It was a year that high school sports in Illinois finally returned to normal.
After two years of sports being canceled, moved to different seasons and played under unprecedented conditions, athletes and coaches could finally focus on what they love to do. And they did so in spectacular fashion.
One of the greatest basketball seasons in Illinois history. A dominant playoff run by a softball pitcher capped off by a no-hitter for a state title. A storied volleyball program returns to the top. And an incredible turnaround season in football ends in championship fashion.
Here are the top sports stories of 2022 in the Suburban Life coverage area.
Glenbard West basketball wins state
Paxton Warden turned around in the final minutes, cast a glance at Glenbard West’s four other senior starters and waved his arms in celebration.
The journey was complete.
A goal whose seeds were planted seven years ago while the boys were in grade school came to fruition March 12. Glenbard West finished a magical season in the same manner it did all along – in dominant fashion.
Glenbard West, No. 1 all season, led wire-to-wire in beating Young, 56-34, to win the Class 4A state championship at State Farm Center in Champaign.
It is Glenbard West’s first state basketball title.
“People have been talking about it for a long time, but we’ve been dreaming about it even longer, since we were in elementary school and middle school,” Glenbard West senior and Princeton commit Caden Pierce said. “That’s when it started. To do it, with these seniors, it’s a dream come true.”
The margin was Glenbard West’s closest in seven playoff games, and the Hilltoppers’ 30th win by greater than 20 points. They went undefeated against Illinois opponents, their only loss on a buzzer-beater to Bronny James and Sierra Canyon at Wintrust Arena.
The win cemented Glenbard West (37-1), until this year known more for football, as one of Illinois basketball’s greatest champions.
Sage Mardjetko no-hitter pitches Lemont to state softball title
South Carolina recruit Sage Mardjetko capped off a spectacular season tossing a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts, as Lemont beat St. Ignatius 1-0 in the Class 3A final in June for the softball program’s first state championship.
Mardjetko retired the first 13 batters she faced and struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh to complete her 11th no-hitter of the season. Freshman Maya Hollendoner scored the game’s lone run on a mad dash around the bases in the third inning.
Mardjetko did the rest, as Lemont won the Class 3A state title after finishing second in 2021.
“This season had some ups and downs, but the kids definitely had their goal set after finishing second last year,” Lemont coach Chris Traina said.
Youth served as Nazareth baseball wins state
Nick Drtina sat in his room, relaxing, when he received the text from his coach that any kid dreams of.
“Can you go tomorrow?”
“I said absolutely. I want it,” said Drtina, Nazareth’s sophomore pitcher. “I was like ‘Oh my God, here we go, let’s get it done.’ I got a good night’s sleep, was prepared to come out and shove.”
Drtina and a precocious group of Roadrunners indeed got it done.
The Louisville recruit took a shutout into the sixth inning, despite baserunners in every inning. Nazareth broke through in a scoreless game with five runs in the fifth and went on to beat Glenwood 5-1 in the Class 3A final at Duly Health and Care Field for the Roadrunners’ first state championship.
Nazareth (34-7), starting five sophomores and a freshman Saturday, finished its season on a 17-game winning streak. Drtina (12-1), one of five Division I commits, allowed one run on three hits and five walks with two strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings – and broke a 25-year-old Nazareth record with his 12th win.
“Perfect time to do it,” Drtina said. “It’s indescribable, amazing. When you think about it we still have two more years of this. For some of us, three. Hopefully we can run the table again.”
St. Francis celebrates after their win in the IHSA Class 3A girls volleyball state championship game between St. Francis and Nazareth Academy Saturday November 12, 2022 at Redbird Arena in Normal. (Brian Hill/)
St. Francis volleyball back on top
Sprawled out on the court, Addy Horner moved a few inches to her left to hug teammate Emma Delaney.
A few seconds later, amid a pile of St. Francis players, Horner and Delaney slightly rose up only to stop themselves to celebrate with another hug.
Nov. 12 was a night to remember for the Spartans.
After a seven-year state title drought, St. Francis knocked off defending champion Nazareth with an inspiring 25-23, 25-23 victory in the Class 3A state championship match at Redbird Arena.
The Spartans (30-12) added another state title trophy to their illustrious program history, winning their 13th championship in their 21st state appearance. It marked the first state crown for seventh-year coach Lisa Ston.
A former assistant under legendary coach Peg Kopec, Ston sported an ear-to-ear smile in the postgame talking about her first state title as a head coach.
“This feeling is unreal and super exciting,” Ston said. “I really don’t have words to describe this feeling. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to win my first state championship. It’s very exciting.”
Nazareth, IC Catholic Prep and Benet all took second place at the state volleyball tournament.
— Bob Narang
IC Catholic Prep, Nazareth win state football titles
Zach Hayes’ interception with under two minutes left clinched Nazareth’s wild 45-44 win over Peoria in the Class 5A state championship game in November in Champaign.
Nazareth, which has only 13 seniors and starts a vast majority of underclassmen, became the first team in IHSA history to go from beginning the season 2-4 to state champion. The title is Nazareth’s fourth championship in program history and first since 2018.
Nazareth overcame a spectacular performance from Peoria running back Malachi Washington, who ran for 273 yards and six touchdowns on 47 carries. Washington’s sixth TD, with 5:15 left, pulled Peoria within 45-44, but Nazareth sophomore Gabe Kaminski stopped Washington’s conversion run for the lead.
“This team was incredibly resilient,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. The most resilient team I’ve ever had.”
Nazareth was one of two area teams to win state football titles in Champaign.
After trailing 10-0, IC Catholic went on to score 48 straight points and topped Williamsville 48-17 in the Class 3A state championship. It was the Knights’ sixth state title in program history, its fourth since 2016.
Wide receiver KJ Parker scored on a 65-yard pass from quarterback Dennis Mandala for IC Catholic’s first points. Running back Denzell Gibson then broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run with 1:34 left in the second quarter and it was all Knights from there.
Gibson ran for 138 yards and IC Catholic quarterback Dennis Mandala tied the 3A title game record with four touchdown passes.
“Our kids have been that way all year where their resilience just kind of takes over,” Knights coach Bill Krefft said. “What they’re talking about up here is real: their want to win for each other. I’d love to say we have a great halftime adjustment system. Everyone thinks we do. It’s really just our kids.”
It was quite a football season in Elmhurst. Across town, York recorded the first perfect regular season in the 102-year history of the program, and reached the Class 8A semifinals.
Source: The Daily Chronicle
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