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Football Forecast: Week 8

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Millar has a three-point lead over Vorva and Wally. All three picked Argo over Oak Lawn in this week’s GOTW and there is little variation in their picks overall, so the current leader is guaranteed to still be ahead come Week 9. Maholy and Whalen are lurking in fourth place, and the former has an opportunity for upward movement this week if things play out in his favor.

That Argonauts-Spartans matchup, by the way, has some potential playoff implications. The winner will be sitting on four victories heading into the final week of the regular season. Both have tough games in Week 9, with Argo facing Shepard and Oak Lawn up against Evergreen Park. The Astros are themselves in a fight for their playoff lives and will take on Reavis this week, while the Mustangs can all but assure themselves a spot in the postseason with a win tonight over Eisenhower.

 

Neighbors

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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

Area Sports Roundup: Orland Park Pioneers honored; local hoops teams win Thanksgiving tourney titles

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Two youth football teams teams were honored by the Orland Park Village Board for winning Super Bowl championships in their respective divisions.

The Orland Park Pioneers’ varsity and super lightweight players received awards and recognition Nov. 21 from the board and Mayor Keith Pekau, who has the distinction of playing Pioneer football in the organization’s first year in 1976.

Todd Shelton and Chris Stefanos shared the head coaching duties for the varsity team. They were assisted by Bill Sigel, Jason Buechele, Jack Shelton, Jim Rodriguez and Pat Clifton.

The varsity team has gone 32-1 over the past three seasons and 22-0 the previous two campaigns. It was a three-time River Valley Super Bowl champ and a Wednesday Night Super Bowl winner.

Varsity members include Brody Wantroba, Toddy Shelton, Ethan Krueger, Barret Sigel, Nolan Rodriguez, Jordan Masino, Chase Czerwonka, Jake Tomczak, Jack Clifton and Matthew Durkin.

Also on the roster are Jake Buechele, Devin Stefanos, Quinn Durkin, Jake Drew, Carson Conrad, Sean Ruisz, Henry Selof, Briggs Corona, Zayne Salah and Jad Jaber.

Others include Egan Kelly, Kendall McDowell, Luke Kruszynski, Cade Koehler, Jax Arocho, Nolan Torgerson, Logan Kondziolka, Taylor McDoniel, Cash Phillips and Othman Mizyed.

Rounding out the team are Will Beeler, Adam Danko, Mohammad Ghadban, Ibrahim Jaffal, Shafik Yasin, Rami Agha, David Klimaszka, Blake Wagner, Rocco McCarthy, Stephen Caxton-Idowu and Keegan Kirk.

The super lightweights, coached by Al Krokos and assistants Pat Richardson, Adam Sutter, Ray Morandi, Matt Wilkinson, Chuck Kakos and Mark Garrity, became the first team in Pioneer history to win both a River Valley Championship and a Wednesday Night Championship during the same season.

Members of the super lightweight squad include Thomas Sutter, Jack DuBois, Taylan Morandi, Zane Judeh, Blake Schuler, Luke Krokos, Cole Baldridge, Austin Flynn, Zachariah Ballouta and Jase Enstrom.

Also on the roster are Vincent Spizzirri, Wyatt Kipper, Cayden Caldwell, Carter Erwin, Ellis Hubbard, Michael O’Connor, Lucca Morandi, Jason Erwin, Noah Cordoba and Christopher Medina, Jr.

Others on the squad are Shane Sternberg, Andrew Richardson, Jordan Ulaszek, Gavin Garrity, Arthur Slabenak, Anthony LaPapa, Christian Paulsen, Scott Gumienny, Frank Wilkinson and Laith Hammami.

Rounding out the team are Cody Godlewski, Nick Pomonis, Yousef Yasin, James Okrasinski, Nolan Burke, Aaron McCarthy, Michael Ordman, Thomas Richardson, Nathan Campos, Jude Morrar, Rayder Slabenak, Owen Garrity, Maximus Bauer and Adam Krokos.

The Orland Park Pioneers Super Lightweight team was honored at a recent Orland Park Village Board meeting. Photo by Jeff Vorva

 

Cornucopia of champions
The Oak Lawn boys basketball team shocked Mount Carmel, 76-68, on Nov. 25 to win the Spartan/Ram Classic. The Spartans’ Xavier Sulaiman was the tournament MVP and teammate Ayham Salah made the all-tournament team.

Evergreen Park won the Lisle Thanksgiving Tournament. Nolan Sexton and Ulises Cardenas were named to the all-tournament team.

Marist won the District 218 Thanksgiving Tipoff Classic with a 61-50 win over Richards on Nov. 25. Kaden White led the RedHawks with 13 points.

Brother Rice won the Bill VandeMerkt Classic at Riverside-Brookfield. Ahmad Henderson was the tournament MVP and teammates Tre Dowdell and Khalil Ross were on the all-tournament team.

Lyons won its own tournament with a 58-51 triumph over Lincoln-Way East. Penn recruit Niklas Polonowski had 22 points for the Lions.

 

Milestones
Saint Xavier’s Maia Fawcett hit the 1,000-point mark in an 83-48 win over Waldorf on Nov. 25. She is the 22nd player in Cougars women’s basketball history to hit that mark.

Former Argo and Morton College player Tadrianna Heard recently scored her 1,000th collegiate point for Purdue Northwest.

 

King-sized honor
Longtime Lyons wrestling coach Mark King was recently honored by having his name attached to the school’s wrestling accomplishment board. It is now known as the Mark King Wall of Fame.

King has served as a head coach or assistant for 50 years.

Football Class 5A State Championship: Roadrunners win shootout for fourth state title

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Nazareth opened the season in August with a 2-0 win over Kankakee.

It closed the season the afternoon of Nov. 26 with a 45-44 win over Peoria at Memorial Stadium in Champaign to take the IHSA Class 5A state championship.

In between was a rollercoaster of wins and losses and a scramble just to make the playoffs.

“This was appropriate for these guys — nothing came easy,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said after the one-point victory. “If it wasn’t for that [win over Kankakee] with the safety, we wouldn’t be here right now. I was out of my mind after this game because it was an incredible game.”

To win their fourth state title, the Roadrunners (10-4) competed in a game in which the teams combined for 89 points, 140 plays and 846 yards. Nazareth had to deal with Peoria monster running back Malachi Washington, who carried the ball 48 times for 275 yards and six touchdowns.

After Washington’s final score with 5:15 left in the game to pull the Lions (12-2) to within 45-44, he was met by Roadrunners sophomore Gabe Kaminski, senior Braden Ferguson and senior Finn O’Meara inches away from the goal line on the two-point conversion attempt. That turned out to be huge.

“I followed out defensive coordinator [Keith Lukes’] plan, Kaminski said. “He’s an incredible coach and we just followed through on his plan.”

Nazareth’s Finn O’Meara (left), Gabe Kaminski (center) and Braden Ferguson (right) stop Peoria running back Malachi Washington just short of the goal line on a key two-point conversion attempt during the Class 5A state championship game on Nov. 26. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Peoria had one more possession to try to take the lead, but it was dashed with 59 seconds left on a Zach Hayes interception.

“I made a break on the ball, I secured it and the feelings that just rushed through my head…I mean…I can’t believe it,” Hayes said after the game. “I’m still in shock. This is all I have ever wanted. And to make the interception to secure it is surreal.”

Justin Taylor led the Roadrunners with 108 yards on 17 carried and a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk threw for 245 yards and touchdown passes to Hayes and Edward McClain, Jr. and ran for two more scores. James Penley had four catches for 102 yards.

Brendan Flanagan added the final touchdown with 6:19 left in the game and Malachuk found Penley for what turned out to be the game-winning two-point conversion.

Peoria came into the game averaging 50 points per game with six games of 62 points or more. That included a 76-56 victory over Morris in the semifinals on Nov. 19.

Nazareth opened the season 2-4 – with losses to Lemont, Marist, Notre Dame, Carmel and St. Rita — and needed to run the table to get to the playoffs. The Roadrunners beat Leo, Montini and Benet to qualify for the postseason.

Once in the playoffs, Nazareth rolled over Glenbard South (48-22), Rockford Boylan (38-13) and Morgan Park (29-0) before surviving a tight 10-7 victory over Sycamore to get to Champaign.

Nazareth sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk throws for what turned out to be the game-winning two-point conversion in a 45-44 state championship win over Peoria. Photo by Jeff Vorva

“When we were 2-4, it was kind of quiet in the office and one of my assistants mentioned something about playoffs and I gave the best Jim Mora imitation. I just busted out laughing saying ‘Playoffs?!!?’ Everybody kind of got a kick out of it,” Racki said.

“We were just wondering how we were going to get into the playoffs. Let’s just work on win No. 3 first.”

The Roadrunner roster features just 13 seniors, and many underclassmen had their hands in this state championship. But there were growing pains early.

“Overall, we are a young team and it’s hard for kids and college players and even NFL players to go through a losing streak like that,” Racki said. “It’s difficult to maintain your confidence, faith, hope and keeping everything together. I was consistent with pointing out what we were doing well. I didn’t beat them up. They felt bad enough losing.

“Sure enough, once we started growing each day and we got that third win and fourth and fifth, you could see the confidence and the improvement in our play and our execution, and it just took off.”

Racki never imagined early on this team would bring home a championship, but felt pretty good after beating Sycamore in the semifinals.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I was kind of in shock. It was a joy to see the kids after all of the adversity that they went through to be rewarded to a trip to Champaign.”

And a state title.

Nazareth players celebrate their Class 5A football title with fans and members of the band on Nov. 26. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Strong second half lifts Mount Carmel over St. Rita for trip to 7A title game

By Steve Millar
Correspondent

After the Mount Carmel offense was shut out in the first half by St. Rita in the teams’ IHSA Class 7A semifinal, Caravan coach Jordan Lynch remained confident his offense would get going on a cold, windy night.

“It was just a matter of time,” Lynch said. “Penalties were killing us, dropped passes. We needed to stick to the script. We talked about how coming on the road, you can’t try to do too much.

“Thankfully, the defense played their butts off, kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”

Senior quarterback Blainey Dowling made just enough plays in the second half, connecting on a pair of touchdown passes to Denny Furlong, and the Caravan defense did the rest as the Caravan rallied for a 20-9 win over the rival Mustangs on Nov. 19.

Mount Carmel advanced to take on Batavia (10-3) in the 7A state championship game set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

The Caravan is after the program’s 14th state title and first since 2019.

Mount Carmel (13-0) beat St. Rita (10-3) for the second time this year, including a 35-3 win in the season opener.

“We just all came together as a team, believed in one another and got it done,” Furlong said.

The Mustang defense frustrated the Caravan in the first half and the latter’s high-powered passing attack was not quite clicking. Dowling completed just four of his first 14 pass attempts and was 7-for-17 in the opening half.

He got going, however, on the first drive of the third quarter, hitting Furlong for a 10-yard pass and Damarion Arrington for a 25-yard pass to set up a 21-yard touchdown strike to Furlong.

“That drive gave us really good momentum on offense,” Furlong said. “And the defense came out and held them to three field goals.”

Alabama recruit Conor Talty hit field goals from 36, 27 and 23 yards for St. Rita, which led 9-7 after three quarters.

Mount Carmel turned the game around for good with two touchdowns in a 49-second span midway through the fourth quarter.

Dowling and Furlong hooked up again for a 13-yard score with 6:18 left in the game. Two plays later, Arrington intercepted a Jett Hilding pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.

Just like that, the Caravan had a 20-9 lead.

“We’ll always have the offense’s back no matter what,” Arrington said. “Every game, we’ll have their back.”

Danny Novickas added a game-sealing interception in the final minutes. Bobby Medina had a fumble recovery, a sack and a tackle for loss for the Caravan defense.

“The offense was struggling,” Dowling said. “We got some touchdowns in the second half. But defense wins championships. Those guys stepped up big time. Damarion Arrington gets that pick six and that changed the game. He’s a big-time player.”

Dowling finished 16 of 31 passing for 221 yards. Furlong had seven catches for 123 yards.

For St. Rita, DJ Stewart was a workhorse, carrying the ball 34 times for 136 yards. The Mustangs were held to 23 yards passing.

Zack Clark and Keyandre White had interceptions for the Mustangs.

The loss was the final game of St. Rita coach Todd Kuska, who is retiring after 25 years as a head coach.

“I told the seniors to come from where we started to where we now, who would have thought we would have been in this game against Mount Carmel after the way the first game went against them?” Kuska said. “It shows how far we’ve come, and these guys just kept working hard to get better to get to this point and have a chance in a game like this. We just came up a little short.”

Area Sports Report: Nazareth finishes run to Class 5A state title game

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Nazareth has played in five state championship football games.

But the Roadrunners never took a road this bumpy to get there.

After opening the season 1-3 and at one point being 2-4, they had to run the table just to make it to the playoffs.

Mission accomplished. They beat Leo, Montini and Benet to squeeze out an 11th-seed out of 16 teams in the Class 5A North bracket.

They needed four more wins to get to the title game.

Mission accomplished again, as Nazareth beat Rockford Boylan, Morgan Park and top-seeded Sycamore, 10-7, the latter victory coming on the road Nov. 19.

The Roadrunners (9-4) take on Peoria (12-1) at 10 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. They will be gunning for their fourth state championship.

Zach Hayes’ 33-yard field goal in the second quarter and his 7-yard touchdown reception from Logan Malachuk in the fourth quarter helped Nazareth pull off the win. Hayes also kicked the extra point and had an interception on defense.

Peoria had an offensive explosion in its 76-56 victory over Morris in the other semifinal game. The teams’ combined point total is the 12th-highest scoring game in IHSA history.

 

ROADRUNNING TO THE TITLE GAME

A look at Nazareth’s state title games:

YEAR CLASS SCORE SITE

2014 6A Nazareth 26, Lemont 7 Champaign

2015 5A Nazareth 42, LW West 21 DeKalb

2017 6A Prairie Ridge 28 Nazareth 21 DeKalb

2018 7A Nazareth 31, St. Charles N. 10 Champaign

2019 7A Mount Carmel 37, Nazareth 13 DeKalb

 

Cougars win
Several area college teams were involved in national tournaments last week.

Saint Xavier’s women’s volleyball team (24-8) knocked off Central Methodist in the NAIA Opening Round 15-25, 18-25, 25-21, 29-27, 15-9 on Nov. 20 in Fayette, Missouri. The Cougars will play in the 24-team National Championship Tournament that begins Nov. 30. They will open against Eastern Oregon at 10 a.m. and follow up with a 10 a.m. battle with Cornerstone.

Against Central Methodist, senior Chloe Memenga had 19 kills and 16 digs, senior Molly Hackett slammed down 17 kills and sophomore setter Kaleigh Ritter added a season-high 51 assists.

 

Cougars lose
The Cougars football team had a rougher time of it Saturday with a 41-7 setback against Marian (Indiana) in the NAIA Championship Series First Round in Indianapolis.

Stuart Ross hit Amari Venerable for a 20-yard touchdown strike to knot the game at 7-7 with 8:27 left in the half, but Marian went on to score 34 straight. SXU finished the season 9-3.

 

More national matters
Moraine Valley Community College’s women’s volleyball team went 0-2, dropping a pair of five-set heartbreakers in the National Junior College Athletic Association in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Freshman Brooklyn Condon had 34 kills in the two matches while Shepard grad Kaila Butvilas added 21.

Morton College made it to the NJCAA Men’s Soccer finals and ran into an old foe in the championship game.

Skyway Conference foe Prairie State beat Morton, 1-0, at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona to finish 19-1-1. During the regular season, Morton beat Prairie State 4-3 on Sept. 13 and 2-1 in overtime in overtime on Nov. 6.

Former Sandburg and Notre Dame distance runner Dylan Jacobs, now at Tennessee, finished fourth in the NCAA National Cross Country meet with a time of 28:58 in the 10K race in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

 

St. Laurence bows out

The Vikings football team was eliminated from the Prep Bowl playoffs with a 30-18 loss to Fenwick in the semifinals on Nov. 17.

Vinny Enoch and Tommy Fus had touchdown runs and Evan Les threw a TD pass to Kaden McHugh for the Vikings (4-7).

 

Wright sticks with Stars

Arin Wright, a defender who has been with the Chicago Red Stars since 2015, re-signed with the club for a two-year deal.

Boys and Men’s 2022-2023 Hoops Preview

HIGH SCHOOLS

BROTHER RICE
The Crusaders finished 24-7 last season and fell 60-49 to Bloom in a Class 4A regional championship game.

While almost every key player — aside from forward Jayden Watson, who transferred to Bloom — will be back from last year’s team, there will be a new coach leading the way. Conte Stamas, a veteran coach who has previous head coaching experience at Evanston, Lyons and Morton College, has succeeded Crusaders alum Bobby Frasor.

Stamas inherits a talented roster, led by senior point guard Ahmad Henderson, a Niagara recruit who averaged 15.2 points and 4.1 assists and was named to the All-State Third Team last season.

Also back are senior guard Nick Niego and senior forward Khalil Ross, who both made huge contributions last season. Look for seniors Ryan Gierhahn, Peter McShane and Jimmy Navarrete to make a difference on a team that is loaded with experience.
—Steve Millar

 

CHICAGO CHRISTIAN
The Knights look to rebound after a tough 6-24 campaign in 2021-22. Chicago Christian lost its playoff opener to Joliet Catholic.

Two returning starters will look to lead the way: senior guard-forward Adam Stuursma, who averaged 6.2 points and five rebounds last season, and senior point guard Joel Crowell, who averaged six points.

Senior guard Liam Crotty will be counted on for scoring. Chicago Christian coach Kevin Pittman said Crotty had a strong summer.

Senior guard Matt Stevens is a strong outside shooter, and 6-foot-3 junior forward AJ VanDellen will look to step up as both an inside and an outside threat for a Knights team that does not have a ton of size.

“No doubt about it, we need to be able to score more than we did last year,” Pittman said. “We have the ability to push the ball and score in transition and that’s what we hope to do.”
—Steve Millar

 

EVERGREEN PARK
The bad news for opponents is that Nolan Sexton, who averaged 15 points per game last year and has been an all-South Suburban Red Conference player, is back for another two years.

The junior joins senior Isiah Mosley as players with the most seniority on a 17-12 squad, but the team lost Bakari Nelson, who transferred to Bosco Institute in Indiana.

Mustangs coach Jim Sexton, whose team lost to Brooks in a Class 3A regional opener last year, is counting on seniors Nate Haugabook and Alfredo Rivera, juniors Ulises Cardenas and Billy Buchanan, plus freshman Lonnie Mosley to help try to elevate the team to the 20-plus-win stratosphere.

Sexton is expecting his son Nolan Sexton to be among the top perimeter players in the area, and the coach is looking forward to the excitement Lonnie Mosley can bring to the table.

“We should have a high-scoring offense that shares the ball well and excels in transition,” Sexton said. “Our defense and rebounding are a work in progress, but we will overcome a lack of size with our toughness. We’re looking to win our first SSC Red title since 2017.”
—Jeff Vorva

 

MARIST
The RedHawks went 13-14 in their first season under coach Brian Hynes, a former assistant who moved into the head coaching role last summer.

Marist ended last season with a 58-53 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor in a Class 4A regional championship game.

The RedHawks were hurt by transfers, losing their top two scorers from last season. Xavier Sulaiman, who averaged 17 points a game, transferred to Oak Lawn, while Leirre Collier left for Bloom.

Marist will be young this season but does have a pair of returning starters in seniors Mason Ross and Kaden White.

Forward Achilles Anderson, who got a lot of playing time as a freshman last season, is one of several sophomores expected to play big roles along with Marquis Vance and Keshaun Vaval. Watch for 6-foot-7 freshman Stephen Brown.
—Steve Millar

 

MOUNT CARMEL
Expectations are high for the Caravan following a 28-5 season. Mount Carmel beat Bogan 70-37 for a regional title last season before falling 51-48 to Hyde Park in a Class 3A sectional semifinal.

Several key pieces are back from that team, led by one of the top point guards in the state in senior DeAndre Craig, who is committed to Denver. The Ciaravino brothers – senior Anthony and junior Angelo – are strong complements to Craig with their ability to shoot, rebound and defend.

“We will have great team leadership and a great bond,” Mount Carmel coach Phil Segroves said. “A nice summer trip to play in LA in late June helped bring our team together.”

Lee Marks, a junior forward who transferred from Homewood-Flossmoor, is a big addition. Also look for Darrion Gilliam and Asher Tomaszewski to make an impact after transitioning from football season.

Tomaszewski, a Kansas State football recruit, will likely miss some time with an injury from football, but will add some major size at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds.

“(Tomaszewski) will surprise people with his athleticism,” Segroves said.
—Steve Millar

 

OAK LAWN
Oak Lawn has won 24 or more games in a season just three times in program history, and two of those came in the past three seasons.

Coach Jason Rhodes’ team posted a 25-7 mark last year, including a 12-1 showing to win the South Suburban Conference Red. That’s the second-most wins in school history behind the fabled 1970-71 team, which won 30 and finished second in the state.

Nine seniors, four of whom are now playing college hoops, graduated. But the Spartans picked up a huge X-factor transfer in Xavier Sulaiman, a 6-foot-3 guard from Marist who was an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-State special mention.

Others who figure to help keep the winning going include Ayham Salah, who was all-conference last year and averaged 9.5 points per game. He is hoping for an all-conference trifecta this school year as he earned the honor in football and looks to keep it going in basketball and baseball.

The newcomer list includes freshman Jack Dempsey, who hopes to pack a punch for the Spartans.

“We have a fast, athletic starting group that can get up and down the floor and attack on both ends,” Rhodes said. “Our goals are to compete for conference and regional championships, which this group is capable of doing.”
—Jeff Vorva

 

ST. LAURENCE
The Vikings went 9-24 last season with an extremely young team, as several freshmen got starting experience.

St. Laurence won its playoff opener against Hinsdale South then just missed pulling off the biggest shocker of the year, falling 43-41 to Simeon — which went on to finish fourth in state in Class 3A — in a regional championship game.

The playoff success showed major progress and gave reasons to believe the lumps the Vikings took with such an inexperienced team last season will pay off this year.

Sophomore guards EJ Mosley, Khalil Jones, Jacob Rice and Zerrick Johnson will lead the way. Mosley averaged 11.2 points last season. Coach Byron Burt says all four are receiving interest from Ivy League schools.

Another sophomore, forward Caleb Lindsey, is expected to make a big impact this season, while seniors Jacob White and Danny Fitzgerald should be valuable newcomers.

Despite his team still being young and expecting to start five sophomores, Burt has lofty goals.

“I think our biggest strength is how together we are,” he said. “I have never coached a group this unselfish and this talented all in one. The expectations are high. We’re aiming to have our first 20-plus-win season with a trip down state this year in 3A.”
—Steve Millar

 

ST. RITA
Although the Mustangs will be loaded with underclassmen, there’s already a feeling of state-or-bust for what is on paper one of the state’s most talented teams.

St. Rita went 23-12 last season, beating Morgan Park 72-61 for a regional championship and advancing to a Class 4A sectional final before falling to Kenwood.

Back are the Mustangs’ star 6-foot-9 twin towers, juniors Morez Johnson and James Brown. Johnson is committed to Illinois and Brown has offers from major programs including Illinois, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan, Michigan State and Missouri.

St. Rita picked up a major addition with the transfer of junior guard/forward Nojus Indrusaitis from Lemont. Indrusaitis has received offers from the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Maryland and Missouri.

Senior guard Nashawn Holmes, a Homewood-Flossmoor transfer, is another big addition. Senior guard Jordan Chandler and sophomore guard Melvin Bell — the latter who is injured but is expected to return in January — add to a deep roster.

The Mustangs were listed in the national preseason rankings of multiple media outlets.

“We’re humbled by it, but at the same time we try to ignore it,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “We know we still have to do our part. You can be ranked in the state, ranked nationally, but at the end of the day you have to perform.”
—Steve Millar

 

SANDBURG
The Eagles struggled in their first season under coach John Daniels, going 7-23 and dropping its playoff opener to St. Rita.

Sandburg hopes for improvement with a year under its belt in Daniels’ system.

Senior guard Om Shukla and senior forward Jimmy Prendergast, who both averaged four points per game last season, are returning players with experience, while junior guards David Vargas and Paulius Mizeras will be counted on to step up.

“We will be better at defending,” Daniels said. “Our goal is to have a winning record and compete in conference and in a regional.”
—Steve Millar

 

SHEPARD
The Astros have plenty of returnees from a team that went 11-17 and lost in the first round of the regionals.

Seven players are back, starting with guards Kylan Rogers, Payton Crim, Jamari McGee, Kyan Owokinarian and Miftar Kugo.

Forward Manny Orozco and 6-foot-6 center Robinson Hale are also veteran players in the mix.

Newcomer Peter Primbas is a freshman guard who hopes to make an impact.

“We have a good group of young men,” Shepard coach Tony Chiuccariello said. “Outside of Robinson we are exceptionally small for a varsity team, but we will make up for that by playing fast, hard, smart and selflessly.

“We have worked hard all summer and fall to get better each and every day. We will continue to get better each practice and by February we will be a much better team than we were in November. I like these young men.”

The Astros opened play this week with games against Perspectives Charter, Marist and Andrew in the District 218 Tip Off Classic.
—Jeff Vorva

 

STAGG
In an up-and-down 2021-22 season, Stagg was 8-8 midway through January but struggled down the stretch to finish 11-17. The Chargers lost their playoff opener, 68-61, to Morgan Park.

This season, junior guard Connor Williams is a key returner after starting every game as a sophomore. Senior guard Alex Czaja and junior guard Lebarion Gilmore also have a good deal of varsity experience.

“I think that we have a lot of guys who can really score and shoot the basketball on our team,” Stagg coach Marty Strus said. “We are still very young so I expect us to play with a lot of energy, but we’ll need to grow up quickly to compete in our conference.”

Strus hopes for contributions from a quartet of forwards in senior Saleh Mustafa, juniors David Ortiz and Yousef Jarad, and sophomore Domas Narcevicius.

Stagg would like to make program history.

“We hope to reach the goal of winning a conference championship, which has never been done in school history,” Strus said.
—Steve Millar

 

RICHARDS
Time for some new faces to take over for the Bulldogs this season.

Coach Kyle Rathbun watched five starters and his first man off the bench graduate, including all-South Suburban Conference players Deven Jiles, Greg Miller and Ladarius Kelley from a team that finished 17-13 and lost in the first round of the Class 3A regionals to Kankakee.

Top returning players include several who saw significant varsity minutes last season, including senior guards Donnie Burton, BJ Sutton and Eddie Hrebic. Senior 6-6 forward Sam Cain and forward-guard Nikolas Dixon are also back.

Last year’s JV team won the conference and Rathbun is eager to see how some of those players mix in on the varsity.

Seniors Kaleb Vance and James Smith are a pair of 6-6 forwards who hope to break into the lineup. Junior guards Cameron King, DJ Newman and Raeshon Edwards are also hoping to make it in the regular rotation.

“There are opportunities for newcomers to make an impact,” Rathbun said. “We have a lot of depth with numerous individuals willing to contribute. Even with so much turnover, our goal is still to win conference.”
—Jeff Vorva

 

COLLEGES

SAINT XAVIER
Is this a basketball team or a chess team at St. Xavier University?

The Cougars have a King –—first name Jaeden — and a couple of Bishops — Kevin and Drew — among their top four scorers this year through seven games.

SXU, 17-14 last year including a season-ending 46-44 loss to Roosevelt in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference quarterfinals, opened this season 5-2. They started 0-2 with losses to nationally ranked Marian (Indiana) and Grace College before reeling off five straight.

That streak included piling up 104 points against Indiana-South Bend and 98 against Governors State.

King, a 6-foot-6 senior from St. Paul, Minnesota, and a Tiffin University (Ohio) transfer, has made himself right at home in Chicago, averaging 19.7 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per contest.

Kevin Bishop a 6-foot-6 junior from Cleveland, is averaging 16.7 points, TJ Babikir, a 6-1 senior from Kansas City 8.6 points, and Drew Bishop, a 6-1 senior from Dexter, Michigan 8.4.

None of the four leaders were with the team last year.
—Jeff Vorva

 

MORAINE VALLEY
Moraine Valley can show off plenty of firepower, as witnessed by scoring 117 points in a game against Harry S. Truman College on Nov. 15.

The Cyclones opened the season 4-2. They were 19-10 last season and finished the campaign losing 83-73 in the Region IV Division II semifinals.

Coach John Chappetto welcomes back last season’s leading rebounder and All-Conference and All-Region IV first team guard-forward Anthony Taylor (Richards). The 6-foot-5 multi-talented player is expected to be a force again this year.

Trace Williams (Homewood-Flossmoor) is a 6-1 starting point guard. At 22 years old he is slightly older than the rest of the group and in his third season with the Cyclones. Kobe Adams (Oswego), also in his third season and a 6-3 All-Conference and All-Region second team guard, has some firepower.

Among the seven freshmen, the area is well represented with Davion Lawrence (Oak Lawn), brothers Nicco and David Reyes (Oak Lawn), and Malik Kelly (Evergreen Park).

“We have some size and depth at guard,” Chappetto said. “It’s a nice group of kids. We’re pretty cohesive. We have more guys who like defense.”
—Jeff Vorva

 

TRINITY CHRISTIAN
Trinity scheduled three Missouri Valley Conference teams this season — exhibition games against Illinois-Chicago and Valparaiso, and one that will count against Indiana State in Terra Haute, Ind., on Sunday.

Coach Jason Hawkins, who has been coaching the NAIA school in Palos Heights since 2018-2019, believes playing a few levels up will help.

“It lets us know where we are at as a team,” he said. “It’s a test of how we respond to a physical team, a challenge and a big crowd.”

The Trolls finished 11-19 last year and did not qualify for the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference playoffs.

They opened this season winning three out of five games, with sophomore Lake Zurich product John Cison leading the way averaging 21.8 points per game, and Philadelphia junior Saeer Miller averaging 19 points.

“We’re starting two sophomores, two freshmen and one junior,” Hawkins said. “Our defense has to improve. One of the biggest challenges for the freshmen is the physicality of the game. They have to learn to be a little bit tougher.”

Brady Loerop, a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Chicago Christian, is starting and averaging 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
—Jeff Vorva

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