By Steve Robinson | August 25, 2018 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – As they are for any team’s opening game, thoughts of a positive season were on the minds of players, coaches, and fans alike when University High took to the Hancock Field turf against Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin in a Central State Eight season opening matchup.

But at the 9:16 mark in the fourth quarter, with the Cyclones up 42-0, the cheering stopped and the stadium was silent as fans watched trainers for U-High and then paramedics attend to sophomore wide receiver Savion Jackson who was knocked unconscious during a kickoff return. At first, there were murmurs in the crowd and then complete silence as fans watched the 5 foot-10, 165 pound Savion being worked on. From the time trainers and paramedics got to Jackson to the time he was wheeled off the field, roughly 20-25 minutes passed. Once Jackson was headed to the ambulance on a stretcher, fans could be heard applauding the young man.

Some U-High students cried and held one another from the time Jackson was first attended to and continued doing so even after the game had been called and the ambulance left the stadium. Frustration and grief had some Pioneers players starting back toward the school building located at the corner of Main and Gregory Streets, but they were corralled by assistant coach Mike Troll who ordered them to stay on the field for a message from head coach John Johnson, and Troll added they needed to walk back to the school as a group.

“He woke a couple of times,” Johnson said about Jackson during that post game talk. “His vitals are very good. He’s going to be okay. Guys, we lost a football game, but that’s just a bunch of light bulbs on a board. We’ve got to play for Savion from here on out, right…?”

“He’s going to be back, he’s going to fine, he’s going to be okay,” Johnson added as he spoke to his players, many of whom were either sobbing or wiping away tears and putting arms around one another.

Following his talk with his players, Johnson told reporters Jackson “jerked and convulsed twice which was a good sign because he was breathing.”

As for the game itself and their opponents, “Like I told the kids, they’re strong up front on both sides of the ball.”

Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin (1-0 in Central State Eight, and overall), ranked third in Illinois High School Association Class 6A, held that 42-0 lead which stood at the point in the game when Jackson’s injury occurred. Once Jackson regained consciousness and was asked questions by medical personnel and was secured to a gurney, a public announcement was made that the game was over.

The Cyclones scored three times in the first quarter, stunning the Pioneers home crowd, starting with a five yard touchdown run by senior running back Joey Milbrandt, followed by an extra point by senior kicker Cade Holloway, giving the visitors a quick 7-0 lead. The Cyclones would score twice more in the quarter, allowing them to go into the second quarter with a 21-0 lead, which they extended to 28-0 at half, and 35-0 after three quarters.

Springfield SHG head coach Ken Leonard had nothing but complimentary things to say about how U-High played against them. “I thought U-High’s secondary did a good job,” he explained. “I thought they tackled well. As a team, they made us work for it because they hung tough.” The loss left U-High with an 0-1 mark overall and in conference play.

By Steve Robinson | June 4, 2018 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

BLOOMINGTON – Fourteen years have gone by since the last time University High’s Softball team made it to a Super Sectional contest. But no thanks to New Lenox Providence, the Pioneers season ended six innings short of achieving the team’s goal making it to State Finals. Two four run innings in the first and second innings secured an 11-1 victory in six innings for the Celtics over the Pioneers. U-High’s season under head coach Al Toliver ends at 24-11. The game had roughly 125 fans in attendance at the softball field at Illinois Wesleyan University .

After U-High’s first three batters – freshman shortstop Abby Knight, left fielder Jen Kuhn, and senior second baseman Lexi Tennison – went down in order to open the game, New Lenox Providence (28-11) went to work in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Pioneers sophomore starting pitcher Maddie Roop walked senior catcher Taylor Young and junior catcher Shannon Smith before a single by junior center fielder Lex Leighton loaded the bases for freshman first baseman Nicole Mucha.

Mucha smacked a double which cleared the bases putting her on second base, giving the Celtics a 3-0 lead. Mucha was called out at third thanks to an outfield throw received by senior third baseman Grace Matheis as Mucha was trying to slide in. New Lenox Providence did get a fourth run when Layton scored on a double by designated hitter Hannah Falejczyk, increasing the lead to 4-0.

U-High switched out sophomore starting pitcher Maddie Roop after an inning and a third for senior pitcher Maddie Boucher, but the Celtics would get four more runs off of Boucher, expanding their lead, 8-0, after two innings.

The Pioneers’ lone run came in the top of the fourth inning as senior second baseman Lexus Tennyson’s blast into left field gave her a single. That was followed by Boucher who was called out on base running after having singled but tried to get a double only to get throw out trying to get back to first. In the ensuing play, Tennyson made it to third and scored on a single by sophomore center fielder Emily O’Leary, giving the Pioneers their only run of the contest, 8-1.

The Celtics scored two more in the bottom of the fourth and one more in the bottom of the sixth to close out the scoring, but the Pioneers showed some spirit thanks to sophomore right fielder Makaylea Sepich who had three catches including one diving catch in the sixth inning robbing Courtney Mahalik of a base hit.

“I knew they were probably a really good hitting team and they showed it today,” said Pioneers head coach Al Toliver. “They’re just a very solid, solid team up and down the line, so my hat’s off to them,” he added.

About his team’s season, Toliver said, “Winning the Sectional over at Washington is a huge highlight for us. And then coming back home, we hoped for better today, but today, the better team won.”

For the Celtics’ part, their head coach, Jay Biesterfeld, said going into this contest his team was hoping “for a good first few innings and put some pressure on them. Obviously, things worked out a little better than we expected.”

“We just wanted to come out and drive the ball and make some plays,” Biesterfeld added.

By Steve Robinson | November 12, 2017 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

VolleyballNORMAL – It’s a short trip from University High School to Redbird Arena, but 17 years have gone by since the Pioneers made the short jaunt to claim any trophies in State Volleyball. And although they didn’t make it to the title game, head coach Mike Bolhuis’ squad did claim a prize – 3rd place – after a 25-21, 19-25, 25-19 victory over Arlington Heights-based St. Viator High School Saturday.

Game 1 was a tight point-for-point contest for the first 17 points scored by each side until kills by U-High’s Isabel Schaefbauer and Addy Loeffler followed by two attack errors by St. Viator’s Catherine Hickey, followed by another Pioneers kill from Illiana Lin, put U-High up, 23-17 en route to victory, which was sealed with another Loeffler kill.

Game 2 saw St. Viator use scoring streaks to march toward victory by its conclusion. While serving, Michela Mueller and Carrie Leazer anchored the Lions’ attack, each of them, along with Hickey, scoring a service ace. A kill by Hickey followed up by an attack error by U-High’s Lin, helped make the Lions’ victory official.

In game 3, U-High trailed as much as five points, 11-6, in the early going thanks in part to kills by Kate Nottoli, Jessica McDowell, and Hickey before the Pioneers stormed back on kills by Schaefbauer and Loeffler and a service ace by Juarez, tying the game at 11-11. The contest would be tied four more times from there with a last tie at 17-all before two kills by Lin, a service ace by Juarez, and attack errors by the Lions gave U-High the victory.

Schaefbauer and Loeffler led U-High in kills with 11 each during the three-game set, with Lin following with 9. Schaefbauer, Juarez, and Kimmy Sendelbach each scored a serving ace. St. Viator had more takeaways with 229 to U-High’s 111. Hickey led in total kills with 15. Leazer led her team in serving aces with three.

After losing game 2, Bolhuis said, “the biggest thing we talked about most was blocking and we felt when St. Viator was taking half-swings, we were jumping too early. So we talked about block timing and where we were positioning ourselves. In the third game, you probably saw a prime example of us blocking at our best.”

U-High PioneersLoeffler Played Through An Injury: Fans probably couldn’t tell, but Loeffler, who sprained an ankle earlier in the season, was playing with that ankle having been re-injured during play at the State tourney. “I sprained it previously in the season and then I re-rolled it on Thursday. So, yeah, it was fun.”

Juarez told reporters when game 3 was tied at 17-all, and McDowell was serving, “Jess is a pretty consistent server so I knew she was going to be aggressive. But the ball was going to be in. She kinda got us rolling at that point.”

Senior Abbey Collins called being with this team this season “The most amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade this season for anything. We had the best team chemistry. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I love my team.” Some of her teammates responded to her comments with reactions of “awww.”

St. Viator’s 4th place finish also marked the first Volleyball tourney trophy in that school’s history. Head coach Charlie Curtin called getting it, “’Unbelievable.”

“This year, the girls came together, they clicked, they worked hard in the offseason. I’m just so proud of them,” he said.

Of the third game, Curtin said, “U-High played extremely scrappy defense and they got a lot of one-arm digs and they were able to capitalize on it. We made a couple of mistakes and they compounded them and it was hard for us to get our heads back in the game.”

St. Viator wound up facing the Pioneers in the 3rd place game as a result of losing their semifinal against Chicago Resurrection 32-30, 23-25, and 18-25.

Pioneers Lose To Belleville Althoff In Semifinal: The Pioneers found themselves in the Class 3A consolation game as a result of losing their semifinal match to Belleville Althoff, 25-13 and 25-21 on Nov. 10. The victory gave the Crusaders a 40-1 record going into a State Championship match Nov. 11, while Bolhuis’ Pioneers fell to 28-11.

U-High found themselves down quickly in game 1, 4-0, the result of three Pioneers attack errors and a kill from Althoff’s Annika Beal. The Pioneers first point came from a kill by Loeffler, 4-1. The Crusaders remained I front throughout the contest with the closest U-High coming was 12-9, the result of miscues from an attack error by Addie Burris and a serving error from Amber Juarez. From there, the Crusaders coasted to a quick 25-13 victory.

Game 2 was tighter with U-High’s Schaefbauer serving and being credited with a kill combined with a kill from Althoff’s Karinna Gall to tie the game at 3-3. But from there, a kill by Althoff’s Louise Comerford put Belleville in front, 4-3, where they stayed for the remainder of the contest. U-High did pull within one, 22-21, thanks to an Althoff serving error before Althoff pulled away on another Burris kill, a Pioneers attack error, and another Burris kill.

“U-High played the game we were expecting but we stuck to our game plan,” Althoff head coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich said. “We focus on our game and make changes as needed.”

“A true sign of how we played was seen in that second set,” Bolhuis said in summing up his Pioneers’ play. “We came back in the second set and played the best we could. That second set showed the way we play and the style of Volleyball we’ve preached all year.”

Belleville Althoff faced Champaign-based St. Thomas More in the championship match, winning in two games, 25-16 and 25-23.

By Steve Robinson | October 22, 2017 - 10:49 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

FootballNORMAL – Both University High and Chatham Glenwood were riding streaks coming into the season finale against one another at Hancock Stadium Friday night, but it took an overtime touchdown by Titans senior Jubbar Cross to end the Pioneers’ hopes for making the Illinois High School Association playoffs, with a 37-36 Central State Eight Conference victory. As a result, U-High concluded their first season under head coach John Johnson at 4-5.

A crowd of roughly 650 people at Hancock Stadium watched as U-High held a 15-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. But Cross put Chatham Glenwood (7-2) up, 22-15, with a 65 yard touchdown run followed by junior kicker Austin Schiff’s extra point.

U-High countered using a 17 play, 65 yard drive capped by a 7 yard pass from senior quarterback Doug Holmes to senior wide receiver Mark Widdel with 3:07 left in the contest, which tied the game at 22-all following junior kicker Nathan Clay’s extra point.

Following the ensuing kickoff, Chatham Glenwood began their next drive at their own 36 and got a boost from a 59 yard pass from sophomore quarterback Luke Lehnen to sophomore wide receiver Eli Vogler, putting the Titans on U-High’s 13. The Titans scored on the next play, with Lehnen connecting with senior tight end Cole Hemborough for a touchdown followed by Schiff’s extra point, giving the visitors a 29-22 lead with 1:51 left in regulation.

U-High tied the game, 29-29, as time expired with Holmes connecting with Widdel on a 12 yard scoring pass followed by Clay’s extra point, sending the crowd into a frenzy at the game’s heading for overtime.

The Pioneers scored first, with Holmes connecting with Widdel on a 10 yard scoring pass, followed by Clay’s extra point, putting the Pioneers up, 36-29. Chatham Glenwood countered with Lehnen hitting Cross from 10 yards out followed by a two-point conversion pass from Lehnen to sophomore running back Jason Hansbrough, giving the Titans the victory.

U-High Pioneers footballScoring Started In Busy 1st Quarter: Chatham Glenwood punted to end its first possession after the opening kickoff, and U-High (4-5) started the game from their own 32 and marched downfield in 18 plays, concluding with Clay kicking a 25 yard field goal, putting the Pioneers up, 3-0, with 2:47 left in the quarter.

The Titans countered on their next possession as Lehnen scored from 60 yards out followed by Schiff’s extra point, putting Chatham Glenwood up, 7-3 at 1:47 left in the quarter. Following the ensuing kickoff, U-High lost the ball three plays later, with Titans junior defensive back Drew Dunbar recovering a Pioneers fumble, giving the visitors the ball at U-High’s 47. Three plays later, Lehnen scored from a yard out followed by another Schiff extra point, putting Chatham Glenwood up, 14-3, going into the second quarter.

That score would hold throughout a mostly defensive second quarter during which only U-High would score thanks to Holmes’ 3 yard run with 1:57 until halftime, but Clay would miss the extra point, cutting the Titans’ lead to 14-9.

Holmes was the only player from either side to score in the third quarter, as the Pioneers, starting at midfield after a Titans punt, marched downfield into the end zone in six plays topped off by Holmes scoring from a yard out at the 3:49 mark followed by Clay’s extra point, giving the home team a 15-14 advantage.

“We’ve been preaching that a football game is a fight and you have to keep punching,” explained Titans head coach David Hay following the game. Up until the contest, Hay explained, his team had illness go through it which kept 10 kids out of practices leading up to the game. “We had all kinds of ready-made excuses for not doing well. But I’m proud of these kids because they went out and they didn’t quit.”

Pointing to the gathering of U-High players across the field, Hay added, “That’s a good football team over there. They did a heck of a job. Coach Johnson helped them to get better and better through the year and that’s the sign of a good coaching staff. They presented all kind of challenges to us, and they played us really tough, and should be proud of the effort they put forth.”

Pioneers head coach John Johnson hugged seniors on his team as they walked up to him, his eyes moist. “It was a great football game against a great football team,” Johnson said, adding, “We’ve shown we’ve grown up a lot this year, having gone from 1-and to 4-and-5, but we’re really 5-and-4 in my opinion. But Chatham scored one more play than we did, so, take your hat off to them. We saw some things in the third and fourth quarter that we took advantage of.”

By Steve Robinson | September 30, 2017 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

FootballNORMAL – Senior quarterback Doug Holmes connected with senior wide receiver Mark Widdel for two touchdowns to thrill University High football fans in an effort to get their homecoming celebration off to a positive start, defeating Central State Eight Conference opponent Jacksonville, 38-20, in front of roughly 1,000 fans at Hancock Stadium.

The Pioneers faced a Crimsons team which needed to resort to using a fourth-string sophomore quarterback, Wesley Ervin, and leaned heavily on senior running back Marquel White for big yardage gains throughout the night.

U-High upped its record to 2-4 both in the conference and overall with the victory, with scoring that began with a 20 yard field goal by junior kicker Nathan Clay at 7:47 of the first quarter, topping a 7 play 33 yard drive. Getting that score started thanks to Jacksonville turning over the ball on downs to complete their first possession.

Jacksonville’s next possession ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down, putting the Pioneers at their own 33 yard line to start their next drive. Holmes connected with Widdel for the first time on the night on a 56 yard scoring strike with 5:05 left in the quarter, followed by Clay’s extra point, advancing the Pioneers’ lead, 10-0.

U-High Pioneers footballJacksonville’s next possession had the Crimsons marching 80 yards in 17 plays for their first score of the night at 9:27 of the second quarter, with White gaining most of the yardage, his longest jaunt was 12 yards, and he scored from three yards out to cut U-High’s lead, 10-7, following sophomore kicker Collin Brunstein’s extra point.

Holmes connected with senior wide receiver Ty Ziebarth for a 7 yard touchdown pass at 4:20 until halftime, followed by Clay’s next extra point, to give the Pioneers a 17-7 advantage.

As a result of the coin toss before the game, the Pioneers opted to defer receiving the ball until the second half but wound up fumbling to end the third play of their opening drive, turning the ball over to the Crimsons at the U-High 39 yard line. From there, White and Ervin combined keeping the ball on the ground to score, with White entering the end zone from a yard out with 8:37 left in the third quarter. That cut the Pioneers’ lead, 17-13 when a Crimsons two-point play failed.

Holmes and U-High took to the air during their next possession toward their next score. Holmes completed 3-of-4 passes for 35 yards as the Pioneers scored at 5:23 in the third quarter with Holmes running into the end zone from nine yards out followed by Clay’s extra point, increasing U-High’s lead, 24-13.

Jacksonville’s next possession ended when Pioneers sophomore defensive back Zane Sorensen recovered a fumble and U-High began their next drive at the Crimsons’ 35 yard line. One play later, Holmes and Widdel connected for a touchdown followed by Clay’s extra point, pushing the Pioneers up, 31-13.

jacksonville crimsons football helmetJacksonville got the ensuing kickoff and could only manage, after a flag thrown against them and four downs, to get to their own 30 forcing them to punt. Starting at their own 36, U-High managed to get down field thanks to plays like a 30 yard pass from Holmes to senior wide receiver Spencer Laub highlighting the drive U-High used to score again. The drive ended with Holmes running into the end zone from 7 yards out with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Clay’s extra point put U-High up, 38-13.

From there the Crimsons used another prolonged drive which began at their own 32 to score again on the night, going 68 yards in 15 plays, concluding with White leaping over Pioneers defenders from two yards out for the touchdown, the evening’s last score, followed by Brunstein’s extra point.

“I thought our offensive line came to play today and that helped our passing game,” explained U-High head coach John Johnson. “Mark Widdel and Doug Holmes went out and played a great game. Doug beat them with his speed, too.” Johnson further credited his defense for their efforts against the Crimsons’ offense.

“My team battled to the very end,” said Jacksonville head coach Mark Grounds. “We’re fighting through some injuries, and I thought my young players made some progress. We’ll keep battling.” He also had praise for Ervin, who is the Crimsons’ fourth-string quarterback. First-string quarterback Avery Dugan is dealing with a throwing arm injury but is not healthy enough to return to that position. Doctors did, however, clear Dugan to play defensive back, which he did against the Pioneers.