Nike/LM Midwest Report: Viator's Illinois Stunner
WILMETTE, Ill. – Parents approached Saint Viator (Ill.) boys' lacrosse coach Bill Sanford one after another, congratulating him.
The Lions had just pulled off one of the great upsets of the 2015 lacrosse season, knocking off Loyola Academy (Ill.) -- a state finalist every year since 2006 -- in the state quarterfinals.
Saint Viator sneaked through with an 8-7 win.
"It means everything not just because it's the postseason or that it's Loyola or New Trier or whomever," coach Bill Sanford said. "You want your kids playing the best on the last day possible, and we didn't play that well and I'm sure Rob (Snyder) would say Loyola didn't play the way they wanted to. It's awesome to see your kids persevere."
The Lions have certainly persevered this season – going from an 0-6 start to a spot in the state semifinals.
Nike/LM Midwest Boys' Top 10
1. Culver Military (Ind.), 17-6
Cleveland St. Ignatius (Ohio) remains hot with 12 consecutive victories, and the Wildcats are expected to make it 13 straight Wednesday, when they take on a Toledo St. John's (Ohio) squad they handled with ease earlier this season. After playing 12 of its first 13 games away from home – during which both its losses came -- St. Ignatius is finally enjoying the benefit of home-field advantage, as Wednesday's third-round tournament game against St. John's marks its fifth straight home game. It also is likely the Wildcats' last home game. If they win, they'd presumably travel to Hudson (Ohio), whom they played a very close game with earlier this season. ... After a dispiriting blowout loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier (Ohio), Upper Arlington (Ohio) has been on a tear, winning nine of ten. The Golden Bears' sole loss during that period came to Michigan powerhouse Brother Rice – in overtime.
Mason (Ohio) endured a tough end to Paul Limpert's first season as head coach of the boys' program. The Comets dropped four of their last five – losing handily to Upper Arlington (Ohio) and falling twice to local rival Sycamore (Ohio). They ultimately were held to six goals or fewer in 11 of 18 games this season. ... Loyola Academy (Ill.) was a modest 5-5 over its final 10 games – albeit against top competition. Still, the Ramblers' semi-stunning weekend loss to Saint Viator (Ill.) means that for the first time since 2005, Loyola will not play in the state championship game.
"When you don't win, especially against teams that you think you're equal to or maybe on paper you think you're better than, it's a lesson in humility," Sanford said. "You kind of change gears as a coach and talk about the expectations to perform and to improve, and it's not always going to result in a win, but if you keep improving, which I think we did, especially in our shooting ability and our dodging ability, then the wins will come."
With four of their eight losses coming by two goals or fewer, including two in overtime (one to the Ramblers), the Lions felt they had their share of bad bounces this season. On Saturday, they got a lucky bounce for the game-winner – as a pass deflected off Loyola's goalie and into the net.
"I've never seen that before," Sanford said. "It's been a season of adversity, so we thought it was our time to get that bounce, so we'll take it."
Pat and Kevin Murphy combined for five of the Lions' eight goals.
Kevin, at long-stick midfielder, has All-American potential, Sanford said. His main problem thus far is he had to compete with New Trier's Jack Hill at that position. With Hill graduating, Kevin may get his chance in 2016. Meanwhile, Pat plays with a "chip on his shoulder," according to Sanford.
Sometimes, a Murphy or two – and a bounce – can go a long way.
"Loyola with their history, it's not easy to beat these guys in the postseason obviously, so it's going to take a little miracle sometimes to beat those guys, and we got one today," Sanford said.
An audible gasp went over the New Trier (Ill.) crowd Saturday afternoon when the Loyola score was read over the loudspeaker.
For the first time in a decade, the Trevians wouldn't see their down-the-street rivals, the Ramblers, in the state title game.
"Viator is a good team," New Trier coach Tom Herrala said. "Loyola is so young. They have a lot of young guys, a couple of freshman playing. (A couple of years from now), they'll be really good."
The Trevians, meanwhile, had to survive a threat of their own, as Naperville Central (Ill.) had them locked in a 5-5 tie at halftime. New Trier burst out with a 10-1 scoring advantage in the second half, including a buzzer-beater goal by Will Rossi to end the third.
Midwest Boys' Player of the Week
Colin Casas, New Trier (Ill.)
It was a very good week for the Trevians midfielder as he notched four goals in New Trier's state quarterfinal victory over Naperville Central and was named a US Lacrosse All-American the very next day. Included among those goals was a beautiful spin move that put Casas out in front of the net. Instead of firing right away, he took another step or two before placing it past the goalie's shoulder on the right post.
Also notable: Matt Rightnour (Hudson, Ohio), Sam Gregory (Hudson, Ohio), Peter Fish (Forest Hills Northern, Mich.), Mitch Haggert (Forest Hills Northern, Mich.), Jeff Benda (Rockford, Mich.)
"That was huge," Herrala said. "If you can win the last minute and get a goal in each quarter, you come to the sidelines all pumped up, especially scoring right in the last second. We're pumped up. They're deflated."
Star attacker Ben Connelly contributed a pair of goals in his return from injury. Connelly missed a month with a stress fracture of the tibia. All along, he had been practicing his shot whenever he could.
"He had two rocket cannons from outside," Herrala said. "He didn't lose anything on his shot."
He only played in man-up situations against Naperville Central.
"It was just nice to kind of even get on the field a little bit," Connelly said. "To even put a uniform on, it just feels good. I was more nervous for walking on the field than I had ever been in high school. It was like flashback to sophomore year, coming back from another injury."
Connelly, frequently relied upon to provide firepower in the past, said he was impressed by how the Trevians managed without him.
The fourth quarter saw plenty of that with a rich variety of contributors. Jack Hill had a huge stick check, which eventually set New Trier up to take five minutes off the clock. Rossi bounced off a hit in impressive fashion. Midfielder Sam Seliti contributed a perfect shot into the right-side netting. Nelson Gaechter found a seam in front of the net on a beautiful feed from Steen Jorgensen.
Ultimately, Jorgensen had three goals and three assists. Chris Brower also notched three assists, while Gaechter had a goal and two assists, Rossi added two goals and two assists and Colin Casas tallied four goals and an assist.
"They stepped up big time," Connelly said. "Casas has been like an absolute animal, and Steen has paced the offense for the majority of the year. Those guys have made a huge difference. The best thing about it is that they get other guys involved. It's showing every game, like Steen had eight assists last game. They distribute the ball, and they finish when they need to."
Loyola's loss means one thing for New Trier – a slightly different path to the state title than usual.
It means another to other lacrosse teams in the state, particularly teams that are oh-so-close, like Naperville Central. It spells opportunity.
First-year Naperville Central coach Jake Padilla has seen his Redhawks come a long way – from losing to Wheaton North (Ill.) and Wheaton South (Ill.) and roughly .500 Neuqua Valley (Ill.), to being tied with New Trier (Ill.) at halftime of the state quarterfinals.
"I'm very proud of how far they've come," Padilla said.
Padilla said his guys had to get used to an entirely new system this year.
"I like to coach college-level lacrosse," Padilla said. "You have great stick skills. You have great defensive specialists. You have great faceoff guys. Obviously, there's always room to improve, but there's no reason to settle for a one-dimensional offense or defense or anything across the board."
So, what's the difference between Naperville Central and New Trier at this point? Depth and discipline, Padilla said.
"New Trier is just extremely disciplined and what separates them is their ability to make a one- or two-goal lead into a seven-goal lead fast," Padilla said. "That's what we get to learn from."
Padilla has the tools to build something special in 2016. Among those returning are Jordan Crissy, "the best defenseman in the state," according to Padilla, and experienced rising juniors in Quinn Amato and Colin McDonald, who has made "leaps and bounds," according to Padilla. He also noted "diamond in the rough" midfielder Jack Graff, who Padilla said can match up with anyone on the defensive end.
"I want somebody to upset that record they have (where) if it's not New Trier, it is Loyola winning the state championship," Padilla said.
Maybe it will be Naperville Central.
Boys' Games to Watch
Hoover (Ohio) at Solon (Ohio), May 27
Green (Ohio) didn't provide much of a defense to Solon's high-powered offense, as the Comets stormed through their second-round contest, 18-3. The third round, the Ohio regional semifinal, should be a little more compelling, as Solon takes on a Hoover team it beat by just four goals three weeks prior.
Saint Viator (Ill.) at Glenbrook North (Ill.), May 27
For once there's a wide-open gap in the Illinois bracket, as one of these non-traditional powers should get the chance to challenge New Trier for a state championship. The visiting Lions have won seven straight, allowing just three goals per game over that span. The host Spartans have won 10 of 12 – and nearly took down the Trevians early this season. Their tenacious defense has held 11 of 21 opponents to three goals or fewer.
Nike/LM Midwest Girls' Top 10
1. Loyola Academy (Ill.), 20-3
2. East Grand Rapids (Mich.), 20-1
3. New Trier (Ill.), 17-2
4. Upper Arlington (Ohio), 17-2
5. Glenbrook South (Ill.), 15-3
6. Rockford (Mich.), 17-3
7. Hinsdale Central (Ill.), 12-8
8. Sycamore (Ohio), 16-3
9. Medina (Ohio), 10-7
10. Eden Prairie (Minn.), 12-1
All of the region's top teams are on a roll – indeed, the entire Top 10 went undefeated this past week. Medina (Ohio) was particularly impressive, holding off a Shaker Heights (Ohio) squad that took it to overtime weeks earlier and then edging 14-win Olentangy (Ohio).
After toeing .500 earlier this season, Neuqua Valley (Ill.) lost five of its final six, including getting blown out by Montini (Ill.) twice.
Midwest Girls' Player of the Week
Alex Vander Molen, Rockford (Mich.)
It's no surprise that Vander Molen has carried her strong play into the state postseason. She notched six goals and an assist in Rockford's opening-round victory over Portage Northern (Mich.). That was after she notched five goals in the regular-season finale against Okemos (Mich.). A week earlier, she had three goals and three assists against Catholic Central (Mich.). The junior has proven that she is capable of exploding at any time.
Also notable: Brennan Dwyer (Loyola, Ill.), Jessica Lagerquist (Eden Prairie, Minn.), Sara Woodring (Eden Prairie, Minn.), Annie Lyman (Blake, Minn.)
Girls' Games to Watch
Grand Rapids Christian (Mich.) at Caledonia (Mich.), May 26
It should be an action-packed regional semifinal doubleheader in Caledonia, beginning with this one. The Fighting Scots, typically among the toughest teams in the area, seek to reach .500 with a win over a Grand Rapids Christian team it beat by just three goals earlier this season. A win would likely give it a chance to knock off East Grand Rapids (Mich.), the heavy favorite to take the state title.
Upper Arlington (Ohio) vs. Medina (Ohio), May 29
On April 11, on one of the first warm days of the year, Upper Arlington (Ohio) held off Medina (Ohio) in the Hannigan-Galipault Tournament. The Golden Bears dominated pace of play, but the Battling Bees – Sarah Vanadia, in particular – had enough finishing ability to keep it interesting. Their seasons went in drastically different directions with the Battling Bees struggling at times against the best of the Midwest and the Golden Bears winning 16 in a row while playing nine of their final 10 regular-season games against in-state opposition. On Friday night, top-seeded Upper Arlington meets fourth-seeded Medina once again – this time with a state title berth on the line.
Boys' Midwest Notebook
For Culver Military (Ind.), this was not the undefeated campaign of 2014 – a season that included road wins over McDonogh (Md.), Cincinnati St. Xavier (Ohio), Loyola Academy (Ill.), New Trier (Ill.) and Brother Rice (Mich.).
In fact, the Eagles' six losses in 2015 – including two out of three to end the year – marked their most since 2007.
And yet, this still has to be considered one of the most impressive seasons in program history. Their season still ended competitively, as the Eagles fell in overtime to one-loss Hill Academy (Canada) and by four goals at Haverford (Pa.), the top-ranked team in the nation.
If there were any doubts about Culver Military's ability to compete nationally, 2015 should have erased them.
Meanwhile, 2016 could see the program move among the nation's top teams – as the Eagles lose Dawson McKenzie, but bring back nearly everyone else.
Girls' Midwest Notebook
With a well-balanced offense, including several players above the 20-goal mark, the Park Tudor (Ind.) girls have surged into the state semifinals.
The Panthers lack the gaudy record of the other three semifinalists and had to upset higher seed Bishop Chatard (Ind.) to get there.
In the Final Four, they join Cathedral (Ind.) and Fishers (Ind.), which are both 15-2, and Carmel (Ind.), which is 14-4. Park Tudor, meanwhile, has seven losses, and after a 3-0 start, went 7-7 over its next 14. Still, as the sports cliché goes, it's a brand new season now.
Nike/LM Midwest Region Report Archive
- May 19: Country Day Making a Run?
- May 12: Marquee Win for East Grand Rapids
- May 5: EGR's Road Swing
- April 28: Hudson's Title Hopes
- April 21: The Illinois Food Chain
- April 14: Depth Gauge in Ohio?
- April 7: Loyola Rambles On
- March 31: Early Challenges Key
- March 24: Excellence Takes Work
- March 17: Mason's Familiar Face on New Sideline
- February 25: Preseason Top 10 and Players of the Year
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