NORMAL – Normal Community West High School stunned undefeated Bloomington High School in the first quarter of their Big 12 Conference contest by scoring 10 unanswered points in the opening quarter while their defense managed to hold the Purple Raiders scoreless in the first and fourth quarters en route to a 17-14 victory before roughly 1,500 fans at Wildcat Field Friday night.

Part of the credit for BHS’ remaining scoreless in the last stanza needed to go to junior defensive back Gavin Tellor, who dove to make an interception at Normal West’s 9 yard line with 44 seconds left in the game, staving off a potential victory by the visiting squad.

The victory handed BHS, who had started the season off by surging to a 3-0 start, a first loss of the season. Normal West (3-1 Big 12 and overall) scored on their first possession of the contest, a 17 yard pass from junior quarterback Carson Camp to senior wide receiver Magnus Moeller, followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald. That gave the Wildcats a fast 7-0 lead, at the 8:25 mark

BHS (3-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) saw their first possession of the contest end in a turnover of the ball to the Wildcats on downs at West’s 12 yard line. From there, the home team marched 88 yards on 12 plays ending in a Theobald 25 yard field goal, increasing West’s advantage, 10-0, with 14.7 seconds left in the opening quarter.

BHS got on the scoreboard thanks to senior quarterback’s first faking left before going up the middle for a 1 yard running touchdown at 3:14 in the second quarter followed by freshman kicker Jack Weltha’s extra point. That allowed Normal West to hold a 10-7 edge going into halftime, and to receive the ball to start the second half.

BHS opened the third quarter by holding the ball for nearly six minutes as they marched down field toward a concluding 2-yard scoring run by senior running back Holden Snyder at the 6:31 mark. That was followed by Weltha’s extra point, putting the Purple Raiders in front, 14-10. It was a lead that would stay in place going into the fourth quarter.

BHS was a minute and three seconds into their drive when the fourth quarter began from their own 11 yard line but three consecutive flags against the Purple Raiders and an incompletion forced them to punt the ball back to Normal West, where they began their next drive from their own 11. Thirteen plays later, sophomore wide receiver DeAris McQuirter scored from 8 yards out, capping an 89 yard march for a touchdown, putting Normal West in front, 17-14, following Theobald’s extra point.

Referring to Tellor, Normal West head coach Nate Fincham explained to reporters after the contest the 5 foot-8, 150 pound junior had sustained what his coach called “a pretty serious knee injury during the off-season.”

“We didn’t know what we were going to get out of him, and so he’s been kind of a huge surprise for us,” Fincham said. “That’s just because we didn’t know how he was going to recover from the knee injury. “He’s done a great job of working his way into the rotation to begin with.” As a result of his hard work, Tellor, Fincham explained, “Now, he’s become a starter and someone we rely on.”

As to how the Purple Raiders handled his team, Fincham said he had to credit BHS with “made some adjustments and were double- and triple-teaming Armani at times, so other people made plays,” referring to senior wide receiver Armani Forrest.

“I have to give BHS all the credit in the world,” Fincham added. “They were able to hold us in check for most of the game and luckily for us, we were able to get the victory.”

“If you hold Normal West to 17 points, you’re supposed to win,” said first season BHS head coach Scott Godfrey. “We settled down after that first drive or two after we got used to seeing their no huddle and hurry up. I think our defense settled in and I couldn’t ask anything more from them.

“We didn’t want any big plays from Normal West,” Godfrey added. “We kept the ball in front of us and we just didn’t let Armani Forrest just run wild. That was a big thing we were trying to do.”

NORMAL – Neither Normal Community West High School nor home team Normal Community High School were blowing smoke at each other in the days leading up to the annual “Chili Bowl” rivalry game held on Ironmen Field Aug. 31, but a student activity designed to have a little fun to start the game nearly kept fans from seeing Normal West’s first score of the game.

But NCHS saw a clear path to victory in the first meeting between these two teams in a season where both sides had new coaches, as the Ironmen outpaced the Wildcats, 49-27 before roughly 2,500 fans. As a result of the victory, NCHS holds a 17 wins to 6 advantage on the Wildcats in the series.

As Wildcats junior running back Aimry Schieler recovered the football after a scramble of an NCHS fumble 10 seconds into the contest, students in NCHS’ front rows of the student section tossed pink-colored baby powder in the air which blocked some fans’ and the media’s view of the play. What some fans missed as a result was Schieler scoring on a 27 yard run. That was followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald, putting West up, 7-0.

Senior running back Dishon Hall’s 9 yard touchdown reception of a pass from senior quarterback Daylen Boddie tied the game at 7-all at 9:35 in the first quarter after senior kicker Josue Nsukami’s extra point.

Senior wide receiver Connor Lay closed out the scoring in the first quarter first, with a 15 yard run but Nsukami saw his extra point blocked by the Wildcats’ front line. However, NCHS led 13-7. After Normal West (1-1) punted to finish the next series of downs, Lay scored from 7 yards out to complete five play, 59 yard march for the Ironmen’s next score with 1:49 left in the quarter. Lay’s touchdown, followed by a two-point run by Boddie gave NCHS (2-0) a 21-7 lead going into the second quarter.

Boddie starred in the second quarter scoring twice before halftime. First, from 19 yards out to top a 9 play, 63 yard march, followed by another Nsukami extra point, putting NCHS up, 28-7 at the quarter’s 8:27 mark. Then, after an interception by senior defensive back Myles Doggan disrupted West’ next drive, Boddie scored again, this time from five yards out, followed by Lay’s two-point conversion, putting NCHS up, 36-7 with 2:22 until halftime.

West went 75 yards on five plays to score on the ensuing drive, with junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez scoring from 12 yards out on a pass from Camp followed by Camp kicking the extra point, cutting the Ironmen’s lead, 36-14, with 1:07 until halftime.

West’s turnover on downs following the second half kickoff gave NCHS the ball at their own 24 and three plays later, partly due to a rushing the passer call against West, Boddie scored on a 40 yard keeper play followed by Nsukami’s next extra point, putting NCHS up, 43-14 with six minutes until the end of the third quarter.

West tried a little diversionary tactic with a direct snap to senior running back Davion McQuirter who ran from two yards out for a score followed by a failed two-point try, reducing NCHS’ lead, 43-20, with 8:59 left in the contest.

From there, each team would have a series of downs, NCHS’ ending in a punt while Normal West’s resulted in a turnover on downs. When NCHS got the ball back as a result, they went 61 yards on four plays for their last score on the night, Boddie’s fourth touchdown on the night from 4 yards out. But NCHS (2-0) held a 49-20 lead despite West defenders managing to block the extra point.

West junior backup quarterback Delane Matthews saw action toward the end of the contest scoring from 12 yards out followed by another Theobald extra point.

Following the initial Wildcats score that opened the game, NCHS head football coach Jason Drengwitz explained, his team kept their cool, both players and coaches, appearing not to be rattled by their opponent’s quick opening score. Assessing the remainder of the contest, Drengwitz said, “Defense played well, we put a lot of points on the board, gave us a cushion, we took care of the football.”

He added he “couldn’t have been happier with how the half went after West’s opening score. After that, he said, “Our defense played well, we put a lot of points on the board and gave ourselves a cushion, and took care of the football.”

“Normal is a very good football team and we just have to come out and take care of the ball a little bit better and execute a little better on both sides of the ball,” Normal West head coach Nathan Fincham explained. “Boddie is just a really good football player and tough to stop.”

NCHS will play host to Urbana Friday while Normal West visits Danville. Both games start at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | June 3, 2018 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

Normal Wildcats head Girls’ Soccer coach Val Walker tried not to let his players get ahead of themselves as this season began. Most coaches won’t allow players to think too far ahead beyond the game in front of them. But in recent years, it sounds like the Wildcats got ahead of themselves to the point that, when this season started, Walker instituted the “one game at a time” approach. That approach got the Wildcats all the way to the final four of State Finals, starting with a sendoff from the school on May 31 before heading to the campus of North Central College in Naperville to compete in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A State Soccer Tournament.

The approach Wes employed this season resulted in the Wildcats finishing the year with a 20-7-3 mark after losing the semifinal to Arlington Heights St. Viator, 1-0, and then needing to summon the strength to try to break a tie in the consolation match, winding up earning fourth place after a 1-0 overtime loss to Lemont High School .

But before the Wildcats left for Naperville via charter bus, the team bonded over a meal, encouraging each other and hearing a pre-departure pep talk from their coach. His talk came complete with props, but not any props, but the two trophies West had won at State Soccer in years past – a 3rd place trophy from 2008, and a 2nd place trophy from their 2014 appearance.

From there, Walker encouraged, there was only one direction to go as a result of the team’s previous performances – 1st place.

“I can’t wait,” said Julia Marsaglia, one of the seniors who is a team captain, when the team went around the room to express the feeling they were having as the big event drew near.

As the team boarded the charter bus afterward, between 60-75 well-wishers waved and cheered in the school’s front parking lot along Parkside Rd.

Once they were in Naperville , I kept tabs on the team’s progress. Their end result wasn’t what they had hoped for, but they were able to add to the school’s trophy case after a long season.

Sunday Celebration: Fourth place is never the goal when a sports team’s season begins. But sometimes, that’s where it winds up through one circumstance or another. Despite that finish, there was cause for celebration, and celebrate is exactly what the Wildcats did at a rally in the school cafeteria on Sunday. The players and many of their parents were in attendance for the post-season event.

Walker opened the celebration by saying he couldn’t do what he does “without a strong family foundation,” as a means of thanking his wife, Mary, and their kids. He also thanked his assistant Brady Piepenbrink, Lewis, and West Principal David Johnson for their support.

Walker also paid tribute to Livi Sonetz, a West Softball player who was killed in a car accident on March 8, the first day of practice for Soccer this season. There was supposed to be a first practice for his team that day, but instead, he and the team joined a group of teachers and students to grieve her loss that day.

After that, while the team was still grieving, Walker said, the Wildcats faced Normal Community High School and lost. But Walker explained, based on what he had seen in his players that day, “I knew we were going to get better. We just needed to play these one game at a time.”

He said the girls “started to believe in themselves” following a victory over Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin. Getting a high seed in the opening round, he said, helped his team avoid facing one of a pair of powerful squads, University High and Mahomet-Seymour as they approached the opening round of the playoffs.

Senior midfielder Melanie Bautista was voted “Most Improved Player” by her teammates, Walker announced to the gathering. Walker also recognized the team captains – seniors Olivia Peters, Samantha Whelan, Marsaglia, junior Bekah Nielsen, and Bautista – for their efforts this season. The work and determination of the team made them “yearn to get better,” Walker said. “Thank you, ladies, for all you’ve done this season.”

Unit 5 Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker was present and passed along the congratulations of the Board to the team during the session.

Peters told the gathering she has been playing Soccer since she was five said getting to State “was a great way to retire” from the sport, and thanked her parents for their support. Marsaglia added, “This team was the best team for me, not just for Soccer, but for anything in my entire life.”

As they get older, other things will come along involving family, jobs, other activities waiting for them in the future. But for that moment Sunday, this is what mattered to those kids, and years from now, they can look back and know they added to Normal West sports history.

By Steve Robinson | June 2, 2018 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – O’Fallon High School head baseball coach Jason Portz spent the days leading up to the Illinois High School Association Class 4A Sectional championship at Jack Horenberger Field on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus telling his players a small number of runs scored would not be enough to beat Normal Community West, coached by his friend, Chris Hawkins.

He was right. Although they scored two runs in the bottom of the third inning to jump to a 2-0 lead, having an explosive 8-run fifth inning gave some distance between them and Normal West en route to a 9-0 blanking of the Wildcats to take the Sectional title.

After two scoreless innings, O’Fallon senior catcher Jeremy Reno reached first base on an error by Wildcats junior shortstop Jeremy Collinson to begin the bottom of the third inning. That was followed by leadoff batter and junior shortstop Josh Gibson being hit by a pitch from Wildcats senior starter McCade Brown. With two on, senior pitcher Brayden Arnold hit a double all the way to the center field wall, scoring Reno and Gibson, giving the Panthers a 2-0 edge.

There would be two more scoreless innings for both sides afterward, and Normal West (24-15) would go down in order in the top of the fifth. From there, O’Fallon (35-3-1) would add to their lead. Two walked batters and a single by Arnold loaded the bases for senior third baseman Hayden Juenger who was walked by Brown, increasing O’Fallon’s lead, 3-0. The Panthers would score five more times that inning while keeping the Wildcats at bay to achieve victory.

“With the arm they had out there,” Portz said in reference to Brown who will attend and play at Indiana next season, “If his command had been different and our kids don’t battle, and we continue to chase above our hands, we’d be in trouble.”

Portz said he told his players it would take more than two runs to beat a Normal West squad he knew would continue to fight through to the last out.

“We knew we were going to have to be about perfect to have a shot at beating them, and we weren’t,” Hawkins said afterward. “They were really good as advertised, number one in Illinois. We gave a lot of free bases and you just can’t do that with them.”

Arnold pitched seven innings striking out eight batters for the win. Brown pitched four plus innings striking four batters in the loss.

By Steve Robinson | May 31, 2018 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Two heavy rain downpours May 30 may have forced a change of location for the Illinois High School Association Class 4A baseball Sectional between Normal Community West and Bradley Bourbonnais, but the change didn’t seem to faze the Wildcats, who won the contest, blanking the Boilermakers in five innings, 12-0. As a result of the victory, the Wildcats would face O’Fallon on June 2 at for Jack Horenberger Field on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus. That game’s first pitch is slated for 11a.m.

With the field moved and the game time pushed back from 6p.m. to 7:15p.m., West winning pitcher McCade Brown sat down the Boilermakers’ firs three batters to open the top of the first inning. That was followed by Wildcats leadoff man Austin Collinson being walked and being followed by a Brandon Roth single to right field. Ben Smith followed with a single which scored both runners, giving West a quick 2-0 lead.

West (24-14) would add four more runs in their half of the second inning when Roth smacked triple scoring Sean Shook, Jeremy Fischer, and Collinson, all three who had been walked by losing pitcher Alec Weedon. Roth would also cross the plate on a fielding error, which in completing the play, delighted the crowd of roughly 500 fans, mostly West supporters. That gave West a 6-0 lead. West senior Jake Marti and sophomore Will Kafer singled and doubled, respectfully, and were driven home by a single by catcher Cody Hardt for two more runs in the innings for an 8-0 advantage.

Fischer doubling and Smith hitting a single brought in two more runs in the home half of the third inning, upping West’s lead, 10-0. The Wildcats’ last two runs came in the fourth inning, the result of a Hardt double which scored Kafer who singled, and Hardt scoring on a Collinson single.

Brown threw 54 pitches in his three innings of work, six short of what would keep him from being able to pitch in the Sectional Championship on Saturday per IHSA rules. “He knew he could throw less pitches if he could use our defense a little bit,” explained West head coach Chris Hawkins of his pitcher who increased his record on the season to 8-1.

Bradley Bourbonnais’ loss went to Weedon, and the Boilermakers season ends with an 18-14 mark. Boilermakers head coach Alec Robinson said the two-run first inning by Normal West ”was no big deal, but the big deal was the six runs in the second inning. Give them credit, Brown did a good job mixing it up. We couldn’t really pull anything together to get runs across.”

The Corn Crib Was A Last Option To Host Contest: The contest, originally slated for Horenberger Field, was moved because the field there was too waterlogged for the scheduled 6p.m. start. Quick thinking on the part of Normal West Athletic Director Stan Lewis prompted him to call Normal CornBelters President and General Manager Steve Malliet to see if it would be possible to play there. The CornBelters were out of town in the midst of a 9-day road trip, allowing the game to go forward with a 7:15p.m.start, thus preventing IHSA from declaring the game postponed.

Hawkins said maneuvering to find a location to play didn’t really rattle his players, who hadn’t played since May 26. He added, “Our guys were just hungry to play today. If someone had offered them a blacktop to play on, they’d have played on it if that had to happen.”

Malliet said The Corn Crib was “the last option” in terms of a location for the contest because even Duffy Bass Field on Illinois State University’s campus would not have been an option because of its grass outfield. “Thankfully, we had turf and we were able to help out,” he said.