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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Fate really smiles on Miles

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Fate didn’t just smile on Miles Boykin.

One of the football gods came out of the sky, smiled, but his arm around the junior receiver from Notre Dame and said “Kid, I know things haven’t gone your way all that much at South Bend, but wait until you see what we have in store for you! Happy New Year!’’

Boykin caught one of the greatest passes in Notre Dame history in the Fighting Irish’s 21-17 victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl Monday in Orlando.

 

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Shortly after LSU grabbed a ton of momentum with a late touchdown before the double-teamed Boykin hauled an Ian Book pass down with his right hand, tucked it in and crashed into one defender. Boykin stayed upright. The other guy was taken out of the play.

Then Boykin made a quick juke to get by the other defender and turned up the speed for 55-yard reception with 1 minute, 28 seconds left in the game and that stood up as the winning score.

The next day, t-shirts were being sold online that said “INCREDIBLE HAPPENED 1.1.2018.”

He cemented his name in ND history with that grab – even if he never plays another down of football. The next time a book about the history of ND football is written, this play will receive plenty of attention. It’s something his kids, grandkids, great grandkids and all of their offspring are going to hear about.

I am just a neutral observer when it comes to Notre Dame football but I let out a yell when I saw the play live.

Full disclosure – I know the kid.

From second game through high school, Boykin played basketball either with or against my son, T.J. over the years, including a stint in which they were teammates on the Orland Park-based Orland Magic, which morphed into the Windy City Magic. We spent a part of one of his birthdays with his family at one of this favorite restaurant, Jullianni’s in Palos Heights, 

So it was cool to see him on the living room big screen make the big play.

The former Providence Catholic standout and Tinley Park native is strong, fast and skilled. But for a play like this to happen, some luck and a lot of fate comes into play.

First off, he was fortunate to be in the game at that crucial time.

After sitting out his freshman year as a redshirt, about the biggest noise from Boykin in the past two seasons was when a ball hit his foot on a special teams play in 2016,  giving the ball to Michigan State and coach Brian Kelly, whose face was as red as the sauce on a Jullianni’s pizza, screamed “Are you dumb?!!?” for all the world to see.

He was sparingly used this year and had nine catches for 151 yards and a touchdown heading into the game.

Fate came in with an injury to Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson was suspended for the second time this season. Those two receivers were not available so it was Boykin time.

Second, fate allowed Book to throw a not-so-perfect pass. Has the pass drilled Boykin in the numbers, the odds were better that the LSU defenders could have nailed him right away and it would have still been a big catch but not THE CATCH.

Instead, he reached up with his right paw for what appeared to be an uncatchable ball and that threw the defense out of whack a little.

“Ian put the ball where only I could reach it,” Boykin told reporters after the game. “It was a great pass and I was lucky enough to pull it down on one hand. I’ve got pretty big hands.’’

One slip on the wet surface of the field or a million other things could have gone wrong on the play.

Instead, it became iconic.

The only thing that could have made this play even bigger would have been if the game was for the national championship.

But hey, there’s time.

Boykin has two more years of eligibility left. 

Boys basketball focus: How area teams fared during the holidays

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Josh Boulanger (left) is about to block Conant’s Ryan Davis’s shot Saturday night. Despite that, the 6-foot-9 Davis finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out in the first overtime of a double-overtime Conant win. 

Entering the 44th Jack Tosh Holiday Classic with losses against Eisenhower and Loyola and bringing in a modest 6-5 record, Brother Rice didn’t look like a team that was going to make a lot of noise in the 32-team event.

But the Crusaders won four games in four days at York High School in Elmhurst and they found themselves in the championship game against defending tournament champ Conant on Saturday night.

They continued to make noise but eventually fell 54-53 in double overtime in one of the most exciting championship games in the tournament’s history.

“I was proud of our guys all week,’’ said Crusaders coach Bobby Frasor before he was interrupted by a tournament representative who said “I’ve been watching a lot of high school ball doing that (score)book and you guys are great.’’

“Every game we took as a one-game tournament,’’ Frasor added. “I didn’t want them thinking they were going to win five in a row, because that’s just insurmountable. We came to play every day. We showed bits and pieces of what we can do.’’

Vermont-bound Ryan Davis, a 6-foot-9 Conant senior, scored 31 points and hauled down 15 rebounds before fouling out in the first overtime. With Davis out of the game in the final four-minute second overtime, it appeared the Crusaders would have an advantage, but Conant’s Jonathan Kolev opened things up with a 3-pointer and hit a basket with 2.3 seconds left, five seconds after Marquise Kennedy hit a reverse layup after a Brendan Coghlan steal.

After Brother Rice missed a shot just past half court, Conant, 11-4 and coached by former St. Laurence coach Jim Maley, had a wild celebration.

“When their best player is gone, you would like to think your odds have gone up,” Frasor said. “But we were chasing them the entire overtime. After we scored after the steal, I knew that they had no time outs so I didn’t take one because I didn’t want them to get set up. It’s a chaotic moment. Obviously hindsight is 20-20 and I wish I did. But the guy hit a tough long two and give credit to him.’’

Brother Rice (10-6) beat Waubonsie Valley (60-38), Andrew (70-65), St. Laurence (70-58) and Batavia (61-40) to reach the final. Kennedy, a junior, and Josh Boulanger were selected to the All-Tournament team by the 32 coaches.

 Also in Elmhurst…

St. Laurence, Sandburg and Stagg represented the area in the tournament.

St. Laurence (12-4) won two games before its loss to Brother Rice and then dropped an 85-52 decision to Naperville North. Tim Molloy was named all-tournament.   

Sandburg (10-3) finished 2-2 and dropped a 79-73 overtime decision to Lyons in the consolation semifinals. Jake Pygon was named all-tournament.

Stagg (5-8) also went 2-2 and lost to Downers Grove South, 70-66, in the consolation semifinals. John Mahoney was named to the All-Tournament team.

Marist’s tourney streak ends

Marist’s tournament championship streak stopped at an impressive five.

The RedHawks had won five straight regular-season tournaments heading into last week’s action at Centralia. They won the District 218 Thanksgiving Tournament in 2016 and 2017 and their own mid-December Holiday Tournament the same years. They won the 16-team Centralia Tournament for the first time since 1991 last season but on Saturday, the streak ended when they dropped a 57-51 decision to Champaign Central in the semifinals.

Later that night, they beat Alton, 49-45, to finish third.

In the Champaign loss, Morgan Taylor led the team with 18 points and Jack Ellison had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Against Alton, Taylor scored 26 while David Daniels had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Taylor, last year’s tournament MVP, was named to the All-Tournament team.

The RedHawks (14-1) are back in action Friday night when they host Harlan.

Oak Lawn even at T-Town

Oak Lawn is gunning for one of its biggest seasons in decades and split four games at the Teutopolis-Effingham Christmas Classic.

The Spartans shot 61 percent to end the 2017 portion of their season in a 64-40 victory over Brooks. Sophomore Sami Osmani led the team with 20 points and his brother Adem had 16 and was named to the All-Tournament Team for the second straight season.

The Spartans, 9-4, are trying to surpass the 16-win mark for the first time since 1980-81. They resume action at Lemont on Friday night.

Meanwhile in Florida…

Chicago Christian closed the 2017 portion of its season pumped up after a wild 52-50 victory over Newsome (Fla.) at the Disney KSA Tournament at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando after trailing by double figures in the second half.

The Knights nipped Fairborn (Ohio), 46-43, to start things and fell to Bishop Eustace Prep (from New Jersey) 69-63 before the big comeback win.

The Knights play just their second home game of the year when they host St. Edward on Friday night.

Shepard takes third

Shepard took third place in the eight-team Large Division bracket of the Kankakee Holiday Tournament. The Astros (8-4) were 2-1 with wins over DuSable and Reavis and a loss to Peoria Central. Shepard’s Chris Harrison was named to the All-Tournament team for the second straight year.

The Astros open the 2018 portion of their schedule at Oak Forest on Friday.

No repeat for Mustangs

Evergreen Park finished 2-2 and was not able to win back-to-back titles at the Immaculate Conception Catholic/Westmont Tournament. Dan Woodal hit a game-winning basket in a 43-41 victory over Beecher to send his team off on a good note to end the 2017 portion of the schedule.

The Mustangs (5-8) get back into action on Friday at Tinley Park and are at the St. Anthony High School Shootout on Jan. 6.

Richards roughed up at Hinsdale C.

Richards, which owns one of the top records in the South Suburban Red at 3-1, had a tough time at the Hinsdale Central Tournament, going 0-4.

The Bulldogs (5-7) hope to get back on track on Friday when they host Thornton Fractional South on Friday night.

 

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

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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.