Updated: January 25, 2013 6:12AM
With four champions and nine finalists, Lemont dominated the last South Suburban Conference Tournament. This season, the race appears wide open.
“Richards looked tough; we saw them early,” Bremen coach Mike Collins said. “T.F. South looks tough, too. It all depends on who’s at what weight classes.”
T.F. South struck first, nipping Richards on Dec. 15 at the Rich East Rocket Invitational with a fourth-place finish, one better than Richards, which took fifth in the 15-team field.
Richards coach Eric Schultz echoed some of Collins’ assessment of the conference.
“I’d like to think we’re one of the top teams in the conference,” Schultz said. “Oak Forest is really good. T.F. South is up there. I’d like to think we’re up there with them.”
“Oak Forest looks tough. They have a really solid team,” Collins added. “Tinley Park, too. They have a lot of their younger guys back.”
Chris Giatras (Lemont) and Joe Young (T.F. South) appear destined to meet down the line at 182 pounds, while Alec Brown (Oak Forest) and Derek Schultz (Tinley Park), returning state qualifiers and All-Area defensive linemen, look like the cream at 220.
When Oak Lawn hosts a sectional at Palos Lanes next month, the Spartans will be looking to earn their ninth trip to state in 11 seasons.
“Our team has made conference and sectional titles their main team goals as well as another trip to the state finals,” Oak Lawn coach Kevin McKeown said. “One major goal I set for all my bowlers are clean games, no open frames. It will come down to who can pick up spares this season.”
The Spartans have had success so far, winning the Oak Lawn Invitational and starting 6-0 in duals.
Seniors Ryan Campin and Ken VandeWerken are experienced leaders — Campin is a four-year varsity starter and VandeWerken is in his third season as a varsity performer.
Sophomore Ryan Kirby has been a strong addition.
“(Kirby) is our lefty and he had a great offseason,” McKeown said.
Seniors Kyle Rodda and Cody Hanson add to the Spartans’ veteran presence.
In the offseason, the Spartans raised $12,000 to go on a team retreat to St. Louis as well as for new equipment and a community project with the Ronald McDonald House of Oak Lawn.
The state swimming meet is two months away, but most of the top talent in the south suburbs will compete Thursday at the Lincoln-Way North Swimming and Diving Invitational.
Four of the top five teams from the two south suburban sectionals last season will be in the meet — Sandburg, Lincoln-Way North, Stagg and Andrew.
Sandburg is coming off a strong second-place finish Dec. 15 at the Peoria Richwoods Invitational, where the Eagles finished ahead of Fenwick after an earlier loss to the Friars.
Returning sectional champions at the meet include Lincoln-Way North’s Jake Pearson (200- and 500-yard freestyles) and Andrew’s Rick Osty (50 freestyle and 100 butterfly). Stagg’s Harlan Long was a sectional runner-up in the breaststroke.
Swimming enthusiasts also should put Friday’s Lincoln-Way Central Relay Invitational on their schedules.
Central was second to Riverside-Brookfield in the eight-team meet last season. A swimmer to watch will be Central sophomore Cody Moris, a state qualifier last season in the 100 backstroke. Moris, Ryan Sterling, Mike Ramos and Conor McGowan have been strong in the 200 medley relay.
Lincoln-Way East, with breaststroke standout Andy Gramont, will be in the Waubonsie Valley Invitational on Thursday.
Area teams in recent weeks began qualifying for the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association state meet.
The ICCA and Illinois High School Association state meets are the two major meets. The IHSA holds its postseason sectionals in January. The ICCA hosted several qualifiers this month.
On Dec. 16, Stagg won its first ICCA qualifier title with a 90.89 in the large-school division at Shepard. First-year coach Bridget Guzior, a former Sandburg cheerleader, said the school has never gone to state in the IHSA meet and is hoping to change that this season after the impressive ICCA showing.
Andrew and Chicago Christian qualified for the ICCA state meet after a Dec. 15 qualifier in Pontiac — Andrew moving on in the large-school division and Chicago Christian in the small-school division.
Earlier in the month, Marian Catholic and Evergreen Park qualified in the medium division at a meet in Bolingbrook.
The ICCA state meet will be held Feb. 9-10 at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center in Springfield.
There will be a Mid-State Challenge on Jan. 6 at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington as well as a state qualifier at Andrew on Jan. 12.