By Steve Robinson | November 11, 2018 - 8:26 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

OAK LAWN – The quest for a first football championship in school history for Normal Community West High School came to an end Saturday at Korhonen Field here but the Wildcats did make their hosts in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A contest, Oak Lawn Richards High School, work for the victory.

Using a stingy defense and employing the running talents of senior wide receiver Armani Forrest to get past defenders, the Wildcats proved formidable during their road contest. Forrest’s return after being sidelined for a month due to an ankle injury appeared to be an encouraging sign to roughly dozens of Wildcats’ fans as they watched him race past defenders at key moments in the contest.

But for as well as this season had gone for the Wildcats, they couldn’t overcome the Bulldogs’ defense in the final quarter to achieve another victory, dropping a 22-17 decision before roughly 3,000 fans, finishing the season at 11-1.

Ranked second in the state in the Class, Oak Lawn Richards (12-0) scored first in the first quarter on a 1 yard run from junior running back Leshon Williams for the only score in the period, putting Oak Lawn Richards (12-0) in front first, 6-0, followed by a missed extra point by junior kicker Sabastian Lasak. A 35-yard field goal by Lasak early in second quarter advanced that lead, 9-0.

Sixth ranked Normal West pulled within two, 9-7, on a 35 yard pass from senior quarterback Carson Camp to Forrest with 6:06 left until halftime followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald. The two sides would show defensive might to their opponents throughout the third quarter keeping the score in tact going into the fourth quarter.

But Bulldogs senior quarterback Sebastian Castro’s 3 yard run into the end zone with 7:32 left in the contest silenced the Wildcats faithful, who, up to that moment, had been cheering throughout. Lasak’s extra point followed pushing Oak Lawn Richards forward, 16-7.

West’s next drive was highlighted by Camp passes to senior wide receiver Davion McQuirter of 16 and 5 yards, aiding in getting the Wildcats to the Bulldogs’ 13 yard line where Oak Lawn Richards defenders forced the Wildcats to kick a field goal, successfully done by Theobald from 30 yards out. That helped Normal West trim Richards’ lead to 16-10 with 1:43 left.

West opted for an onside kick, but Richards recovered it at West’s 48 yard line. Two plays later, a 45 yard run by University of Iowa recruit Castro with 1:24 left pushed the Bulldogs in front, 22-10, following a failed 2-point attempt.

Camp and Forrest connected a second time from 14 yards out with 22.9 seconds left, followed by Theobald’s extra point, cutting Richards’ lead to five, 22-17. West tried another onside kick, which Richards players recovered allowing them to let time expire.

First season Wildcats head coach Nate Fincham said afterward his team “showed determination” all year, continuing to do that to the end of this contest. “Our team was like this all year. When they were down, they just never gave up. They showed that tonight. They pushed the limits of Oak Lawn tonight.”

Following a final postgame huddle with all his players, Fincham met with the 25 seniors on his roster. Of those players, he said, “That senior group is obviously a special group for me and the way they supported me in my first year here this year means a lot.

“Our guys believed from the beginning 100 percent they were in this game and from the very first play, they knew they could compete with Oak Lawn,” Fincham said. “That’s a pretty good football team here, and I think we are too, and I think we showed that tonight.”

Fincham said he knew from looking at Oak Lawn Richards team tape “running the ball would be extremely difficult, but I knew they were weak in the defensive backfield and I knew we could take advantage of that and we did that.”

“We don’t take anybody lightly and we knew Normal West could play,” stated Oak Lawn Richards head coach Tony Sheehan. “Camp is very good and we knew he’d do a good job. Their coach is obviously in his first year and he has their program going in the right direction. Normal’s kids played hard and they played hard the whole game.

“Being in a quarterfinal means there are no bad teams left,” Sheehan said in complimenting Normal West’s program. “Because of that, we knew we had to play to the last whistle. Armani Forrest was a difference maker tonight and we knew he would be. That was the only thing we wondered about but we figured he would play.”

By Steve Robinson | November 3, 2018 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – To explain what happened to Normal Community West High School in their second round Illinois High School Association Class 6A game against Palos Heights-based Alan J. Shepard High School, a school named after the late astronaut, verbiage used by NASA would seem appropriate: Normal West’s mission to get to the championship avoided being scrubbed. Normal West came from behind to beat the Astros, 26-17.

With the win, the 6th ranked in the Class Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals of Illinois High School Association Class 6A playoffs for the first time in school history. The victory will have the Wildcats taking to the road to take on 11-1 Oak Lawn-based Richards High School this weekend, winners of a second round contest by the score of 35-21 over Yorkville.

Junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez scored two touchdowns, the second of which put West in front after trailing for most of the first half, aiding in the effort.

After winning the coin toss and accepting to receive, Shepard (8-4) scored first on an 8 yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Jamail Hunt at 8:23 in the first quarter followed by senior kicker Michal Strama’s extra point, putting the Astros on the scoreboard first, 7-0.

A 43 yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Carson Camp to senior wide receiver Magnus Moeller helped Normal West (11-1) tie the game at 7-all following senior kicker Parker Theobald’s extra point..

Although Shepard started their next drive at their own 30, West defenders managed to see to it the Astros only got as far as West’s 16, prompting the decision for Strama to kick a 34 yard field goal. That gave the Astros a 10-7 lead with 11:15 in the second quarter. West ended their ensuing drive with a punt allowing Shepard to begin their next drive at their own 38. Eight plays later, right hand senior quarterback Kevin Graham was forced to throw across his body to senior wide receiver Chris Harrison to avoid defenders for the Astros next score, followed by Strama’s extra point, increasing Shepard’s lead, 17-7 with 5:56 until halftime.

West cut that lead to 17-13, as Camp connected with Hernandez for the first time on the night from 15 yards out followed by Theobald’s extra point cutting Shepard’s lead, 17-13, at the 3:44 mark, a score they would keep until halftime.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, each team seeing opportunities spoiled by the opponents defensive maneuvering. But it was a 9 yard pass to Hernandez from Camp that put West in front for the first time in the contest, 20-17, after Theobald’s extra point with 2:09 remaining.

A defensive maneuver by West junior linebacker Zack Marcotte helped the Wildcats’ effort on the Astros’ next series, as he stripped the ball from Graham and scrambled to pick up the ball in the end zone with 53.9 seconds remaining on the clock. But Theobald’s extra point was no good resulting in the final score after West defenders forced Shepard to rush through their plays until the final gun.

Of what was his first defensive score, Marcotte said, “That was the most exhilarating. I suddenly realized, ‘I got the football. It’s a touchdown. Game’s over. We win.’”

“I’m just excited to make it to the quarterfinals,” West head coach Nate Fincham said, explaining not getting that far into the playoffs in years the school has existed “has been like a black cloud hanging over these kids’ heads. I’m proud of the way they stuck with it. They just kept working throughout the season and offseason.”

“I knew they were athletic and I knew they would give us some issues,” Fincham added. “They kind of surprised us a little bit. I don’t think we expected them to be that physical up front. But we responded well and that’s what’s important.” Beating Shepard was the goal for the week, Fincham added. Having Oak Lawn Richards to beat is another goal, he explained.

“The main thing I can say is hats off to Normal West,” said Shepard head coach John Roan. “They made fewer mistakes than us so they deserved to win the ball game. We liked our chances coming in and we thought we played a pretty good first half. In the second half, the mistakes started to mount and we didn’t overcome them.”

BLOOMINGTON – With both Illinois Wesleyan University ’s Men’s and Women’s basketball teams getting into NCAA Div. III playoffs last year, Men’s head coach Ron Rose and Women’s head coach Mia Smith don’t foresee this season ending in either team staying home when NCAA bids come out this year. What’s more, they would like their individual teams to get further than they did at the end of last year.

But first, both must play tough non-conference and Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin schedules to prove to opponents they will get back to compete for championships.

Both teams exited early in the NCAA tournament – the Men exiting after a round one loss to Wooster , the Women leaving after a second round loss to Trine. Women’s team head coach Mia Smith said her team was hampered by injuries as the season wound down last year, to forwards Raven Hughes and Sydney Shanks, both of whom watched the team’s post-season march from the bench.

Hughes, Shanks “Were Helping Coach” Team: But for the Women’s team, a curious thing got noticed by Smith about how Hughes and Shanks, now healthy and ready to take on opponents this year, contributed from the bench during the team’s tournament run. “They were helping me coach at the end of the season because they could pick up on things having been in the system, and watching from the bench at games, they picked up on a lot of things and for them to do that is very mature.”

Smith described Hughes, a sophomore and a University High grad, and Shanks, a junior and a Central Catholic grad, as “basketball-oriented kids who have basketball-oriented minds. What did surprise me is how they stayed in the game for their teammates.” She explained injured players on the bench have a tendency to show discouragement about the fact they are not on the hardwood because an injury has benched them. Smith said that didn’t occur with either Hughes or Shanks. “Their vision from the sideline was really good,” Smith said of the pair’s contributions.

A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament on her left knee sidelined Hughes for the Conference playoffs and NCAAs. She received clearance from doctors to begin working with the team again at the beginning of this season. “It was difficult to be on the bench but at least I had Sydnee with me,” Hughes said. From the bench, Hughes said she learned that, even when a player gets hurt, “the team knows to keep going and that we shouldn’t give up.”

Shanks said being at NCAAs her sophomore season, although she didn’t get on the court due to a broken hand, was “amazing” and she loved cheering on her teammates as they made their way through the bracket. She added she “can’t wait to get back to NCAAs again next year.”

Downs Tri-Valley grad Maddie Merritt will be experiencing her final season on the court for IWU this year. She is one of four seniors expected to lead IWU back toward CCIW Tournament and an NCAA tourney bid. The team’s other seniors are guards Emily Farris and Nina Anderson, and forward Ashley Schneider.

Sophomore guard Kendall Sosa called what she had last season at IWU “a great experience for my freshman year.” Now a sophomore, she added she learned plenty from last year’s senior teammates which included El Paso Gridley High School alum Rebekah Ehresman. “That prepared me a lot for this year, I think, so that means we will have a lot of experience for this year.”

Last year’s seniors taught Sosa a number of things including “how to stay composed and the speed of the game,” she said, adding, “this level has a little more speed and having to learn about shot selection” from that group has prepared her for this season.

Rose Coaching A “Hungry” Men’s Team: Rose’s men’s team is again relying on senior depth to help get them through, and one of those seniors will be his son, Brady. “Brady had a great junior year,” his coach said, explaining his son “had a great junior year, having been named all-conference. He comes back with a world of experience.” The senior Rose said the 6 foot-3, 185 pound guard spent the summer doing workouts to improve. He said the same could be said of Jack Martin, the 6 foot-4, 180 pound guard and University High alum.

“Jack is bigger and stronger, was on the Junior Varsity team last year and learned a lot,” Rose added. “He has learned the system and really shown improvement this first week.”

The younger Rose, a guard, may be a senior but he’s going to be playing in his fifth season for his father because of a broken foot injury he sustained in his sophomore season. He was allowed to redshirt which gave him an extra season this year.

“It seems like a long time ago that I showed up on campus,” the younger Rose said. “Just looking back on the four seasons I had – three I played and this last one I’m getting a chance to. I’ve played with a lot of great players, a lot of great friends, a lot of great coaches. It’s brought us a lot of different experiences every single year. It has brought me a lot of different learning experiences I’ve been able to take some lessons from.”

Personally, Rose said, the ultimate goal of winning a national championship is front and center on his mind. That means going for a repeat of getting the CCIW championship since IWU won it last year. He called being at IWU collecting “some of the best memories of my life.”

Sophomore guard and University High alum Jack Martin was on IWU’s junior varsity team last year and admitted the up tempo pace of the game from high school to college didn’t intimidate him. “I just want to practice hard and do the best I can this season,” he explained.

“We’ve got some great senior leadership,” Coach Rose reminded. In addition to the younger Rose, that group includes guards Colin Bennett and Jason Gregoire, and forward Danny Baker. “We’ve got some great senior leadership,” explained the coach, who is entering his 13th season at the helm of the program. Of his players as this season dawns, Rose said, “This is a hungry group. We shared the CCIW title last year, made it to the NCAA, but we’re certainly not satisfied. We have the team that has the potential to have a special season.”

EPG Alum Ehresman Now A Grad Assistant: Sometimes, students find the career path they wanted gets changed simply by changing majors. That’s what happened to Rebekah Ehresman, the star basketball player at El Paso Gridley High School and an IWU graduate. She got her undergraduate degree in Accounting but is now a graduate student at Illinois State University in Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, as well as serving as a graduate assistant coach for Smith’s IWU Women’s team.

As part of her job, Ehresman helps with logistics for the women’s team as well as recruiting, scouting, and helping at practices. “I’m very passionate about sports and basketball in general, and this school,” she said. She started out as a Business major and switched to Accounting, but even as she was getting her degree, the yearning to stay close to sports in some way never left Ehresman’s thoughts.

For me, accounting was sitting and looking at a computer, and not a whole lot of interaction,” Ehresman said. “I should have known that going into it. I switched my major late, in my junior year. So now, I’m changing career paths a little bit.”

Circle Your Calendars: IWU Men will play two exhibition games – at University of Illinois at Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 1 and at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana on Nov. 2, both starting at 7p.m. They open the regular season at Shirk Center on Sunday, Nov. 11 against University of Chicago at 4p.m. Their CCIW season starts at home against Carthage College on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7p.m. IWU Women open with two road exhibitions, at Eastern Illinois on Nov. 1 at 6p.m. and at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Monday, Nov. 5 at 7p.m. Their regular season opens also opens Nov. 11 at Shirk Center against UC starting at 2p.m. Their first CCIW contest is on Dec. 1 against Carthage College begins at 5p.m.

By Steve Robinson | October 28, 2018 - 10:56 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – St. Charles North head coach Rob Pomazak stated something most Ironmen fans who have been coming to games in the last few years know probably very well. “Those guys don’t know what it’s like to lose, fellas.” He made those comments to his team in postgame comments to his team after they finished their Illinois High School Association Class 7A first round game against Normal Community High School Saturday at Ironmen Field.

A scoreless first half for the Ironmen was the beginning of what would be just the second loss of the season for first season head coach Jason Drengwitz’s troops, dropping a 44-29 decision to the North Stars, and eliminating them from the playoffs.

Two touchdown passes – from 35 and 18 yards – from junior quarterback Kyler Brown to senior wide receiver Alec Kritta, one in the first quarter and one in the second quarter, and a 37 yard field goal in the second quarter by senior kicker Luke Barresi put the North Stars in front, 16-0 going into halftime before NCHS (8-2) found ways to put points on the board in the second half.

St. Charles North (7-3) punted away their 3rd quarter opening possession and put the ball at NCHS’ 10 yard line. Seven plays later, Ironmen senior quarterback Daylen Boddie dashed 60 yards for his team’s first score of the contest followed by a 2-point conversion pass to senior tight end Max Lowery, cutting the North Stars’ lead in half, 16-8, with 8:13 left in the quarter.

But hope of NCHS catching the North Stars early faded on the guests’ next possession when their sophomore running back Nicholas DeMarco scored on a 78 yard touchdown run on their first play after the ensuing kickoff. That extended St. Charles North’s lead, 23-8 with 7:51 left in the third quarter.

Junior running back Jake Hileman chewed up yardage, too, during a 66 yard touchdown run which topped off a 5 play, 92 yard march for NCHS’ next score, cutting the North Stars’ lead, 23-15 with 5:50 left in the quarter.

But a 28 yard touchdown run by senior running back Tyler Nubin with 1:13 left in the quarter doubled the score on NCHS for the North Stars, 30-15, following Barresi’s extra point try.

Brown connected with Nubin on a 30 yard scoring pass at 10:05 in the fourth quarter, followed by Barresi’s extra point, increasing the North Star’s advantage, 37-15. But a Boddie keeper play from 25 yards out kept NCHS within range following senior kicker Camron Hinman’s extra point, 37-22, with 9:03 left.

A 22 yard touchdown by DeMarco with 4:30 remaining, followed by Barresi’s extra point, doubled the score on NCHS, 44-22. What would be NCHS’ last touchdown of the season came from Boddie to Lowery in a 5 yard pass with 1:23 remaining followed by Hinman’s extra point. The Ironmen successfully followed that up with an onside kick which they recovered but were unable to capitalize on after four incomplete passes.

Pomazak said his team had lost two games to Batavia and Wheaton Warrenville South, both on last plays of the game, “so I would categorize us as one of the top 10 teams in the State and knew we had just as good a chance to win. What we saw on film was just a chance to get the ball vertical and our running back, Nick DeMarco did a great job of finding gaps and taking out big chunks and Tyler Brown was able to find open receivers.

“Defensively, we kept a really good offense in check for the majority of the game,” Pomazak added. “We really wanted to focus on Boddie. He’s a great player and a fine young man.”

For NCHS’ Drengwitz, “Number one, offensively, we didn’t do enough to put us into a position to compete a little bit better, and our defense played lights out,” he admitted. “In the second half, we made enough plays to get us back in the game and get an opportunity to win, but when the crucial moments came, both on offense and defense, they made the crucial plays and we didn’t.

“But to our kids’ credit, we came back in the second half and made it a ball game and gave ourselves some opportunities,” the first season head coach added. “But when their kids’ backs were against the wall, St. Charles made plays and they executed well down the stretch.”

By Steve Robinson | October 27, 2018 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Anybody trying to catch hold of Davion McQuirter Friday night had a tough time. Just ask any of the defensive line or secondary of Peoria Notre Dame when they visited Wildcat Field for the opening round of Illinois High School Association Class 6A playoffs at Wildcat Field. McQuirter tallied up 253 yards on 22 carries, already earning 200 by halftime, as he and the Wildcats eliminated the Irish from the playoffs with a 34-21 victory in damp conditions.

As a result, the 4th seed Wildcats will take on 5th seed Palos Heights (8-2) this weekend, winners over 12th seed Springfield by a score of 51-36.

The 5 foot-9, 180 pound running back got his evening started at 7:47 in the first quarter, scoring from 80 yards out to successfully end the evening’s first possession for Normal West (9-1), followed by senior kicker Parker Theobald’s extra point, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.

The ensuing possession for Peoria Notre Dame (6-4) ended in a punt which bounced then dropped to a stop at West’s 1 yard line. Two plays later, McQuirter scrambled past Irish defenders for his next score from 3 yards out at 3:29 in the quarter, and West owned a 13-0 lead despite a failed 2-Point conversion attempt, and carried that lead into the second quarter. An 85 yard pass from senior quarterback Carson Camp to sophomore wide receiver Corey Walker made McQuirter’s score possible.

PND cut West’s lead, 13-7 on a 7 yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Georgio Grivetti, capping the visiting team’s longest march of the night going 80 yards in 15 plays, followed by senior kicker Sidney Maroon’s extra point.

PND’s ensuing kickoff gave West the ball at their own 32, but it didn’t stay there long thanks to McQuirter who raced 68 yards down the near sideline for the Wildcats’ next score followed by Theobald’s extra point, putting West up, 20-7 at 9:20 in the second quarter holding that lead going into halftime.

West received the ball to start the third quarter and added to their lead, 27-7, on a 14 yard touchdown run by Camp, followed by another Theobald extra point.

PND responded with a touchdown to conclude the ensuing drive, pulling within 13, 27-14, featuring senior running back Blaine Stanton’s 5 yard score, topping a 9 play, 71 yard drive, followed by another Maroon extra point.

West held the ball going into the fourth quarter and scored on a McQuirter 2 yard dash with 10:08 left in the contest, followed by Theobald’s extra point, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 34-14.

Senior running back Logan Cover’s 5 yard touchdown run followed by Maroon’s extra point, turned out to be the last points for the season for PND.

West first season head coach Nate Fincham said his team had to adjust to what they were seeing in PND’s play, “In the first half, we were scoring a little bit too fast and our defense was getting gassed. I changed things so that we would get a few yards at a time so that our defense wasn’t going back out after the offense had been on the field for two or three plays.”

“We went to the mentality of having first downs and that gave us some extended drives,” Fincham added. “That helped our defense.” The win was the second this season for the Wildcats over the Irish. The two sides opened the season Aug. 24 here, with West winning, 44-13.

“We had a slow start to it, but we came on toward the end,” was the assessment from PND head coach Pat Armstrong. “West had three or four broken plays where our guys weren’t in the right spot and West scored three touchdowns early. You can’t have that happen and win football games. “I’m proud of the boys and their effort. They had their backs against the wall, they were tired the last half of the season and they did a great job. I’m 100 percent happy with the boys’ effort and what they did.”