Considering the plethora of talented high school coaches and players at Riverside-Brookfield, Fenwick, Lyons Township and Trinity, it’s not surprising to see so much athletic success by the schools, collectively, in a given year.
2016 was certainly no exception as the LTHS boys swimming team set a high standard of excellence by winning its first state title under coach Scott Walker.
Stellar athletes like RBHS’ Daniko Jackson and Jalen Clanton (basketball), Dana Rettke (volleyball) and Allie Kucera (soccer); Fenwick’s Mike Smith (basketball), Jacob Keller (football/basketball) and Grace Cronin (track & field/state champ); and Trinity’s Annie McKenna and Kaitlin Aylward (both basketball) excelled among a remarkable group of athletes.
So here’s a look back at 2016, as yet another compelling chapter was added to the storied traditions of RBHS, Fenwick, LTHS and Trinity sports.
LTHS wins boys swimming state title
The Lyons Township High School boys swimming team made history at the state finals. The Lions, who scored 146 points in the team standings, became the first team in program history to win a state championship.
In the estimation of LTHS coach Scott Walker, every swimmer within the program truly contributed to the unprecedented accomplishment.
“We had 12 representatives at the state meet but all 70 kids in the program played a role,” Walker said. “The guys really bought into the concept that they were swimming for our team, our program, our school and our community.”
LTHS excelled in the relays with a first, second and third place finish.
Chris Phillips was fifth in the 200-yard individual medley with a time 1:52.21 and eighth in the 100 breaststroke at 57.69. Other notable results included: Credit (100 breaststroke/fourth, 56.24; 200 IM/seventh, 1:51.85), Spencer Walker (100 backstroke/sixth, 51.07; 500 free/eighth, 4:35.16), Hammond (50 free/ninth, 21.51) and Claesson (100 free/10th, 46.54).
In diving, Seamus Scotty came in fifth with a score of 459.75.
Bad call spoils Friars’ run
The Fenwick football team finished 11-2 with a Chicago Catholic League Green title, state semifinals appearance, and two All-State players (quarterback Jacob Keller, wide receiver Michael O’Laughlin) among many notable players.
And yet, 2016 will always be remembered as the season the Friars were flat-out robbed of a Class 6A state title game appearance.
In the state semifinals, Plainfield North defeated Fenwick 18-17 in overtime at Triton College in River Grove after a controversial play at the end of regulation that incorrectly handed Plainfield North the momentum.
With Fenwick holding a slim lead and looking to run out the clock, the officials called an intentional grounding penalty on Keller during the last play and awarded Plainfield North the ball and an untimed down on the Fenwick 5-yard line.
The Tigers kicked a game-tying field goal. In overtime, Fenwick regained the lead at 17-10 on Conner Lillig’s 1-yard run. Dillon McCarthy scored a TD and added a two-point conversion run, lifting Plainfield North to victory.
Here’s the rub: The rules state a game can end on an offensive penalty (like Keller’s intentional grounding); it can’t end on a defensive penalty.
In fact, the officials’ incorrect ruling shouldn’t have been allowed since the game was over after the clock struck triple zeros.
Fenwick appealed to the IHSA, but the IHSA refused to hear it and claimed that its by-laws would not allow a reversal of the outcome. Fenwick then sued the IHSA and went to court in an effort to get the team into the finals, but that, too, failed.
Boyd resigns as RBHS wrestling coach
Within three years of his 2013 hiring, the RBHS wrestling program dramatically improved under coach Mike Boyd. The Bulldogs went 20-3 with three sectional qualifiers in 2016 and the number of wrestlers in the program increased from approximately 15 to 88 including the development of a girls wrestling team. In 2015, the Bulldogs went 19-4 with a school-record 12 sectional and six state qualifiers, highlighted by Al’Lon Carter’s fifth-place showing at 220 pounds in the Class 2A finals.
Boyd resigned from his head coaching position during a meeting with RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana on March 4.
“I told the kids in our wrestling program and their parents at our team banquet (March 4) that I resigned,” Boyd said. “It was tough, felt like a wake. I buried my dad about six years ago, and this is probably the second hardest thing I’ve done.”
Rettke-led RBHS volleyball makes quarterfinals
Powered by the explosive game of 6-foot-8 senior Dana Rettke, the Bulldogs went 32-8 and advanced to the Class 4A supersectionals.
Although Niles West edged RBHS 25-22, 22-25, 31-29 in an epic supersectional, the disappointment of that loss paled in comparison to the team’s overall success.
Gia Cinkay, Maria Gonzales, Claire Swiatek, Leah Rettke, Olivia Louthen, Vasara Kulbis, Margaret Shereck and Maya Diaz also contributed for the Bulldogs.
You know your program is in good shape when a 22-6 season is viewed as a bit disappointing. For clarity, the 22-6 record the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team earned was fine, but a first-round 74-69 loss to Proviso East in the state playoffs ended the Bulldogs’ season on a sour note.
The Bulldogs played well in most of their losses, holding their own against elite competition like nationally-ranked Gonzaga Prep from Washington D.C. and in-state powers Fenwick, St. Joseph and Morgan Park.
More significantly, this winter is head coach Tom McCloskey’s final season (currently, the Bulldogs are 5-5).
“I really enjoy practice,” McCloskey said. “I think it’s great when you have a really good week of practice and everybody is on the same page. Then the players execute during a game what we talked about all week. You never stop learning.”
Fenwick girls water polo on top
Fenwick senior Catie Wallace scored the game-winning goal in a 13-12 double-overtime victory against Stevenson in the water polo state final.
“It feels pretty awesome,” Wallace said. “It was a team effort.”
It was the ninth state title in the past 13 years for the Friars (30-5-1), who improved to 9-1 in state title games.
Trinity third in hoops
Senior guard Annie McKenna turned in a brilliant performance with 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting to power the Blazers past Whitney Young, 63-47, in the semifinal at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Kaitlin Aylward added 20 points and six rebounds as Trinity (30-6) tied the school record for wins and earned the first state trophy in program history despite changing head coaches (Eddie Stritzel resigned; replaced by Mike Valente) during the season.
Bulldogs win with Kucera, defense
The RBHS girls soccer team won its second straight regional title in 2016 with a foolproof formula. Let high-scoring forward Allie Kucera and playmaking midfielders Esther Annoreno and Kathryn Sessler do their thing and a stingy defense will do the rest.
The Bulldogs (13-7-3) earned their regional title in dominant fashion by outscoring two opponents 13-0. In a sectional semifinal, St. Ignatius defeated RBHS 2-1 to close out the latter’s season.
The aforementioned defense featured Claire Hansa, McKenna Powers, Sarah Sanchez and Ivy Marcucci.
RBHS surrendered more than two goals only five times.