Fall season begins for Cyclones teams
A change at the top hasn’t changed how Moraine Valley College will approach the 2014 volleyball season.
Two straight appearances in the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament have made the Cyclones a marked team. But that was accomplished under the guidance of longtime head coach Gloria Coughlin, who stepped down at the end of last season. A large chunk of the squad’s high-achieving roster has moved on as well.
That means first-year coach Mark Johnston has some adjustments to make. Even with 10 newcomers on hand, however, he is not lowering Moraine’s expectations.
“I believe we have what it takes to win [the Illinois Skyway Collegiate] conference and ultimately earn another bid to nationals,” said Johnston, a former setter at Lakeland (Wis.) College who has spent the past decade coaching volleyball at St. Ignatius.
“We have 14 athletes on the roster this year, making the team deep at every position. We will be very strong on the defensive side of the ball, we have a very solid block and our back-row play will be our biggest strength.”
Johnston, who has introduced new offensive and defensive schemes, is being joined on the sidelines by assistant coach Thomas Ryan. Libero Kayla Manthei, middle hitters Alex Bojan and Jessica Chaput and right-side hitter Colleen Kull are Moraine’s veterans. Bojan was second on the team in blocks last season.
New arrivals include freshmen Carolyn Yerkes (Marist), Bridget Ferrin (Richards), Kate Patnett, 6-foot-3 Morgan Hickman (Stagg), Jordan Kelley, Shannon Gardner (Richards), Donna Killeen (Marist), Allison Nash and Amanda Host and sophomore Carly Trinley. Trinley was the ISCC Softball Player of the Year in the spring but is out for volleyball for the first time.
“These athletes will be able to play multiple roles on the team this year,” Johnston said. “This will make us very strong because we will be able to adjust to our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses more easily. We are going to be a very hard team to score points against.”
The Cyclones opened their 2014 campaign at the 19th annual College of DuPage Invitational and earned a four-match split. Moraine beat the host school (25-11, 25-16, 25-19) and collected a forfeit victory over an absent Riverland College squad.
Leading the way in the on-court success were Gardner (four kills), Bojan (four), Trinley (13 assists, 11 digs, two block assists) and Yerkes (nine digs, 2.57 serve-receive efficiency).
Saturday didn’t unfold quite so well for the locals, who committed 30 hitting errors versus NJCAA Division III No. 10-ranked Harper College and, as a result, suffered a 25-15, 25-16, 25-19 defeat. Bojan (six kills), Trinley (16 assists, eight digs) and Yerkes (nine digs, 2.67 serve-receive) were the Cyclones’ principal figures.
Moraine put up a much better fight against top-ranked Madison College, but the latter still garnered a 25-11, 23-25, 25-13, 25-16 triumph. Producing solid performances on the Cyclones’ behalf were Patnett (five kills, four block assists), Kileen (three kills, 12 digs), Manthei (three kills, eight digs, 2.39 serve-receive), Yerkes (21 digs) and Trinley (15 assists, 15 digs).
Gardner represented Moraine on the all-tournament team as an outside hitter.
The Cyclones picked up their third win of the year last Tuesday by knocking off Malcolm X College 25-17, 25-16, 25-15.
Moraine’s headliners were Bojan (eight kills), Killeen (five kills, five digs), Trinley (14 assists), Yerkes (nine digs) and Manthei (three service aces).
Two days later the Cyclones defeated Olivet Nazarene University 25-23, 15-25, 25-19, 25-14 in an organized scrimmage. Ferrin (33 assists, two kills, two blocks, one ace), Trinley (13 kills, two aces) and Bojan (10 kills, two blocks) were Moraine’s catalysts, but also lending a hand were Patnett (five kills, one block), Chaput (five kills), Yerkes (four aces) and Manthei (two aces).
The Cyclones are cautiously optimistic entering 2014.
Last season Moraine was second in the ISCC and placed three golfers on the all-conference squad. Included among the trio was returnee Joe Knight, whose low score as a freshman was 74.
Back as well are sophomores Jeff Cizek, John Randolph, Zac Traina and John Yerkes. Yerkes shot a 78 at the Region IV Tournament last season and Cizek also brings regional experience with him.
Joining that quintet are five newcomers: high school state qualifier Matt Contey, John Orowick, David Karwoski, John Nagle and Scott Borden, whose father was a Moraine golfer three decades ago.
The Cyclones took sixth in a 13-team field in their initial outing on Aug. 22 at the Prairie View Preview in Byron, Ill. Contey carded a 79 to lead the way, but Orowick (81), Karwoski (82) and Knights (82) were all nipping at his heels. Cizek fired a round of 87.
“With some fine-tuning and cleaning up [of] problems, we’re contenders,” Moraine coach Bob Freudenthal said. “After seeing our competition, we can be competitive in conference and in our region. Once we get everyone on track and improve our scores, we’ll be in the mix.”
The Cyclones played their first ISCC match this past Wednesday in Northbrook.
The 2014 female Cyclones return only two runners from last year’s conference runner-up team, so it will be incumbent upon the newcomers to jell quickly. They should be up to the task.
ISCC champion Aileen Gorman leads the pack. The sophomore is a standout both athletically and scholastically — she was an NJCAA Division I national qualifier, all-region first-team selection and conference MVP as a runner and an Academic All-American.
But Gorman shows no signs of resting on her laurels.
“Aileen is not satisfied with her accomplishments from last year, which included a 50th-place finish among 281 competitors at nationals,” said Moraine coach Mark Horstmeyer, who enters his 15th year at the helm. “She is expecting a lot from herself and is putting in the work to get there. We’re excited for her.”
Also returning is national qualifier Jessica Flores, who will be counted on heavily for contributions to team success.
“Jessica showed us what she was capable of accomplishing last year,” Horstmeyer said. “We will need her experience to help us be ready for the championship season.”
Surrounding that duo are newcomers Jackie Navarrate, Amy Miller, Abby Rodriguez, Crystal Flores, Sarah McCann, Nemy Hernandez, Tonie Wasco and Jessica Pinkos.
“Jackie really put in the time over the summer and continues to work very hard,” Horstmeyer said. “She is committed to improving every day, and that work ethic will really pay off for her and for us. She has a tremendous upside.
“Amy also committed herself to putting in the miles over the summer, and that effort continues. She will be relied on to help us a lot [and] she shows great potential.”
Horstmeyer is upbeat about his other rookies, too.
“Abby was a very solid contributor for Oak Forest and we think she can accomplish much more,” he said. “We expect her to have an outstanding year, and as her confidence builds during the season she’ll also see what she’s capable of achieving.
“Crystal is another hard worker. She did everything we asked her to do this summer and she continues to work hard. We think she will adjust quickly to this level, so we are counting on her to contribute significantly to any success we have.
“Sarah doesn’t have as much high school experience as some of her teammates, but she’ll gain that after she has a couple of races under her belt. She is showing us that she will be another important cog to our success.”
Horstmeyer said he likes Hernandez’s “grit” and determination to improve, and he believes both she and Wasco will be important performers before the end of the season. He is similarly enthusiastic about Pinko, who has been rehabbing an injury suffered last spring in track and has made a great deal of physical progress.
The veteran coach said one word best sums up his opinion about his current team: potential.
“They all have a ton of it,” Horstmeyer said. “It will be fun to help them develop it and realize it, and then watch them use it to the fullest. This will be an exciting year.”
While potential is Horstmeyer’s watchword with the females, experience is the key to the Cyclones men’s team. In direct contrast to the women, Moraine has all but one of its male runners from a year ago returning.
That contingent took third in the ISCC and two of the three athletes who qualified for the NJCAA nationals — all-region first-teamer Dawid Palac and third-teamer Brandon Ceh — are back to try again.
“We are expecting big things from Dawid and Brandon, as they are themselves,” Horstmeyer said. “Both have been through the wars and achieved success last year. Now they have to use what they learned to reach even higher — they are very capable of doing that.”
Also expected to be a pivotal figure is Anthony Briante.
“Anthony will be outstanding,” Horstmeyer said. “He really put in the miles this summer and continues to work hard every day. We are expecting great things from him this year and he is up to the challenge.”
Other returnees are Justin Briante, Anton Thauer, Alejandro Montes, Jesus Rojas and Larry Byrd.
“We have really been impressed with the way Justin and Alejandro have prepared for this season,” Horstmeyer said. “They have put in a lot of miles over the summer, and that will really help us — and them — to accomplish our mission. We are really pleased with their focus.
“Anton came on really strong at the end of last season when it counted the most, and we think he is capable of accomplishing a lot more. Jesus was hampered by illness at the wrong time of the season last year, but we think he’ll be ready to help us this year. He is determined.
“Larry needs to continue to improve. He showed by the end of last year that he is capable of making that commitment to do whatever it takes to reach his goals and meet our expectations.”
The newest members of the team should also have an impact on this season’s fortunes. Yousef Khazneh and Braulio Castellanos both bring with them a wealth of high school and track experience.
“Yousef ran all summer — he has high aspirations for this season,” Horstmeyer said. “If what he has shown us so far is any indication, he will have an outstanding season.
“Braulio will be very solid for us. He has shown us consistency and improvement, and that’s what we want out of him.”
Horstmeyer thinks is athletes’ combination of experience and focus will pay big dividends.
“We have been very pleased with what we have seen in the early going,” he said. “Our returnees know the ropes, but most importantly they know what they have to do this season in training and in races to accomplish even greater things. They are up to the task.
“Our new guys are showing us that they too are committed to doing all they can to make this season memorable. This will be a fun group of guys to watch and see how they use their experience to reach even greater heights.”
Things are looking good for the Cyclones in 2014. Between the talented returnees and 20 energetic freshmen, the squad looks ready to surpass its accomplishments of a season ago.
Taking second in the ISCC with an overall 9-6-1 record was respectable, but Moraine is excited for another chance to prove its skills and potentially compete in Spain this spring.
“They’re pushing each other and demanding a high standard of play already,” 15th-year coach Chuck Bales said of his athletes. “And with our new training facility — the Health, Fitness & Recreation Center — it’s a dream come true.
“We have everything we need. We have good quality players from the area, and the returners are excited to be back.”
All of the veterans will be a major asset. Headlining the group are all-region selection Jordy Padilla and all-conference pick Steve Henry, but fellow sophomores Jorge Martinez, Leo Lezama, Gilberto Andrade and Jonatan Sandoval will be counted on for solid support.
Within a talented freshman corps are three goalkeepers, any of whom could start.
Because of the quality and energy level of these athletes, the Cyclones are going to play more aggressive this season. There will be less sitting back and counter-attacking and more defending on the opposition side of the field, according to Bales.
“We’ll have more possession of the ball,” he said. “It’s very tiring because to some extent you’re chasing.
“There’s not much time in the preseason to prep, but with nearly 30 guys we can substitute, and everyone is a quality player. We can pull from the bench.”
Additionally, the Cyclones are starting to raise funds for a trip to Spain in March. Moraine is part of an international sports exchange program that has enriched the lives of many student-athletes. Over the years the men’s soccer team has competed in Rotterdam, Holland; Nürnberg, Germany; and Milan, Italy.
In his 10 years in charge of the women’s program, Jim Knawa has not enjoyed the kind of athlete turnout that’s occurred this season. Not only were the numbers good, but the quality of players make 2014 potentially a very good year.
There’s a nice balance between forwards and defenders, and nine returnees are part of the mix. Knawa credits his assistant coach James Kline for recruiting five top players in the offseason and there are also a few walk-ons.
Moraine bade farewell to 2013 all-region and all-conference selection Patricia Tuxford, who now plays for Calumet College of St. Joseph, but All-ISCC choices Katie Gribbon and Samantha Reyes are back to share a captaincy along with Diana Lozano. Alyssa Braun, who played for the Cyclones in 2012 and was their second-leading scorer with eight goals and seven assists, should also be a big offensive contributor.
Newcomer Alexis Boyer, one of the top high school keepers in the south suburbs, arrives to man a position Moraine typically struggles to adequately fill. Measurable input is also expected from Kristina Cypser, Cecia Esquivel, Alexis Delgado, Kortnie Hanold, Alejandra Hernandez-Lopez, Maggie Hacker, transfer student Esmeralda Padilla and Xitlaly Mandujano.
“If we can put some goals in and work the ball in the middle of the field, then we’ll do good things,” Knawa said. “We have our usual tough competition from Lake County and Waubonsee, but I definitely hope to improve from last year.”
Second-year coach Nicole Selvaggio wants her players to envision their name on banners proclaiming them conference and region champions.
If the offseason is any indication, the Cyclones are focused and ready to live up to their new motto: refuse to lose. After suffering its only loss of the 2013 regular season to ISCC rival Elgin College, Moraine wants to win it all.
After playing well at nationals in May, several returnees will bring maturity and an understanding of high-level competition Selvaggio hopes will be imparted to the newbies. All-region player Tricia Poremba is stepping up as captain this season and is joined again by all-region honoree Claudia Maka, Liz Dominguez and Lindsey Walker.
Thanks to Selvaggio’s recruiting efforts, the Cyclones have added strength to the squad with newcomers Fabie Ezife, Kaitlyn Seldal, Lorissa Sernus and Agnes Szudy. Members of the team are already close, both on and off the court.
“I plan on coming in first this year,” Selvaggio said. “The returners want to avenge a second-place finish. We’re a solid team with no holes, [but] we have to be in sync and bring it on the court.
“They’re ready to go. I tell them to expect all the conference schools to be better than last season and let their rackets do the talking.”
Selvaggio is not only stressing excellence on the court but in the classroom as well.
“I don’t tolerate excuses,” she said. “Their priority should be school and then tennis.”
Maka, Poremba, Szudy and Ezife all notched singles victories in Moraine’s season-opener last Wednesday, but that wasn’t quite enough to ward off Roosevelt University, which bagged a 5-4 team win.
Collectively, the Cyclones were aggressive, communicated well and displayed superb footwork. Several matches could have easily gone either way — the first-doubles encounter ended in a 9-7 score, the Lakers captured the No. 2 doubles affair 10-8 and the second-singles match was decided in a third set.
“[Wednesday’s] match allowed us to get even stronger for the road ahead,” Selvaggio said. “I feel like even though the ‘W’ wasn’t on our side of the scoreboard, we set the tone for the type of tennis we are capable of and will be displaying throughout this season.
“These girls all played unbelievable tennis. We hung with Roosevelt. If we gave an NAIA team that tough of a time, then I can’t wait to see the tennis we have ahead of us.”