Preps Talk

Edgy: Too many IHSA football 'Coach of the Year' candidates is a good thing

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Minooka High School

Edgy: Too many IHSA football 'Coach of the Year' candidates is a good thing

The football postseason also brings award season. And picking a winner in each of the various categories is never an easy task. From selecting the Player of the Year to Coach of the Year along with All-Area and All-State teams, fans can (and will) make a case for several quality names that are more than deserving of recognition. 

How does the Coach of the Year candidates look this season? 

It can be a near-impossible task to narrow down to just one name…or even a handful of names. NBC Sports Chicago managing editor Joe Collins and I tried to do just that on Wednesday.

In the not-too-distant past, various newspaper writers and such announced these awards before the end of the state playoffs. Personally, I never understood that on several levels. In my mind, the postseason counts and needs to be taken into consideration for such awards. That said, we always have coaches who do a fantastic job of turning programs around from the previous year. 

Take Joliet West Bill Lech, who led the Tigers to their first conference title in 50 years. He is more than worthy of consideration. The same goes for Erick Middleton at Marian Catholic. He led the Spartans, a team that had not won more than two games in a season since 2011, to a 5-4 regular season and a playoff berth this season. Glenbard North head coach Ryan Wilkens took it on the chin last season in the Panthers’ first season as members of the DuKane Conference. They posted an 0-9 record. All Wilkens did was lead the Panthers to a 7-3 mark in 2019—good for the second-round of the 7A state playoffs. How about Thornwood? Head coach Kenneth Smith guided the T-Birds from a 2-7 team to the state playoffs. The same goes for LaSalle-Peru's Jose Medina or Grant's Chris Robinson, whose teams had terrific turnaround seasons in 2019. 

But somehow, you need to have a metric for separating some of these worthy coaches from the others. For me, that metric is what happens in the playoffs. A deeper postseason run undoubtedly helps to eliminate the logjam for Coach of the Year honors. 

So should head coaches at “power programs” be excluded from Coach of the Year honors? Does having a roster stacked with talent and numbers and depth mean you have done any less of a job in 2019 compared to others? Meaning, the likes of, say, Lincoln-Way East’s Rob Zvonar or H-F’s Craig Buzea shouldn't be under consideration? Do we just expect them to roll the helmets onto the field and expect victories week in and week out? If it was only that easy. 

In Class 8A, we have some fantastic coaches with stories that are still adding chapters. Take Minooka (Who?). I'm willing to bet that more Brother Rice fans have been to Mars than Minooka; however, the Indians are undefeated and looking to advance to the semifinals. They feature a staff filled with Hall of Fame coaches, led by former Downers Grove South Hall of Fame head coach John Belskis. And Hall of Fame coach Terry McCombs, who is a 50-year veteran in the IHSA, is an assistant coach for Belskis. How's that for having a partner who has been there and done that more than a few times?

How about Warren Township head coach Bryan McNulty? The Blue Devils have gone from a second-tier/also-ran football program in the North Suburban conference to a powerhouse in two short seasons. The 2019 squad brings a new meaning to “Fright Fest” in Gurnee these days. 

Another somewhat misguided opinion for some fans is that they feel coaches at private schools shouldn't be considered for any Coach of the Year awards because "they recruit" their roster. So the job that, say, Loyola's John Holecek has done in getting the Ramblers to the level of success they've achieved isn't worthy? Or look at Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch. Is the job he has done this season, leading the undefeated Caravan to a top seed under one of the brightest spotlights week in and week out, not deserving of an award? Nazareth Academy's Tim Racki has propelled the Roadrunners to another deep postseason run. Should we just ignore this? Same goes for Joliet Catholic (Jake Jaworski)  and St. Francis (Bob McMillen)? Or that both Marist and Brother Rice, both of whom came into the postseason with 5-4 records and have since rolled in 8A, don't deserve a mention? Come on. 

What about the Chicago Public League coaches who endured the recent teachers strike. They got their teams ready under the most trying of circumstances. Several of those schools won IHSA playoff games. How can anyone say that Phillips head coach Troy McAllister isn't worthy after leading the Wildcats into the 7A quarterfinals? All they’ve done is compete with a mid 4A-sized enrollment and a dedication to play "up" to 7A just because they want to compete at the highest level possible. How can you not love that in any coach? 

I also include the entire state of Illinois in my Coach of the Year award. Heck, why not make this an even-harder task than it already is? In all seriousness, has anyone been able to get his program to the top and remain at the top more effectively than East St. Louis Darren Sunkett? Has anyone noticed that Glenwood is back and a state-wide power under head coach David Hay? Or that Rochester Derek Leonard just keeps winning games and titles year in and year out and now is locked in to winning the Rockets’ first state title in 5A. Or veteran head coach Dave Bates at Auburn? They just knocked off 2A power Maroa-Forsyth last Saturday and are full steam ahead to the quarterfinals against another power in St. Theresa after going 4-5 in 2018. Pana’s Trevor Higgins has won despite a trying offseason where he lost his four-year-old son in a tragic accident.

I'll make you a deal. Give me another 2-3 weeks and I'll be able to come up with a much clearer picture on the 2019 Coach of the Year award. Until then. let's see how things shake out over these next few remaining weeks of the season and see so many good coaches and stories continue to take shape. 

High School Lites Week 1 basketball roundup

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NBCSCH

High School Lites Week 1 basketball roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great basketball action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @CSNPreps for all of the latest IHSA basketball scores and highlights.

Midweek Mixtape: Bogan 73, Vocational 42

Team of the Week: Mount Carmel and Lincoln-Way East football

Athlete of the Week: Marian Catholic's Ahron Ulis

Friday's Scores

Evanston 62, Notre Dame 53

Fenwick 55, Oak Park-River Forest 48

York 51, Lyons 41

 Brother Rice 61, St. Rita 58

Hillcrest 72, Oak Lawn 65

Richards 72, Tinley Park 59

Lake Park 58, Batavia 48

Leo 49, St. Joseph 46

(Girls): Hersey 71,  Prospect 46

Rolling Meadows 70, Elk Grove 37

High School Lites: Basketball season tips with the Chicago Elite Classic

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

High School Lites: Basketball season tips with the Chicago Elite Classic

High School Lites transitions to basketball season with a loaded first Friday of games for the show. 

The annual Chicago Elite Classic remains a huge early-season event at DePaul’s Wintrust Arena as we’ll have highlights from two marquee matchups there. 

We’ll also cover games from all over the Chicagoland area, including some intriguing South Suburban crossovers. 

High School Lites begins at 11 p.m. this Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago. 

GIRLS: Prospect at Hersey, 6:00 p.m. -- We get a rivalry matchup in the Mid-Suburban East in this one. Hersey (5-2) won four straight games to take home the Bison Classic after a sluggish start. Prospect (4-2) earned a road win at Conant earlier this week as they try to earn two away from home this week. 

No. 20 Hillcrest at Oak Lawn, 6:30 p.m. -- A fascinating South Suburban crossover between two talented teams. The No. 20 Hawks are trying to earn a tough win as they've played a difficult early schedule. The junior class for Hillcrest is special, led by wing Julius Rollins. Oak Lawn (5-0) has a high-scoring senior in guard Sami Osmani as he gets scoring help from senior lead guard Trey Ward. They're a team just outside of the Power Rankings who can get in with a win. With a number of scorers on the floor in this one, it could be an up-and-down contest. 

No. 25 St. Rita at Brother Rice, 7:00 p.m. -- The unbeaten Mustangs take the road in this Catholic League crossover. St. Rita (5-0, 1-0) beat St. Ignatius while also winning the Riverside-Brookfield title last week. Christian Henry is off to a strong start for the Mustangs. Brother Rice (3-2, 1-0) is coming off of two straight wins, including a road win at Montini earlier this week. 

Leo at St. Joseph, 7:00 p.m. -- We head to the Catholic League as St. Joe's plays its first home game without legendary head coach Gene Pingatore -- who passed away over the summer. The night will honor the legacy of Pingatore in-part. On the floor, Leo (1-3, 0-1) tries to bounce back from a loss to Loyola earlier this week. The Chargers (1-3) couldn't find their footing at St. Charles East during Thanksgiving week.

Batavia at No. 12 Lake Park, 7:15 p.m. -- The DuKane Conference features a really intriguing early-season showdown in this one. Batavia (3-1) is led by high-scoring senior Jayden Johnson as he's coming off of a strong opening week to the season. The No. 12 Lancers (4-0) took the crown at Wheaton Academy as they're undefeated. Senior Luke Sgarbossa leads a balanced group.

Lyons at York, 7:30 p.m. -- The West Suburban Silver opens play in this one. Lyons (3-0) is quietly off to an unbeaten start by winning their own event, beating Maine South, Fenger and Plainfield North. York (3-1) opened some eyes with a week-one win over previously-ranked Cary-Grove before falling to top-five Stevenson in the finals at Palatine. Senior guard Nate Shockey (North Dakota) is a potential All-Area candidate.

Rolling Meadows at Elk Grove, 7:30 p.m. -- An early look at star junior Max Christie and the Mustangs in a Mid-Suburban East battle. Rolling Meadows (4-0) won the title at Fenton to open the season. Christie, one of the best juniors in the country, dropped 51 points on Elk Grove in an overtime win last season. Elk Grove (0-4) is trying to build after a tough opening week at Palatine that saw them go winless. 

(13) Evanston vs. (8) Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. -- The second Friday matchup at Wintrust Arena has two top-15 teams with a ton of talented juniors battling. The No. 13 Wildkits (4-0) are led by some college prospects in the junior class as wing Jaylin Gibson and guard Blake Peters are a strong combination. The No. 8 Dons (5-0) have been one of the season's major early storylines. Notre Dame beat DePaul Prep for the Battle of the Bridge title and looks like a major contender. The junior group of Anthony Sayles, Troy D'Amico and Louis Lesmond (who played for the Wildkits last season) is strong while senior Jason Bergstrom is another talented option as a scorer.

No. 24 Fenwick vs. OPRF, approx 9:00 p.m. -- Tipping after the Evanston and Notre Dame clash is this inner-town rivalry of Oak Park schools. The annual Friday night closer of the Chicago Elite Classic, this matchup has a lot of talent on the floor once again. The No. 24 Friars (3-1, 1-0) are led by star junior forward and Louisville commit Bryce Hopkins. Sophomore guard Trey Pettigrew is another talented weapon to watch for Fenwick. OPRF (2-2) is trying to figure things out after a sluggish start at Riverside-Brookfield last week. Senior forward Justin Cross was solid this summer and the junior group of Isaiah Barnes and Joshua Smith has a lot of promise. 

VIEWER'S CHOICE GAME OF THE WEEK

Tinley Park at Richards, 7 p.m. -- Our first Viewer's Choice matchup goes to a South Suburban crossover. Tinley Park (3-2) has the state's top sophomore in forward A.J. Casey. The high-major prospect is off to a solid start this season for the Titans. Richards (3-1) only has an overtime loss to Marist against them with a solid start at their own event.