High School: Naperville North

Previewing the boys hoops brackets

February, 25, 2012

The Class 3A and 4A boys basketball playoffs begin on Monday. Here’s a glance at the top games and players to see this week.

Five regional semifinals to see

1. St. Charles East vs. St. Charles North at St. Charles North on Wednesday

2. Marist vs. Brother Rice at Marist on Tuesday

3. Stevenson vs. Prospect at Stevenson on Wednesday

4. Benet vs. Bolingbrook at Metea Valley on Wednesday

5. Neuqua Valley vs. Naperville Central at Neuqua Valley on Wednesday

Five potential regional championships to see on Friday
1. St. Rita vs. Whitney Young at Whitney Young

2. Bogan vs. De La Salle at Mount Carmel

3. Farragut vs. St. Joseph at Nazareth

4. Crane vs. Riverside-Brookfield at Riverside-Brookfield

5. Minooka vs. Bloom at Joliet Central

6. Crete-Monee vs. Joliet West at Thornton

7. West Aurora vs. Naperville North at Oswego

8. Harlan vs. Morgan Park at Rich Central

9. Evanston vs. Notre Dame at Notre Dame

10. Schaumburg vs. Glenbard West at Glenbard West

Ten to players to see in regional play (alphabetical order)

There will likely be plenty of time to see Simeon’s Jabari Parker and some of the other stars in the area, but these players and teams may or may not be around come next week.

1. David Cohn, junior, York: It hasn’t been a great year for high-scoring numbers, but Cohn has been one of the exceptions. He can drop 30-plus points on any night. He had 47 points just recently. York is a No. 4 seed in the Lake Park regional.

[+] EnlargeConner
Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comWillie Conner and Crane could be a tough out in the Riverside-Brookfield regional.

2. Willie Conner, senior, Crane: Conner improved his game this season and made himself a mid-major college prospect. Crane has been up and down this season, but Conner has been consistent. Crane is a No. 5 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield regional.

3. Tony Hicks, senior, St. Rita: Hicks, a Penn recruit, has been as good as any senior in the state. He’s been averaging 25 points a game. St. Rita is a No. 4 seed in the Whitney Young regional.

4. Mike LaTulip, senior, Prospect: LaTulip is headed to Illinois next year as a preferred walk-on. He’s been one of the area’s top shooters and scorers this year. Prospect is a No. 9 seed in the Stevenson regional.

5. Jahlil Okafor, sophomore, Young: Okafor is the state’s top sophomore and among the nation’s top players in the Class of 2014. The state hasn’t seen a big man as skilled as Okafor since possibly Eddy Curry. Whitney Young is a No. 5 seed in the Whitney Young regional.

6. Sean O’Mara, sophomore, Benet: O’Mara, a 6-9 center, has emerged as one of the state’s top young prospects. He’s a skilled big man and is following in the footsteps of former Benet center Frank Kaminsky. Benet is a No. 6 seed in the Metea Valley regional.

7. Michael Orris, senior, Crete-Monee: Orris, a 6-3 point guard, is headed to Illinois next season. He’s expected to help backup Tracy Abrams there. Crete-Monee is a No. 4 seed in the Thornton regional.

8. Juwan Starks, senior, West Aurora: Starks is on the verge of West Aurora’s career-scoring record of 1,613 points, which is owned by Billy Taylor (1987-1991). Starks is 60 points shy of matching Taylor. West Aurora is a No. 4 seed in the Oswego regional.

9. Tyler Ulis, sophomore, Marian Catholic: Ulis, a 5-8 point guard, is a scoring machine. He put up 38 points in a loss to St. Viator last month. Marian Catholic is a No. 7 seed and could face Andrew in the Andrew regional championship.

10. Milik Yarbrough, sophomore, Zion-Benton: Yarbrough could eventually be one of the nation’s top players in the Class of 2014. He’s a multi-skilled 6-6 guard/forward. Zion-Benton is a No. 16 seed in the Zion-Benton regional.

Big 3 power De La Salle at Tosh Classic

December, 29, 2011

ELMHURST, Ill. – De La Salle’s Alex Foster had enough of Naperville North come the third quarter on Thursday.

The underdog Huskies had slowed the game down and kept with No. 6 De La Salle for the first half of Thursday’s semifinal game at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York.

[+] EnlargeAlex Foster
Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comAlex Foster scored eight of his 12 points in the third quarter.

When the third quarter arrived, Foster and De La Salle turned to their superior athleticism and quickly turned a tight game into a blowout. The Meteors outscored Naperville North 21-7 in the third quarter and went on to win 54-28.

De La Salle will meet St. Ignatius in the championship on Friday.

“We pretty much said, ‘Let’s go get them,’” said Foster, who had eight points in the third quarter. “We just had the attitude of let’s finish this game out. At least, that’s the attitude I had.”

De La Salle (10-1) was at its best Thursday when it created an up-tempo atmosphere. Throughout the third quarter, the Meteors hounded Naperville North’s ball handlers, forced turnovers and created fast breaks.

Sophomore Alvin Ellis, junior Gavin Schilling and Foster, De La Salle’s three high-major prospects, were often in the mix on the both ends of the floor. In one sequence, Ellis stole the ball, pushed it up court, passed it behind his back to Schilling, and Schilling dunked the ball while being fouled.

“That’s pretty much what we do as a team,” said Foster, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. “We get after it. When we don’t, it seems like we’re frustrated. When we get after it, you see smiles on our faces. We’re having fun.”

Ellis led De La Salle in scoring for the third consecutive game. He had a game-high 14 points and also contributed four steals.

“I try to be as fast as I can be up and down the court,” Ellis said. “I try to beat everyone up the court and get those layups.”

Schilling (nine points), Marcus White (five points, three steals) and Demarcus Richardson (six points) contributed for the Meteors.

David Sinickas scored a team-high nine points for Naperville North (8-3).

In the other semifinal, St. Ignatius (10-1) upset No. 12 Downers Grove South 52-50. St. Ignatius’ Abdoulie Contch scored the game-winner in the lane with 1.5 seconds remaining.

St. Ignatius trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half.

“The kids played with composure in an easy game we could have quit on,” St. Ignatius coach Rich Kehoe said. “Nothing seemed to be going their way. It’s the first time we had come from double-digit behind to win a game that includes our summer play as well.”

New Trier athletics dominate in 2010-11

June, 15, 2011

The 2010-2011 high school sports year was one to remember for a number of programs.

Maine South’s football team and Bolingbrook’s girls basketball team won their third consecutive state championships. Montini’s football team and girls basketball team captured their second consecutive titles. Wheaton Warrenville South’s football team capped off an undefeated season with another state title. Simeon’s boys basketball team also continued its reign.

[+] EnlargeNew Trier tennis
VIPIS.comNew Trier's tennis team won the school one of its five state titles this year.

But of any of school, no one had the 2010-2011 year New Trier had. The Trevians won five team state championships and four individual state titles to go along with a number of regional and sectional championships.

Here’s a rundown of what New Trier’s teams accomplished this year:

• The boys tennis team won its second consecutive state championship. Robert Stineman repeated as the state singles champion. Jared Hiltzik finished second in singles, and two doubles teams finished in the top five in the state.

• The boys lacrosse team won its seventh consecutive state title. Senior Chad Sawyer became the school’s all-time leading goal scorer this season.

• The girls swimming team won the state championship. Samantha James won the state title in the 100-yard freestyle, and the 400-yard freestyle relay team also won a state title.

• The boys swimming team won the state championship. Max Grodecki won the 100-yard freestyle title, and its 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relay teams also won state crowns.

• The girls golf team won the Class 3A state championship, and Elizabeth Szokol and Kristin Wright finished fifth and sixth in the state.

• The boys golf team took second place in state in Class 3A.

• Senior Mari Georgiadis went 52-0 this season and won the badminton state championship. The Trevians finished third overall as a team.

• The girls tennis team finished third in the state. It had two doubles teams finish in the top six.

• The softball team finished fourth at state in Class 4A.

• The girls cross country team finished sixth at state in Class 3A.

• The boys cross country team finished in seventh at state in Class 3A.

• The boys volleyball team reached the state quarterfinals.

• The girls soccer team won a regional championship.

• The girls volleyball team won a regional championship.

• The girls lacrosse team won a regional championship.

• Senior centerfielder Charlie Tilson was selected in the second round of the MLB draft.

Other notable schools in 2010-2011

Lyons: baseball -- 4A state champions; girls volleyball – 3A state champions; boys soccer – regional champions; girls soccer – regional champions; boys basketball – regional champions; boys cross country – ninth place in 3A; football – reached state quarterfinals in 8A; boys water polo – reached state quarterfinals; girls golf – 10th place in 3A.

Sandburg: badminton – state champions; boys volleyball – state champions; baseball – regional champions; softball – sectional champions; competitive cheerleading – fourth place in state; boys cross country – 10th place in 3A and individual state champion Lukas Verzbicas; boys bowling – 10th place in state; wrestling – third place in 3A; boys water polo – fourth place in state; baseball – regional champions; football – reached the second round in 8A.

Naperville North: girls soccer – 3A state runner-up; boys soccer – sectional champions; boys volleyball – state runner-up; girls swimming – ninth place in 3A; boys swimming – ninth place in 3A; boys gymnastics – fourth place in state; boys golf – third place in 3A; football – reached state quarterfinals in 8A.

Loyola: girls lacrosse – state champions; boys lacrosse – state runner-up; girls swimming-- second place in 3A; boys swimming – fourth place in 3A; girls golf – fifth place in 3A; football – reached state semifinals in 8A; baseball – regional champion; boys golf – eighth place in 3A; girls soccer – sectional champions.

Palatine: girls cross country – second place in 3A; boys cross country – fourth place in 3A; softball – regional champions; boys cross country – fourth place in 3A; badminton – eighth place in state; baseball – regional champions; boys gymnastics – fifth place in state; football – reached state quarterfinals in 8A.

Montini: girls basketball - 3A state champions; football - 5A state champions; wrestling – 2A state champions.

Lake Zurich: football – 7A state runner-up; competitive cheerleading – state champions; boys cross country – second place in 3A; boys bowling – third place in state; softball – sectional champions.

Matt LaCosse commits to Illinois

December, 14, 2010
Naperville North senior quarterback Matt LaCosse committed to Illinois on Monday night, his high school coach Sean Drendel confirmed.

Read the entire story.

Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Lifka

November, 24, 2010
Naperville North senior linebacker Nick Lifka felt strange when a play ended without his presence this season.

Wherever the ball was, he believed he should be there, too.

“I feel like I need to get there or else something could happen,” Lifka said. “It’s more like I want to be there, so my teammates can see me. ‘He’s there every time.’ It’s like a leadership thing.”

Fortunately for Lifka and his fellow Huskies, he didn’t let them down often. With 168 tackles this season, the 6-2, 245-pound Likfa dominated the game unlike any other defensive player in the area, which is why he’s the ESPNChicago.com Defensive Player of the Year.

[+] EnlargeNick Lifka
Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comNaperville North linebacker Nick Lifka made 168 tackles this season.
Lifka was so successful at being one with the ball that his coaches even lost sight of what he was actually doing.

“When you watch the film, at the time, I felt bad for Nick,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. “We were like, ‘Oh, he should have made that play’, or ‘He could have made that tackle,’ and you look at the stat sheet and he has 17 tackles. Our expectations for him were outrageous. He’s just a heck of a football player.”

Lifka, a dominant linebacker throughout this career, had one area he wanted to work on this season. He led Naperville North in tackles the last three seasons, compiling 373 tackles in his career, but he’d never made an interception at the high school level.

Heading into the season, he had two interceptions in his entire football career. One when he was playing defensive line at an early age, and the other at linebacker in second grade.

Lifka concentrated this season on seeing the entire field, instead of just focusing on the one player he was covering on a particular play. His alteration led to an interception against Wheaton North and then another later in the playoffs against York.

“I have four interceptions in my career,” Lifka said, laughing. “It was a good feeling to get two this season. It was one of my goals.”

Lifka was better at breaking up the pass this season, but his strength continued to be tracking down the player with the ball and putting that person not so gently on the ground. There wasn’t a game this season where he had less than 10 tackles. He had 18 against Glenbard North. Twice, he had 19.

All together, Lifka had 113 solo tackles, 55 assists, 13 tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

“Obviously, his physical strength is quite visible,” Drendel said. “More than anything, he has a great knack at getting off blocks and not getting blocked. He really smells the football. I don’t know if that’s taught or not. He’s obviously played a lot of football and has a great ball sense.”

Lifka credited his success this season to his growth in the mental aspect of the game as much as the physical one.

“My knowledge of football is growing,” said Likfa, who will play at Boston College next season. “It’s made it a lot easier. I’m noticing the little things in film and sort of picking them up in the game.

“I didn’t notice it before, but I was a lot closer to the ball this year. I saw it on film compared to my sophomore and junior year. I don’t want to sound self-confident or gloating, but it made me feel really good I could get to the ball like that.”

Drendel expected nothing less.

“Anytime you have a three-year star, he has a full understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Drendel said. “He has full understanding of what’s in front of him and what’s going to happen. I thought what he did this year was he had a greater knowledge of what the other team was doing.

“When you put those three things, you have a phenomenal season.”

Top 20 football preview

November, 4, 2010
ESPNChicago.com previews all of the top-20 games.

No. 13 Wheaton North (8-2) at No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (10-0) on Saturday
The story: This will be the second time these DuPage Valley foes meet this season. The first time around Wheaton Warrenville South ran away with a 42-14 win. Quarterback Reilly O’Toole threw only one incompletion in the win. Wheaton North was within seven points at half, but will need to put together a full game against the top-ranked Tigers.
Wheaton North player to watch: Quarterback Reece Butler is the key to the Falcons flying. He needs to have another off-the-charts game for Wheaton North to have a chance.
Wheaton Warrenville South: Wide receiver Travis Kern has emerged as a playmaker this season. He and Titus Davis have been major targets for O’Toole.
Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 35, Wheaton North 17

No. 2 Simeon (10-0) at No. 16 Schaumburg (8-2) on Saturday
The story: Simeon’s path to the Chicago Public League’s first state championship becomes more difficult starting with this game. The question is whether the Wolverines can turn it on again against another top team. They haven’t been truly challenged since the season-opener against Mount Carmel. Schaumburg is coming off a big win over Elk Grove. The Saxons will have to contain Simeon’s big-play offense to pull off the upset.
Simeon player to watch: Offensive lineman Chris Bryant is a major reason the Wolverines have had so much offensive success. He’s 6 foot 3, 330 pounds and is being recruited by a number of schools.
Schaumburg player to watch: Shepard Little has been one of the state’s top running backs this season. Schaumburg will need to score in this game, and Little is the man to do it.
Prediction: Simeon 46, Schaumburg 42

Hononegah (9-1) at No. 3 Carmel (9-1) on Saturday
The story: Carmel has been consistently good offensively and defensively this season. The Corsairs were especially impressive on the defensive side in last week’s first-round win. Hononegah has put some points this season, and its only loss was to undefeated Boylan. Hononegah is coming off a 51-7 win over Taft.
Prediction: Carmel 31, Hononegah 13

Sterling (8-2) at No. 4 Joliet Catholic (9-1) on Saturday
The story: There are few teams in the state playing as well as Joliet Catholic right now. The Hilltoppers have scored 45-plus points in their last six games. Big Ten-bound running backs Malin Jones and Josh Ferguson have been piling on the yards. Sterling defeated Morton 28-21 last week.
Prediction: Joliet Catholic 63, Sterling 10

No. 5 Loyola (9-1) at Fremd (6-4) on Saturday
The story: If there’s an upset this week, a lot of people are looking at this game as a possibility. It speaks nothing of Loyola’s play, but rather what Fremd has been up to. The Vikings seem like that team of destiny this season. After starting out 1-4, Fremd has won its past five games. Loyola will be a tough match up for Fremd. The Ramblers have also been among the area’s hottest teams.
Prediction: Loyola 28, Fremd 17

No. 6 St. Rita (9-1) at Harlem (8-2) on Friday
The story: St. Rita has to travel to Machesney Park on Friday after Harlem upset Glenbrook North in the first round. Harlem has scored 30-plus points in seven games this season. St. Rita escaped with a narrow win over Highland Park last week. Star running back Jahwon Akui is expected back after missing last week’s game.
Prediction: St. Rita 34, Harlem 17

Lake Forest (7-3) at No. 7 Crystal Lake South (10-0) on Saturday
The story: Lake Forest is one of the sleeper teams in 6A. The Scouts have played well the last quarter of the season with a win over Vernon Hills and a narrow loss to Lake Zurich. As they showed in their 45-25 opening-round win over Shepard, their offense has big-play capabilities. Five of their touchdowns were scored on 50-yard-plus plays. Crystal Lake South is the team to beat in Class 6A and has played consistently.
Prediction: Crystal Lake South 27, Lake Forest 21

No. 8 Lincoln-Way East (9-1) at No. 11 Glenbard West (9-1) on Saturday
The story: There are so many potentially great games in the second round, but this one could be the best. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season, and both have been among the state’s best defensive teams. While Wheaton Warrenville South is still the favorite in Class 7A, both of these teams are capable of giving the Tigers a game.
Lincoln-Way East player to watch: Wide receiver J.J. Robertson returned from injury last week and scored two touchdowns. He’s among the area’s best at his position.
Glenbard West player to watch: Do-everything senior Nick Burrello is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. He’s coming off a big game.
Prediction: Glenbard West 21, Lincoln-Way East 20

South Elgin (7-3) at No. 9 Stevenson (10-0) on Saturday
The story: Stevenson continues to put it together on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Patriots are led by ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week Brion Wood. Offensively, they’ve used a balanced running and passing attack. South Elgin ended the regular season with back-to-back losses, but bounced back with a win over a tough Warren team last week.
Prediction: Stevenson 24, South Elgin 13

Sandburg (8-2) at No. 10 Lyons (9-1) on Saturday
The story: Lyons has been on a roll. It has out-scored its last three opponents, which included Glenbard West, 143-20. Sandburg’s only losses this season were to Lincoln-Way East and Homewood-Flossmoor, two teams still alive in the playoffs. The Eagles are 3-1 this season in games decided by 10 points or less.
Prediction: Lyons 28, Sandburg 14

No. 12 Lake Zurich (9-1) at No. 15 Prospect (9-1) on Saturday
The story: Prospect puts up a lot of points; Lake Zurich doesn’t allow many. Something will have to give in this game. The Knights have scored more than 40 points seven times this season. Lake Zurich has only given up more than 14 points twice.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Senior Jacob Brinlee became the school’s all-time leading rusher last week. He has more than 3,000 yards in his career.
Prospect player to watch: Quarterback Steve Dazzo can burn a team in so many ways. He’s been phenomenal the past few weeks.
Prediction: Lake Zurich 31, Prospect 28

No. 14 Mount Carmel (8-2) at Neuqua Valley (7-3) on Friday
The story: Mount Carmel’s offense is relentless. The Caravan have scored 30-plus points in eight of their games this season. Only St. Rita was able to contain them. Neuqua Valley is better than its record. The Wildcats’ three losses have come by a combined 10 points. They have an impressive 43-6 win over Waubonsie Valley on their resume.
Prediction: Mount Carmel 38, Neuqua Valley 28

No. 17 Morgan Park (9-1) at Prairie Ridge (9-1) on Saturday
The story: Like Simeon, Morgan Park is out to become the first Public League state champion. Prairie Ridge will have something to say about that. Its only loss came to Crystal Lake South and has been one of the area’s best defensive teams. Morgan Park has scored 30 or more points in six games this season.
Prediction: Morgan Park 33, Prairie Ridge 24

Geneva (8-2) at No. 18 Lemont (10-0) on Saturday
The story: Geneva has been on a tear. The Vikings have scored 69 points in their last two games and are on an eight-game winning streak. Lemont is one of the favorites in Class 6A. The Indians have allowed one opponent more than 21 points this season.
Prediction: Geneva 35, Lemont 27

No. 19 York (9-1) at Naperville North (7-3) on Friday
The story: Naperville North put it all together in last week’s win over Marist. If the Huskies can play a total game again, they have the talent to pull off an upset against York. The Dukes rallied to defeat a tough Lockport team last week 21-14. They’ll need to play at a higher level this week.
Prediction: Naperville North 21, York 17

Bartlett (8-2) at No. 20 Maine South (8-2) on Saturday
The story: Maine South has won its last 11 playoff games, and the Hawks are shooting for their third consecutive state championship. Bartlett lost two close games early in the season and now has won seven in a row.
Prediction: Maine South 38, Bartlett 28

Class 8A playoffs breakdown

October, 29, 2010
Maine SouthScott Powers/ESPNChicago.com Maine South has won seven straight since dropping their first two games of the season.
There was little hope of winning the Class 8A state championship the past two years if your team name wasn’t Maine South.

The Hawks possessed the state’s best offensive weapon in 2008 (quarterback Charlie Goro) and 2009 (running back Matt Perez) and had plenty of talent around them to roll through their competition. Maine South went undefeated both years and won the state title in 2008 with a 41-21 win over Hinsdale Central and in 2009 with a 41-17 win over Marist.

In 2010, there’s finally hope for everyone else. While Maine South is still a state contender, the Hawks aren’t the same dominating team they were the past two seasons.

So who steps into the Hawks’ place? It’s up in the air. There are nearly a dozen teams capable of going all the way.

Here’s a deeper look at Class 8A.

Best opening round game
No. 9 Naperville North at No. 8 Marist: Both teams experienced similar seasons. They come from elite conferences. Both finished third behind highly-ranked teams. Both lost two close games. For Naperville North, it lost by seven points each to Glenbard North and Wheaton North and ended up third in the DuPage Valley. For Marist, it lost to Carmel and Joliet Catholic by a combined 11 points to take third in the East Suburban Catholic.

Top 10 Class 8A teams
1. Loyola (8-1): Earned a share of the Catholic League title with upset of St. Rita
2. Glenbard North (8-1): Only loss to Wheaton Warrenville South
3. Stevenson (9-0): Finished regular season undefeated for second consecutive season
4. Lyons (8-1): Earned a lot of respect with Week 9 win over Glenbard West
5. Mount Carmel (7-2): Caravan roll into 25th consecutive playoff appearance
6. York (8-1): Defeated Lyons during the regular season
7. Maine South (7-2): Has won seven straight since rough start
8. Marist (6-3): Experienced a few tough breaks this season
9. Naperville North (6-3): One of the best defensive teams in the area
10. Downers Grove South (7-2): Playing well after losing first two games of the season

Top 5 players to watch
1. Nick Lifka, SR, LB, Naperville North:A Boston College recruit, he may be the state’s best defensive player. He had 18 tackles against Glenbard North this season.
2. Malcolm Weaver, JR, QB, Loyola: He has flourished in his first year starting for the Ramblers, throwing for almost 30 touchdowns.
3. Chris Sujka, SR, QB, Mount Carmel: He operates the Caravan’s option to perfection, breaking off runs of 50-plus yards nearly every game.
4. Stephen Salata, SR, WR, Stevenson: He has been one of the area’s top receivers this season with 100 yards receiving in almost every game.
5. Brian Bobek, SR, OL, Fremd: At 6 foot 3 and 275 pounds, he is considered one of the nation’s top offensive linemen and is committed to Ohio State.

Sleeper team
Fremd (5-4): After being highly ranked to start the season, the Vikings dropped four of their first five games. With their backs against the wall, Fremd won its last four games, including a 26-12 victory over Barrington, and reached the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. No one wants to face them right now.

Road for defending champions
Maine South began the season No. 1 in ESPNChicago.com’s rankings. Young and inexperienced, the Hawks probably didn’t deserve that ranking. There was an assumption that because they had won 28 consecutive games and back-to-back state titles that they would continue winning this season. They lost their first two games -- including a lopsided one to Wheaton Warrenville South -- and fell out of the rankings. Since then, Maine South has gained that needed experience and turned itself into a quality team. Led by sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti, the Hawks have won their last seven games all by 21 points or more and are heading into the playoffs with some momentum. They have the highest scoring average of all 8A teams with 40.4 points a game. Being a No. 4 seed, the road isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.

Fun fact
The Class 8A playoffs would like to welcome back Barrington, Bartlett, Brother Rice, Dunbar, Evanston, Homewood-Flossmoor, Neuqua Valley, Vocational, Whitney Young and York. All 10 teams missed the playoffs last season. Homewood-Flossmoor made the biggest turnaround from last year. After a 1-8 season in 2009, the Vikings were 7-2 this year.

Coaches’ thoughts
  • Maine South coach David Inserra: “We must continue to take care of the ball offensively and generate the big play. Defensively, we must be able to defend the pass and provide field position for the offense. Mainly, we must keep doing what we have been doing for the last seven games -- play Hawk football and take care of ourselves. Hopefully, two years and 10 games of playoff experience for these seniors will help in the big picture of the playoffs -- high energy, intensity, focus -- that it takes to compete and survive.”
  • Stevenson coach Bill McNamara:“Honestly, I think this can be a wide-open class. There are a lot of great football teams in 8A this year. You always have to take a close look at Maine South as the defending 8A champs. Their 7-2 record is very deceiving. Also, Loyola has had a very strong season. They are always a team that is very talented and well-coached. The Stevenson Patriots are looking forward to the IHSA state football playoffs. This is by far the best time of the year in high school athletics. Good luck to all the qualifying teams. Enjoy every moment.”
  • Loyola coach John Holecek:“A Lyons-Mount Carmel quarterfinal likely will decide the South bracket. Stevenson-Maine South decides the semis with Glenbard North and us also as contenders. Fremd is playing extremely well and will be a good underdog.”

    State championship prediction: Loyola defeats Mount Carmel
  • Week 9 Top 20 preview

    October, 22, 2010
    AM CT
    St.Rita High School footballScott Powers/ESPNChicago.comNo. 2 St. Rita can win the Catholic League outright with a win over No. 14 Loyola on Friday.
    No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (8-0) at West Aurora (4-4) on Friday
    The story:Wheaton Warrenville South looks to put the finishing touches on its second consecutive unbeaten regular season. The Tigers have been perfect in the regular season three of the past four years. They will be the favorite to win the Class 7A state championship when the playoff pairings are released on Saturday night.
    Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 49, West Aurora 7

    No. 14 Loyola (7-1) at No. 2 St. Rita (8-0) on Friday
    The story:The Catholic League championship will be decided with this game. If St. Rita wins, it takes full possession. If Loyola wins, the Ramblers, St. Rita and Mount Carmel could all finish the conference season with one loss. Mount Carmel is the lone team to defeat Loyola this season. The Ramblers are led by junior quarterback Malcolm Weaver. St. Rita has relied on running back Jahwon Akui. ESPN 1000 will be in attendance.
    Loyola player to watch: Quarterback Malcolm Weaver receives a lot of the press, but his receivers also make him look good. E.J. Webb has been his top target.
    St. Rita player to watch: Mustangs linebacker Matt Mullen came up with a couple huge tackles last week. St. Rita will look for more of the same against a talented Loyola offense.
    Quote:Loyola coach John Holecek -- “Rita’s O-line and running back are awesome. They’re fast and have a physical defense. We must score on all opportunities to keep up and must have no errors in the passing game. Running back Spencer Perry has to have a game if they decide to cover everything. We need to try and limit the big plays and withstand their muscle and speed. … Hope for divine intervention.”
    Prediction: St. Rita 28, Loyola 27

    Lyons (7-1) at No. 3 Glenbard West (8-0) on Saturday
    The story:Lyons stands in the way of Glenbard West’s third consecutive unbeaten regular season. The Lions have been in a handful of close ones this season. Four of their games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Their lone defeat was to York. The Hilltoppers have been dominant on both sides of the ball all season. They’ve out-scored opponents 288-62. They defeated York 27-10 in Week 7.
    Lyons player to watch:Chris Klotz caught a touchdown pass and blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone in the Lions’ win over Leyden last week.
    Glenbard West player to watch: Beau Warden has been one of the best linebackers in the state this season. He has 91 tackles, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and two interceptions.
    Quotes:Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet -- “LT is a well-balanced offense even though they run a four- and five-receiver set. To be successful, we need to be able to run the ball and keep the chains moving.”
    Prediction:Glenbard West 31, Lyons 17

    No. 4 Carmel (8-0) at Elder (Ohio) (2-5) on Saturday
    The story: Carmel closes out its season by traveling to Ohio on Friday. Elder has had a rocky season, going 2-5. The Panthers are coming off a bye week and have had time to prepare for Carmel’s arrival.
    Prediction: Carmel 42, Elder 20

    Brooks (3-5) at No. 5 Simeon (8-0) on Thursday
    The story: Simeon has rolled through the Public League, and this city playoff opener shouldn’t be different. The Wolverines’ focus will be on the state playoffs as they try to become the first Public League team to win a state title.
    Prediction: Simeon 56, Brooks 7

    No. 6 Joliet Catholic (7-1) at Benet (5-3) on Thursday
    The story:In a rare Thursday East Suburban Catholic game, Joliet Catholic travels to play an inconsistent Benet team. The Redwings likely clinched themselves a playoff spot with last week’s 10-7 win over St. Viator. Joliet Catholic’s offense has been unstoppable lately. The Hilltoppers have scored 48 or more points in their last four games.
    Prediction:Joliet Catholic 49, Benet 17

    McHenry (1-7) at No. 7 Crystal Lake South (8-0) on Friday
    The story: Crystal Lake South clinched the Fox Valley Valley title last week. The Gators have won with a balanced offense and defense. They’ve out-scored their opponents 253-86.
    Prediction:Crystal Lake South 42, McHenry 6

    Naperville Central (4-4) at No. 8 Glenbard North (7-1) on Friday
    The story:Naperville Central needs to win this game to have a shot at the playoffs. Glenbard North is looking to bounce back from its 49-6 loss to Wheaton Warrenville South last week.
    Prediction:Glenbard North 23, Naperville Central 17

    No. 9 Lincoln-Way East (7-1) at Joliet Central (0-8) on Saturday
    The story:Lincoln-Way East has been playing well heading into the playoffs. The Griffins have won their past six games since losing to Wheaton North.
    Prediction:Lincoln-Way East 56, Joliet Central 7

    No. 10 Stevenson (8-0) at Antioch (7-1) on Friday
    The story: Stevenson is the top team in the North Suburban Lake, and Antioch is in second place behind Vernon Hills in the North Suburban Prairie. Prairie teams haven’t fared well against Lake teams this season.
    Prediction: Stevenson 35, Antioch 14

    No. 11 Lake Zurich (7-1) at Lake Forest (6-2) on Friday
    The story: Lake Forest is coming off a 21-0 win over previously-unbeaten Vernon Hills. It was the first time Vernon Hills had allowed a point this season. Lake Forest’s two losses came to conference foes Stevenson and Warren. Lake Zurich’s defense has been among the best in the state this season. The Bears have allowed 10 or less points six times this year.
    Prediction: Lake Zurich 24, Lake Forest 10

    No. 12 Wheaton North (6-2) at Glenbard East (3-5) on Friday
    The story:Wheaton North is hoping that this won’t be another nail-biter. The Falcons’ last two wins came down to the final minutes. They defeated Naperville Central 23-21 two weeks ago and Naperville North 14-7 last week.
    Prediction:Wheaton North 41, Glenbard East 13

    Providence (2-6) at No. 13 Mount Carmel (6-2) on Friday
    The story:The season hasn’t gone according to plan for Providence, which was the 6A state runner-up last season. The Celtics began the year 0-4 and never could bounce back. If they could upset Mount Carmel, that might help their offseason. The Caravan have scored 40-plus points in five games this season.
    Prediction: Mount Carmel 38, Providence 20

    No. 15 Plainfield South (8-0) at Plainfield North (6-2) on Friday
    The story:This has the potential to be a fun one. Plainfield South has one of the state’s premier offenses. The Cougars have scored 397 points this season. They haven’t scored less than 41 points in a game. Plainfield North has scored 33 or more points six times this year and possesses running back Kapri Bibbs, who has run for 2,000-plus yard this season. The game will decide the Southwest Prairie championship.
    Plainfield South player to watch:Running back Dondre Adams is the Cougars’ offensive threat.
    Plainfield North player to watch:Bibbs is in the running for the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year award. He has 2,166 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns this season.
    Quotes: Plainfield North coach Tim Kane -- “They have an explosive offense with weapons at quarterback, wide receiver and running back. Defensively, we will need to do all we can to eliminate big plays -- long runs and the deep pass. Offensively, obviously, we will need to get the ball in Kapri Bibbs' hands often. However, we will make some adjustments with formations and plays to maybe get it to him in different ways than we had previously as I am sure South has us very well scouted.”
    Plainfield South coach Greg Banner -- “Gonna be great a high school football atmosphere, two strong teams battling for either a share of the conference title or the outright title. The biggest two keys are who makes the least mistakes, and who can stop the other from making big plays on offense. North has a strong rushing attack led by Bibbs. They have a lot of guys playing both sides of the ball, and they are talented. Should be a really exciting game.”
    Prediction:Plainfield South 63, Plainfield North 54

    Buffalo Grove (4-4) at No. 16 Prospect (7-1) on Friday
    The story: Prospect has been one of the year’s bigger surprises. The Knights lost their season-opener and now have won seven straight, including an overtime win over Elk Grove last week. Buffalo Grove needs to win this game to be playoff eligible.
    Prediction: Prospect 35, Buffalo Grove 20

    No. 17 Schaumburg (6-2) at Hoffman Estates (1-7) on Friday
    The story:Barrington, Fremd and Schaumburg all enter the final week with one Mid-Suburban West loss. Schaumburg’s only MSL West loss was to Barrington.
    Prediction:Schaumburg 41, Hoffman Estates 10

    Clark (4-4) at No. 18 Morgan Park (7-1) on Friday
    The story:Morgan Park opens the Public League playoffs with Clark. The Mustangs are coming off a narrow win over previously-unbeaten Hubbard. Morgan Park quarterback Dae’Shaun Hurley was this week’s ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week.
    Prediction: Morgan Park 47, Clark 6

    No. 19 Marmion (8-0) at Montini (6-2) on Friday
    The story:This should be one of the better games in Week 9. Marmion started off the year with a couple of narrow wins and has since been crushing opponents. Montini opened the season with back-to-back losses to Joliet Catholic and Loyola and has been on a roll ever since. The Broncos have allowed six points in their past four games. The Suburban Christian Blue championship will be decided here.
    Marmion player to watch:T.J. Lally ran for 209 yards on just seven carries last week.
    Montini player to watch:Jordan Westerkamp has been one of the state’s top wide receivers this year. He has 52 catches for 967 yards and 12 touchdowns.
    Quote: Montini coach Chris Andriano -- “The key to this week’s game is for our defense to shut down their dangerous running attack. If they are able to sustain long drives and win the time of possession, we will be in trouble. Our defense will need to get off the field on 3rd down to give our offense more possessions. Offensively, we will need to be able to run the ball to keep their defense honest. Our QB will need to continue to make good decisions and distribute the ball to all of our receivers.”
    Prediction:Montini 31, Marmion 24

    No. 20 Lemont (8-0) at Hillcrest (0-8) on Friday
    The story: The Indians haven’t lost more than three games in a season since 2003. That won’t change this season.
    Prediction:Lemont 31, Hillcrest 13

    Week 3 Prep football preview

    September, 10, 2010
    AM CT

    No. 13 Glenbard North (2-0) at No. 6 Naperville North (2-0) on Friday
    The story: Naperville North was thrown near the top of the rankings by everyone this season because of what the Huskies had returning on both sides of the ball, not their 5-5 record last season. So far, they’ve lived up to expectations with back-to-back wins. This week, though, they’ll face their toughest challenge to date. Glenbard North was one of the state’s best defensive teams last season and has continued that reputation this season. The Panthers allowed six points in their opening-week win over Oak Park and eight in last week’s victory Plainfield East. If Naperville North is going to win this game, quarterback Matt LaCosse, a Minnesota recruit, will have to put points on the board.
    Glenbard North player to watch: It’s pick your poison with Phil Jackson and Evin Natick at running back. Both are capable of giving a defense headaches.
    Naperville North player to watch: Naperville North senior Nick Lifka is one of the best linebackers in the state. He’s headed to Boston College next year.
    Quotes: Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens -- “Our defense is playing well, only giving up two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter of our last two games. Our run game needs to be more cohesive with one returning starter up front.”

    No. 17 Loyola (2-0) at Providence (0-2) on Friday
    The story: Providence’s schedule doesn’t get any easier this week. After losing to Morgan Park and Joliet Catholic , who are now both highly ranked, the Celtics have to face another tough team in Loyola. The Ramblers have outscored their opponents 66-9 after two games. Providence will need for its offense to limit its turnovers for it to have a chance.
    Loyola player to watch: Ramblers quarterback Malcolm Weaver has been one of the top newcomers this season. He’s thrown six touchdowns.
    Providence player to watch: Linebacker Ray Ames is one of the best defensive players in the Catholic League. He had 124 tackles last season.
    Quote: Loyola coach John Holecek – “Our strength has been a balanced offensive attack with lots of playmakers. Defensively, we have played disciplined and smart and guys have been giving great efforts.”
    Prediction: Loyola 21, Providence 20

    Notre Dame (2-0) at Marist (2-0) on Friday
    The story: For anyone who thought Marist’s run to the Class 8A state championship was a fluke last season, this year’s team is out to prove otherwise. Despite graduating all-state quarterback Mike Perish, the RedHawks’ offense has picked up where last year’s team left off. Marist defeated Plainfield 31-6 last week and Urban Prep 48-6 in the opening week while rotating two quarterbacks. Notre Dame should be more of a match for the RedHawks. The Dons have looked impressive in their wins over Fenwick and Mt. Vernon.
    Notre Dame player to watch: Jeremy Burgos is a load on both sides of the ball. He plays running back and linebacker.
    Marist player to watch: If Friday’s game comes down to a last-second kick, Marist has the man for the job in Ben Falloon. A three-year starter, Falloon has connected on a number of clutch playoff kicks and has made field goals from 40, 43 and 50 yards this season.
    Quotes: Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey – “Our opponent Marist is a tough, physical team. They’re well-balanced on offense and have an aggressive, hard-hitting defense. They have no weak spots.”

    Marist coach Pat Dunne – “This year’s team is creating their own identity. Last year, there were obviously a lot of great moments. Last year is in the past. This year’s group took the great work ethic and leadership of those seniors, and now they want to create their own identity.”

    Prediction: Marist 24, Notre Dame 21

    Warren (1-1) at Stevenson (2-0) on Friday
    The story: Stevenson hasn’t lost a beat under new coach Bill McNamara. The Patriots have out-scored their opponents 84-7 in two games, and their offense has been equally good in the air and on the ground. This will be Stevenson’s biggest challenge this season. Warren has struggled a bit so far this season, but is still among the area’s best. The Blue Devils’ defense has been keeping them in games.
    Warren player to watch: Fullback Tom Lindal hasn’t had the season so that people expected out of him. He’s rushed for 52 yards on 23 carries. Watch for this to be his breakout game. He has the ability to be among the area’s best running backs.
    Stevenson player to watch: Joe Cassata has carried on Stevenson’s running tradition. He ran for 266 yards and five touchdowns in last week’s win over Glenbrook South.
    Quotes: Stevenson coach Bill McNamara – “After two weeks, I am pleased with the progress of our football team. Our players work very hard and seem to be getting better each week. The greatest positive is that we play as a team in all three phases of the game – offense, defense, and special teams. I would like to see us improve our consistency from play to play. We play very hard, but at times make small mental mistakes.”
    Prediction: Stevenson 34, Warren 27

    Bolingbrook (1-1) at No. 18 Lockport (2-0) on Friday
    The story: Lockport surprised many when it ran over Bolingbrook for a 41-14 win last season. This season, the Raiders will be looking for revenge. Bolingbrook opened the year with an upset win over Downers Grove South, but fell last week 31-8 to Belleville East. The big plays hurt Bolingbrook in the loss. Lockport is coming off a close win over Richards and could really prove itself as a state contender with a win here.
    Bolingbrook player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Aaron Bailey showed off his ability in the opening week when he ran for 191 yards on 18 carries against Downers Grove South.
    Lockport player to watch: Dan Holman is one of the state’s top running backs. Few teams have been able to contain him the past two seasons.
    Prediction: Lockport 33, Bolingbrook 26

    No. 3 Glenbard West (2-0) at Hinsdale Central (1-1) on Friday
    The story: Hinsdale Central gave the Hilltoppers their toughest regular-season challenge last year with Glenbard West pulling out a 28-25 win at home. Glenbard West has been impressive on both sides of the ball so far this season. Hinsdale Central has gone through some growing pains with a young team. The Red Devils bounced back from their opening-week loss to Wheaton Warrenville South with a 28-0 win over Proviso East last week. They did commit four turnovers in the win, though.
    Glenbard West player to watch: Junior offensive lineman Johnny Casper has played well for the Hilltoppers. Coach Chad Hetlet described his early play as “absolutely dominating.”
    Hinsdale Central player to watch: Quarterback Alex Hodakowski threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in last week’s win over Proviso East.
    Quotes: Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo – “I think that we are still in the process of discovering who we are. We have the vast majority of our kids without varsity playing experience, and we begin the season against the top two teams in the state. It is an opportunity for growth. We have made some strides, but not as many as I would like. The hope is that we will be better prepared for our conference schedule in totality as a result of our schedule. We do have a solid work ethic and a willingness to do well … we just have to get it done.”

    Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet – “We’re getting better. We have great team speed, and we’ve been very physical in our first two games. What needs to improve is penalties have really plagued us the first two weeks. We must clean that up.”
    Prediction: Glenbard West 28, Hinsdale Central 10

    Elk Grove (1-1) at Fremd (0-2) on Friday
    The story: This game was once highly anticipated, but lost some steam with Elk Grove being upset last week and Fremd losing its first two games of the season. Right now, it appears Barrington and Schaumburg are the teams to beat in the Mid-Suburban League. If Elk Grove and Fremd are going to get back in the picture, a win here would be nice for either. Fremd will be looking to get its offense going after scoring a combined 24 points in its first two games. The Grenadiers will need to step up defensively after last week’s loss.
    Elk Grove player to watch: Quarterback Nick Meyer is the key to everything the Grenadiers do offensively. He can run and pass with the best of them. Barrington disrupted his rhythm last week and pulled off the upset.
    Fremd player to watch: The Vikings’ running game was held to 44 yards in last week’s loss to Prospect. For Fremd to bounce back, running back Justin Wallace will be the key. He did rush for 100-plus yards in the season-opener.
    Quotes: Elk Grove coach Brian Doll – “We’ve played extremely well in the first two weeks, and we lost a heartbreaker last week after completely dominating the game. Two big plays cost us in an overtime game. Our offense has outgained our opponents by a yardage totals of 838 yards to 386 yards. We need to improve our consistency on special teams and limit the big plays.”
    Prediction: Elk Grove 34, Fremd 17

    Jacobs (2-0) at Prairie Ridge (2-0) on Friday
    The story: Coach Bill Mitz has Jacobs believing. After coming over from Stevenson following last season, Mitz has already had an impact in his short time at Jacobs. The Golden Eagles are 2-0 after having only won two games in each of the past two seasons. Prairie Ridge will be the most talented team they’ve seen this year. The Wolves have won their games by the scores of 55-0 and 26-6. Their defense has been dominant, and their offense has been scoring early and often.
    Jacobs player to watch: Linebacker Grant Rizza has emerged as one of Jacobs’ top defensive players. He had three sacks in last week’s win over Johnsburg.
    Prairie Ridge player to watch: Senior nose guard Tyler Bebber has been a key to Prairie Ridge allowing six points over the first two games.
    Quotes: Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp – “We need to get off to quick start. Their kids are confident. Both teams are coming into the game 2-0. I really think this game will be dictated by how you start. Hopefully, we can start fast again this week.”

    Stevenson coach Bill Mitz – “We have come together and believe in each other. Our tackling and blocking have improved a ton since June. I feel we have the players in the right position. We are eager for the game Friday.”
    Prediction: Prairie Ridge 14, Jacobs 10

    No. 11 Morgan Park (2-0) vs. No. 9 Simeon (2-0) at Gately on Saturday
    The story: This should be the biggest Public League game of the season. Both teams are coming in undefeated after knocking off Catholic League teams in the opening week and following up those wins with strong Week 2 victories. Both have athletic quarterbacks and proven they can put up points. Whichever team steps up defensively could decide this game.
    Morgan Park player to watch: Dae-Shaun Hurley is one of the area’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He’s been beating defenses the past two week in a variety of ways.
    Simeon player to watch: Quarterback Robert Gregory has been of the state’s top players after two weeks. He accounted for more than 500 yards of offense in the team’s opening-week win over Mount Carmel.
    Prediction: Simeon 40, Morgan Park 33

    Preseason No. 10 - Naperville North

    August, 20, 2010
    PM CT
    Nick Lifka
    Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.comBoston College recruit Nick Lifka should have a bigger impact at linebacker this season because he won't be playing offense.
    No. 10 Naperville North

    Last season:
    5-5 overall, 3-4 DuPage Valley, eliminated in 8A first round.

    Season ahead: What happened last year?

    It’s the question Naperville North has had to answer multiple times since going 5-5 last year. They had won a state championship in 2007 and went undefeated in 2008. The Huskies had the makings of another great team in 2009. They had Division I-caliber players, size and depth.

    Unfortunately, they weren’t injury proof.

    “More than anything, I don’t like to make excuses, but we had a lot of injuries, a lot we weren’t accustomed to,” said first-year coach Sean Drendel, who was a varsity assistant. “We are a big school, but anytime you lose 10 linemen up front it takes a big hit on your program and especially in our conference. As the year went on, people saw our vulnerability.”

    Entering the 2010 season, Naperville North has a lot of similarities to its 2009 team. The Huskies again look as if they could contend for state. This year, they just hope to stay away from the injuries.

    Offensively, Naperville North’s backfield is stacked. Senior running backs Antonio Owens and Nick Sianta are back. Juniors Danny Pukaitis and Raheem Martin should make an impact as well.

    “We have three positions for running backs, and we’ll rotate 6-9 guys in those positions,” Drendel said. “We’ll create proper match-ups and give them the ball in what they excel at the most. There will be more situational substitutes, which is not something we’ve done in the past.”

    The Huskies will have size on its line with the linemen averaging around 250 pounds. David Meyerhoff and Soern Osborne are returning starters. Quarterback Matt LaCosse, who is committed
    to Minnesota as a tight end, also is returning and is expected to be the team’s leader this season.

    The team’s depth in the backfield will allow linebacker Nick Lifka, who is committed to Boston College, to concentrate solely on defense. He played fullback as well last year. Defensive linemen Pat Meath and Brandon Williamson also return. Nick Krejci and Anthony Panagos have both moved to the defense after being offensive line starters last season.

    Player to watch: Nick Lifka was one of the state’s most dominant linebackers last year while also playing fullback. Watch for his numbers to increase now as he’ll only be playing defense.

    Newcomer to watch: Junior running backs Danny Pukaitis and Raheem Martin.

    Key game: Sept. 24 at Wheaton Warrenville South -- The Tigers are still the team to go through in the DuPage Valley. Naperville North could make a large statement with a win at Wheaton Warrenville South.

    What they’re saying: “Anytime you have a year that doesn’t reach your standards, everyone is motivated,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. “As coaches, it’s motivated us to work a little bit harder and get our hands a little dirtier than we have before. It was kind of a wake-up call for us. I don’t think we’re doing anything differently, but it motivates you a little bit more.”