2011 in Review: The top local sports stories of the year
By Tim O’Brien For Sun-Times Media January 1, 2012 7:32PM
Saint Xavier players lift the NAIA national championship college football trophy after defeating Carroll College, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011, in Rome, Ga. Saint Xavier won 24-20. | AP photo
Top 10 SouthtownStar Sports Stories of 2011
1. St. Xavier wins NAIA title (95)
2. Crete-Monee basketball (75)
3. Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti (74)
4. Oak Forest’s Tim Barry (54)
T5. Lukas Verzbicas (51)
T5. Crete-Monee’s Carlos Posada (51)
7. Sandburg boys volleyball (34)
8. Lockport’s Kyle Anderson (28)
9. Morgan Park Academy’s Jerricka Boone (20)
10. Windy City Thunderbolts Dylan Axelrod (18)
Others receiving votes ...
11. Lemont’s Christian Vande Velde is team captain for 2011 Tour de France winning team, Garmin-Cervelo. (13)
12. Lincoln-Way co-op boys gymnastics wins program’s first team state title. (12)
13. Sandburg badminton wins state title. (9)
14. Hillcrest girls basketball makes 3A title game, loses second straight year. (6)
15. T.F. South alum and New York Yankee Curtis Granderson finishes fourth in American League M.V.P. voting. (5)
16. Marist, Marian Catholic, Chicago Christian girls volleyball all make state, no team title. (4)
17. Providence, Mount Carmel, Oak Forest boys baseball all make state, no team title. (1)
Updated: February 3, 2012 8:03AM
State champions, state records and scandal, the Southland had it all in 2011.
No baseball, softball, football, girls volleyball, boys or girls basketball teams won a state title, but the area certainly had success in the IHSA postseason with teams and individual athletes winning titles.
A handful of records were shattered both by players and coaches, but the cloud of a scandal at a local school hung over the area for much of the calendar year.
When all was said and done, though, there was no doubt about the top local sports story of 2011 was — at least as far as the voters from our editorial staff were concerned.
1. St. Xavier wins NAIA title
A program known for its offensive prowess turned to its defense in winning the school’s first ever NAIA National Championship. Punching the Cougars’ ticket to the national title game, Clayton Fejedelem broke up a pass in the end zone to take down previously unbeaten Marian in the semifinals.
In the football program’s first-ever appearance in the national title game, the defense held on late, forcing defending national champ Carroll into four straight incompletions in the end zone in the waning moments. Mark Williams knocked down the fourth down pass to preserve the lead in a 24-20 win.
“This is what we’ve been working for since we came to St. Xavier,” linebacker Dave Marciano said. “It’s not only for
St. Xavier, it’s for Mount Greenwood and Chicago itself.”
2. Crete-Monee’s turbulent year
Led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Jamee Crockett (now at DePaul) and Michael Orris, Crete-Monee won its first-ever sectional title before finally losing to Normal Community in the supersectionals.
In the months following the momentum-building season, the success came to an abrupt halt as first-year coach Matt Ryndak was charged with and ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, receiving four years’ probation.
The fallout continued as Orris decommitted from Creighton University, citing Ryndak’s undue influence over the recruiting process. Orris then committed to Illinois.
Moving on from the Ryndak situation, Crete-Monee hired former coach and Hillcrest legend Tom Cappel.
3. Mount Carmel’s Frank Lenti passes Korhonen
Since becoming head coach at Mount Carmel in 1984, Frank Lenti has racked up one impressive accomplishment after another, winning nine state titles and four Prep Bowl championships.
With the Caravan’s convincing 62-8 win Sept. 17 at St. Joseph, Lenti became the winningest football coach in Illinois history, his 307 victories passing Gary Korhonen for No. 1 all-time.
“It’s emotional,” Lenti said. “It’s been a long ride, 28 years of ups and downs along the way. Fortunately a lot more ups than downs. It’s hard to put in perspective because you’re in the middle of it. Nine state championships — what does that mean? I don’t know. It’s kind of a blur.”
4. Oak Forest’s Barry bashes HR record
Entering his senior season needing nine home runs and 24 RBI to set the all-time Illinois marks in both categories, Oak Forest’s Tim Barry slowly chipped away at the existing records last spring.
With a two-run bomb in an 11-5 victory May 6 over Bremen, the senior left fielder took down both records with one swing.
Barry, now at Wabash Valley College, finished his four-year varsity career with 53 home runs and 203 RBI. The previous records were 49 home runs set by Odin’s Curtis Parrish (2000 to ’03) and 193 RBI set by Greenville’s Stefan Neece (2002 to ’05).
5. Verzbicas wins World Triathlon
Having graduated after his third year of high school and two Class 3A individual state titles in cross country at Sandburg, Lukas Verzbicas put his personal stamp on the running world on an international level.
The 18-year-old won the World Junior Triathlon in Beijing on Sept. 11, finishing in 56 minutes and 21 seconds, 33 seconds ahead of Germany’s Justus Meschlag.
In early November, Verzbicas left the University of Oregon track and field team in order to train full time for triathlons.
6. Crete-Monee’s Carlos Posada sets state record
In a 10-0 win Oct. 11 over Rich Central, Crete-Monee’s Carlos Posada stamped his name in the IHSA record and broke the 18-year-old state scoring mark of Brother Rice’s Billy Savarino. Posada scored six goals, the third of which bumped him past Savarino’s old career mark of 159 goals. In his four-year high school career, Posada finished with 177 goals and 72 assists, the latter good for sixth-best in Illinois prep history. He capped his senior season with 68 goals.
“Beating the record will probably be one of the best memories of my life,” Posada said. “It’s special and hopefully I can have it for a lot of years like Billy Savarino did, and when I get older I can look back and it will be really special for me.”
7. Sandburg boys volleyball win state
After losing to rival Providence at the Brother Rice Smack Attack in April, Sandburg rattled off 19 straight wins on its way to the program’s fourth state title.
In the process, the Eagles got through a sectional semis jinx where the team had lost the previous three seasons, gaining some revenge against Providence and then taking down defending champ Marist in the sectional final. Making the team’s first appearance at state since 2005, Sandburg beat New Trier, Glenbard West and Naperville North in dominant fashion.
“(The team) has been working hard, and they look up at championship banners every day,” Sandburg coach Sean Airola said. “Now they’ll have their own, and that’s what it is all about. We’re state champs.”
8. Lockport’s Anderson goes back to back
Kyle Anderson won the individual boys bowling state title as a junior. As a senior, after leading for much of the two-day state meet, he found himself trailing late. The Lockport student rolled a 257 in the 12th and final game to claim first place, finishing with a 2,817 pinfall total, 44 pins ahead of second-place finisher Mike Schmitt, of Lake Zurich.
Anderson became the first two-time champion in the nine-year history of the IHSA boys state series.
“This means a lot,” Anderson said. “I’m happy to represent my team and school and the whole community.”
9. MPA’s Boone wins state after wrist injury
Having won the state championship as a freshman, Morgan Park Academy’s Jerricka Boone had to wait a year to defend her title. A wrist injury prevented her from playing as a sophomore.
Back on the court in the fall, the junior earned the No. 2 seed at the state tournament and advanced all the way to the championship match. Down a set to Lyons’ Alex Chatt, Boone stormed back and won, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
“(The second title) was sweeter because I did not think I would make it back,” Boone said.
10. Windy City ThunderBolt Axelrod makes the big leagues
A member of the 2009 Windy City ThunderBolts pitching staff in the bullpen, Dylan Axelrod signed with the White Sox on Aug. 2 of that year. He made the slow climb through the minor leagues, finally making it to Triple-A Charlotte.
Called up to the White Sox on Sept. 5, Axelrod made his major league debut two days later, pitching two innings of scoreless relief. On Sept. 14, he got his first start, going six innings, striking out eight, allowing six hits and two runs in a game the Sox bullpen blew in the ninth inning. Axelrod became the first ThunderBolts player to reach the majors.
Axelrod got his first major league win Sept. 26, 4-3 over the Toronto Blue Jays.