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Rewards for jobs well done for Marist coaches

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photos by Jeff Vorva

Maggie Strus, shown as an assistant coach at Marist in the fall, is expected to be announced as an assistant coach at DePaul.

 

There were quite a few honors and accolades thrown Marist players’ way after they won the Illinois High School Association Class 4A State Championship in girls volleyball in November and were named national champions by FloVolleyball.

Now the coaches are receiving some notice.

Head coach Jordan Vidovic was named volleyballmag.com’s National High School Coach of the Year while his assistant, Maggie Strus, is heading a few miles north to be DePaul University’s women’s assistant coach.

Vidovic, who also coaches the RedHawks’ boys team, had already captured a unique daily double as he was named East Suburban Catholic Conference Coach of the year for the boys in the spring and the girls in the fall of 2017. Now his reputation has spread to the national level.

The former Brother Rice star who played at Lewis University and was a 2007 USA Beach Volleyball Player of the Year, is usually pretty calm on the bench. It’s likely that his quiet, confident demeanor helped during boiling points of a 41-1 season, including those agonizing moments for the RedHawks when they were down 8-4 in the third and deciding game against Minooka. They rallied and dominated the rest of the way for a 22-15 victory.

“We didn’t waver too high or too low,’’ the coach said minutes after receiving his championship medal. “There were points in the match when we didn’t play our best. We were able to stay even keel and grind it out. We’ve been in those situations before and our senior leadership carried us through.’’

Strus has not been officially announced at DePaul but insiders say an announcement is expected shortly that she will on the Blue Demons’ new staff. Nadia Edwards was let go by the school in December after eight seasons and was replaced by Marie Zidek, an Orland Park native who attended Marian Catholic and Northern Illinois University.

Strus has a family history with DePaul. Her mother, Debbie, had a hall-of-fame volleyball career at the school and her younger brother, Max, is DePaul’s leading scorer on the men’s basketball team.

She said she enjoyed her time at Marist.

“Winning a state championship and national championship was extremely rewarding but I don’t think it would have ever happened if it wasn’t for every single girl on our roster and without anyone that supported the program,’’ Strus said. “Each player in their own talents are extremely remarkable young women so I couldn’t be happier to share that experience with them. We put a ton of work in last year and to see it all pay off is indescribable.”

The Hickory Hills native helped Stagg win four SouthWest Suburban Red championships and played four seasons at UIC, where she left with a school-best 1,677 digs. She is also one of two coaches in the family as her brother, Marty, is the boys basketball coach at Stagg.

Volleyballmag also named setter Molly Murrihy first-team All-America last week. Mother McAuley’s Charley Niego was an honorable mention.

 

Rare title within reach for Oak Lawn

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Oak Lawn senior Dan Lillard reaches out for the ball Friday night against Richards. The Spartans are within reach of winning their first conference title since 1983.

 

There it is, on the East wall of the Oak Lawn gym for all to see.

There are bunch of boxes indicating all of the conference titles Oak Lawn athletic teams have won.

In the boys basketball box, it reads “1967 1971 1979 1983.”

The Spartans haven’t won a league title since guys such as Randy Stanick and Tom Baxa were helping the team to a SICA West title. They have never won a South Suburban Red title, as that conference was established in 2006.

It’s been a long dry spell.

“We’re very aware of that,” Oak Lawn coach Jason Rhodes said.

The Spartans put themselves in a good position to end that after beating crosstown rival Richards, 57-52, in a home game Friday night. Heading into this week’s action, Shepard and Richards are on the top of the hill with 5-3 marks, while Oak Lawn is 4-3.

Senior Adem Osmani had 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to help with the victory. He added 10 rebounds and five assists.

He also knows about the conference title drought and wants that to end.

“That’s been the goal since I got here,” he said. “We’re in a good position now.’’

Last year, Oak Lawn broke a long losing skid to Richards with a 66-64 victory thanks in part to Osmani’s tip-in with 1.6 seconds left at Richards to close the regular season. It denied the Bulldogs their 11th league title in 12 years and allowed Evergreen Park to win its first conference crown since 1994.

After Friday’s game, some Oak Lawn fans stormed the court for a celebration.

Which game was more exciting?

“Honestly, both,” Osmani said. “I’m just glad we could beat them two years in a row. Oak Lawn has not had a great record against Richards and I wanted to end that. I want us to be the best team in Oak Lawn.

“We knew Richards was good and it was going to be close. But when you get to the fourth quarter, it’s winning time.’’

“This year’s game was more important,” Rhodes added.

Sophomore Sami Osmani added 13 points for Oak Lawn, which is 12-6 overall. Trevon Jones had 22 points and sophomore Paul Zilinskas added 11 for Richards (7-11 overall).

The Spartans were scheduled to visit Bremen in its final crossover game against SSC Blue foes on Tuesday and hosts Evergreen Park on Friday. The remaining conference schedule finds the Spartans hosting Shepard Feb. 9, hosting Reavis Feb. 13, visiting Eisenhower Feb. 16 and visiting Argo Feb. 23.

Richards’s remaining conference schedule finds the Bulldogs hosting Eisenhower on Friday, visiting Argo Feb. 2, visiting Evergreen Park Feb. 13, visiting Shepard Feb. 16 and hosting Reavis Feb. 23.

Shepard is also going to have a say in all of this and the Astros host Argo Friday night, visit Evergreen Park on Feb. 2, visit Oak Lawn Feb. 9, host Richards Feb. 16 and visit Eisenhower Feb. 23.

 

Marist holds Brother Rice to two third-quarter points in 10-point win

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photos by Jeff Vorva

Marist’s David Daniels winces as he shoulders a collision with high-flying Brother Rice sophomore Deandre Hagan in Tuesday’s 52-42 Marist victory.

 

Marist senior Jack Ellison couldn’t help but to laugh and he probably didn’t want to answer the question.

But who is a better expert to ask?

Ellison, who transferred from Chicago Christian before his senior year, has been involved in two of the fiercer rivalries area basketball teams play in as he had a taste of the Chicago Christian-Illiana Christian wars in the past. Tuesday night picked up his first experience in the legendary Brother Rice-Marist neighborhood battle, which was won by host Marist, 52-42, in front of an estimated crowd of 2,000.

So, when he was asked to compare the two rivalries he allowed himself a couple of chuckles before answering.

“Both are great,” he said. “But I think this is a lot better. There were way, way more people out there. My teammates told me to prepare myself for the fans. They talk so much and you have to block them out.  This was amazing and I was glad to be a part of it.’’

Brother Rice (12-7) had a 25-23 halftime lead and Marist (18-1) shut the Crusaders down in the third period, allowing just two points and grabbed a 37-27 lead after three and Brother Rice couldn’t mount a comeback.

“We definitely rebounded better,” Ellison said of the third quarter. “Our guards helped with the rebounding. And I take pride in being able to clean it up. Our effort and intensity wasn’t where it should have been the first and second quarters. Coach (Gene Nolan) got after us at halftime and we got to it.’’

In the first half, it was the Marquise Kennedy/Morgan Taylor offensive show with Kennedy scoring 17 for Brother Rice while Taylor had 15.

In the third quarter, Marist’s zone helped give the Crusaders fits and Taylor did a bulk of the work quieting Kennedy down while the RedHawks took a double-digit lead.

Taylor is one of the top scorers in the south suburbs with 24 points per game and has not committed to a college. His defense in the third quarter should help his overall resume.

“They threw me in the middle and I take pride in my defense,” Taylor said. “He (Kennedy) got some points in the second half but I was able to slow him down a little. I’ve been trying to play better defense since I came to Marist and that’s been helping us win a lot of games.”

Taylor, who transferred from Brother Rice after his freshman year, finished with 25 points and Kennedy came up with 26.

It’s the ninth time Marist beat Brother Rice in the last 14 seasons. Since 1990, the teams have played 30 times and both teams won 15 games while Marist has outscored Rice, 1,768-1,759 in that span.

Despite the fact it lost some key weapons to graduation and transfers, Marist is having a huge season. Prior to Tuesday’s night’s game, the RedHawks beat Marian Catholic, 53-47, Thursday night in Chicago Heights to stay perfect in the East Suburban Catholic Conference at 3-0.

It was Marist’s first victory at Marian since 2012 and Taylor led the squad with 27 points and Ellison added 10.

Brother Rice has had its up and down moments but entered the Marist game winning six out of seven games, including a second-place finish in the 32-team York Tournament and Friday night’s 68-52 victory over Mt. Carmel.  Kennedy had 16 points and Brendan Coghlan added 12 against the Caravan.

The two teams will be concentrating heavily on their conference schedules for the rest of the regular season.

Marist is tied with St. Viator for the East Suburban Catholic Conference lead and will host Benet Academy (2-1 in the league) on Friday. Marist, which is hoping to win its second straight ESCC title, will not play St. Viator until February.

Marist had never won a league title outright in the past and is trying to be the first team since Benet (2009-10 and 2010-11) to win back-to-back ESCC championships. The RedHawks were co-champs with St. Joseph in 1993-94 and 1995-96 and were co-champs with St. Viator in 1996-97.

Brother Rice is in the middle of the pack in the new Chicago Catholic League Blue conference with a 2-2 mark and Fenwick (4-0) in the lone unbeaten team in league play. The Crusaders resume conference action Friday night hosting De La Salle (1-2).

 

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.