In order to be nominated for NSW’s Team of the Year, you had to win a state title. By those qualifications there are five Team of the Year nominees, presented by BMO Harris Bank.
Naperville North Girls Cross Country
We may as well just make a reservation annually for our first nominated team. Naperville North girls cross-country has reached a level of dominance seen by only a few programs across the state of Illinois. Heading into the fall of 2019, it was clear that the Huskies would boast their usual depth. But the question was who would step up as the leaders of the pack, especially after an early season injury to junior Campbell Peterson. The answer was…that everybody would step up. Lucy Westlake, Audrey Mendrys and Maggie Gamboa all returned and improved on their performances from last year. While Molly Morton, Sophie Golobitsh and Kate Donaldson joined the varsity ranks and didn’t miss a step. North won the DVC, Regional and sectional championships as per usual, while Gamboa won the sectional title as an individual. At the state meet at Detweiler Park in November, Gamboa and Mendrys both finished in the top 10. The five scoring runners all finished in the top 45 as Naperville North lifted the 3A state championship trophy for the 4th consecutive season. The frightening thing for the rest of the state, all 7 of the Huskies state runners were underclassmen. As long as everyone stays healthy, the Huskies could become just the third girls cross-country program to win 5 in a row.
Benet Academy Girls Cross Country
Benet Academy girls cross country had proven to be a strong program over the past few years, qualifying for the 3A state meet in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Before the 2019 season, the Redwings were dropped down to class 2A, immediately setting up BA as a state title contender. At the Midlothian regional, the Redwing runners showed their strength by finishing all 7 runners in a row from 2nd place through 8th place. They almost repeated the feat at the Thornridge sectional. Joy Jackson, Emily Spellman, Amelia Parisi, Louisa Diamond, Mary Weber, Meaghan Andrews and Elisabeth Camic finished 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th respectively. Benet won the sectional title with a ludicrously low score team of 26. The lowest possible score is 15. At the state meet things weren’t quite so easy as the Benet girls searched for their first state trophy since 2006, but the Redwings flew to the top of the leaderboard. Despite no finishers in the top ten, Benet Academy won the 2A state championship thanks to all 7 runners finishing in the top 60. While the Redwings celebrate the first title in program history, longtime head coach Scott Brooks should be thrilled that all 7 state runners were underclassmen. So whether it’s 2A or 3A for BA in 2020, a loaded and experienced roster will be ready for the challenge.
Benet Academy Boys Soccer
On the same day that Benet girls cross country was winning a state championship, the Redwing boys soccer team was ready to bring home of a trophy of their own. A year after falling in a heartbreaking 3A sectional championship game loss to Lake Park, BA entered the 2019 campaign knowing the team would be competing in class 2A this year. The last time Benet took part in the 2A tourney, the Redwings brought home the 3rd place trophy in 2016. Facing a very tough schedule, especially in the non conference, the Benet boys did not back down from anyone, facing the likes of three time defending 3A state champion Naperville North, eventual 2019 3A state champion West Chicago, and 3A powerhouse Libertyville. The Redwings only loss of the season came in a 2-1 contest against Naperville North in early September. From that point on, BA went on a 19 game unbeaten streak and allowed only two goals the rest of the season! After dispatching of Peoria Notre Dame 2-0 in the super-sectionals, Benet rolled through state, shutting out St. Laurence and defending champion Crystal Lake South by identical 2-0 scores. With a 21-1-2 record, Benet was led by goalie Vytautas Staniskis and top goal scorers like TJ McVey, Nick Renfro, Nick Augustyn and Hans Haenicke. Plus defenders Michael Rocco, Tom Miskin and Zach Serafin. Benet won its first state championship since going back to back in 2000 and 2001.
Benet Academy Girls Volleyball
A third straight nominee from Benet Academy? What can we say, it was quite a Fall sports season for Redwings athletics. After missing out on the state volleyball tournament for three consecutive years, Benet girls volleyball finally got back to Redbird arena last season, before falling to conference rival Marist in the semi finals. Coming off a 3rd place finish, Benet entered the 2019 season with one goal in mind, state championship number four. Players like Hattie Monson, Kyla Kenney, Colleen McGuire, Rachel Muisenga, Anne Maris Remmes and Sophie Gregus played huge roles for a roster jam packed with talent.
BA showed the state that they could be the team to beat in the Wheaton Classic, Benet knocked off two time defending state champion Marist in a three set thriller to win the tournament for the first time since 2014. The Redwings only had one loss all year heading into the state tournament, a two set loss to, you guessed it, Marist. The rubber match would be held in the state semi finals once again as both team’s entered with identical 38-1 records. But this time it was Benet’s turn to dominate. A 25-12, 25-23 win in straight sets put Coach Brad Baker’s girls back in the state championship match for the first time since 2014. After dethroning the champs, there would be no letdown from this inspired Benet squad. Another commanding 25-12, 25-16 straight set win over Wheaton Warrenville South made for a fitting end to a phenomenal season.
Neuqua Valley Girls Swim & Dive
Our final nominee was also our final team state champion of the year and the winner of the 2019 NSW Team of the Year Award. Neuqua Valley girls swimming and diving entered the year as one of the clear favorites to win the state title, as most of last year’s state championship team returned for 2019. After winning the DVC championship for a 5th year in a row, NV was unable to repeat as sectional champions after being edged out by the Oswego Co-Op. However, the Wildcats were set up for success by qualifying at least one competitor in all 12 events at the state meet. At the IHSA Finals at New Trier, Neuqua Valley showcased its strength and team depth, earning top four finishes in 8 of the 12 events on the day. Senior Maxine Parkinson took 3rd in the 200 IM and 4th in the 100 yard breast stroke. Junior Tiffanie Ruan nabbed 3rd in the 100 freestyle. Junior Rachel Stege added to her legendary career by winning both the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle state championships. Neuqua even earned major points on the diving board. Freshman Elle Jacobson performed beyond her years by finishing in 5th. While junior Jane Riehs stole the show and won the state diving championship with a final score of 450.
But it was the Wildcat relay teams that made the difference. The 200 medley relay team of senior Teagan Michalek, junior Megan Ciezczak, Parkinson and Ruan started the day with a 2nd place medal. The 200 free relay foursome of Parkinson, Ruan, Ciezczak and Stege then finished in first place for a 2nd straight year. And the 400 free relay team of Megan Ciezcak, Rachel Stege, Izzy Harder and Tiffanie Ruan capped off the meet with another first place finish. State champions for the 2nd year in a row, the Neuqua Valley girls swimming and diving team continued to grow the legacy of their powerful program this season.
Check out all of the Season 13 nominees with Naperville Sports Weekly!