1. A season on the brink
The Crete-Monee boys basketball team enjoyed its finest season on the court.
The Warriors, under first-year coach Matt Ryndak, won a school-record 25 games and were one win away from a trip to Peoria for the Class 4A finals.
Ryndak was The Times Coach of the Year, but in May things took a turn.
He was placed on administrative leave, pending further investigation of a complaint filed against him. He faced eight counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse
The Crete-Monee Community Unit School District 201 board fired Ryndak in June as both a physical education teacher and basketball coach.
In November, Ryndak was sentenced to four years probation for his guilty plea to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, according to the Will County state's attorney's office. He had faced eight counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, but prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges in the plea deal.
Ryndak must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and have no contact with the victim, seek counseling and pay $3,000 in court costs, said Chuck Pelkie, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office.
"Anyone who does a background check will be aware of his conviction," Pelkie said.
Pelkie said attorneys took into account the desires of the victim and the victim's family. The experience left the victim reluctant to testify in court, he said. !~ MIke Nieto
2. One -- plus 306 -- for the record books
One of Frank Lenti's favorite sayings in regard to his Mount Carmel football team is, "It's a 'we' thing, not a 'me' thing."
That would explain why the longtime Caravan leader was typically understated when he made history on Sept. 17 by winning his 307th game as a head coach. Mount Carmel's victory over St. Joseph that day enabled Lenti to pass good friend Gary Korhonen as Illinois' career leader in gridiron triumphs.
"That wasn't the goal," Lenti said prior to the game against the Chargers. "My goal was to make this program better, and it was in pretty good shape when I took over for Bill Barz (in 1984)."
Also reaching a victory milestone in 2011 was Marian Catholic boss Dave Mattio, who earned his 250th career win when the Spartans beat Bloom Township in the final week of the regular season.
2011 represented Tom Padjen's 35th season in charge of T.F. South's football program. The Rebels were slow out of the gate, falling to 1-5 at one juncture and being officially eliminated from playoff consideration at that time, but Padjen rallied his guys and got them to close out the year with three consecutive triumphs. !~ Ken Karrson
3. Joy and tragedy
On June 6, the Mount Carmel baseball team beat Lincoln-Way East 9-7 to win the Class 4A Standard Bank Stadium Supersectional and earn a berth in the state semifinals.
The Caravan lost to eventual state champion Lyons Township and to Prospect in the third-place game at Joliet.
Less than a month later, teammate Kevin Kennelly Jr. was killed in a Fourth of July incident in Long Beach, Ind., by a single blow to the head.
Sources said he was trying to break up a fight. Kennelly was pronounced dead on July 6 t Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point, the Lake County (Ind.) coroner's office said.
"We're all devastated by this," Caravan baseball coach Brian Hurry said. "He was the ultimate team player. We've got a saying on our team that 'it's all about team,' and he embodied that. Whatever he could do to help the team, he would do it."
James K. Mallecek of Chicago was charged with felony aggravated battery along with involuntary manslaughter and battery. !~ Mike Nieto
4. No end in sight
Not so long ago, the future looked bleak.
Thornridge's run as a four-year institution was scheduled to end when the 2010-11 school year concluded. The building and grounds would remain, but they would begin serving a freshman academy this past fall.
The change then got delayed until the 2012-13 school year, but after new members joined the District 205 school board, the plan was voted down altogether.
"I'm just happy we're here," senior Jalan Pulley, a member of the Falcon's football team, said back in August. "It was very emotional for us (last year) because we wouldn't have been alumni anywhere. I know a lot of seniors were taking that to heart."
Although Thornridge didn't enjoy much football success in 2011, there is no longer a fear of the unknown.
"We're back together and we're dogging everybody that's coming into Thornridge right after the Dolton Bears," senior Stephen Davis said. "That's going to help the program (in the future)." !~ Ken Karrson
5. A record-breaking season
Crete-Monee's Carlos Posada made history on Oct. 11 when he scored his third of six goals in a 10-0 soccer win over Rich Central
Posada's third goal gave him 160 career goals and made him the state's all-time leading goal scorer, breaking Brother Rice's Billy Savarino's mark of 159. Posada finished with 177 career goals.
Posada has been on quite the scoring streak the past two seasons. In those two years, he recorded 131 goals on his way to shattering Illinois' all-time scoring record.
"It will probably mean a lot more to me when I'm older," Posada said of the record. "I'm not sure how long it will last. Hopefully at least a little while."
Posada, The Times Player of the Year for the second straight year, was the offense much of the past two years for a Warrior team that won the Class 2A Marian Catholic Regional before a tough loss in the Lemont Sectional semifinals
In the loss, the Warriors had taken a 2-0 lead against Bremen before weather delayed the game until the following evening. After the delay and an eventual 3-0 halftime lead, the Warriors lost the game 5-4 in overtime.
"I blame it on ourselves," Posada said of the season-ending loss. "All we had to do was hold three goals which we should have done."
In girls soccer, Homewood-Flossmoor, led by Times Player of the Year Kelly Lewers, fell to Granite City 3-2 in two overtimes at the Class 3A Normal Supersectional. !~ Mike Nieto
6. Good news on the gridiron
One took a perfect ledger into the state tournament, the other didn't get invited despite piecing together one of its school's best single-season records ever.
However, players at Washington, just like their brethren at Crete-Monee, will look back fondly on the 2011 campaign. For the Patriots, seven wins might be good enough to get them elevated into the Chicago Public League's Windy City Conference for 2012, which would make Washington playoff eligible if it repeats its 2011 showing.
"It sounds cliched, but I'm like (former Oakland Raiders owner) Al Davis -- just win, baby," Patriots coach Jimmy Smith said in October. "I wish I could take all the credit, but I can't."
Sharing it with Smith and the players were a batch of assistants the head coach drew in from various area sources.
"When they first came in, I said, 'Look, I might be the head coach, but I don't know it all,'" Smith said. "We work together, and if (they) have an idea that sounds better than what I come up with, we're going to go with it."
Less unexpected than Washington's revival was another playoff-qualifying season for Crete, but its 9-0 regular season was its first since 1952. Along the way, the Warriors impressively avenged 2010 losses to T.F. South and Lincoln-Way West, beating the pair by a combined 67-8 score in the first two weeks. !~ Ken Karrson
7. Marian Catholic volleyball fourth in Class 3A
At a cursory glance, nothing apart from a top seed in its own sectional indicated the Marian Catholic girls volleyball team was set to accomplish an impressive postseason run that would end with a fourth-place finish in the Class 3A state playoffs.
The Spartans' program was young and headed by a new coach, Ryan Summers. The team finished in the middle of the East Suburban Catholic standings and entered the playoffs with a modest 21-16 record.
A closer look, however, explained better why the Spartans made their run to state. Another also-ran in the East Suburban Catholic, Benet, went on a tear of its own and captured the Class 4A state title. The Spartans missed Times Player of the Year Amber Clay for a week with an ankle injury during a five-match losing streak. The team was also on a roll heading into the playoffs, winning seven of its final eight matches.
The Spartans marched through regional, sectional and supersectional play without losing a game and pushed Woodstock Marian Central to three games in the state semifinal match. It was the first time the Spartans volleyball program made it to the Final Four at state in school history.
Next season, because of their success, the Spartans will move up to Class 4A. The Illinois High School Association approved new multiplier waiver policy adopted by the IHSA board on June 13. It establishes criteria for an automatic waiver of the multiplier in individual sports and activities, taking into account each program's advancement in IHSA tournaments over the previous six years. Previously, a school had to apply for and receive a waiver that covered all of its sport and activity programs.
The multiplier, which was first implemented in the fall of 2005, multiplies a member school's enrollment by 1.65 to determine the class it will compete in during IHSA postseason tournaments. The multiplier applies to all "non-boundaried" schools, as defined by IHSA By-law 3.170: "Any private school, charter school, lab school, magnet school, residential school, and any public school in a multi-high school district that does not accept students from a fixed portion of the district." !~ Vince Vosti
8. Been there, done that
Second place in a cross country state meet would fulfill most athletes' dreams, that runner-up finish left Grant Nykaza feeling a bit empty this fall.
That's because the Beecher junior had already accomplished that same feat in 2010. Thus, the goal was the gold, particularly since the Bobcats were a long shot to repeat as Class 1A team champion.
Nykaza wound up nine seconds behind Monticello's Steve Schroeder.
"I wasn't completely satisfied with getting second place," Nykaza said after the race. "I could have run a little better. I have been training all year to win a state title."
He said he was with Schroeder until the 1¼-mile mark.
"He broke from me and that was the point I was supposed to break from him," Nykaza said. "He ran a strong race. I stayed with him but just couldn't catch him."
Illiana Christian's boys were 12th and its girls 16th at the Class 2A meet. !~ Ken Karrson
9. District 205 dominance
For a five-year period during the 2000s, sprint and hurdles state champions in boys track were shockingly absent among locals who ventured downstate to Charleston. This past season more than made up for that earlier dry spell, though, as athletes from District 205 captured all Class 3A sprint titles and the 110-meter high hurdles crown.
Thornton's Timothy Faust was the 100 and 200 champ, and he also ran a leg of the Wildcats' triumphant 800 relay unit. With those efforts serving as the fuel, Thornton tied for third in the team standings with 39 points.
Thornwood's London Hawk set the pace in the 400 dash and Thornridge's Gary Ford did likewise in the hurdles. Another area athlete, Crete-Monee's Rashad Hulbert was victorious in the 300 intermediate hurdles.
Beecher's 3,200 relay team repeated as Class 1A king and Grant Nykaza was second in the 1,600.
On the girls' side, Homewood-Flossmoor missed out on a team trophy by one point and second place by two, but Abie Ehimwenman gave the Vikings titles in both the Class 3A long and triple jumps. She also took fourth in the 200 and helped H-F occupy that same spot in the team standings.
Thornton's Jazjuan Wallace-Sipp was No. 2 in the Class 3A discus and Seton Academy's DeJanae Terry was runner-up in the Class 1A 100. !~ Ken Karrson
10. Thornwood's Gary Lagesse says good-bye after 35 years
In an era of job-hopping, Gary Lagesse spent 35 years at Thornwood High School. The Beecher native retired after the 2010-11 school year and left a legacy in softball.
He won 693 games and three Class AA softball title, making the Thunderbirds a state power.
"My philosophy was (that) if you are going to do things, do them right," Lagesse said. "In softball, it was something special here. I loved and respected the game and the players we had here, they loved the game, too."
Lagesse admits he will miss the place he called his second home for 35 years, the last 11 as athletic director. His wife Tammi said it took him some time to clean out his office, filled with memories as well as hardware.
"I know it's tough to let go," Tammi said. "I know he will miss it. It was such a big part of our lives."
As an athletic director, he oversaw successful programs, despite facing budget cuts. He said there a numerous things which stick out.
"Gary Haupert winning four straight (Class AA) state track titles (from 2001-04), softball and baseball with John Dunlap (both) winning state titles in 1991," Lagesse said. "Eddy Curry and the crowds we had, and the college and NBA scouts here night after night. I remember a packed gym and how we had to ban scouts from practice." !~ Mike Nieto