May 26th, 2019 8:55 AM
Versatile playmaker Michael Love led Nazareth to its third state title since 2014. Love contributed as an outstanding defensive back, running back, wide receiver and special teams player. (File photo)
By Marty Farmer
While a few teams are still competing in the state playoffs (results will be posted at www.rblandmark.com), the games are rapidly winding down in another memorable high school sports year.
Here's a look back at some of the top teams and athletes of the 2018-2019 season.
Nazareth rolls to third state title
The Nazareth Academy football team entered the Class 7A championship game as the clear favorite against St. Charles North. The Roadrunners made good on that prognostication by overwhelming the North Stars 31-10 at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus.
With three state titles and a runner-up finish since 2014, the Roadrunners are already a dynasty or clearly on the way to such a coveted distinction.
"To win this year in 7A is a huge accomplishment and has all kinds of special meanings for our seniors and the school," coach Tim Racki said. "The hardest thing to do is win the first one. After we won state in 2014, then it almost became a standard the next year. A culture is established that serves our younger levels of the program well."
Nazareth (13-1) methodically pulled away from St. Charles North via its diverse offensive attack. Four players scored a touchdown each kicker Andrew Hughes added a 32-yard field goal to account for the Roadrunners' scoring.
Nazareth amassed 443 yards of total offense (242 yards rushing/201 passing), 21 first downs and went 3-for-3 on scoring changes inside the red zone. Defensively, Jermaine Baker and Brevin Reifsteck led Nazareth with seven tackles apiece. CJ West had five tackles including 2.5 for loss and Marcus Griffin recorded four tackles.
Fenwick girls hockey wins state
The Friars capped off their dream season with a 3-2 win over defending state champion New Trier 3-2 in the girls hockey state final at the United Center.
Fenwick (24-1-5) earned its first state title in program history by scoring three unanswered goals against New Trier. Ellie Kaiser scored the game-winning goal off an assist from Erin Proctor.
"Winning state feels amazing. There's nothing like it," Kaiser said. "Our fans and the Blackhawks made it an unbelievable experience that I don't think any of us will forget. It is truly one for the books."
Kaiser (45 goals, 15 assists), Proctor (34 goals, 24 assists ), Kelly Millins (19 goals, 35 assists), Cecilia Jenkins (19 goals, 18 assists), Katie Gobber, Sarah Steadman, Emily Franciszkowicz, Caroline Jenkins and goalie Lena Flores (473 saves) were selected as all-state players.
Stritzel-led Roadrunners finish third
The Nazareth girls basketball team talked all season about wanting to win the Class 3A state championship. Finishing second at state last year (lost to Peoria Richwoods in the final), the Roadrunners' lofty goal seemed reasonable considering their talent roster.
Unfortunately, the team's dream was halted by perennial state powerhouse Morton in the state semifinals. Morton, a three-time 3A state champion between 2015-2017, added a fourth state crown by beating Glenbard South 35-21 in the championship game.
The Roadrunners bounced back from their disappointing semifinals loss to beat Sacred Heart-Griffin 61-54 in the third-place game.
Harvard-bound Annie Stritzel capped off her Nazareth career in style with a game-high 30 points and team-high eight rebounds against Sacred Heart-Griffin. Jovanna Martinucci, Sophia Cullotta and Kaylen Evans comprised an outstanding supporting cast all season for the Roadrunners.
Bulldogs battle Curie
The RBHS boys basketball team rolled into the Class 4A Proviso West Sectional semifinals against Curie on a 15-game winning streak. That momentum was quickly halted by the Condors, who led the Bulldogs by seven points after one quarter and 38-20 at halftime en route to a 62-53 victory
Patrick Hanley led the Bulldogs in scoring with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and Charles Terry added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Andrew Veon (9 points, 8 rebounds) and Reggie Loury (9 points) and Zach Vaia (7 points) also contributed.
"Curie is really, really good," RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said. "There is a reason why they are the No. 1 team in the state and one of the top teams in the country. I am very proud of how our guys battled Curie all night long. We had an outstanding season."
The Bulldogs finished 28-5 record, highlighted by winning Thanksgiving, conference and regional championships. RBHS also school record for most victories in a regular season with 26.
LTHS water polo earns second in state
The Lions fell behind Naperville Central early en route to an 8-5 loss in the IHSA boys state water polo finals.
LTHS (30-5) trailed 3-0 after one period and 6-1 after three, while struggling to solve the Redhawks' stout defense. In the fourth, the Lions outscored Naperville Central 4-2 but ultimately fell short in their comeback attempt.
Senior star Victor Perez led the Lions with a match-high three goals, while Bobby Bolan and Liam Malas scored a goal each. Goalie Ray Berg finished with 10 saves.
One of the top programs in the state, LTHS won state championships in 2012 and 2015.
"Every year creates opportunities for other players to step up into different roles," coach Doug Eichstaedt said. "We have a strong core group of varsity players returning and a very successful [frosh/soph] group that will compete for playing time. I am excited to see the development over the next 12 months."
Friars' water polo contends again
The Fenwick boys water polo team strives to win its last match every season. With 20 state championships in the Friars' trophy cases, the annual objective is to be the best.
Although Fenwick won its last game this spring, the 17-11 victory over Lincoln-Way East unfortunately occurred in the third-place game of the IHSA state finals.
"Despite the disappointing finish, I think the team has a lot to be proud of," senior Nate Fisher said. "We are leaving Fenwick water polo in a good place and in good hands."
Lions fifth in boys swimming
After Spencer Walker and Henry Claesson led the LTHS swimming team to a runner-up finish at last year's state finals, Walsh took home four medals at the state meet hosted by New Trier this season.
His signature performance powered the Lions to fifth place in the state, capping off a season in which many characterized LTHS in a relative rebuilding mode. Prior to this season, the Lions won state championships in 2016 and 2017 coupled with the aforementioned second place-showing in 2018.
Walsh, a standout baseball player as well, finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke (55.93 seconds) and third in the 50-yard freestyle (20.65), while also swimming a leg on the Lions' state title-winning 200-yard medley relay of Jack Thorell, Walsh, Will Duerr and Bryson Breitbucher (1:31.46).
RBHS softball: a smashing success
Coach Doug Schultz stressed the importance of mental toughness to his players this season. The Bulldogs took the message to heart with a 24-4 regular-season record, highlighted by a 9-3 runner-up finish in the Metro Suburban Conference.
Led by Emily Noel, Ashley Lynch, Kailyn Ngo and Isabella Garcia (among several sweet-swinging others), the Bulldogs score runs in bunches. RBHS scored double-digit in runs in 14 games, highlighted by 20 runs on four occasions.
"We have grown very strong as a team," Noel said. "Our goal is to go far in the state playoffs."
RBHS crushed host Hinsdale Central 18-1 in a regional semifinals matchup of the 3A playoffs. The Bulldogs consolidated their auspicious start by beating Oak Lawn 5-0 to claim the Hinsdale Central Regonal championship on May 25.
Lions gymnastics vaults to fourth at state
The LTHS boys gymnastics team placed fourth with a score of 156.05 at the state finals, hosted by Hoffman Estates on May 11. Libertyville won the state title with a score of 159.15, followed by Niles West (158.65) and Glenbrook North (157.70).
Senior Julian Campbell finished second in rings (9.4) and senior Matthew O'Malley also earned a runner-up showing in vault (9.5) for LTHS. Campbell also tied for seventh in parallel bars with Neuqua Valley's Michael Baren as both scored a 9.3. Other notable results for the Lions included senior John Quinlan tying for fourth in floor (9.5) with three other gymnasts and sophomore Ben Taylor notching 10th place in parallel bars with a score of 8.6.
In the all-around standings, LTHS freshman Alec Paras and Metea Valley freshman Zachary Taylor both scored 52.00 to tie for 15th place.
Till/Ruge tandem coach Bulldog way
Head girls basketball and baseball coach Dallas Till and his top assistant Mark Ruge have established a tradition of winning in both sports at Riverside-Brookfield.
This year was no exception as the RBHS girls basketball team won 20 games and a conference title, while the baseball team finished the regular season at 20-8 with an 8-4 record and second-place showing in the Metro Suburban Conference. St. Rita defeated the Bulldogs 10-0 in the championship game of the Morton Regional on May 25.
Brenna Loftus, Sarah JnoBaptiste and Mary Maloney led the up-tempo, entertaining Bulldogs on the basketball court. Despite several key injuries, the baseball team also flourished with key contributions from cousins Mike Schicker and Owen Murphy as well as Marco Ruiz, Joe Kawiecki, Nate Roberto and Tyler Swanson.
The talent, however, extends to the bench with Till and Ruge effectively coaching in unison.
"The No. 1 thing I look for in an assistant coach is loyalty," Till said. "Mark is the most loyal assistant coach I've ever had. We share the same vision in terms of coaching."
For Ruge, the collaborative vibe has been equally seamless.
"Dallas and I work really work well together," Ruge said. "We don't always agree, but we talk about things and come to a resolution on what's best for the team."
Fenwick track wins first sectional
The Friars scored 153 points to win the Glenbard South Sectional in Glen Ellyn. The victory marked the first sectional championship in program history. In the winning process, the team also advanced two relays and six individuals to the IHSA state finals.
"Winning sectionals was an indescribable experience," senior Colleen Grogan said. "Our team worked extremely hard this year so receiving that title made all the hard work worth it."
Sophomore jumper Delaney Seligmann notched wins in both the high jump (4-11) and the triple jump (34-7), plus a runner-up finish in the long jump (16-10.5).
Grogan advanced downstate for the fourth consecutive year, winning the 300 hurdles in a time of 50.10.
Sophomore Maria Quinn (800 meters/2:25.27), sophomore Katie Cahill (3,200/12:02.40) and senior Claire Gatermann, from Riverside, (pole vault/10 feet) won individual events as well for Fenwick. Freshman Amanda Behrend also qualified for the state finals, taking second in the high jump with a measurement of 4-9.
The Friars earned victories in two relays with top times in the 1,600 (Maggie Van Ermen, Quinn, Seligmann, and Natalia Kuchinic; 4:19.96) and the 3,200 (Marie O'Brien, Van Ermen, Laura Durkin, and Quinn; 10:02.38).
"Overall we were very pleased with how the season progressed," coach Dale Heidloff said. "Through our senior leaders, the underclassmen certainly improved and became ready for the sectional competition."
As of this publication date, some teams are still alive in the state playoffs in their respective sports. Notable area teams include: RBHS, Fenwick, LTHS, Nazareth and Trinity softball; LTHS girls soccer; Nazareth baseball; and LTHS boys lacrosse.
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