By Marty Farmer
The Lyons Township High School boys swimming team and LTHS cross country runner Danny Kilrea both celebrated a state title in 2017. Nazareth football just missed joining them, losing a 28-21 instant classic against Prairie Ridge in the Class 6A championship game
Winning went well beyond these standouts, however, as several Riverside-Brookfield, LTHS, Fenwick and Nazareth teams tasted more than their share of success in 2017. Here's a look back at another remarkable high school sports year in local high school sports.
Sweet repeat for LTHS swimming
The Lions edged conference rival Hinsdale Central 156.5-143 to win the 2017 boys swimming state title. LTHS also won state in 2016.
This year, Spencer Walker won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 48.70 seconds at the IHSA State Meet. He became the first individual boys swimming state champ from LTHS. The University of Alabama commit also placed fourth in the 500 freestyle at 4:29.15.
The Lions also excelled in all three relays at state. The quartet of Ryan Hammond, Matt Linden, Walker and Claesson timed 3:04.70 in the 400-yard freestyle relay for a third-place finish. Hammond, Linden, David Rak and Claesson placed second in the 200 freestyle relay (1:24.34), while Walker, Walsh, Jeff Vitek and Hammond took third in the 200 medley relay (1:32.04).
LTHS is off to another successful start this winter.
"I think we're just kind of going about our business," LTHS coach Scott Walker said. "I definitely don't see any kind of pressure on our kids. We are capable of a top-five finish at state, but I think we're looking to do even better."
Roadrunners lose 6A heartbreaker
Vying for a third state title in four years, the Nazareth football team lost 28-21 to Prairie Ridge in the Class 6A state championship game.
Trailing 28-21 late in the fourth quarter, the Roadrunners marched 70 yards in less than a minute. With the ball on the Prairie Ridge 12-yard line, senior quarterback Bobby Grimes threw a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by the Wolves' Drew Norton in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter.
"I'm not sure a lot of people picked us to go to the state final this year," Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. "Although the outcome wasn't what we wanted, it's always rewarding to play on Thanksgiving weekend especially in such a classic game."
Looking ahead to 2018, Nazareth returns a ton of talent, notably top playmakers in Devin Blakeley, Michael Love, Diamond Evans and Josh Oglesby.
Kilrea wins state title
After finishing as the runner-up of the IHSA Cross Country State Championship in 2016, Lyons Township senior Danny Kilrea took the one step forward he needed to become a Class 3A state champion this year.
Kilrea cruised to a state title this season with a time of 14 minutes, 8 seconds, well ahead of Whitney Young's Clayton Mendez (14:22) on Nov. 4 at Peoria's Detweiller Park.
Kilrea joined Warren Druetzler as the only individual state champions in LTHS history. Druetzler won state in 1946.
"I just put everything I had out on the table for my last state meet," said Kilrea, a Notre Dame commit. "There's no feeling compared to crossing the finish line knowing that I'm a state champ."
Bulldogs' new AD
RBHS head football coach Brendan Curtin was voted by the District 208 school board on Dec. 12 as the school's next assistant principal for athletics. Curtin, a 1991 graduate of RBHS, will continue coaching football next year as he takes on the time-consuming job of athletic director.
"An important part of leading coaches is to continue to be a coach," Curtin said. "I believe the shared experience makes me a credible resource for the coaching staff and will help keep me tied closely to the needs of the athletic programs. I'm fully aware of the responsibilities I'm about to assume."
RBHS cross country finds higher level
The RBHS boys and girls cross country teams ran very well at the IHSA Cross Country State Championships. Competing at Peoria's Detweiller Park, the boys finished eighth and the girls 17th in Class 2A competition. The boys team result was the best one in over 40 years, and the girls squad produced their second-best score in program history.
Jacob Wardzala, who earned an All-State medal with a top-25 finish, recorded the Bulldogs' fastest time at 15 minutes, 16 seconds to finish 22nd in the individual standings. Junior Tara Janney led the girls with a time of 18:35, good for 51st. Nadia Kaczmarz (77th/18:59) and Hailey Jurgens (81st/19:01) also placed among the top 100.
"It's a source of pride and confirmation that the strategies used by our coaches are working and successfully producing great runners," said RBHS girls coach Blair Jensen.
Kaminski, a two-sport star
Jacob Kaminski, from Riverside, is probably the best two-sport athlete at Fenwick. He earned fourth place at 195 pounds at the IHSA Class 2A individual state tournament in Champaign last spring. Regarded as an excellent pass rusher, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore started as a defensive end/linebacker on the football team during the fall.
Kaminski's talent matches well with his work ethic and humility.
"Even if I'm regarded as one of the best, it doesn't change much," Kaminski said. "I still have to go against the guy in front of me in either football or wrestling and get it done."
Bulldogs' turnaround season
After a disappointing 10-18 campaign in 2016, the RBHS softball squad went 26-10 and won a regional title last spring.
"Winning regionals was hands down the happiest moment of my life," RBHS shortstop Kailyn Ngo said. "I'm pretty sure a lot of the other girls feel the same way. My best friends were by my side as we made RB softball history."
The Bulldogs boasted plenty of balance, depth and chemistry. Nora Dakota anchored the pitching rotation with a 15-6 record, 4.38 earned run average, 36 walks and 74 strikeouts in 117 innings. Tori Blood (6-0, 4.68 ERA) and Nadia Ranieri (4-2) filled out the other top spots.
Senior catcher Cameron Shaw led the way with a .449 batting average, 48 hits, and a team-best 41 RBIs. Ngo served as the catalyst offensively by hitting .450 with a .496 on-base percentage along with team-highs in hits (50) and steals (6, tied with Alivia Ranieri).
Fenwick hoops, second in 3A
So close, yet so far. The Fenwick boys basketball team lost 69-67 in overtime to Morgan Park in the Class 3A state final at the Peoria Civic Center.
Fenwick's freshman sensation DJ Steward shot a perfect game, going 10-for-10 from the field (including a pair of 3-pointers) and 2-for-2 at the free throw line to finish with a game-high 26 points. He also had seven rebounds and four steals in one of the best performances by a freshman in state finals history.
"We're very disappointed because we had a chance to win a state championship and we didn't make plays down the stretch," Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. "We're not disappointed in anything else. We had a tremendous season with a lot of great memories."
Fenwick (30-5) turned in a historic campaign. Led by seniors Jacob Keller, Jamal Nixon and the precocious Steward, the Friars won a school-record 30 games, plus the John Malone tourney, Chicago Catholic League North Division, regional, sectional and supersectional championships.
Bulldog hoops finds identity
Last season, RBHS girls basketball coach Dallas Till enjoyed the luxury of having an excellent backcourt with four-year varsity guards Samantha Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd plus workmanlike forward Maggie Shereck. RBHS posted a 21-10 record.
In search of a team identity this season, the surprising Bulldogs are winning with teamwork. The team is 12-2 with a balanced offensive attack, pressure defense and depth.
"Having so many different contributors is one of the reasons this team works so well," freshman guard Brenna Loftus said. "It's a critical part of how this team functions. No matter who is on the court, they can be relied for their strengths in different parts of the game."
While the 5-foot-7 Loftus has the look of a future star, multiple players including Maddie Meehan, Ashley Rivera, Sarah JnoBaptiste, Leah Rettke and Vasara Kulbis have played key roles for the Bulldogs.
Night of Champions
On June 20, the Wednesday Journal hosted its annual "Night of Champions" at Dominican University's Lund Auditorium in River Forest. In its third year, the event functions as an opportunity to honor the accomplishments of elite high school teams, athletes and coaches from the Oak Park and River Forest communities. In addition to a pro sports memorabilia auction, refreshments and food, live music, and speakers from the world of pro sports, co-host Doris Davenport and myself proudly presented the following award winners:
Hall of Fame Award Winner: Tom McCloskey, Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball
Coach of the Year (Female Team): Doug Schultz, Riverside-Brookfield softball
Male Team of the Year: Lyons Township swimming
Male Athlete of the Year: Spencer Walker, Lyons Township swimming; Kyle Fitzgerald, Riverside-Brookfield baseball
Female Team of the Year: Lyons Township girls tennis
Female Athlete of the Year: Lahari Yelamanchili, Lyons Township girls tennis
Most Inspirational Athlete: Joey Swallow, Riverside-Brookfield football/wrestling
Breakout Athlete of the Year: Jacob Kaminski, Fenwick wrestling