It was a year like no other for high school sports in Illinois.
It started with no sports at all. Then a full school year’s worth of sports was jammed into a less than five-month period.
Football was played in the spring. And then returned in the fall. Players had to grow accustomed to competing with masks, and for a time period without fans. Sports returned to semi-normalcy this school year, but we have been reminded in recent weeks that COVID-19 is not done affecting sports as we know them.
Through it all, kids, coaches and parents persevered. And great things were accomplished, even through unprecedented adversity. Here are the top sports stories of 2021 in the Record Newspapers coverage area.
Yorkville’s softball diamonds
Madi Reeves had to wait a year to make her high school debut because of the pandemic – but it was a smashing success for the Yorkville sophomore pitcher.
Led by Reeves, the softball Foxes went 24-5 and won the first sectional championship in program history. Reeves struck out 13 and took a perfect game into the seventh inning of the sectional final. Yorkville won its first 12 games, and went on to win the Southwest Prairie West title in its first softball season in the league behind its precocious pitching talent. The fireballing Reeves went 20-4 with a 0.968 ERA and 341 strikeouts in 166 1/3 innings.
“We knew we had something special,” Yorkville coach Jory Regnier said of Reeves. “She’s a rare find.”
Oswego East soccer programs shine
It was a historic season for both Oswego East soccer programs.
In the spring, the school’s girls soccer team, with just five seniors and a group bursting with young talent, enjoyed an unbeaten regular season, won the Southwest Prairie Conference championship, and outscored opponents 85-10. One of the seniors, Ball State recruit Alex McPhee, the conference MVP who had seven goals and 13 assists, set an emotional tone for a special season. McPhee was part of losing seasons in 2018 and 2019, and missed her junior year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She had been through the wringer. That motivated her to go out with a bang,” Wolves coach Juan Leal said. “She told the girls before the season, ‘I missed my junior year, you have no idea what high school soccer means to me.’ She teared up and was quite sentimental with the girls. She really helped the girls kind of become one, was able to be that anchor.”
The Wolves continued their stellar play on the soccer field in the fall.
A huge senior class led by four-year varsity player Kellen Klosterman went 17-5-1, and beat Metea Valley 5-1 for the first regional championship in program history.
“I’m happy for them. I’ve had to coach 15 years [to get one regional title]. We just never finished it before,” Wolves coach Steve Szymanski said. “It’s awesome to see them finish and finishing it like this is pretty cool.”
Oswego baseball wins conference
Jeffrey Behrends was born the same year as the last time Oswego won a conference baseball title.
Fittingly, his left arm ended that wait.
In a league not short on high-end pitching, nobody was better in the spring than Behrends, a senior lefty. He did not allow a single run in conference games, or lose a game.
Behrends was at his best in his last regular-season start, striking out seven in a complete-game six-hitter, winning a scintillating 1-0 pitcher’s duel with Minooka freshman Ryan Anderson in a matchup of division leaders. Joel Johnson’s two-out triple in the sixth that scored Nathan Bradford was the difference as Oswego won its eighth straight game and clinched at least a share of the Southwest Prairie West title.
It is Oswego’s first conference championship since 2003.
“This group of guys is special,” said Behrends, who was mobbed on the mound after his 94th pitch delivered the game-ending seventh strikeout with the tying run on second base. “We knew all four years that we would have a chance to do something great with this program. It all came to this. We’ve been together for a while. To celebrate with them meant a great deal.”
State track titles
Sandwich senior Jayden Green in June captured the state championship in the triple jump with a personal-best leap of 14.57 meters on his final attempt.
Led by Green, the Indians set a new standard with a program-best, sixth-place finish in the team standings with 34.5 points. Before attempting the triple jump, Green secured second-place in the long jump with a personal-best leap of 6.93 meters and notched a seventh-place medal in the high jump (1.90 meters). Green’s teammate Sandwich Michael Marrs won third-place medals in the 100 (10.95 seconds) and 200 (22.18 seconds).
Also in Charleston, Yorkville’s Kyle Clabough won the Class 3A state championship in the shot put with a toss of 18.76 meters. In doing so he came only Yorkville’s second state champion.
Jaden Schutt commits to Duke
Yorkville Christian senior guard Jaden Schutt, the most heavily-recruited basketball player in Kendall County history and one of the state’s top seniors, made his college decision in August.
Schutt saw his recruitment take off in 2020, picking up some 20 scholarship offers. Five-time national champion Duke offered Schutt in July, and he made his commitment to the Blue Devils on Aug. 31 after making an official visit to the Durham, N.C. campus.
“It’s definitely been a goal of mine to play for them since I was growing up,” Schutt said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Yorkville golfer Mia Natividad second at state
Yorkville junior Mia Natividad, the leader after the first round at the Class 2A state golf tournament, shot a two-day 1-over par score of 145 to finish in a tie with Barrington’s Sophia Sulkar for second place in the state.
Natividad became the first golfer in Yorkville school history to place at the state meet. It was the first state appearance for Natividad, who earlier in the fall won her third straight Southwest Prairie Conference championship.
“My brain can’t comprehend it,” Natividad said. “I’m super excited. I didn’t really expect it but I’m really super proud of myself to play like that and play so well against the best golfers in the state.”
Yorkville volleyball wins conference, regional titles
After a modestly-successful 7-7 spring season, Yorkville volleyball was simply spectacular in the fall.
The Foxes, led by seniors Ella Bourque and Saige Avery, won 31 matches, and the program’s first conference championship since 2015. Then they used a huge 18-2 rally to finish their regional final match with Naperville North to win the program’s first regional title since 2007.
“I’m almost speechless,” Yorkville coach Lisa Molek said. “I’m so proud of my girls because they put so much into this. They’re the best group of kids I’ve ever coached, on and off the court, and I can’t be more proud of them.”
Oswego boys cross country reaches state for first time since 1994
Oswego’s boys cross country team, after winning conference and regional championships, placed fourth at a loaded Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional with seven of the state’s top nine teams. In doing so, the Panthers punched a ticket to state as a team for the first time since 1994.
Oswego was one of two local teams to end a long state drought. Sandwich’s boys team reached state for the first time in 17 years.
“It is insane to think about,” said Oswego senior Benjamin Huey, who was eighth individually at sectionals. “So many times Oswego has had maybe one or two guys go to state. This culture that we have, it makes it special for everybody all around.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle