In one of our new categories this year, we check out the four nominees for Most Improved Team from Season 13, presented by BMO Harris Bank.
Waubonsie Valley Boys Soccer
Waubonsie Valley boys soccer struggled in 2018 would be kind. The Warriors won only four games all season, lost ten of their first 12 contests and went winless in the Dupage Valley Conference. But after returning a good amount of underclassmen talent and winning three of their last six games a year ago, the WV boys turned things around in a big way in 2019.
After a 1-3-1 start began to give out the wrong type of déjà vu, the Warriors rattled off a 7 game winning streak which included victories over Oswego and their first win over rival Neuqua Valley since 2014. Players like Noah Glorioso, Milan Erastus-Obiolo, Daniel Carillo and Javi Martinez helped spur the turnaround. After tripling their win total from the previous year, the Warriors held a 3-1 lead over Oswego in the regional championship, but ultimately fell to the Panthers 5-3. Despite the tough loss to end the year, Coach Jose Garcia’s boys brought excitement back to the green and gold program.
Naperville Central Boys Basketball
If you just started paying attention to Illinois High School Boys basketball this season, you may think that a senior laden roster like Naperville Central’s had been great for years. But in actuality, the Redhawks struggled throughout most of the 2018-19 season. Central got off to rocky start, losing the first seven games of the year and struggled to find consistency. The team never won more than two consecutive games and they only hit that streak twice all year. This season, the Redhawks found their groove behind stars Cam Dougherty and Chris Conway. Although the two All State selections did most of the heavy lifting, Matthew Murphy, Kyle Baskin, Neil Gupta, Aidan Kramer among others helped NC to its first regional championship in over a decade. After picking up win number 23 on the year in the sectional semi finals, the season came to a crashing halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But their progress still qualified the Redhawks for Most Improved Team.
Naperville North Hockey
Another Nominee for Most Improved Team is North Hockey. Ever since the Naperville North Hockey Club was forced to shutter its program in 2014 due to low roster numbers, it’s been a hard climb back to building a competitive roster. A year ago, the Huskies finished 11th in the conference with 11 wins and 20 losses. But 7 of those losses were in overtime, showing head coach that the young group was not far from flipping those L’s to W’s.
Right from the start of the 2019-20 season, the North Hockey Club established itself as a forced to be reckoned with in the Illinois West.
In the first two months of the season, the Huskies defeated conference powers like Glenbard, Hinsdale Central, Maine, and the defending state champion Warriors Hockey club, proving that they could belong among the best. By the end of the regular season, Naperville North stood tied for third with a 17-4 record, qualifying for the Illinois West Round Robin playoffs for the first time since 2013. The long awaited success was especially gratifying for long time team members like Connor Ryan and Peter Mandarino. Experienced returning players like Dan Boscarino, Liam Curtin and Gavin Klaisle, combined with exciting first year players like Ithan Delorenzo and Connor Deturris has given the lineup a boost. While the Huskies did not advance past the round robin stage of the conference tournament, Naperville North Hockey hopes their days of being a pushover are gone for good.
Benet Academy Girls Tennis
Our final Most Improved Team turned a drop down in class size into a springboard for success. Benet Academy girls tennis has been the dominant program in the East Suburban Catholic Conference for at least the last 15 years. But once the state tournament comes along, the success of the BA squad has been more of a mixed bag. One year after winning the 2A West Aurora sectional in 2017, the 2018 Redwings qualified only one team member for the state tournament as top singles player Daniella Nenadovich finished 4th at the Naperville North sectional. Benet finished tied for 6th as a team. Dropping down to class 1A this fall, the Redwings rolled through the ESCC as the regular season and conference tournament champions. At the St. Francis sectional, Benet dominated both singles and doubles as Nenadovich won the singles sectional over teammate Caroline Austgen. Kendall Schrader and Kaitlyn Lee then topped fellow Redwings Angela Mathew and Rachel Zilligen to complete the sweep and win the sectional title. At the 1A state meet, all four qualfiers won at least three matches. Austgen scored 4 points while Mathew and Zilligen scored 5 to put Benet in contention for a trophy. Nenadovich, a three time state qualifier made it all the way to the singles quarterfinals before eventually finishing in 6th place, racking up 8 points along the way. Stealing the show was the doubles duo of senior Kendall Schrader and sophomore Kaitlyn Lee. After cruising through the quarterfinals with straight set wins, the girls won hard fought three set matches over Normal University and Chicago University to win the 1A doubles state championship. It was the first state title in doubles in program history. Benet also took home the 1A 2nd place team trophy with 31 total points, just two behind the champs from Chicago University.
Check out other nominees within Naperville Sports Weekly!