Remarkable accomplishments among many talented high school teams, players and coaches from the local sports scene made 2015 truly memorable. Throughout the year, the Landmark was stocked full of interesting and intriguing stories.
Before we usher in 2016, here’s a review of the best performances this year.
Back-to-back state titles
The year 2015 provided several sweet moments for the Nazareth Academy football team, but none matched the feeling of winning a second straight state championship.
Junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin ran for 170 yards and four touchdowns in the Roadrunners’ 42-21 win over Lincoln-Way West in the Class 5A final at Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. In the semifinals, Notre Dame-bound Julian Love racked up 283 yards and four TDs in a 34-0 victory against St. Laurence.
In addition to the ostensibly unstoppable backfield of Kelly-Martin and Love, quarterback Carson Bartels and wide receivers Christopher Simmons and Justin Weller and a burgeoning offensive line also played key roles. Defensively, Joey Muscolino, Christian Davis, Devonte Dunn, Freddie Locke and Christian Sampleton set the tone.
In 2014, the Roadrunners defeated Lemont 26-7 in the Class 6A state championship game, notching the school’s first title in any sport.
“I think there was more pressure [in 2014] because we were pretty much crowned to be a state champion in June,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “This team formed an identity almost weekly in terms of improvement. In their own right, for the kids on this year’s team to get out a bit from the shadow of last year’s team is impressive.”
Nothing but net
The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball produced the best season in program history.
The Bulldogs finished 28-4 (most wins in program history), won its own Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament, 14th straight conference championship and a first-ever sectional title.
Featuring a lineup loaded with star power including the Landmark’s Male Athlete of the Year Sam Johnson, Mark Smith, Daniko Jackson, Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg, RBHS won with an entertaining, unselfish style of play.
“We’re the first team in RB history to ever win a sectional. Wow, it’s an incredible feeling,” Clanton said after a 66-61 victory over Morton in the sectional final. “It’s a great night to be a Bulldog.”
Added head coach Tom McCloskey: “It’s been an amazing year. To be honest, I think we did this [win a sectional] for all the guys who have played basketball at RB. I know they’re sharing it with us.”
Off to an 8-1 start this season, the Bulldogs are once again contenders to win a state championship.
Lin nets three-peat
Lyons Township High School senior Stephanie Lin became the first badminton player in Illinois history to win three consecutive state singles championships when she rallied to defeat Hinsdale South’s Judy Yang 16-21, 21-18, 21-13 in the state finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
“I could not be any happier,” said Lin, the Landmark’s Female Athlete of the Year. “It was the best way to end my senior year.”
Lin, now a freshman at Cornell, had a 116-10 record during her three-year reign in high school badminton.
Making another splash
The LTHS boys water polo team won its second state title in four years with a 9-6 win over Stevenson in the championship match. George Lundgren and Sam Szczepaniak scored three goals apiece and Nathan Henderson added the final two goals to lift LTHS past the Patriots.
LTHS, which claimed its other state title in 2012, finished 32-4 this year.
Blazers’ bittersweet success
2015 will be remembered as a year of highs and lows for the Trinity High School basketball team. Head coach Eddie Stritzel officially resigned on Nov. 30, although indications were that he was forced out the day before he was due to return from a one-month suspension.
“My official statement is I handed in my resignation Monday the 30th and the matter with Trinity is resolved,” Stritzel said in a text message to the Landmark.
Interim coach Mike Valente replaced Stritzel as the head coach.
On the court, Trinity flourished with a 28-4 record and supersectional appearance last winter. The Blazers advanced to the supersectional (72-68 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor) by upsetting Whitney Young 37-36 in a riveting sectional final. Trinity snapped the Dolphins’ 127-game winning streak at home.
After a difficult start this season, Trinity (11-3) appears back on track with a seven-game winning streak.
RBHS football is back
Led by seniors Ryan Swift, Dean Zigulich and David Pribyl Pierdinock, RBHS went 10-2 and advanced to the Class 6A state quarterfinals.
After an 8-1 regular season, RBHS notched impressive home victories against St. Ignatius (28-13) and Grayslake North (21-14) in the playoffs. A 42-13 loss against Prairie Ridge in the quarters hardly diminished the Bulldogs’ best season since 2001.
Pribyl Pierdinock was proud how far the Bulldogs went this year, especially building off the momentum of a 6-4 campaign in 2014. The previous two years, RBHS went a combined 3-15.
“It’s a huge achievement,” Pribyl Pierdinock said of the team’s progress. “It’s even more meaningful because of all the hard work behind it.”
Sal takes flight in 1,600
Fenwick senior Sal Flight finished second in the 1,600-meter race at the Class 2A state track and field finals at Eastern Illinois University. Flight, from Riverside, ran a lifetime best 4 minutes, 15.96 seconds as the Friars finished 25th in the team standings.
“It was a great way to close out my senior year,” Flight said.
Spike of success
The RBHS girls volleyball team had a banner season by posting a 26-10 record and winning the Metro Suburban Conference West Division title.
Dana Rettke, Gia Cinkay, Selene Anaya, Olivia Gyssler and Nicole LaBelle led the team. Rettke, a prolific outside hitter who has committed to Wisconsin, finished with 419 kills, 190 digs, 64 aces and 47 blocks this season.
“This was a phenomenal group for me,” RBHS coach Dan Bonarigo said. “This was a very good volleyball team but an even better group of kids.”
Bulldogs excel on mat
In the state series last winter, the RBHS wrestling team had 12 sectional and six state qualifiers, highlighted by Al’Lon Carter’s fifth-place finish at 220 pounds in Class 2A finals.
The Bulldogs, who are 12-1 this season, have also seen their numbers grow from 16 to 88 (including 14 females) wrestlers since coach Mike Boyd took over the program three years ago.
“When I first got to RB, I was just an outsider. I was the guy selling empty promises that the kids had heard before,” Boyd said. “Once they started to buy in to what I promised, everything became easier.”
Led by the terrific trio of sophomores Sam Bloom, Lyndsey Hoyd and Dana Rettke and a strong supporting cast, the RBHS girls basketball team went 26-5 with a 9-3 record in the Metro Suburban Conference.
A mid-season injury to senior forward Janae Dabney coupled with a tough draw in the Class 4A Simeon Sectional, however, proved too much to overcome as the Bulldogs lost to Oak Park and River Forest 55-40 in the playoffs.
Other than conference rival Hinsdale Central, which won both the boys and girls state titles in 2015, LTHS tennis was as good as it gets in the state of Illinois.
The boys team took second in the state as the Ross brothers (Gianni and Alex) finished second and third, respectively, at the state finals. The girls came in third in the state with strong performances from singles player Meg Kowalski and the doubles team of Megan Hickey and Stefana Vasic, which both placed third.