By Jason Maholy
Prior to the start of this season, Marist coach Ron Dawczak took looked over the new superconference formed by the merger of the Chicago Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic Conference and was sure of at least one thing.
“I said this is a ridiculously strong conference, and I knew there was going to be a team that finishes 5-4 and be a really good team that makes some noise in the playoffs. And that could be us, actually.”
Dawczak’s statement came after the RedHawks earned a berth in the Class 8A bracket via a 14-6 win last Saturday on the road in cold, rainy conditions over defending state champion Loyola. Marist entered the game 4-4 and with their season on the line; and responded with an inspired effort Dawczak said was their most complete game of the year.
The RedHawks will play Glenbard East (8-1) in Lombard at 7 p.m. Friday.
Marist has – based on its opponents’ collective wins (56) – played the most difficult schedule in the state, a factor Dawczak said prepared them for the win-or-go-home game versus Loyola and he believes will be a major advantage for his team in the playoffs. Their four losses were to Brother Rice (5-4), Notre Dame (7-2), Mount Carmel (9-0) and Nazareth (9-0).
Eight of the RedHawks’ nine regular season opponents qualified for the postseason. That is the most in Class 8A; only Brother Rice and Minooka have played as many as seven playoff teams.
“We felt really confident,” he said of the mentality heading into the game against the Ramblers. “We were in every single game [we lost], they just didn’t go our way. But we knew we could compete with anybody.
“That experience is invaluable… to week in, week out play some of best teams in the state and knowing you have to bring you’re A-game, and if you don’t you’re going to lose. But where it really pays off is in the playoffs. We’re battle-tested, we have been in these close games and we’ve played a lot of great teams, and our guys know they can compete against the best.”
Glenbard East, the No. 8 seed in Class 8A, has not played a schedule nearly as daunting as Marist’s. The Rams’ regular season opponents finished 37-44 and they played four teams that made the playoffs; but Dawczak said it will take the same effort the RedHawks gave in their season finale if they’re to advance to the Round of 16.
“They’ve got some good athletes, they run a wide-open offense, and their quarterback (Brett Bushka) is athletic and accurate,” he said. “They’re a talented team, but we know that for us, that win against Loyola was just the start of what could be something special. That was by no means the end goal; the focus now is on Glenbard East. We have to understand this is an 8-1 team that’s very talented, and our guys have to play just as well as they did against Loyola if they want to move on.”