Considering that we have survived the bustling holidays, packed shopping malls, snarled traffic, and even the Mayan Calendar deadline of Dec. 21, 2012, now might be a good time to take a deep breath, kick back and give thanks for another year.
On the local sports scene, Riverside-Brookfield, Lyons Township and Fenwick high schools certainly provided us many unforgettable memories and moments to be thankful for this year. Here are 10 signature sports teams that shaped the local 2012 sports landscape.
The Friars never saw it coming. After putting up 21 unanswered points to take the lead in the third quarter against two-time defending state champion Rockford-Boylan, Fenwick lost in gut-wrenching fashion 22-21 when the Titans’ Pete Cimino returned a punt 90 yards with no time left on the clock and Zack Matthews added the decisive 2-point conversion run to complete arguably the most shocking ending/comeback in IHSA football history.
Thankfully, from a broader perspective, under the guidance of head coach Gene Nudo the buzz around the Fenwick program is palpable, illustrated by the Friars’ 8-4 record, including final play victories over Bishop McNamara and Huntley, coupled with a Chicago Catholic League White Division title.
The Friars’ future appears even brighter with stars like Geno Cavalieri, Robert Spillane and Ryan Smith back in action next season.
The Lions’ longstanding rivalry with Oak Park is well-documented with both teams typically fighting it out for the West Suburban (Silver) Conference championship. In 2012, LT and Oak Park took their annual baseball battle to another level, squaring off in the Class 4A State championship game. The Huskies’ Mike Brennan crushed the Lions’ dreams of a second straight state title when the outfielder slapped a game-winning single with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the ninth for the win.
Led by veteran coach George Ushela, the Lions finished 27-13-1 and defeated tough clubs like St. Laurence, Mt. Carmel and Marist during a spirited playoffs run.
“There were some ups and downs for us during the season,” Ushela said. “Our team became more focused and jelled at the right time.”
The Bulldogs (26-8) caught fire during the regular season — at one point winning 20 of 23 games — before ultimately losing in another sectional final, 4-2, to St. Francis in June. Led by the terrific pitching tandem of sisters Kylie and Katie O’Connell along with plenty of thunder in the lineup — Becky Mantel, Kiley Rusen, Emily Hastings — coach John Vermillion enjoyed another stellar season with the Bulldogs.
On a notable aside, longtime softball coach Dan Hull stepped down as the Bulldogs’ sophomore skipper. Over the past 30 years, Hull has coached softball at RB, Nazareth, Triton and he also guided the Brookfield major girls division team to the Little League Softball World Series Championship in 1985.
Fenwick boys soccer
The Friars enjoyed a Cinderella run in the playoffs under coach Rob Watson before finally losing 2-1 in double overtime to Sandburg in the Class 3A Benedictine University Supersectional.
Led by star midfielder/Marquette-bound Jack Alberts, Fenwick (16-6-1) earned a share of the Chicago Catholic League title and also defeated highly regarded clubs LT 2-1 and Hinsdale Central 1-0 (both on penalty kicks), in thrilling regional and sectional finals, respectively.
LT girls tennis
For the second consecutive season, the Lions’ No.1 singles player Alex Chatt fell just short of becoming a state champion. Chatt, a state runner-up in 2011, cruised past Naperville Central’s Tiffany Chen 6-1, 6-0 in the third-place match of the 2012 state finals. LT (20 points) finished fifth at state in the team standings.
Chatt and Kristen Thoms return this spring to comprise a potent 1-2 punch in the Lions’ lineup for coach Bill Wham.
RB girls basketball
Off to a 15-2 start (as of Dec. 27) this season, the Lady Bulldogs have been a pleasant surprise, factoring in the loss of several key players to graduation. Seniors Brittney JnoBaptiste and Hannah Claywell along with 5-foot-11 sophomore Janae Dabney have already led RB to a pair of tournament championships and serious contender status in the Metro Suburban Conference this winter.
Despite battling numerous injuries to key players all season, the Lions (7-5) advanced to the state quarterfinals for the third consecutive year. Led by quarterback Zach Mahoney, Northwestern-bound wideout Matthew Harris, Jemari Burks and sophomore running back Leonard Ross, LT put together an impressive five-game winning streak highlighted by postseason victories over Marist and O’Fallon before bowing out of the playoffs via a 45-10 loss to eventual state champion Mount Carmel.
RB boys basketball
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, nothing is certain but death, taxes, and, if you’re the Bulldogs, apparently a Metro Suburban Conference championship. For the 11th straight season, RB claimed a league title with a perfect 12-0 mark in the Metro Suburban. Coach Tom McCloksey and team leaders Luke Nortier, Miki Ljuboja and Damonta Henry sparked the Bulldogs to a 23-5 overall record, the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament title and a regional finals appearance against Crane, which defeated RB 69-57.
LT boys water polo
The Lions dethroned eight-time defending state champion Fenwick 8-7 in an epic match at the York Sectional final. LT carried the momentum of dispatching the Friars all the way to a state title capped off with a 14-6 victory over Loyola in the championship match.
Led by Joe Shannon, who scored six goals against Loyola, Kovas Zygas and others, LT became the first public school in the 11-year IHSA state series to win a state title.
“I’m so proud of all the hard work the guys put in this season,” Lyons coach Doug Eichstaedt said. “These guys set the standard for our program.”
Although the Bulldogs limped to a 2-7 record in head coach/RB alum Brendan Curtin’s debut campaign, signs of progress were made with two wins over the last four games. The RB players also proved community-conscious, helping out at several fundraisers/charitable events during the fall.
Quarterback Jack VandeMerkt, along with a cadre of skilled offensive players in Adolfo Linares, Justin Agne, Christian Verdin and Mike Davis return next season looking to continue the Bulldogs’ improvement.