With the high school sports year approaching, several compelling storylines will naturally emerge regarding the success of local teams, players and coaches. Assuredly, there will be fresh faces of burgeoning stars that adorn the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sports section.
Along with the new sensations, however, let’s not forget these five proven winners who will play prominent roles in the 2017-18 local high school sports narrative.
Jacob Kaminski, Fenwick sophomore, wrestling/football
Kaminski, from Riverside, excelled in two sports as a freshman at Fenwick. He went 22-2 and earned fourth in the state at 195 pounds at the IHSA Class 2A individual wrestling state tourney in Champaign.
On the gridiron, he also wreaked havoc as a hybrid linebacker/defensive lineman with 7.5 sacks and 35 tackles (including 5 for loss) in 13 games for the Friars (11-2, Class 7A state semifinalist).
Kaminski’s first endeavor in sports was actually swimming, a talent that runs in the family.
His older sister, Paulina, won the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 2.40 seconds) and took second in the 200-yard individual medley (2:03.67) as a senior at Fenwick during the 2013 IHSA state meet. When she was a sophomore in 2011, she claimed the 100-yard breaststroke state title by touching the wall at 1:03.96.
Although he’s a gifted and highly touted athlete, Kaminski has remained grounded.
“I’m really not paying much attention to it,” Kaminski said regarding the hype about his athletic ability. “It’s always good to know I’m a topic of conversation, but it really comes down to hard work and dedication.
“Even if I’m regarded as one of the best, it doesn’t change much. I still have to go against the guy in front of me in either football or wrestling and get it done.”
George Cervanka, RBHS senior, track
Cervanka starred at the Lyons Township Sectional by winning the 200-meter dash in 22.20 seconds and placing second in the 100 with an 11.04, trailing only LTHS runner Antwane Thigpen.
Cervanka led the Bulldogs to their fifth straight Metro Suburban Conference outdoor championship with four first-place finishes. He won the 100-meter dash in 10.82 seconds and the 200 in 22.55. Cervanka also ran a leg on the Bulldogs’ winning 400 and 800 relay teams at the conference meet.
Sixteen athletes from RBHS, including several in multiple events, earned all-conference recognition. RBHS took second at its own Bulldog Relays and Carlin Nalley Invite as well.
“We really dominated on the oval,” RBHS coach Tim Olson said. “We won nine firsts out of 12 races. It was a balanced effort as the 31 all-conference performances demonstrates.”
While the Bulldogs return several talented athletes this year, Cervanka will be at center of attention based on his impressive results last season.
Lahari Yelamanchili, LTHS junior, tennis
The Lions’ top singles player certainly earned her first individual state championship with a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory over Evanston’s Anastasia Goncharova. Prior to her nerve-racking match against Goncharova, Yelamanchili had not dropped a set through five matches.
Known for her grit and determination and consistent groundstrokes, Yelamanchili came up big when it mattered most.
Along with her standout performance, LTHS senior Andjelija Bozovic won five of seven matches at the tournament as LTHS tied for second place with Stevenson in the team standings.
Emily Graham, RBHS senior, soccer
As a first-year starter last season, Graham flourished as one of the premier goalkeepers in the Metro Suburban Conference.
“Emily was phenomenal,” RBHS coach Ivek Halic said about her play last season. “She’s kept us in games many times. Her communication organized the back line for us and she has facilitated a lot for us.”
With a year of starting experience under her belt, Graham appears poised for a stellar senior campaign.
Spencer Walker, LTHS senior, swimming
The Lions’ top swimmer is as clutch as he is talented. Trailing conference rival Hinsdale Central for most of the state meet, Walker gave LTHS momentum and the lead for good when he won the 100-yard backstroke in 48.70 seconds. That event win vaulted the Lions ahead of the Red Devils 123.5-112 in the team standings. Ultimately, the Lions won their second straight state title by beating Hinsdale Central 156.5-143.
“Spencer is the first individual boys swimmer state champ from LT,” Scott Walker said. “To place the state champ medal around your son’s neck at the state meet is pretty special. I had to do a lot to hold back from tearing up.
“I’m so proud of the hard work he put in and the way he went about everything. He’s low maintenance and just goes about his business.”
With the return of Walker, Henry Claesson, Jeff Vitek and Michael Walsh, the Lions will be in the hunt for a third consecutive state title,
“I am not going to say now we are going to win another state championship,” said Scott Walker, “but I know we have a returning core of talented swimmers who are capable of doing very well at state next season.”
While new stars will surface this season, look perhaps for these five proven winners to take their game to an even higher level.