Jeff Vorva’s Extra point: The best story of the day was Coach Stu’s surprise visit



Photo courtesy of Cora Umecker

Richards girls swimming coach Joel Staszewski, who has been hospitalized since June, made a surprise appearance at the Downers Grove South sectional and poses with some of his swimmers on Saturday.



It was quite a day and night in sports on Saturday.

Around the country, college football’s second-, third- and fourth-ranked teams were picking up their jaws off the field after they were shocked.

Around Illinois, volleyball state championships were won and lost, football quarterfinals seemingly provided a million storylines and girls swimming sectionals were in full swing.

In our area, it’s tough to beat McAuley, ranked No. 1 in the nation, winning a three-set battle with Minooka to win the Illinois High School Association or 12th seeded St. Laurence knocking out No. 1 seed Lemont in football.

But my favorite story from Saturday didn’t come from any of that. It came in the swimming pool area at Downers Grove South involving a sixth-place team that didn’t even qualify a state swimmer.

Richards participated in the Downers Grove South Sectional and the Bulldogs swimmers received a huge surprise when their coach, Joel Staszewski, showed up.

I wrote about him at the beginning of the season. The man known to most as Coach Stu had gastric bypass surgery performed in June and complications from a bacterial infection gave him stroke-like symptoms, robbing him of his ability to eat and speak. He nearly died because of those complications.

During the season, many South Suburban Conference teams have raised money for the coach’s family – his wife Jill and children Emma (age 12), Timothy (4) and triplets Claire, Nora and Lillian (2).

The Richards community was jazzed up for a possible Stu sighting at the SSC meet a couple of weeks ago, but he was still at the hospital and it didn’t happen.

On Friday, interim coach Cora Umecker wanted the coach to see his troops perform in sectional play so bad, she set up a Facebook account so he could watch the event live from the comfort of his bed.

When he showed up in Downers Grove in his wheelchair, the Bulldogs were stunned and thrilled.

“No one told me they were coming, it was the best surprise ever,” Umecker said. “It was very emotional for everyone, and not just my team. So many swimmers and coaches came to say hello. It was heartwarming.’’

The only bad news to this story is that Coach Stu is not 100 percent. He still has a long way to go.

“He is improving but, as expected, it’s a long process,” Umecker said. “He has still not been home since the initial procedure in June. He is currently rehabilitating at a center in Chicago.

“This swim season was really incredible. Watching all of the other teams join the ‘Stu Crew’ was so inspiring. Seeing them all come together like that was probably the biggest show of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. We would gather to take a ‘Stu Crew’ photo at invites and meets, and I’d go back to look at the shot and see all these girls from different teams standing together, smiling, arms around each other. None of them look like they just had a heated competition ten minutes earlier. It was great.’’ 

The coach has not even seen his home yet in five months, but as Umecker said “This man showed up for his girls.’’

Umecker said all along that she is just keeping the seat warm for Coach Stu and had a few things to say to him before he returned to Chicago.

“At the end of the meet, I handed him my clip board, pencil and heat sheet and told him my work is done,’’ she said. “It’s time for Coach Stu to get back to this team.’’



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Boys Basketball: Marist, Brother Rice stay unbeaten through two weeks

By Steve Millar

Marist came into the season with some question marks after losing a pair of key players to transfers and elevating several newcomers, including three freshmen, to the varsity roster.

The young RedHawks are, however, off to a blazing 6-0 start. They held on for a 57-55 win on the road Nov. 30 against St. Laurence.

“I’m surprised at how well they get along,” Marist coach Brian Hynes said of his players. “We’ve got great kids. This is the first time the freshmen played in front of a big crowd on the road. They met the test.

“Then to have senior leadership, it’s like big-brother-type stuff. It’s an easy mix.”

Senior guards Mason Ross and Kaden White scored 13 points each for Marist. Sophomore forward Marquis Vance added eight points and six rebounds.

EJ Mosley scored 19 points and Jacob Rice finished with 18 points for St. Laurence.

Ross broke a 55-55 tie, hitting a runner in the lane with 30 seconds left to give the RedHawks the lead.

On the Vikings’ final possession, Zerrick Johnson (eight points, six rebounds) tried to drive to the basket but was guarded tightly by Marist freshman Adoni Vassilakis. Johnson’s off-balance shot was off the mark and the RedHawks held on.

“Mason doesn’t shy away from anything, in practice or in games,” White said of Ross’ go-ahead shot. “He’s always playing hard, trying to get to the basket. He always puts the team first ahead of himself, which is the most important thing.”

Marist fought back from a 51-44 fourth-quarter deficit. White hit a pair of big 3-pointers to spark the rally.

“It was big,” White said. “My teammates and coaches instill confidence in me and I knew we were going to win.”

St. Laurence struggled down the stretch after Mosley left with around four minutes left. He said he was dealing with cramping in his leg.

“We’ve just got to stay together, even though we made mistakes down the stretch,” Mosley said. “I got hurt, but other people have to step up.”

Marist followed the big win up with another victory Friday night, topping Joliet Catholic 67-58 in its East Suburban Catholic Conference opener to improve to 6-0.

Senior guard Justin Lang scored 19 points, Vance had 13 points and freshman forward Stephen Brown added 10 points.

White has been thrilled with how his team has come together.

“This team is probably one of the easiest teams I’ve ever had to click with,” he said. “The young guys want to learn and we all love each other. That makes it easy to play on the court together.”

St. Laurence, meanwhile, bounced back Friday with a big 52-38 win over DePaul Prep in a Catholic League crossover.

Mosley, Rice, Johnson and Khalil Jones all finished with 11 points each in the win for the Vikings (4-2). All four are sophomores.

“I think our potential is very high,” Mosley said. “We’ve been sticking together the past couple years, playing AAU together. I think we’re a team that can make it to state in the next couple years.”


Brother Rice
The Crusaders (7-0) stayed perfect under new coach Conte Stamas with an 81-47 win over Morgan Park on Nov. 29, a 59-26 victory over Montini on Dec. 2 and a 72-48 win over St. Francis de Sales on Dec. 3.

In the win over Morgan Park, Niagara recruit Ahmad Henderson led the way with 18 points. Cale Cosme scored 12 points off the bench, Zavier Fitch added 11 points and seven rebounds, Tre Dowdell scored 10 points and Khalil Ross contributed nine points and eight rebounds.

The Crusaders showed off their depth.

“I like how together we are,” Henderson said. “We’re such a tight group right now and I’m loving our energy.”

Henderson said there have been a few bumps along the process of adjusting to a new system under Stamas, but the results have certainly looked good so far.

“It hasn’t been all rainbows but we’re getting used to it,” Henderson said. “We’re getting better every game and every practice and we’re going to keep getting better and learning from each other.”

The Crusaders came out clicking Tuesday, racing to a 23-7 first-quarter lead behind nine points from Henderson.

Morgan Park fought back within 40-28 at halftime, but Brother Rice pulled away for good with a 22-7 edge in the third.

“It’s an adjustment period because we’re playing differently than they’re used to,” Stamas said. “The terminology is different. The way we’re playing defensively is different. Not that it’s better. It’s just different. So, they have to adjust. We’re trying to build this team defensively and offensively for the end of the year.

“We have to keep getting better every day. We didn’t have a summer together. We still have a long ways to go to get to where we want to be.”


Local Hoops Wrap: Transfers shining for Saint Xavier in early going

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

The transfer portal is turning college athletics upside down, and Saint Xavier men’s basketball coach Robert Ford is enjoying it.

And taking advantage of it.

Jaeden King came to SXU in 2021 after transferring from NCAA Division II Tiffin University. Prior to that he played at Western Illinois.

He is the Cougars’ top scorer this year, averaging 20.8 points per game, and had a career-high 39 in a 95-79 victory over Trinity Christian on Nov. 30.

The top five scorers on the Cougars roster are transfers from either junior colleges or four-year schools.

“This is the trend and the way things are going, and I’ve kind of embraced it,” Ford said. “I’ve had stops as a [junior college] coach and Division II coach. I’ve been recruiting transfers and I’ve had transfers and people recruiting my guys, so I know what to look for with guys coming from good programs and coaches that I respect giving good recommendations.

“You do your due diligence, and you go from there. It’s working out for us so far.”

Through 11 games, the Cougars were 8-3 with a 6-1 mark in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

King, a 6-foot-6 senior guard with a year of eligibility after this season, went wild against Trinity (3-5, 1-4), hitting four 3-pointers early in the game and closing the game with two slam dunks.

“Last year, he had a rough go with an ankle injury,” Ford said of King. “He had a good summer working on his game, came in focused this season and it’s paying off.”

Trinity’s trio of Troy Glover (24 points), Michael Wright Jr. (23) and John Cison (21) led the Trolls.

“[King] had a career night and I give all the credit to him — he played well,” TCC coach Jason Hawkins said. “We have to tighten up our defense. We played hard and our effort was there we just have to play better defensively.”

Moraine Valley women’s basketball coach Delwyn Jones was presented with an award on Thursday for earning a spot in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Photo by Jeff Vorva


MVCC’s Jones joins Hall
Moraine Valley Community College women’s coach Delwyn Jones was named to the 2023 class of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I want to thank the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association for not only honoring me but more importantly for looking at the junior college level,” Jones said. “A lot of times organizations don’t value the juco level and there is a very good basketball here.”

This is Jones’ 23rd season with the Cyclones and has racked up more than 400 victories and led the team to two National Junior College Athletic Association tournament appearances.

Former Richards star player Dwyane Wade was also named to the Hall.

Sandburg and Oak Lawn play with the Chicago skyline in the background on Saturday at the 167 N. Green St. facility in the city. Photo courtesy of Sandburg High School


Sky scraping
The Sandburg and Oak Lawn girls basketball teams played a neutral-site game on Saturday on the 17th-floor of the 167 N. Green St. office tower in Chicago’s Fulton Market district.

The Eagles won the non-conference matchup, 47-39. The game was played on a court with one side of the gym enclosed in windows and offering a view of the Chicago skyline.

Juliana Paddock led the Eagles (5-2) with 15 points while Josie Canellis added 12 and Noor Ali seven.

Rose Salvagio scored 12 points for Oak Lawn (2-4). Teagan Krzystof added 10.


Climbing steep Hill
Fresh off an impressive victory over Mount Carmel to win the Spartan-Ram Classic, Oak Lawn took on the Association Press’s No. 5 Class 3A team in the state, Hillcrest, in a South Suburban Conference crossover game.

The Spartans (5-1) were within seven points of the Hawks heading into the fourth quarter but fell, 69-53.

Corey Lee led Oak Lawn with 15 points and Xavier Sulaiman had 14.


Mark the calendar
In the AP’s girls’ rankings, Nazareth was ranked first in Class 3A and Benet was ranked first in Class 4A.

Both powerhouses are in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Their league showdown opens the 2023 portion of the schedule in style with a Jan. 4 meeting in LaGrange Park.

Last year, the Roadrunners finished second in the state in Class 3A.

Area Sports Roundup: College of DuPage repeats as national football champ

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

The College of DuPage, the only junior college in Illinois with a football program, won its second straight National Junior College Athletic Association national championship with a 14-12 victory over North Dakota State College of Science in Glen Ellyn.

Former Richards’ standout Marquel Porter caught a 25-yard pass for the first TD of the game for the Chaparrals (9-2).

Other area players on the roster are wide receiver Myles McKatherine (St. Rita), defensive back Ja’Shawn Braswell (Morton), offensive lineman Damaurius Stewart (St. Laurence), wide receiver Gavin Butler (Oak Lawn), kicker/punter Marko Dubak (Lyons) and defensive lineman Jeremiah Swanigan (Morton).


Cougars Cornerstoned
The Saint Xavier women’s volleyball team could not turn the corner on Cornerstone, which knocked the Cougars out of the national tournament in a wild five-set match at the NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship Tournament.

SXU’s season ended with a 25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 21-25, 15-12 heartbreaking loss to the Michigan school in pool play Dec. 1 at Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Sophomore setter Kaleigh Ritter set a career-high with 63 assists and posted a season-best 19 digs. It’s the second-most assists in program history in the rally scoring era. Former standout Jaclyn Major had 68 assists in a five-set victory against Trinity International University on Nov. 2, 2010.

Junior middle blocker Courtney Hunter set a career high with 18 kills on a .394 attack percentage.

It was the Cougars’ third trip to Sioux City in the last six seasons.


TCC soccer stopped in semis
Trinity Christian College’s women’s soccer team made it to the semifinals of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association for the second straight year, but dropped a 6-1 decision to Grace (Indiana) Friday in Kissimmee, Florida.

The Trolls finished 13-6-5 and were led Kara Amidon’s goal and Grace Wieneke’s assist.

Earlier in the week in pool play, the Trolls beat Bob Jones (South Carolina) 6-2 as 2021

Last year’s NCCAA National Player of the Year, Brianna Uhl led the way for the Trolls, scoring her fourth career hat trick and first of the season in the win. Wieneke pitched in with her fifth and sixth goals of the season, while Litzy Corona put away her 17th goal of the year.

They followed it up with a 1-1 draw against Oakland City (Indiana), with Uhl scoring the lone goal.


Milazzo wins Red Stars award

Orland Park’s Tatumn Milazzo was named the Chicago Red Stars’ Defender of the Year, the team announced last week.

Mallory Pugh was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

Amanda Kowalski was named Rookie of the Year, Zoe Morse was named Most Improved and Humanitarian of the Year and Danny Colaprico won the Chicago Grit award.


Red Stars leaving

Veterans Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat and Rachel Hill informed the team they will not re-sign and will become free agents.

Colaprico has been with the team since 2015 and Gautrat in 2017. Hill played in 102 regular-season games with the Red Stars.


Red Stars leaving?

Multiple reports say Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler will be selling the team, months after players and members of the public demanded it after he reportedly turning a blind eye to player abuse from then-coach Rory Dames.

Whistler was removed by the team as chairman in October and recently hired Inner Circle Sports to broker a deal.

Inner Circle is also the lead group in the National Woman’s Soccer League’s expansion effort for the 2024 season, and there is speculation a buyer may want to move the Red Stars out of the Chicago area.


A Sitch in time

Julianne Sitch, who was an assistant coach for the Red Stars in 2022, left during the season to take a job as head coach with the University of Chicago men’s soccer team.

It turned out to be a good move, and she helped the Maroons win the NCAA Division III national championship. Chicago defeated Williams College, 2-0, in Salem, Virginia. Sitch is the first woman to coach a men’s soccer team to a national title.

Shepard, Stagg teams honor Ryan Plowman

Players observe a moment of silence Monday night.

Varsity girl basketball teams from Stagg and Shepard took time out before Monday night’s contest to pay tribute to Shepard student Ryan Plowman, who died earlier this year of complications from mononucleosis. Proceeds from the concession stand were donated to a gofundme campaign in Ryan’s name.

Dan Plowman had the honor of the first tip off to begin the game as his wife, Jen, looks on. The Plowmans were presented a game ball to keep with messages from the girls.


Both teams wore shirts in Ryan’s honor with his name and number on the back.

Nazareth rally celebrates fourth state football championship

Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk is congratulated by Nazareth Principal Therese Hawkins on Monday. He scored two touchdowns and threw for two more to be named Player of the Game after a thrilling 45-44 win over Peoria earned the Class 5A state title on Nov. 26.

By Steve Metsch

Two huge cheers rocked the Rooney Student Center at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park late Monday morning.

The first was when Zach Hayes – joined by the coaches and teammates – walked in carrying the IHSA Class 5A state football championship trophy high over his head.

The second was when school principal Therese Hawkins made a special announcement.

“As you know, it’s a great tradition here at Nazareth Academy that when we have a state championship team in the house, we also have an extra day off,” she said.

Feb. 17 will be a day without school, she said, as the student body of 740 roared its approval.

When one considers there were only 13 seniors on this roster, another day off may be coming soon as state titles are also getting synonymous with Nazareth football.

The Roadrunners won a championship for the fourth time in the past nine seasons. Nazareth is now 4-2 in football title games.

The Roadrunners beat Peoria in a 45-44 thriller on Saturday at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium for their first title since 2018.

Head Coach Tim Racki, who won four straight state titles at Driscoll, thanked the parents, students, band, cheerleaders, poms, teachers and administration for their support.

Now 8-2 overall in title games, Racki said he’s humbled by accolades, adding it wouldn’t be possible with the assistant coaches he considers “some of the best in the state.”

“In terms of where we were at, there was never a doubt,” he deadpanned.

Nazareth became the first football team in state history to start a season 2-4 and win it all.

“The resiliency is something I’ve never experienced as a head coach,” Racki said.

The Roadrunners reeled off eight straight wins after that start.

“The destination is always wonderful, but, man, I can’t tell you how sad I am that this journey has concluded,” Racki said.

“I’m so proud and incredibly blessed to be surrounded by these young men and especially the seniors whom I’ll never forget,” he said. “Gentlemen, I love you.”

One of those seniors is Hayes, the team’s captain chair, whose interception in the closing moments sealed the victory.

Hayes said the team appreciated the support from the fans, credited the coaches for their hard work, and thanked his teammates who worked hard all year.

“This team means everything to me. … To see that we came out on top is so rewarding,” Hayes said. “I know each and every one of us sitting in those chairs would do anything for the guy next to him. That’s why I love Naz.”

Senior running back, receiver and defensive back Justin Taylor, a Wisconsin recruit, thanked “my brothers” and the coaches “for all the time you sacrificed for us.”

After the ceremony, Racki said he sensed something special was brewing after an emotional talk with the team then 2-4.

“I worked my tail off at motivation and leadership. I pretty much emptied my tool box. I told them, ‘Guys, I don’t know what else to say. Now it’s time for you to lead.’ From that moment on, we started growing,” Racki said.

“You develop that grit, that toughness. And they started believing.”

He refrained from comparing this title with his other seven. But he did praise the team’s focus, saying, “when you’re 2-4, it’s easy to tank.”

Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk, named Player of the Game after rushing for two touchdowns and throwing for two more, said “words can’t express how happy I am right now.”

“I believed we always had a shot because this team showed so much potential. And, of course, we’re so young. We had a lot of learning to do,” he said.

He praised the Nazareth defense that stopped running back Malachi Washington on a key two-point conversion late in the game.

“They came up big when we needed them. It’s that one play. And Zach’s pick as well. It’s the resilience. I’m super proud of them,” Malachuk said.

Washington – whom Racki called “the best running back I’ve seen in years” – carried 48 times for 289 yards. His six touchdowns tied a state record.

Before the football celebration, Nazareth’s girl sports were recognized for going downstate this fall in volleyball, tennis, golf and cross-country.

On a personal note, Racki coached the title game with a heavy heart.

Brother-in-law Flavio Gentile died suddenly on Nov. 23 from a bacterial infection in his blood, Racki said.

Gentile had played quarterback in high school at Fenwick.

“He was a huge football fan and supporter of mine since I was at Driscoll,” Racki said. “I knew he’d want me to lock in and take care of these kids. And that’s what I did. I knew he was with me the entire way.”

Nazareth started the year with a 2-0 shutout of state runner-up Kankakee in La Grange Park, and ended it with a wild 45-44 shootout.
Keith Lukes, the Roadrunners’ defensive coordinator, said the big scoring difference was attributable to the hard-to-stop Washington and Peoria’s depth.
“He was great. They had very few two-way guys. I think their brand of football, with the size they had upfront, with him running as effectively as he did, it kind of wore on us. We had a bunch of guys going both ways (on offense and defense) and they wore us down,” he said.
An outside bltz stopped Washington from scoring a two-point conversion that would have given Peoria a 46-45 lead late.
“We sent an outside blitz on that play. Finn O’Meara and Braden Ferguson were the two guys on the tackle. And we had the pick late,” Lukes said.
He was surprised Peoria stuck with its unconventional approach of kicking on-side every kick off. But he was pleased with the results.
“This wsa the first game we saw on film and maybe the entire season where they didn’t recover at least one on-side kick. From the punt side, they only punted nine times the entire year. In our game, they punted four times. So we were doing something different,” Lukes said.

Nazareth Head Coach Tim Racki won his eighth state championship, four of them with the Roadrunners, on Nov. 26 in Champaign.

Orland Park man wins Turkey Trot; St. Laurence runner takes women’s title

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

The number 19 meant good things on Thanksgiving morning.

The top two finishers in the 34th running of the Orland Park Turkey Trot had “19” as part of the number on their bibs.

Brandon Lukas, 25, of Orland Park, wore No. 7519 and took first place with a time of 14:6.6 seconds in the 2.5 mile run near Orland Park Village Hall.

Orland Park resident Brandon Lukas won the 34th Turkey Trot on held the morning of Thanksgiving. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Robbie Sieczkowski, 23, of Orland Park, wore 7819 and finished second in 14:26.5.

Luis Lopez, 17, of Chicago, and Mario Lopez, 25, of Orland Park, finished third and fourth, respectively, while Daniel Dominick, 38, of Frankfort, rounded out the top five.

In the women’s division, St. Laurence runner Jadie Chavez, 17, of Chicago, took first place with a time of 17:21.8. Krysta Stanko, 17, of Orland Park, Bryn Dolan 28, of Brooklyn, Grace Wille, 20, of Orland Park, and Megan Kobza, 34, of Tinley Park, rounded out the top five.

Lukas is a former Sandburg runner who never ran in the Turkey Trot before.

“I just wanted to go out there and see what I could do,” he said.

Outside of running, Lukas is a sensation in the classroom. He is working on his PhD in bioinfomatics at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

He said he ran the Chicago Half Marathon earlier this year.

St. Laurence junior Jadie Chavez holds her first prize of a frozen turkey for being the Orland Park Turkey Trot’s female champion. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chavez said she has won her age group in the past but never was the overall women’s champion. Her family makes it a tradition to run in the Orland Park event every year.

“I was actually sick so I was stressing out about running it,” she said. “But I’m OK now.”

The Vikings junior finished 137th in the IHSA Class 2A state meet at Detweiler Park in Peoria in November.

A record 1,000 runners signed up for the Turkey Trot and 887 finished the race.

In the men’s age group divisions, Orland Park’s Oskar Kwiatek won 9-under, Manteno’s Benjamin Frieschle won 10-14, Luis Lopez won 15-19, Sieczkowski won 20-14, Lukas won 25-29, Sioux Fall South Dakota’s Adam Saban won 30-34 and Dominik won 35-39.

Also, Mokena’s Dan Woods won 40-44, Tinley Park’s Brian O’Donnell won 45-49, Orland Park’s Jim Delisa won 50-54, Homewood’s Rich Matula won 55-59, Orland Park’s Kevin Germino won 60-64, Plainfield’s Mark Eichelberger won 65-69 and Tinley Park’s Charlie Tarjan won 70-over.

In the women’s age group divisions, Orland Park’s Nora Dubois won 9-under, Orland Park’s Colleen Noone won 10-14, Chavez won 15-19, Wille won 20-24, Dolan won 25-29, Kobza won 30-34 and Jacksonville, North Carolina’s Terri Piekosz claimed 35-39.

Also, Mokena’s Kelly Lynn won 40-44, Palos Hills’ Laura Lipkie won 45-49, Bolingbrook’s Katrina Clark won 50-54, Willowbrook’s Denise Poremba won 55-59, Orland Park’s Janet Marks won 60-64, Frankfort’s Joan Sullivan won female 65-69 and Orland Park’s Paula Scheiwe won 70-over.

A pair of runners get into the spirit of the Orland Park Turkey Trot race. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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