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.

BasketballUniversity High’s girls’ basketball team’s winning streak entered double digits Tuesday at The State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament. The Pioneers, despite a fourth quarter push from Chicago St. Ignatius, held off the Wolfpack for a first round Head coach Laura Sellers’ team is seeded seeded 6th in the tournament’s Large School Girls bracket. Chicago St. Ignatius was seeded 11th.

The Pioneers’ victory will had them squaring off against 3rd seed Springfield High School Wednesday at 8:30p.m. at Normal Community High School. Springfield High disposed of Bloomington High in their first round game, 73-59 Tuesday morning at BCC.

U-High’s Raven Hughes and Jasmyne Lawrence each hit baskets to jump out to a fast 4-0 lead to open the first quarter for the Pioneers before the Wolfpack’s Aleah Spurell hit a deuce at 6:42 in the opening quarter to cut the lead, 4-2. Lawrence and Hughes hit unanswered deuces back-to-back increasing the Pioneers’ score, 8-2 at 5:03 in the quarter before early fouls by U-High put Spurell and Nicolette McDonald on the free throw line to help St. Ignatius come within two, 8-6, at the 3:01 mark.

State Farm Holiday ClassicKimmy Sendelbach and Hughes hit back-to-back unanswered deuces helping double the Pioneers’ lead, 12-6, with 1:31 remaining in the quarter. That was followed by a deuce by St. Ignatius’ Hayley Cange who cut the Pioneers ‘lead to 12-8. U-High was able to open the second quarter with a 14-8 lead.

After Cange opened the second quarter with a deuce to cut U-High’s lead to 14-10, Hughes hit two back-to-back deuces, followed by a jumper from Addy Loeffler to put the Pioneers on a 6-0 run which doubled their score, 20-10 with 3:11 until halftime, prompting St. Ignatius head coach Cara Doyle to call a timeout.

Following the timeout, U-High’s Jessica Baker hit a three, pushing the Pioneers up, 23-10, with 2:28 left in the quarter. Fouls late in the quarter helped U-High add to their lead, sending Hughes to the free throw line twice, where she sank 3-of-4 shots, giving the Pioneers a 26-10 advantage.

After Lawrence hit two free throws to open the third quarter, giving U-High a 28-10 lead, and the teams exchanged layups to give U-High a 30-12 lead, Chicago St. Ignatius (4-7) went on a 6-0 run thanks to a pair of unanswered layups by McDonald and two free throws by Molly Gannon to cut the Pioneers’ lead, 30-18, with 4:17 in the period.

Lawrence scored a three-point play after being fouled five seconds later to give U-High a 33-18 lead, but St. Ignatius responded a trey from Gannon to bring the Wolfpack within 12, 33-21. Jessica Huber hit a deuce for U-High and McDonald responded, moving the Pioneers’ lead, 35-23. Hughes was fouled shortly afterward, and sank two free throws to give the Pioneers a 37-23 lead at 2:46 in the quarter. But a second trey from Gannon pulled the Wolfpack within 11, 37-26. A deuce from Loeffler with 52.5 seconds pushed U-High up, 39-26 and prompted St. Ignatius to call for timeout. Following the timeout, Hughes contributed one more basket, giving U-High a 41-26 lead with which to open the fourth quarter.

U-High PioneersHughes opened the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws after being fouled by the Wolfpack’s Cange. She was followed by a basket by Lawrence and added one more after that herself to give U-High a 47-26 lead with 4:43 left in the game. But St. Ignatius responded with an 8-0 run highlighted by two threes – to pull within 11, 47-36, prompting them to take a timeout with 1:54 remaining. A layup by Spurell nine seconds later prompted the Wolfpack to huddle for a second timeout. Following that, Grace Barclay hit a deuce to increase the Pioneers’ lead, 49-38, with 1:28 remaining. A deuce by Logan Daly with 54.8 seconds left and two free throws by Gannon 21 seconds later were as close as the Wolfpack would come thanks to the Pioneers defense in the closing moments of the contest.

Hughes’ 21 points, followed by 13 from Lawrence helped power U-High to the tenth consecutive victory. Gannon was Chicago St. Ignatius’ lone scorer in double-figures with 12. Spurell and McDonald came close, nearly touching double figures with 9 points, and 8 points, respectfully.

“The score showed that we had them for three and a half quarters and we made sure we got some players in to get some game experience in the fourth quarter,” U-High head coach Laura Sellers said. From this point on in the tournament, Sellers added, “The competition gets better every game. We need to take care of the basketball and play as a team to get it done.”

“Basketball is a game of moments, and we just need to put our good moments together,” said Chicago St. Ignatius head coach Cara Doyle. “U-High is a very nice team. They run their system very well. Their kids are well-coached and their kids are good rebounders. Their offensive rebounds and put-backs were hard for us.”

By Steve Robinson | October 30, 2016 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

SoccerEAST PEORIA – Fifteen years ago, University High School’s Soccer team, with Jeremy Stanton as a player, made it only as far as the “Elite 8” in their quest for a state title. On Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Eastside Centre here, the Pioneers succeeded in becoming IHSA Class 1A champions, beating Westchester St. Joseph, 3-1, to earn the school’s very first State title in the sport.

It was the second title earned in a fall sport that the school has won in one month, as the boys’ golf team won IHSA Class 2A title in mid-October.

U-High PioneersAt the 12:35 mark in the first half, sophomore J. D. Kelly kicked U-High’s first goal in the net, with an assist credited to sophomore forward Nathan Clay, giving the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.

The Pioneers increased their lead, 2-0 just over three minutes later with Clay scoring, with an assist from junior defenseman Matthew Mier. Clay provided the Pioneers’ third goal as the first half was winding down, with just over a minute left, with Kelly providing an assist.

The Pioneers opened the second half with that lead and maintained a tight defense penetrated only by a goal shot by St. Joseph senior forward Oscar Rodriguez with 7:50 left in the contest.

Each team had 12 shots on goal. U-High finished the season with a final record of 17-6-5 and Westchester St. Joseph went home with second place ending their season with a record of 13-9-8.

IHSA“Clay and I have been leading the team in goals and assists, so it’s been a really good season and I’m glad we ended up winning,” Kelly said afterward.

“It helps that we’re able to feed off of each other in games,” Clay said about how he and Kelly operate during competition.

“We got stuff done,” Mier said about his team’s total effort.

“This win was well-deserved,” Stanton said. “They put in a lot of work and I’m just really happy for them. Our coaches knew that if they won this, they would be making University High School history, but we didn’t add that kind of pressure on the kids. We just wanted them to carry out our game plan.”