Most Improved Team // NSW Awards // Season 16

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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 title contenders. Joe Kennedy brings us the nominees for Most Improved Team sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Waubonsie Valley girls bowling

For about a decade, Most Improved Team candidate Waubonsie Valley girls bowling was one of the most feared program in the state of Illinois, winning back-to-back IHSA Championships in 2013 and 2014 and taking home 3rd place trophies in 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2017. From 2018-2022, the Warriors went into a rut, never finishing better than 4th place in the DVC and only seeing one bowler qualify for the sectional meet in that five season span. This winter, under 2nd year head coach Mike Knoll, Waubonsie Valley burst back onto the scene. Returning talent like seniors Abby Walton and Mackenzie Ondrejcak and Sam Wiertelak all took big steps forward. First-year bowlers in senior Sarah Fournier, and juniors Lauren Bornhoff and Mya Zatloukal all took major strides as the season went along. The green and gold finished the season on a tear, winning their last two conference matchups and winning the DVC tournament for the first time and finishing second overall in the standings. The Warriors proved they belonged with top conference teams like Metea Valley and Naperville Central and for the first time since 2017, qualified multiple bowlers to the sectional round, with Ondrejcak and Zatloukal making the cut. While there are still big strides to be made to get back to the State contender level, the program now has more momentum than it has seen in over a half-decade.

Waubonsie Valley boys tennis

Waubonsie Valley boys tennis entered the 2023 season with a young roster, full of cautious optimism that the team could fulfill its potential this spring. The Warriors finished 4th in the DVC in 2022, and graduated two-time State singles qualifier Elliot Dam. Legendary head coach Phil Galow found the right combinations this season to put together one of the best campaigns in school history. Senior Jackson Jiang paired with freshman Revanth Kothapalli and qualified for State out of the tough Metea Valley sectional. Another freshman, Hector Diaz, dazzled in the number two singles spot all year with several key wins in DVC play, including a win in the DVC two singles tournament, before qualifying for State as well. Seniors Pranav Inampudi and Rishi Mahadevan missed out on State by one spot, but still performed well throughout the year. Aidan Lam took the biggest leap from his junior to senior season playing at number one singles. Lam won the DVC singles tournament and finished as the runner up in the sectional, helping Waubonsie to a second place team finish as well. At the State meet, Lam won his first three matches, advancing to the quarterfinals. All three green and gold qualifiers won at least two matches at the State meet, helping Waubonsie Valley to a 10th place team finish, the best in the 40+ year history of the program! While Neuqua Valley and Naperville North took home conference and sectional plaques this spring, no local team showed more improvement or finished higher in the IHSA standings.

Metea Valley boys basketball

Most Improved Team candidate Metea Valley boys basketball was one of the first varsity programs in school history to make a deep post season run, winning 22 games and a regional championship before falling in the sectional final in 2012. Since that time, it’s been more of a roller coaster for Mustangs hoops. After a 10-22 record and just a two-win campaign in the DVC a season ago, the expectations were not particularly high for the black and gold heading into the 2022-23 campaign. But head coach Isaiah Davis and his players made a major turnaround, racking up the most wins since that magical 2012 season. Buoyed by a 12-1 stretch from late December through late January, the Mustangs flipped the script with a 21-10 record and a number four seed in the Bartlett sectional. Seniors Jahki Gray, Quentin Schaffer, Jackson Corbett and Javion Grizzle were just a few who stepped their games up. Underclassmen Will Ashford, James Parker, Nick Schroeder also played major roles in the team’s resurgence. Unfortunately, the Mustangs lost an overtime heartbreaker to Willowbrook in the regional semifinals, but that does not take away from the shot of adrenaline this season provided to the Metea program.

Naperville Central boys lacrosse

No way to sugarcoat it, Most Improved Team candidate Naperville Central boys lacrosse had hit rock bottom in the 2022 season. The Redhawks did not win a single game all year, and that was coming off of a 1-19 campaign in 2021. In fact, the team had only four victories combined since the start of the 2018 season. Things were not going well. This spring, head coach Blake Zinn and this Redhawk roster finally got the ship turning towards the right direction. In just their third match of the season, Central picked up win number one over Kaneland. Players like Owen O’Rear, Declan Burke, Grayson Hale, Nathan LaPerna, Broden Oswald to name a few, all helped lead the charge. As the year neared the home stretch, won three of four matchups over Homewood-Flossmoor, Brother Rice and The Valley, their first conference victory since 2019. By the end of the season, Naperville Central boys lacrosse had seven games in the win column, the most since 2017. Despite a loss to begin post season play as the The Valley got its revenge, this red and white quad should feel proud for the turnaround they led on the field.

Neuqua Valley girls basketball

Our final nomination for Most Improved Team came down to a pair of teams who both experienced similar turnarounds and took home regional plaques following multi-year droughts. Both Naperville Central and Neuqua Valley girls basketball improved mightily on the court this winter. Central went from 14 wins to 23 while the Wildcats from 15 to 21. The teams even split the season series with each team winning at home. Neuqua Valley gets the nod as the most improved due to the Wildcats turnaround in DVC play under longtime head coach Mike Williams. The blue and gold struggled in conference a year ago with a 4-6 record. This season, the Cats won the DVC championship with a 9-1 record, before winning a regional title for the first time since 2016 with a win over Downers Grove North. Seniors like Tia Poulakidas and Kylee Norkus saw their years of hard work pay off with underclassmen like Caitlin Washington, Zoe Navarro, and Nalia Clifford playing key roles to bring the program back to the top of the conference standings.

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