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High School Boys Volleyball: Marist on the cusp of another trip to state

By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

Marist is one win away from another trip to the state tournament and the chance at a second consecutive title.

But they will first have to get past another perennially elite program to get there.

The RedHawks will play Lincoln-Way East on on Tuesday, June 14 for the Marist Sectional championship in matchup of the two most recent state champions.

With the 2020 season canceled because of the pandemic, Marist won the last boys state volleyball championship in 2019, following the Griffins’ run to the title in 2018.

The RedHawks advanced to the sectional title game via a two-set vanquishing of Homewood-Flossmoor, 25-26, 25-10, on June 12. Marist (27-3) never trailed and was tied only once, when it was 1-1 during the opening set. Ahead 5-3, senior right side hitter Nyherowo Omene (8 kills, 2 aces) had back-to-back kills to trigger a 5-1 burst as the RedHawks pulled away.

They opened the second set with the first five points, raced out to a 10-2 lead, and coasted.

H-F (14-12) was playing in its first sectional since 2016.

Senior outside hitter Kyle Pietrzak (7 kills, 2 blocks), sophomore middle hitter Mike Uldrych (5 kills, 2 blocks), senior setter Neil Riggio (15 assists), and senior libero Matt Monahan (12 digs) were also big for the RedHawks.

“We’re definitely happy it worked out and we have to use our home court to our advantage,” Omene said. “Our goal is just to get one or two percent better every match. We don’t give ourselves that tangible goal of a state championship. We just want to get better every time.”

Marist coach Jordan Vidovic agreed.

“We just want to feed of the consistency that we’ve worked on,” he said. “We just want to visualize, use our variety, and help each other out. We just have to trust each other and not get caught up in something else.”

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Pro Soccer Report: Milazzo, Pugh named to NWSL’s Best XI for June

Tatumn Milazzo was named one of the top players in the NWSL in June. Photo by Jeff Vorva

 

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

She’s not just the Chicago area’s secret anymore.

The progress of Orland Park native Tatumn Milazzo as a professional soccer player is not catching only Chicago’s attention, but that of the NWSL.

The second-year Chicago Red Stars defender opened her career seeing a lot of bench time early in her rookie season before injuries to starters thrust her into a more prominent role. That included starting in the NWSL championship game against Washington.

This year, she has been a mainstay in the lineup and is showing everyone what she can do. Milazzo was named as one of the Best XI of the Month for June by the league’s media association.

Red Stars offensive star Mallory Pugh was also named to the team.

Milazzo earned the honor after successfully contesting more than half of duels, aerial duels and tackles, and registering an 83 percent passing accuracy out of Chicago’s defensive half. That helped the Red Stars to an unbeaten month, which included three shutouts.

Pugh, a forward, finished the month in third place in the Golden Boot race for most goals with six. Pugh doubled her production in June with three goals in three consecutive games, two of which served as game-winners.

Sophia Smith of Portland was the June Player of the Month. Smith was dominant in the final third for the Thorns, leading her team in scoring with five goals to help the team to an undefeated 3-0-1 record in June.

Other members of the team were goalkeeper Bella Bixby (Portland); defenders Naomi Girma (San Diego), Natalia Kuikka (Portland) and Carson Pickett (North Carolina); midfielders Sam Coffey (Portland), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego) and Debhina (North Carolina); and forward Alex Morgan (San Diego).

Eight is great

Milazzo opened July with her first assist of the season in the Red Stars’ 3-0 road victory over NJ/NY Gotham on Saturday.

The Red Stars (5-1-4) are unbeaten in eight straight games. They were missing goalie Alyssa Naeher, Pugh, Bianca St-Georges and Chelsie Dawber, who are on international duty.

But the Stars kept their streak alive as Sarah Luebbert opened the scoring with a goal in the 15th minute on an assist from Ella Stevens. At the 24-minute mark, Milazzo found Vanessa DiBernardo for a score. Stevens scored in the 85th minute on a feed from Yuki Nagasato.

Emily Boyd, making her season debut in goal, recorded the shutout and it’s the fifth clean sheet of her career.

Can we get a little help, here?

Because of the bevy of players missing due to international play, the Red Stars picked up Emily Garnier and Bridgette Skiba as replacement players.

Garnier is a defender who played in the Napoli Italian Sirie A Women’s League and in a Colorado native.

Skiba is a goalkeeper who has been a practice player for the Red Stars after playing for Oregon State University.

Brief Homecoming

The Red Stars play at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview for the first time since June 12 when they host the North Carolina Courage at 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 10.

That will be the only Red Stars game in Bridgeview in July. They have a home game with San Diego scheduled for July 30, but that match will take place at Soldier Field.

After that, the next game in Bridgeview will be at 5 p.m. Aug. 7 against Gotham.

Misery in Miami

The Fire II fell 3-1 at Inter Miami CF II on Saturday night in an MLS NEXT Pro game.

Missael Rodriguez opened the scoring with his second goal of the season in the eighth minute. It was the second quickest goal by the Fire since Alex Monis’s fifth-minute score against Toronto earlier in the season. Richard Fleming III assisted on the Rodriguez goal.

But that was all the scoring Chicago (3-7-4, 14 points) could muster as Miami (6-7-1, 19 points) blasted three goals the rest of the way.

“Being up 1-0 was a great opportunity,” Fire II coach Ludovic Taillandier said. “But unfortunately, we didn’t keep the 1-0 up long enough and we conceded…it was an unfortunate scenario.”

The Fire visits Cincinnati (3-10-0, nine point) at 5 p.m. on Sunday at NKU Soccer Stadium in Highland Heights, Kentucky.

 

Clean Sheet: Back of the Yards grad Roxy Herrera honored as one of top high school goalies in U.S.

Jeff Vorva
Staff writer

Roxy Herrera thinks she was 9 or 10 years old when she was the new kid on the Pumas soccer team in Gage Park.

Thus, she was immediately used as a goalie for the first time in her life.

“They told me the new player plays in goal,” Herrera said. “So, I did it. They said I was good at it and did the rest of the season.”

And the rest of her career.

Herrera had a great four-year high school career in the net for Back of the Yards and is heading to Roosevelt University in the fall. On Thursday, she was surprised by winning the Dude Wipes Clean Sheet Award as one of the top high school goalies in the United States.

She was summoned to the MAX McCook facility under the guise of posing for a life-sized poster. Once she got there, she was surprised by the honor and received customized goalie gloves and a new goalie jersey. International star goalie Brad Guzan, who was raised and still lives in Homer Glen, presented her with the bounty.

Guzan and Herrera also posed together for the life-sized poster, which will be 6-feet tall and 3-feet wide and will be displayed at Back of the Yards for years.

Several male players who were getting posters of themselves, including a group from Lyons, were also there to cheer on and honor Herrera.

From left, Back of the Yards Kate Apfelbeck, Maria Patino, Brenda Espana, Roxy Herrera, Yasmin Martinez and coach Colin Rook pose after Herrera won a national honor Thursday. Photo by Jeff Vorva

“I really was surprised,” she said. “I just thought I was getting my picture taken.”

Flash back to that first game in the net, Herrera said she wasn’t disappointed when that decision was made.

“If I’m being honest, I wanted to play goalie to begin with,” she said. “Before that, I played all over the place. So, I wanted to try being a goalkeeper for a little bit and see how it went. I really liked it a lot.

“I didn’t think I would go as far with it.”

Back of the Yards coach Colin Rook was happy to have a player walk on his campus with some experience in the net.

“I was lucky enough to coach her for the last four seasons; she’s an incredible goalkeeper and a fantastic player,” Rook said. “She grew into a leadership role her senior year and she will be truly, truly missed, from my perspective.”

Third-year Roosevelt coach Tom Czop can’t wait for her to start her career at the NAIA school in Chicago.

“Obviously, the first thing you notice is the talent,” he said. “She is a talented goalkeeper.

“But the more and more I saw her in showcases and training, it was also the joy and the passion that stood out along with the leadership and positivity. She is always positive no matter what happens, even if the game is going the wrong way. She always picked up her teammates.

“That goes a long way when you have the talent and all of the other attributes that she has. That is the full package.”

MLS and World Cup goalie Brad Guzan poses with recent Back of the Yards graduate Roxy Herrera for a life-sized poster that will be displayed in the school. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Herrera also helped make a little history in football her senior year, catching a touchdown pass in the inaugural Chicago Public League’s girls flag football championship in a 16-6 win over Prosser to cap an unbeaten season.

She said it was more exciting catching that pass than making a save in soccer.

“I think it was more exciting because we didn’t expect it,” she said. “We were very nervous. We went awhile without scoring and we needed something to get that lead and I was very excited.”

Aside from honoring Herrera, the event featured more than 50 male players who will have life-sized posters displayed in the fall at the Bodyarmor Series Showcase, which used to be sponsored by PepsiCo.

Lyons goalie Connor Schmitt is looking forward to the 2022 campaign after the Lions finished 17-6-1 and lost in sectional semifinal play to Benet in penalty kicks.

“We were disappointed with our outcome last year,” he said. “This year we have 11 returners. We’re looking to use our returners and hopefully we can dominate this year.”

Lyons soccer players pose for a photo shoot for the coming Bodyarmor soccer tournament in the fall. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pro Soccer Report: Red Stars will miss three big guns during World Cup qualifying

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Having world-class players on your team is a blessing.

But during times like these, it can also be a curse.

World-class players help NWSL teams win games. They also miss chunks of time during the season because of their commitments to playing in international competitions.

For much of July, the Chicago Red Stars will be without goal-scoring machine Mallory Pugh and one of the world’s top goalies in Alyssa Naeher. The two will be busy through representing the United States in a World Cup qualifier in Monterrey, Mexico.

Bianca St-Georges (two goals this season) will miss games while playing for Canada.

The Red Stars, 4-1-4 and unbeaten in their last seven games, visit NY/NJ Gotham on July 2, host North Carolina on July 10 and visit Houston on July 16. The three should be back for the July 30 game when the Red Stars host San Diego at Soldier Field in Chicago as a part of a doubleheader with the Fire.

Pugh has six of the Red Stars’ 14 goals this season, despite missing two games because of an injury. Naeher had a string of three straight shutouts in June.

First-year coach Chris Petrucelli is ready to battle without three of his big guns.

“One of the things I’m happy about it that we have played a lot of players,” he said. “We have a lot of depth. We’ve used players in different situations.

“I think we’re going to have to try to match up players with styles we’re playing against. It’s going to be harder without Mal and it’s going to be harder without Alyssa and Bianca. But other teams are going to be losing people, too.”

Goalie Alyssa Naeher, who had three straight shutouts in June, will miss three games in July to represent the United States in a World Cup qualifier in Mexico. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Reflection

With a short break in the season, Pretrucelli reflected on the first nine games in his tenure. He is happy with the progress his team has made in 2022.

“Overall, it’s been really good,” he said. “Early, we were giving up goals on set pieces and we solved that a little bit. We’ve made progress in some areas. If you go back and watch us play in the Challenge Cup and watch us play now, we’re a better team (now). We hope we’ll be an even better team in July and August and September.”

 

New assistant named

Former Red Stars assistant coach Julianne Sitch threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox hosted Baltimore on June 23.

The next day, her replacement was named.

Sitch took the men’s soccer head coaching position at the University of Chicago in April, right at the start of the Challenge Cup season. After a 2 ½-month search, the Red Stars have named Morinao Imaizumi to take her spot.

“Imaizumi is well-established and incredibly thoughtful in his approach, with experience coaching some of the best players in the game,” Michelle Lomnicki, Red Stars associate general manager, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to bring in a coach with his knowledge, coupled with his vision and playing philosophy, that perfectly aligns with our club. We are excited to bring in Ima to round out our coaching staff.”

“I’m excited to add Morinao to our team. He’s a highly respected and extremely talented coach,” Petrucelli said. “He has worked with some of the world’s best players and coached some outstanding teams.”

Imaizumi, a Japanese native, held multiple coaching roles at the collegiate and international levels. He was a crucial member of the Japan Women’s National Team as an assistant coach in 2004, where he coached current Red StarnYuki Nagasato in the Olympics. The 61-year-old was the head coach of the U-17 and U-20 teams from 2004 to 2006.

“I’m excited for this fantastic opportunity,” he said. “As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve always kept my eyes open for a chance to work on the professional level. I feel very fortunate to be selected to work with the Red Stars and their many talented players.”

 

Opinions Voiced

NWSL teams took to making statements Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“This ruling will have a resounding detrimental effect across the nation, particularly in marginalized and underserved communities,” the Red Stars’ statement said. “We believe reproductive health choice are fundamental human rights, and the right to choose should remain accessible, affordable and equitable for all.”

The NSWL’s statement read: “The Supreme Court’s ruling today denies individuals in this country the full liberty and equality that is the cornerstone of a just society.

“Reproductive rights are human rights. Until every individual has the same freedoms as their neighbor, our work is not done. We will continue to make our voices heard. The NWSL is more than just a soccer league; we are a collective who will stand up every day for what is right.”

 

Victor-y for Fire II

Victor Bezerra scored a pair of goals andAlex Monis and Ryan Quintos each added one in the Chicago Fire II’s 4-3 victory over the New England Revolution II in an MLS NEXT Pro game on Sunday at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.

“Yeah, I thought it was a really good performance from the boys,” said Bezerra. “I kind of felt like after the first goal, a second one was definitely coming.”

Bezerra, Monis and Josh Penn each have four goals to lead the Fire (3-6-4, 14 points). New England fell to 7-3-3 with 25 points.

The Fire II visit Miami (5-7-1) on Saturday.

Stagg grad Laila Barakat leaves her mark on program

By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

Laila Barakat entered her freshman year of high school basketball with a plan.

She left as one of the most accomplished and successful players in Stagg girls basketball history.

“Coming in my freshman year, I knew what goals I wanted to achieve,” said Barakat, who was a four-year varsity player for the Chargers. “Setting goals for myself got my confidence up and I was able to obtain them.”

Stagg girls basketball coach Bill Turner followed Barakat even before she became a Charger. He certainly appreciated that she talked to him about her goals from the get-go.

“There were some individual and team goals/records we discussed her freshman year, and she wanted to strive for them,” Turner said. “First was to win a conference championship, then achieve the most wins in a season. She also wanted to break the assist records, score over 1,000 points and be selected to the All-State team.

“She and her teammates did a great job of stepping up to those challenges, working hard, providing leadership, and accomplishing both those team and individual goals.”

When all was said and done, Barakat had etched her name into the Chargers record book.

Last season, Stagg was co-champion in the Red Division of the SouthWest Suburban Conference. Barakat had a career-high 32 points, including six 3-pointers, in a 60-50 win over Lincoln-Way Central on Feb. 3 in New Lenox. The victory earned the Chargers a share of the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red crown, their first league title since 2013.

“That (win over Central) was one of my highlights,” Barakat said. “It was also on my best friend and teammate’s, Gail Korbitz, birthday. There was just something in the air and it was amazing.”

The Chargers finished with 23 wins in both Barakat’s freshman season of 2018-19 and in 2021-22. That tied the 2002-03 team for most victories in program history.

She set out to be the all-time career assists leader at Stagg and accomplished it, dishing out 410.

Barakat is also the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,237 points and, despite being a point 5-foot-4 point guard, she grabbed 519 rebounds. She recorded 275 steals, and tied the single-season steals record with 96 in 2019-20. She was also adept at taking charges, with 33 of them.

In her senior season, she averaged 14.4 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.9 steals. She made 42 3-pointers and shot 63.6% from the free-throw line and took 17 charges. Her efforts helped the Chargers to win 18-of-19 games following a 5-7 start.

She was an SWSC Red All-Conference selection and was nominated for conference Player of the Year. She was a three-time All-Tournament team member at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic, and achieved her goal by being named an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State-Special Mention selection.

Two of Barakat’s best memories from her final high school season included scoring her 1,000th point during a home win over Richards on Jan. 8. That took her by surprise.

“I made a free throw,” she recalled of the moment. “I didn’t know that was it and the team started celebrating. It was a shocking moment, but it was great.”

Another was the regional championship game, a 66-52 loss to Marist on Feb. 17.

“Even though we lost, it was such a great atmosphere,” she said. “The stands were packed with family, students and teachers.”

Barakat, who will major in nursing in college, has not decided where she will go to school. In the mix have been University of Illinois-Chicago, Saint Xavier, North Central, North Park, Carthage, Millikin and Benedictine.

“I’m leaning on going to UIC and walking on there,” she said. “But I might start to at Moraine Valley. Colleges are still contacting me.

“All the places are really good. but I’m really picky and want to make the right decision.”

The program she chooses will get who Turner called “a fierce competitor and five-tool player.”.

“She ends her career at Stagg as one of the best all-around players here,” he added. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be her coach for the past four years. A great player, but an even better person.”

Area Sports Roundup: Lightning strikes at Shepard

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

There was a lot of rain and a little bit of thunder at the Illinois Lightning Track and Field Club’s open track meet, which was held at Shepard on June 25.

The meet was open to everyone, from children as young as 4 (one 3-year-old also participated) to adults. More than 100 boys, girls, men and women ran, jumped or threw.

“This is an event that we want to bring in people of all ages,” said longtime Shepard girls track coach Scot Rybarczyk, who is also the Lightning’s head coach.

The Lighting is a new club team based in Palos Heights. It was founded by former Astros track athlete Kiki Boyd and features 55 athletes.

Runners get ready to open the 100-meter dash on the sound of the starter’s gun on a rainy morning at the Lightning meet in Palos Heights. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Some of the coaches on the staff boast impressive credentials. They include former Bloom coach Lonelle Poole, retired Thornton and Rich Township coach Jimmy Daniels, sprinting coach Jasmine Daniels, Shepard throwing coach Clint Connelly, Eisenhower girls coach Tony Sosnowsiki, Bremen coach Bill Griffin, Reavis throwing coach Jeff Kreil, and Shepard graduates Kathy Mydra and Rainah Folk.

Among the Shepard alums who competed included Jamil Mashni, one of just four Astros to medal in the IHSA state meet, taking ninth in the shot put in 2010. He tried his luck in the shot put and discus.

Jamil Mashni, 30 and a Shepard grad who was all-state in the shot put, competes in the discus on Saturday at the Lightning meet. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mashni, 30, said he threw over 50 feet in the shot in the rain on June 25, not far off of his 55-2.25 that he heaved as an athlete at SIU-Edwardsville. The mortgage loan originator at Rocket Mortgage was happy to see an event like this take place.

“I came out here and broke 50, man — that’s cool,” he said. “It’s been nine years since I held a shot like that.”

“This was awesome. I wish there were a few more faces of people that I graduated with, but it’s still a great turnout and I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces.”

The meet drew athletes and teams from a variety of places including Rush Athletics of Plainfield, the Chicago Thunder Track Club and the University of Chicago Track Club.

Rybarczyk said there will be another meet at Shepard on July 23, and he is hoping for triple the teams and athletes.

Evergreen Park’s Blake Tully, 3, had to be helped in the 55-meter dash by her mother, Hillary on Saturday. Hillary is an assistant track coach at Shepard. Photo by Jeff Vorva

 

Excitement in Omaha

Former Brother Rice baseball star Kendall Pettis is a member of Oklahoma’s baseball team, which finished second at the NCAA Men’s College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

He played in all five World Series games and collected two hits, drove in a run and scored twice.

On the season, the sophomore hit .259, scored 45 runs and drove in 27.

Orland Park native and former Marist standout Jack Brannigan was also in Omaha for three World Series games with Notre Dame and had two hits. For the season, he hit .291 with 12 homers and 46 RBI. He was also 2-2 on the mound, with a 7.36 ERA and a pair of saves.

Another Brother Rice alum who had some baseball excitement in Omaha was Michael Massey, who plays for the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. He cracked a home run June 23 in a 5-3 home victory over Columbus.

Massey, who opened the season on the Kansas City Royals’ Double-A Northwest Arkansas squad, was called up to Triple-A in mid-June.

 

Fun in Springfield

The Chicago Wolves beat Springfield (Mass.) 4-0 in Game 5 on the road at the MassMutual Center to win the Calder Cup championship on June 25. It’s the fifth championship in club history.

Orland Park native David Gust scored one of the goals in the championship game.

In his second season with the Wolves, Gust had 16 goals and 20 assists.

Amina Qureshi of Shepard lands during the pole vault event at the Lightning track meet. Photo by Jeff Vorva

World Wiffle Ball Championship returning to south suburbs

The 43rd World Wiffle Ball Championship is returning to Memorial Park in south suburban Midlothian on July 16-17.

“We’re excited to gear up for this year’s Championship at Memorial Park in Midlothian. We can’t wait to see old and new Wifflers alike this summer come together to beat some plastic,” said Mike Baniak, Commissioner of the World Wiffle Ball Championship.

Registration is now open for the 2022 event at https://worldwiffleball.org/entry/. Players of all ages are eligible to comprise teams of four or five players. The registration fee is $149 and includes a WWBC T-shirt for each rostered player.

Each team will play four round-robin games on Saturday, July 16. Qualifying teams will then play in a single-elimination tournament on Sunday, July 17.

More than 50 teams competed in the 2021 World Wiffle Ball Championship, with players from nine different states participating. Proceeds from the 2022 championship will benefit South Suburban Humane Society.

Since 2018, over $10,000 has been raised by the event to help animals in need.

“We are delighted to welcome the World Wiffle Ball Championship back to the Chicago Southland,” said Jim Garrett, President/CEO of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau. “This is such a fun event, not only for players, but for the fans as well!”

For complete rules and more information, visit WorldWiffleBall.org.

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