Updated: May 23, 2013 6:10AM
Here’s a midseason look at at some of the top candidates for SouthtownStar Player of the Year (in alphabetical order):
Nick Costa, Richards: Last season, the senior outside hitter led Richards to its first conference title in over two decades. The Bulldogs look poised to repeat behind Costa’s wicked jump-serve and precision swing.
John Hodul, Sandburg: A 6-foot-10 middle hitter committed to Lewis, Hodul is one of the most intimidating blockers in the area. When he’s on, the senior can single-handedly change the energy of a game.
Austin Royer, Lincoln-Way East: The junior setter is arguably the top distributor in the state. His poise, ability to block and talent for attacking on two-hits have the Griffins sitting pretty with a 20-1 record.
Jake Walenga, Lincoln-Way North: A freak athlete, the 6-foot-1 outside hitter is one of the most exciting players in the area. He can power it past you, maneuver it around you and everything in between.
Mitch Weiler, Brother Rice: There’s not much the 6-foot-4 outside hitter can’t do. Weiler, a junior, has power, accuracy and plays defense like a libero.
Bremen cracked the top 15 at the Class 2A state meet last year when Dion Starnes took second in the 110-meter hurdles and anchored the second-place 400 relay in his final meet.
“That’s a huge loss because he was awesome,’’ coach Matt Verble said. “We’re a little thin. It seems like most teams are thin this year.’’
Bremen won the 800 relay Saturday in the Terry Englund Relays at Eisenhower with sophomore Carlos Rivera joining seniors Torian Parks, Corey Dalton and Demetrius Shelton (1 minute, 31.47 seconds).
“Carlos has stepped it up,’’ Verble said. “We didn’t expect to have a sophomore in one of the relays. Hopefully he can hang on to that spot.
“Corey has been the biggest surprise, though. He’s made the biggest leaps from last year.’’
Parks (10.60) and Shelton (10.61) were second and third, respectively, Saturday in the 100. Verble said other relay contributors have been Cortez Conwell and Nick Conner.
“I feel we’re a little behind because of the weather, but the kids are working hard and making the right steps,’’ Verble said.
Next is the District 228 Quad Meet on Tuesday at Bremen with Hillcrest, Tinley Park and Oak Forest.
Here’s a quick look at upcoming conference tournaments:
South Suburban: T.F. South, which ended its dual match season at 19-0, is the prohibitive favorite in the South Suburban Conference and a top contender for the state crown. South’s Jessica Gomez is undefeated and the runaway favorite to take home the first singles title. The SSC also features a slew of premier doubles teams, with three returning top-10 pairs from last season’s state meet: Reavis’ Marissa Mangala and Dena Zayed (fourth), South’s Shannon Pollard and Jenna Pasko (third) and Cassie Breshock and Jhennie Corpuz (ninth).
SouthWest Suburban: Played at Joliet Central on Wednesday (doubles) and Thursday (singles), Lockport and Sandburg appear poised for strong showings. Eagles coach Kim Huelsman said Sandburg’s “number one and two doubles are very strong this year.” Sandburg’s No. 1 team of Kathleen Ensalaco and Nicole Davids could potentially meet Lincoln-Way Central’s tandem of Catrina Cimaroli and Jana Mudrock in the finals. The Eagles second team consists of Julie Meza and Jenna Ciaccio, who have taken reps at first doubles throughout the season. Huelsman noted Homewood-Flossmoor’s Cory Galen, Lockport’s Sara Napoli and Andrew’s Shannon Normoyle should compete for the No. 1 singles crown.
Girls water polo
For the second time this season, Lincoln-Way Central topped Lincoln-Way North in a thriller, rallying for a 9-7 win Friday.
Knights star Danijela Jackovich chalked up her team’s late success to hard work in practice.
“We out-condition teams,” she said. “We’re at our best at the end of games. Other teams are tired.”
The Knights and Phoenix could meet again. They are the top two seeds in the Lincoln-Way North Sectional.
“That’s the way it should be,” Jackovich said. “We should see them in the sectional championship and it’d be another great game.”
Bradley, Marian Catholic and Lincoln-Way East round out the top five seeds in the sectional at North, which begins May 8.
The survivor of that sectional will take on the winner of the Glenbrook North Sectional in the state quarterfinals. If the seeds hold true, that’ll be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal between Lincoln-Way Central and New Trier, which the Trevians won 9-6.
Speaking of rematches, Mother McAuley could also see a familiar foe at state, as the Mighty Macs would meet Fenwick in a quarterfinal if both teams advance.
The Mighty Macs will have to survive the Stagg Sectional, where Sandburg, Bremen and Andrew are challengers.