scored twice in 47 seconds early in the fourth quarter. First, Williams had a four-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 97-yard drive. Then Hale forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Samuel Alvarado recovered and, after Castro ran for 17 yards on first down, Williams cruised to pay dirt from 12 yards out on second down.

Orrion Prater’s 9-yard run with 1:34 to play capped the scoring. By that time, Williams was celebrating on the sidelines with his teammates.

“He and Derek have been leaning on each other all year — ever since we moved him to the varsity this summer,” Sheehan said. “We told him tonight was going to be his coming-out party — and it was.”

A member of the freshman team a year ago and the Blue Island Untouchables before that, Williams said he’d never eclipsed 200 yards in a single game before.

“This might have been the best game I’ve ever had in my football career,” he said. “I believe in myself, and I put in the work to do it.”

As have the Bulldogs. Their 4-2 start included losses to Lemont and Phillips. Their 26 opponent wins heading into Eisenhower’s homecoming was the most in the conference and seven more than the Cardinals’ league-low 19.

Evergreen Park, Argo and Oak Lawn remain on the Bulldogs’ schedule. A seventh conference title in Sheehan’s 10 seasons is well within reach.

 “This is why we schedule the way we do,” Sheehan said. “We can only get better from here.”

 

Puente's 224-yard explosion vs. Argo lifts Oak Lawn

  • Written by Isi Frank Ativie

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nick Puente of Oak Lawn takes a break during Friday night’s game in which he ran for 224 yards in a victory over Argo. 

TPW

That’s the Oak Lawn football team’s mantra these days.

After the Spartans beat Argo, 26-7 in a Southwest Suburban Red game Friday night, senior running back Nick Puente (who rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries) talked about TPW.

“We have our own motto,” Puente said. “It means Tough People Win.”

Puente has been pretty tough this year as he racked up 752 yards and 10 touchdowns in five games and added a kickoff return touchdown in a loss to Bremen. He stayed pretty consistent with games of 147, 116, 123 and 142 yards before exploding against the Argonauts.

Marc Virusso added 85 yards and two scores and Kameron McNicholas registered a sack on defense.

Their work helped the Spartans improve to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the league and kept their hopes alive for a rare playoff appearance.

“We told ourselves if we’re 3-2, then we got some options,” Spartans coach Nick Novak said. “We need to focus on our upcoming games this year, so we can pound them out and get some wins along the way to be in that position.”

They have a tough game coming up at Shepard Friday followed by a home game with Reavis Oct. 6 and closing out with road games at Evergreen Park and Richards.

It has been nine years since the Oak Lawn’s football team had won its last SSC championship. The Spartans clinched a playoff berth in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A State playoffs with a 6-3 regular season during the 2008 season under former head coach Ron Thornburgh. Oak Lawn returned back to the state playoffs the following year which turned out to be their last winning season. The Spartans lost to Danville, 50-0.

  Novak made his head coaching debut in 2015, and he has been on a mission to help Oak Lawn’s football team get back to winning.

The Spartans have a chance to return to the playoffs this season and need to squeeze out two more wins for consideration and three more to guarantee a spot.  

“Every game is not going to be easy for us,” Novak said. “We got to focus and come to work every day in practice.”

Argo fell to 1-4, 1-2 and came into the game with some momentum after knocking off Evergreen Park, 21-20, on a late touchdown Sept. 15. Running back X’Zavier Reed scored a touchdown in the third quarter for Argo’s lone score.

 

SXU is looking out for No. 1

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Xavier’s Mike Ivlow turns the corner and runs for a school-record 98-yard touchdown run in Saturday’s 45-0 victory over Lindenwood-Belleville.

Former Richards High School star Josh Hettiger was brutally honest about the 2016 season for St. Xavier University’s football team, which finished below .500 for the first time since 1999.

“It was a letdown, 100 percent,” the sophomore linebacker said. “All offseason we said ‘we suck – we’re not a good team.’ We used it as fuel all offseason.’’

The Cougars used that fuel and roared out of the gate this season 3-0 with a shocking opening-season victory over Marian, which was ranked fifth in the nation in the NAIA by the coaches at the time. They followed up with a couple of romps including Saturday night’s 45-0 victory over Lindenwood-Belleville at Deaton Field in a Mid-States Football Association crossover game.

It was their first shutout since a 31-0 pasting of William Penn Nov. 17. 2012 and just the 10th shutout in the history of the school, which started football in 1993 and played 278 games. On offense, sophomore receiver Harold Davis had three touchdown receptions and senior running back Mike Ivlow broke the school record with a 98-yard run in the third quarter en route to a 189-yard rushing night.

Now, the ultimate test.  

The Cougars, ranked 11th in the country, travel to Fort Wayne, Ind. to take on the No. 1 team in the nation and defending national champion St. Francis, at 5 p.m. at Bishop John D’Arcy Stadium in another crossover.

SXU is 5-8 lifetime against St. Francis (also known as the Cougars) and won 53-26 the last time these team hooked up on Oct. 11, 2014.

“Our wins and losses are pretty close against them,” SXU coach Mike Feminis said. “We’ve had some huge games with them. We were No. 1 a few different times. They were No. 1 at least a couple of times. There was a game where it was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 one year. We’ve played them in the playoffs three times.

“This is about as big as it gets at our level. It’s a good rivalry and a healthy rivalry. We have a lot of respect for them. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. I can’t wait. Any time you get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the country – how can you not be excited?’’

St. Francis (also 3-0) brings in a powerhouse offense that exploded for 686 yards in a 49-21 victory over St. Ambrose Saturday in Davenport, Iowa. Nick Ferrer threw for 508 yards and six touchdowns. The senior has 110 career TD passes.

Hettiger, who had 2 ½ sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Belleville, is looking forward to the challenge. He said that the season opener against Marian had a special feel to it and he said he can’t wait for a crack at No. 1.

“The atmosphere is just so different,” Hettiger said. “You can’t compare it with anything. Once you get out there, it’s just so surreal. I don’t know what it’s going to be like but I’m excited and the team is excited.

“If we bring the same type of energy as we did (against Lindenwood-Bellville), I’m looking for another shutout.’’

Ivlow said the offense should be ready.

“Everyone had us under the radar before the season started,” he said. “We’re ready to roll. They have everything to lose and we have nothing to lose. We’re going in with the same mentality that we have each week, and that’s to be ready to go.’’