Well, another remarkable high school sports year (my third as the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sports editor) is officially in the books.
The awards haul for our area high schools, collectively and predictably, is quite impressive, including three state championships plus multiple supersectional, sectional, regional and conference titles.
With due respect to these accomplishments, however, what struck me in retrospect thinking about the players and coaches I covered this year was the gamut of emotions they conveyed.
Nazareth football, Lyons Township boys swimming and Fenwick girls water polo, in particular, expressed feelings of gratitude and joy after their signature state title wins.
In fact, Nazareth doubled its pleasure on the gridiron with a second straight state championship. The Roadrunners routed Lincoln-Way West 42-21 in the Class 6A finals this season. Two years ago, they defeated Lemont 26-7 to win state.
“It’s a great feeling,” Nazareth running back Julian Love said. “We’re breaking records here.”
After guiding LTHS to its first state championship in boys swimming, coach Scott Walker felt jubilation for his swimmers.
“I’m just so happy for the boys in our program, Walker said. “To watch representatives of your program have so much fun and be successful is a coach’s dream.”
The Fenwick girls water polo team edged Naperville Central 13-12 in double-overtime en route to their ninth state crown in 13 years.
“It feels really amazing to go out my senior year being state champs,” senior Catie Wallace said. “The feeling is indescribable.”
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Fenwick mourned the loss of Johnny Lattner. The famous Fenwick alumnus died at the age of 83 after battling mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer.
Lattner won the 1953 Heisman Trophy at the University of Notre Dame, played briefly for the Pittsburgh Steelers, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the words “a bread-and-butter ball carrier,” and served in the U.S. Air Force,
“We never lose sight of the fact Johnny is a legend,” Fenwick head football coach Gene Nudo said.
No story stirred up conflicting emotions and opinions quite like the acrimonious breakup between head basketball coach Ed Stritzel and Trinity High School. Stritzel, the winningest coach in school history with a 236-51 record over nine seasons, was forced out on Nov. 30, one day before he was to return from a 30-day suspension for an alleged recruiting violation.
During the spring, Nazareth High School athletic director Duane Buturusis hired Stritzel to coach the girls basketball team there.
As for the Blazers, Mike Valente replaced Stritzel and the team finished 30-6 and third in the Class 4A state playoffs.
RBHS excelled in several sports, notably football where the Bulldogs advanced to the Class 6A quarterfinals and finished 9-2 on the season.
The RBHS boys basketball team went 22-6, including 12-0 in the Metro Suburban Conference, to win its 15th straight league championship.
On April 30, RBHS boys basketball coach Tom McCloskey was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
RBHS volleyball enjoyed success throughout the school year as the girls team won a conference title in the fall and the boys squad produced a best-ever 26-9 record in the spring.
In girls soccer, RBHS won its second straight regional championship as Allie Kucera led the team in scoring with 30 goals. Esther Annoreno, Gabby Tarrant, Kathyrn Sessler, Claire Hansa, McKenna Powers, Sarah Sanchez and Karli Riverside also well for the Bulldogs.
Fenwick flourished throughout the year as well, with the boys cross-country and golf teams notching fifth-place finishes in the state. The girls volleyball team (24-12) recorded the best season in program history.
In hoops, the Fenwick boys team went 28-3 and claimed a Chicago Catholic League championship. On the girls side, Fenwick coach Dave Power notched his 900th career win.
The feel-good story for the Friars, however, belonged to the baseball team.
Fenwick (20-20) got off to one of the worst starts in Dave Hogan’s 33-year coaching career, but overcame inexperience and ineptitude to play its best ball when it mattered most.
The Friars’ inspired playoff run ended with a 12-4 loss to St. Viator at the Class 3A North Central College Supersectional.
“I know there’s a lot of tears now,” said Hogan, “but for goodness sake, we got down to the final eight.”
See you next season!