There were several teams this season who made massive improvements from last year into this year. Some of them jumped from the bottom of their conference standings all the way to championship contenders. Anthony Yench brings us the nominees for Most Improved Team sponsored by LifeStance Health.
Naperville Central Girls Cross Country & Track and Field
It was a good season for our local runners. For the Most Improved Team nominee Naperville Central girls runners, it was one of the best seasons in decades. The Redhawks cross country team qualified for state as a team for the first time since 2018 where they finished in 6th place, the team’s best finish since 1990. Sophomores Liv Phillips, Ava Hendren and Kate Tueting first made their mark a year ago, but stepped up to a higher level this fall. All seven of their top finishers will return to next year’s team as well. Along with the strong long distance season, the track and field team also had a year to remember this spring. After finishing in second place at the Indoor DVC meet by a single point, the Redhawks girls track and field group won the outdoor DVC meet for the first time in 20 years. Sophomore pole vaulter Kait McHale was a sectional champion and an All-State performer in her first season competing on the vault. Another sophomore, Brooke Sawatzky qualified for state as well in the triple jump, the 100 hurdles and as a member of the 4X400 relay. A talented team that took a big leap and should just keep getting better.
Metea Valley Girls Water Polo
Last year was not a season to remember for the Most Improved Team nominee Metea Valley girls water polo team. They finished the season with a record of 1-13 and last place in the DVC. For a program that has been historically strong, the black and gold wanted to make sure a bounce back was in store this spring. The 2022 season was not the best in program history by any means for the Mustangs but there was a substantial upgrade in the pool. The team finished their campaign with a record of 17-12-1 and advanced to the sectional semifinals where they lost to the eventual state champions, Naperville North. A 16 win improvement. Even better news for Metea Valley is that players such as Allie Leslie, Zoe Luttrell, and Marly Schroeder are returning next season.
Naperville North Boys Water Polo
Much similar to Metea Girls Water Polo, the Most Improved Team nominee Naperville North boys water polo team struggled in 2021 finishing with a record of 2-8. However, 2022 was a much different season for the Huskies, who completely flipped the script by finishing the year with a 23-5 record. The Huskies also took down crosstown rival Naperville Central by a score of 10-9 in a thrilling sectional final, giving North their first sectional title since 2014. It’s always helpful when freshmen come in and help the team. Well that’s exactly what Jack Reif and Mason Hofmann did, scoring 139 goals between the pair. The blue and orange were also led by a group of seniors such as first team All-State pick, Tyson Berg, Ryan Liberio, Max Ziller, and Patrick Horn. Despite North losing to Lyons Township in the State Quarterfinals, the 2022 season was a major step forward for the Huskies, who once again look poised to compete for trips to state on a regular basis. A quick tip of the cap to Waubonsie Valley boys water polo, who set a program record for wins in a season this year.
Benet Academy Softball
Benet Academy Softball opened up their 2022 season with a 21-0 win over Westmont, the most runs a Redwing team has scored in a game since 2017. A year ago the program finished with a 17-14 overall record, a 5-6 conference record and a 3A regional championship. This season the Wings finished with a 21-7 record. Not only did they improve on their overall record they also won a second straight regional championship and made their first sectional final appearance in 11 years by knocking out Fenwick in the Sectional Semis. While the improvement in overall record was not as drastic as other nominees, it was the dominant nature of many of the Benet victories that was especially notable. North Central College commit Sami Schilf led the way for the Redwings on the mound and with the bat. Other senior players who have seen this team get better and better like Grace Fajardo, Elayna Brdecka, Sam Mikitka and Taylor Sconza, and promising underclassmen Nina Pesare and Bridget Chapman helped lift Redwing softball to one of the area’s top programs.
Naperville North Softball
Our final nominee is the Naperville North Softball team. It’s no secret that the program has had its struggles to put together consistent winning teams, specifically in the postseason. Coming into the year, the Huskies had not won a Regional Championship since 2012. Last season, the Huskies showed the early signs of growth and finished with a record of 16-14, finishing 3rd in the DVC behind Naperville Central and Neuqua Valley. In 2022, it all came together for the blue and orange, leading to one of the best seasons the program has ever seen. Led by DVC Pitcher of the Year, junior Charlotte Chelich, fellow juniors Kristina Donaldson, Laurel Anstine, Shayna Woolwine, and senior captain Kendall Kedziora, the team finished with a record of 26-4, the most wins in program history. The Huskies won the DVC regular season Championship and they also took home that ever elusive Regional plaque against rival Naperville Central. The team eventually saw the memorable run come to an end at the hands of Neuqua Valley by the score of 5-0 in the Sectional Semifinals. Nonetheless, Naperville North softball looks to be on the rise and is ready to compete for another DVC crown in 2023.