Newcomer of the year is a razor-thin close category with many deserving recipients in a challenging season for emerging athletes. This segment is presented by LifeStance Health.
This year’s nominees for Newcomer of the Year is a wider range than years past. We’ve got freshman, transfer students, and athletes who had to wait a year to make their debut because the COVID cancellations of 2020. Let’s take a look at the six athletes we saw for the first time this season, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Our first nominee was also one of the first athletes we saw at the start of Season 14. Waubonsie Valley freshman Salil Khanduja announced his presence in the first event of they year, shooting a team best 82 at the Vern McGonagle Memorial Tournament. The Warriors have been one of the areas strongest teams in recent years, qualifying for state as a team in 2018. So it’s no small feat for a freshman to come in right away and play in the first pairing for the green and gold. Khanduja tied for third in the DVC Championship meet before winning the Naperville Central regional by four strokes with a brilliant round of 69. After tying for 14th at the season ending sectional, Waubonsie Valley golf must be thrilled to have three more years with this linkster in the program.
Our next nominee has the rare distinction of being a three-sport athlete, who did not play his first game until February! Neuqua Valley sophomore Mark Mennecke first appeared for the Wildcat basketball team, providing a spark to the lineup as a guard. After earning honorable mention All-Area honors, the lefty won the starting quarterback job before NV’s spring football season. Despite playing just four games because of COVID, Mennecke helped lead his team to victory in every game. With his arm or his legs, the first year starter continued the dual threat ability that makes the Wildcat offense so dangerous. Right after the football season wrapped up, Mennecke went right back to work, trading football cleats for the baseball ones. A pitcher and an outfielder, Mennecke helped Neuqua baseball upset number one seed Naperville Central to win the regional championship. Three different programs, all of them thrilled to have two more seasons of this lefty competitor.
Neuqua Valley boys tennis had a very successful 2021 season, thanks in large part from the strength of the upperclassmen player number one and two doubles and two singles. But at number one singles, it was freshman Johnny Mou who stepped up in a major way throughout the season. The Wildcats went undefeated in DVC play during the regular season and won the DVC tournament to end the season. Mou outlasted Vincent Yin from Naperville Central to win the singles conference championship in three sets. The next week, the young Wildcat not only qualified for state, he won the biggest match of his young career, defeating Yin onca again to win the singles sectional bracket, while clinching the team sectional championship for his team. After picking up a pair of wins at the state meet, Mou showed that he has what it takes to be a presence at the state tournament for years to come.
Our next nominee had to wait a year before he could make his debut for the Naperville Central baseball program. Sophomore Colin Barczi won the starting catcher position for the Redhawks and never looked back. Handling the pitching staff behind the plate is challenging enough for a first year player, so it takes a special athlete to thrive with the bat as well. Barczi hit .455 with a .945 slugging percentage. He hit six home runs and drove in 24 runs for the DVC regular season and tournament champions. Hitting, defense and leadership from the young Redhawk played a huge part in Naperville Central earning the number one seed in the sectional. By winning the DVC Player of the Year award, the trajectory for Colin Barczi is sky high with the red and white.
The first two times we saw Benet Academy freshman Shannon Earley play lacrosse, she scored eight and ten goals in back to back games. Talk about making a name for yourself right from the start. Whether she was wearing number 5 of number 22, the Redwing midfielder was racking up points early and often. With the season that Benet senior Karly Keating just wrapped up, it’s impressive that anyone was able to keep up with the goal scoring numbers of the senior captain, let alone a freshman. Earley tallied over 110 goals on the season to go with over 40 assists. Her emergence helped the Redwings to their best season in school history. The team won 19 games, shared the conference championship and brought home the program’s first state trophy after finishing 4th. Despite the graduation of Keating and several other key team members, Shannon Earley is a big reason why Benet girls lacrosse will be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming seasons.
Our final nominee is the only upperclassman on the list. A transfer from St. Francis, Madeline Andelbradt joined the Naperville North girls cross country team this fall, but really broke out as a member of the track team in the spring. Showing her versatility, the junior competed in the high jump, the 300 meter hurdles and as a member of the 4X400 relay team. Despite never having run the hurdles before the season started, she went on to win the Gus Scott and DVC meets in the event, before taking 5th at the state meet to earn All-State honors. Andelbradt actually was All State in all three events. She won the DVC and sectional meets in the high jump and edged out teammate Maeve Connelly to take 4th place at state. Running anchor in the 4X400, the Huskie showed her speed matches her leaping ability as Naperville North took third in the event and brought home the 3rd place state trophy. Needless to say, the transfer to the Huskie running program paid huge dividends for the North team and for Madeline Andelbradt.
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