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 | October 14, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Normal Community West High School found itself in a tight defensive battle for the first half of their Big 12 Conference game against Peoria Richwoods at Wildcat Stadium on Friday, Oct. 13. The game included a scoreless second quarter for both sides.

But West head coach Darren Hess’ troops pulled forward in the second half – featuring three 3rd quarter touchdowns – for a 35-21 win in front of 450 fans. West’s win, coupled with Danville losing at Normal Community High School, 42-14, gave the Wildcats sole possession of second place in Big 12 Conference standings. Illinois High School Association will announce playoff pairings on Oct. 21.

Peoria Richwoods (4-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12) received the opening kickoff and scored three plays later on a 61 yard pass from senior quarterback Keenan Streitmatter to senior wide receiver Sharod Danage just 64 seconds into the contest, putting the Knights up, 7-0, after senior kicker Alex Nieves’ extra point.

Normal West (6-1, 5-1 Big 12) responded during the ensuing drive with a 3 yard scoring run from junior running back Adriel Fussell at 8:06 in the first quarter, followed by junior kicker Eddie Miller’s extra point, tying the score at 7-7.

Richwoods responded by concluding their ensuing possession with a 34 yard touchdown pass from Streitmatter again to Danage followed by Nieves’ extra point, with 6:30 left in the quarter. That put Richwoods up, 14-7, going into the half, thanks to a defensive second quarter performance from both sides.

Normal West FootballNormal West won the pregame coin flip and deferred receiving the ball until the opening of the second half. They stuck quickly when they got the ball, scoring three plays later as wide receiver C. J. Davis dashed 36 yards for the Wildcats’ tying touchdown at 10:52 in the quarter, followed by Miller’s extra point, knotting the score at 14-all.

Richwoods’ next possession ended in a turnover on downs giving West the ball at the Wildcats’ 39. Four plays later, Davis dodged defenders for a 36 yard touchdown, followed by Miller’s next extra point pushing West in front, 21-14 at the third quarter’s 7:30 mark.

The Knights’ ensuing possession ended in a punt which left West to start at their own 11 yard line. Eight plays later, junior quarterback C. J. Lewis connected with sophomore tight end Cole Hernandez on a 15 yard touchdown pass, followed by Miller’s next extra point. That increased West’s lead, 28-14, with 5:42 left until the start of the fourth quarter.

Peoria Richwoods football helmetRichwoods’ second possession of the fourth quarter started following a West punt, at the Knights’ 9 yard line but ended in an interception touchdown for West defensive back Armani Forrest, which pushed West up, 35-14, following Miller’s extra point, with 5:42 left in the contest.

Richwoods responded quickly as senior return man A. J. Johnson took the ensuing kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown followed by Nieves’ last extra point on the night.

“This game was about energy, it was about matching Richwoods’ intensity, and I didn’t think we did that very well in the first half,” Hess said. He credited Richwoods’ Streitmatter-to-Danage combo “with giving the Knights momentum and it was just a matter of containing them.”

“We didn’t finish our drives off,” lamented Richwoods head coach Roland Brown. “When you don’t finish drives against a team like West that has speed and talent like they do, you’ll get worn down a little bit.”

By Steve Robinson | October 7, 2017 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – It might not have been noticed until after the final gun, but Normal Community High School sped through its homecoming game against Champaign Centennial High School Friday at Ironmen Field. From the opening kickoff and including a 20-minute halftime, the entire contest lasted just an hour and 58 minutes, all of it dominated by the home team en route to a 47-0 Big 12 Conference victory.

Roughly 1,000 fans watched as each team had two possessions before NCHS (7-0, 5-0 Big 12) struck first on a 16 yard scoring run by senior running back Varshaun Dixon at 7:43 in the first quarter. But junior kicker Camron Hinman missed the extra point, leaving the Ironmen with a 6-0 start.

NCHS advanced its lead, 13-0, on a 38 yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Daylen Boddie to senior wide receiver Jalen Coleman at 3:34 in that same quarter, followed by Hinman’s first successful extra point on the night.

After the Chargers’ next possession ended in a punt, Boddie scored two plays later on a 36 yard run, followed by Hinman’s next extra point, capping a two play, 47 yard drive, putting NCHS up, 20-0, going into the second quarter.

A fumble recovery by senior defensive back Trey Heffner ended the next possession for Champaign Centennial (2-5 overall, 2-4 Big 12), and two plays later, Dixon had his second touchdown of the night, from 12 yards out, followed by Hinman’s next extra point, putting the Ironmen up, 27-0 at 11:23 in the second quarter.

The Chargers’ next possession ended in a punt, giving the Ironmen the ball on the visitors’ 40 yard line. Two plays later, Boddie dashed into the end zone for his team’s next score followed by Hinman’s extra point, giving NCHS a 34-0 lead with 7:34 until halftime.

NCHS FootballThe Chargers punted to end their next possession leading to NCHS starting its next drive at mid-field One play later, senior running back Nick Hesse ran for a 50 yard score followed by another Hinman extra point, putting NCHS up, 41-0 at the 5:50 mark. With the beginning of the second half, game officials employed Illinois High School Association’s “Mercy Rule” — as a result of the 40-point difference in the game score, game officials used a continuously running clock, stopping it only for team timeouts or injury timeouts.

NCHS opted to defer receiving the ball until the second half after winning the pregame coin flip, starting the second half quickly on a 31 yard touchdown run by junior running back Connor Lay to lead to the final score following Hinman’s missed extra point. Lay’s score topped a six play, 65 yard drive.

“Really, these guys did a tremendous job,” NCHS head coach Wes Temples said. “I thought they came out and handled themselves very well.” He added the scoring gave bench players a chance to see action – something that Temples said doesn’t happen very often. “We had our backups in before halftime, and that gave them a great opportunity.”

“We didn’t execute well,” said Champaign Centennial head coach Lekevie Johnson. “We had turnovers that didn’t help us. We didn’t tackle well. We thought we had some plays in the backfield. So, when you play this kind of team, that happens. We played well early but you have to play well for four quarters.”

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.