High School Sports: Games Over — College beckons, sports don’t for these area stars
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org January 27, 2013 10:24PM
Stagg's Alexa Janus returns a shot against Homewood-Flossmoor during a volleyball game on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 in Flossmoor, Il. | John Smierciak~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:37AM
Many of the Southland’s most successful senior high school athletes will be continuing their careers this fall with a college scholarship.
But not all.
At least two, Zack Biel of Sandburg and Alexa Janus of Stagg, will be leaving their uniforms — and their legacies — behind.
Biel, who has played soccer since first grade, concluded his career at Sandburg this fall by compiling 25 goals and 14 assists as a midfielder for an Eagles team that went to state and finished in third place in Class 3A.
For his efforts, he was awarded all-state honors, and chosen as the 2012 Chicago Fire/SouthtownStar Player of the Year.
All the while, he knew it was his last run, and he made the most of it.
“It was definitely a season I’m not going to forget,” Biel said. “Knowing that my career was going to end whenever we lost, I played my hardest every time I went on the field, even at practice.”
Biel said his decision not to play in college was made during the summer, but the path getting there was a long one.
“I pretty much have been playing soccer my whole life,” he said. “In high school, it’s a long season. You go straight from high school to club soccer. I was getting burned out, going to college soccer camps.
“I was talking to a few Division III schools in the Illinois area, but I wasn’t really marketing myself to other colleges.”
His final camp of the summer was his biggest — at Northern Illinois University.
“It was three days. There were a lot of kids there,” he said. “I got a good look at what it would be like for a student/athlete there, and talking to the coaches about how hectic it would be for soccer/student athletes, I thought it might be a little too much to handle.
“My sister (former Sandburg standout Morgan Biel) plays softball at Eastern (Illinois) and even though she’s good about managing her time, she’s always stressed out about homework. I really don’t want to do that. I want to concentrate on school.”
Biel, who hasn’t chosen a career path, is 99 percent sure he’ll be attending Illinois State University.
“They have a lot of majors and I want to keep my options up,” he said. “And it’s a relatively cheap school, so it seems like a good fit.”
No games? Now what?
Matt O’Neill, a counselor and a baseball coach at Stagg High School, says while it’s rare that a decorated athlete such as Biel would not dream of playing his or her chosen sport in college, it’s a fairly common occurrence among talented players who aren’t in line for Division I or II looks — and scholarship money.
“Kids are faced with the decision of, ‘Do I want to go to a smaller school and play sports,’ or go to a Big Ten environment with big sports where they can attend events,” he said. “Or what happens a lot is we’ll have a kid who wants to go into engineering, and the smaller schools where he would play don’t have it.
“We had a couple of baseball players from a conference winning team three years ago that could have gone on to play in junior college, possibly Division III. The lowest GPA was a 4.5,” he said. “They thought about it for a second, but because of their high-standing (academically) they ended up going to Iowa, the University of Illinois and Missouri.”
According to O’Neill, the biggest adjustment for devoted athletes who decide not to play in college is to handle the down time.
“A lot of the kids who come back and tell me what they’re doing will say that they became involved in athletics on the intramural level,” O’Neill said. “They love it, because they still get to compete, but it’s not at the every day grind that they would have had playing at Division III.”10 varsity seasons enough
Alexa Janus says she was a little surprised when her guidance counselor asked while discussing college applications if she was interested in playing sports.
“I kind of laughed to myself, like, ‘Me? Play sports in college? It was never really a realistic thought in my mind. I never thought I was good enough to play on the college level.”
She has been plenty good enough to help Stagg’s girls athletics excel.
Janus, a three-sport athlete, played three years of varsity volleyball, is completing her third year of varsity basketball, and will be entering her fourth year of varsity soccer.
In volleyball, as a starting senior setter, she helped lead the Chargers to a conference title, a sectional final, and 32 victories — the third-most in the program’s history.
In basketball, she’s a starting guard for a Chargers team that has won 15 games and is in the thick of the chase for the SouthWest Suburban Red title.
A defender on the soccer team, she helped lead the Chargers to a Class 3A regional title in 2012.
Her height (5-foot-4) hasn’t drawn the attention of college scouts, but ...
“There is a lot more to her than her size,” Chargers girls basketball coach Bill Turner said. “She’s tenacious, probably one of the fiercest I’ve ever been around and coached. I think she could play in college in any sport she wanted to.”
But 10 seasons of varsity sports, Janus says, will be enough. And down time won’t be a problem when she’s a student at either Madison University or the University of Missouri.
“I feel like, from doing all of it my whole life, that I want to try some new things,” she said. “I want to do something in health care, which would take a lot of time (studying). And maybe I’d get involved in new activities, maybe new (intramural) sports.
“They (coaches and counselors) tell me to keep my mind open, that something might happen my senior year in soccer. I would think about it, but I think I’d rather just enjoy college and the experience.”