Nazareth left-handed pitcher Michael Prosecky anchored a deep pitching rotation for the Roadrunners. (Courtesy Nazareth Academy)

Every Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sports year in review invariably has inspirational stories, provided mostly by Riverside-Brookfield, Lyons Township, Fenwick and Nazareth high school athletes. However, if you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, check out Jake Elliott’s incredible story below. The LTHS grad kicks off our 2018 lineup of memorable sports moments.

Elliott savors Super Bowl win

Move over former Philadelphia Eagles player Vince Papale (played by actor Mark Wahlberg in the movie, “Invincible”), Jake Elliott’s journey to the NFL seems straight out of a Hollywood script as well.

Elliott, who starred at LTHS as a kicker, booted three field goals and made two of three extra points in the Eagles’ 41-33 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. Elliott’s 11 points included a pair of fourth-quarter field goals (42, 46 yards) to help fend off the Patriots’ repeated rallies.

As a 5-foot-9, 170-pound rookie, Elliott notched six kicking records. He set three new records for the Eagles, longest field goal (61 yards), longest field goal in the playoffs (53 yards) and most 50-yard field goals in a season (5). The aforementioned 61- and 53-yard kicks are also NFL records for longest regular season kick and playoff kick, respectively, by a rookie. And he owns the longest kick (46 yards) for a rookie in Super Bowl history.

On the season, Elliott made 26 of 31 field goals for an accuracy make of 83.9 percent as the Eagles finished 16-3.

“I am continually amazed with Jake’s poise under pressure,” LTHS football coach Kurt Weinberg said. “Just like the Super Bowl, some of my greatest recollections of Jake are his ability to handle big moments. He always stepped up and nailed a kick when we needed it.”

Naz football snags 7A title

The Roadrunners entered the Class 7A championship game as the clear favorite against St. Charles North. Nazareth Academy made good on that prognostication by defeating the North Stars 31-10 at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.

With three state titles (in three different IHSA classes) and a runner-up finish in tow since 2014, the Roadrunners are already a dynasty or well on the way to such a distinction.

The team went 8-1 during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Roadrunners defeated Andrew (42-11), Hersey (49-14), Simeon (34-27), Batavia (47-28) and St. Charles North (31-10).

“To win this year in 7A is a huge accomplishment and has all kinds of special meanings for our seniors and the school,” coach Tim Racki said. “The hardest thing to do is win the first one. After we won state in 2014, then it almost became a standard the next year. A culture is established that serves our younger levels of the program well.”

Standouts J.J. McCarthy, Alex Carrillo, Derrick Strongs Jr., Marcus Griffin, Breven Reifsteck and Tyler Morris are notable returners next season. 

Kaminski wins 195 state title

 Fenwick’s Jacob Kaminski dominated on the mat all season. Kaminski (31-2) won a state championship in the 195-pound class in relatively comfortable fashion. Kaminski, who advanced to the semifinals in the individual state tourney in 2017, finished the job this year with a 7-1 decision over Rochelle’s Alex Harvey in the championship bout at state.

“It obviously feels great to be a state champion.”  he said. “It’s really fulfilling for all your hard work to show and to know that you deserve the title.”

Kaminski, who previously lived in Riverside, transferred to Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania. Aside from wrestling, he’s a highly regarded defensive end/linebacker prospect for college football.

RBHS girls water polo sets standard

The Bulldogs (23-8) recorded their best season in program history under third-year head coach Todd Fridrych. After a 3-3 start, RBHS won 20 of 25 matches highlighted by an 11-match winning streak. Additionally, the team won the Elk Grove Tournament, its own invite title and placed third at the Hinsdale Central Invite.

Prior to 2018, the Bulldogs never finished above .500.

“The biggest reason for the turnaround was the amount of water polo our girls played in the offseason,” Fridrych said. “In addition, we only lost one senior on the whole team from last season to this season.”

Tatum Bruno and team captain/goalie Chloe Wandel-Marrello and Leah Harazin provided plenty of eye-popping stats and leadership.

Wandel-Marrello had 312 saves and 52 assists in the cage, while Bruno scored 89 goals with 60 assists and 152 steals. Harazin had 65 goals, 21 assists and 31 steals.

Reingruber’s hoops debut goes well

For all his familiarity with the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball program, Mike Reingruber still replaced Tom McCloskey, the winningest coach in program history, last season. The Bulldogs started slowly at 1-5 under Reingruber, but quickly hit their stride with 18 wins in 24 games the rest of the season.

Zach Vaia, the reigning MVP of the Metro Suburban Conference, along with Ryan Cicenas, Jason Bageanis, Andrew Veon and Patrick Hanley powered the team’s resurgence. Highlights included the Bulldogs securing their 16th conference championship in 17 years and game-winning shots by Vaia at the buzzer against Fenwick and Immaculate Conception.

Most importantly, the players bought in to Reingruber’s coaching.

“Our main goal is to keep getting better each day,” Reingruber said. “We want to be playing our best basketball by the end of each season. We always strive to win our conference and make some noise in the state tournament.”

Stritzels power Nazareth hoops

There probably isn’t a better coach and player combination in high school girls basketball than Eddie and Annie Stritzel. The father-daughter tandem led Nazareth Academy to a runner-up finish in Class 3A.

The Roadrunners led Peoria Richwoods 41-37 after three quarters in the title game. However, the Knights outscored Nazareth 18-5 the rest of the game en route to a 55-46 victory at Redbird Arena in Normal.

Nazareth finished 31-3 as the best team in program history

“I think we definitely had a successful year even though we didn’t win a state championship,” Annie Stritzel said. “This team’s chemistry was special and it showed on the court. Making Naz history so soon is amazing and something we won’t forget.”

Till-Ruge combo maintains success

They have never won a sectional championship, much less a state title. And yet, you would be hard pressed to find a better coaching combination then Dallas Till and Mark Ruge. Till is the head coach of RBHS girls basketball and baseball, with Ruge his trusted assistant in both sports. Both teams finished 25-7 in 2018 with upper echelon finishes in the Metro Suburban Conference.

Although their teams typically have talented players like Brenna Loftus, Maddie Meehan and Sarah Jnobaptisite in hoops and Ryan Cermak and Michael Schicker on the baseball diamond, their winning formula is also attributable to their dynamic on the bench.

“Watching Dallas handle multiple situations with the girls basketball and baseball programs on a professional basis while continuing to win is amazing,” Ruge said. “His in-game management of the game always gives us an advantage. We cherish every moment we are allowed to coach together.”

Walker retires from LTHS aquatics

After 24 years coaching the Lyons Township High School boys swimming, girls swimming and water polo programs, Scott Walker retired in 2018.

Under his guidance, LTHS won two state titles, a state runner-up finish, and produced seven state champion swimmers with three state records.

He’s also a three-time Illinois Swimming and Diving State Coach of the Year by the Illinois Swim and Dive Association (ISDA), as well as an ISDA Hall of Fame John Newman Award recipient, presented to a person who has promoted boys swimming in Illinois at all levels through leadership, service and outstanding achievement — the highest award presented in Illinois aquatics. He also was picked as the Landmark’s Coach of the Year in 2016-17 after the Lions won their second straight state boys swimming championship

“The day-to-day interactions with the kids were wonderful,” Walker said. “Teaching kids to believe in themselves and to do things they thought they could never do is rewarding as a coach.”

Malnati leaves Fenwick hoops

After five years as the Fenwick boys basketball head coach, Rick Malnati resigned from the position in April. Staunton Peck, an assistant coach under Malnati at Fenwick since 2013, is the new head coach.

Over five seasons, Malnati guided the Friars to a 122-33 record, highlighted by a 38-game winning streak and three straight titles in the Chicago Catholic League. In 2016-2017, Malnati led Fenwick to a 30-5 record and a Class 3A runner-up finish. In the Class 3A finals, Morgan Park edged the Friars 69-67 in overtime. Led by stars like Jacob Keller, Jamal Nixon and DJ Steward, the Friars recorded the best season in program history.

Roadrunner baseball takes third in 3A state

A second improbable comeback right out of a Hollywood script wasn’t meant to be for the Nazareth Academy baseball team.

After rallying with seven runs in the seventh inning to stun Antioch 10-9 in a classic Class 3A supersectional, the Roadrunners lost convincingly to Morton 8-1 in the 3A state semifinals at Route 66 Stadium in Joliet.

Nazareth (24-14-1) had another excellent season under veteran coach Lee Milano. Over the past 13 years, the Roadrunners have won nine regional titles, six sectional championships and four top 4 finishes in the state playoffs under his guidance.

Through 37 games played this season, several players excelled for Nazareth. Dominic Milano hit .400 with 27 RBIs, while Carmignani batted .375 with 16 RBIs. Both players scored 32 runs. Ryan Turgeon hit .322 with a pair of home runs, six doubles and team-high 32 runs batted in. Lopez contributed a .354 batting average and 18 RBIs.