Naperville Sports Weekly Awards Show 2024 Most Improved Team

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The Naperville Sports Weekly 2024 Most Improved Team of the Year Award showcases local teams who improved their record from a season ago. Some of them went from listing season to conference or Regional Champions! Preston Zbroszczyk give us our nominees for the Naperville Sports Weekly Most Improved Team, sponsored by BMO.

Naperville Central girls golf 

Our first Most Improved Team nominee come from the first sport to start every season, girls golf. Naperville Central had one of the strongest programs in the area for decades under longtime head coach Jane Thompson, but when she retired following the 2019 season, the program found itself stuck in the rough. This past fall, the Redhawks got the ball rolling in the right direction, led by a young core that showed major growth over previous seasons. The team was regularly competitive in duel matches and despite a fifth place finish in the DVC tournament, the Central girls improved their overall team score by 52 strokes compared to 2022.

At the regional meet the following week, the Redhawks once again showed they were a program on the rise, finishing in seventh place, 39 strokes better than the previous regional performance. Sophomores Ashika Patel and Poppy Marusin also became the first sectional qualifiers for the team since 2019, while fellow sophomore Mae Binkowski missed the cut by a single stroke. Freshman Alexa Miller, junior Avery Dunn and senior Kade Schiltz also played key roles in the turnaround that has a chance to take another big step in 2024.

Naperville Hockey Club 

Our next nominee is a bit unique in the fact that the team did not even exist a season ago. The Naperville Hockey Club formed, combining longtime crosstown rivals Naperville North and Naperville Central into one team. Naperville Central did not even have a varsity team in 2022-23, only competing in the JV divisions while Naperville North had fallen into the lower tier of the Illinois West standings following a strong run of success in previous campaigns. It did not take long for the NHC to prove that it was ready to compete with the top teams in the area. Sean Delaney, Thomas King, Jacob Matthews Ian Denker, goalie Jack Houck and All-Conference forward Louis Iandoli were leaders on the ice.

After qualifying for the gold bracket of the Illinois West tournament, Naperville truly turned some heads in the combined division of the Blackhawk Cup. The team picked up three victories, including a thrilling last second win over the DuPage Stars, before falling to the eventual state champions, the Warriors Hockey Club in the semifinals. With more time to work together and gel as a program, the Naperville Hockey Club should be in contention for years to come. 

Waubonsie Valley boys basketball

Waubonsie Valley boys basketball has been a solid program over the past 7-8 seasons, typically battling towards the top of the DuPage Valley Conference standings. The team was solid but not spectacular a season ago, finishing third in the DVC and 15-15 on the season overall. This winter, the Warriors hit the hardwood running and took the state by storm. The boys won their first 23 games of the season.

It was a team effort with the likes of Tyler Threat Ryan Morton, Cade Valek, Matt Sessom, Elijah Whitaker, Moses Wilson, Tre Blissett, and DVC Player of the Year and third team All-State guard Tyreek Coleman. Waubonsie won the DVC title for the first time ever and won a regional championship for just the second time in the past ten years.

Metea Valley softball

Metea Valley softball is the lone team on this list to have less success in the playoffs this season than last season, but the improvement for the Mustangs comes from the full body of work throughout the season. Following a surprise run to the regional championship game despite a 13-18 record in 2023, returning Metea players like Reese Valha, Genevieve Gonzales, Charlie Benesh and Claire Desrosiers hoped for a memorable year this spring. The black and gold crew delivered, improving to 16-13 overall while proving to be the team to beat in the DVC.

The Mustangs won the regular season conference championship as well as the DVC tournament title over Naperville Central for the first time in school history. Benesh, Valha and Gonzales were all unanimous All-DVC selections with Desrosiers and Grace Freeley also being honored. Despite a tough loss to West Aurora in the regional semifinals to end the season, it was a season to remember as Metea Valley blossomed into an area power on the diamond.

Naperville Central girls lacrosse

It would be fair to say that Naperville Central girls lacrosse has struggled in recent seasons. Entering the 2024 season, the Redhawks had won a combined four games over the past three years, including a winless 2022 season. This spring, the Redhawks were able to double that total, showcasing immense improvement and competitiveness all across the field. Team captains Emily Moran, Kritika Chitnis, Claire Heller, and Tessa Williams helped the team to eight wins and proved they could play in the clutch with a trio of victories over Geneva, St. Francis, and Rosary coming by a single goal.

The Redhawks also earned their first postseason victory in three years with a dominant 16-8 performance against the Streamwood Co-Op. Kate Anna Schatz and Brooke Liska are among the key upperclassmen who will return for the red and white next season to keep the arrow pointing up for Naperville Central.

Waubonsie Valley baseball

Our final nominee is a team that is no stranger to success, but took a major leap from 2023 to 2024. The Waubonsie Valley baseball team finished 12-18-1 a season ago, the fifth-place team in the DVC. This year, the Warriors did not just improve from last spring, they improved from a rough start to this season. After a 5-7 opening few weeks, Waubonsie went on a 20-3 tear en route to the DVC regular season and conference tournament championship. As great of a season as it was, Waubonsie and head coach Bryan Acevedo were eager to prove their mettle in the postseason after several tough regional losses over the past ten years. Sure enough, the Warriors earned their first regional championship since 2014 on a walk-off hit from Owen Roberts. The star junior followed that up with an even more memorable performance in the sectional semifinal, throwing a no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Plainfield North.

Players like Riley Roberts, Ryan Gustaitis, Ryan Morton, Ben Ford, Sean Carroll, Ryan Lucas, Hiroshi Wong, and Josh Hung all played major roles in helping the green and gold to its first sectional championship game appearance since 2005. A heartbreaking walkoff loss to Downers Grove North in the sectional final does not dampen the standout season for the Warriors on the diamond.1

Waubonsie Valley basketball wins the Naperville Sports Weekly Most Improved Team Award

The Naperville Sports Weekly Most Improved Team winner is Waubonsie Valley boys basketball! It was a thrill to watch the Warriors start the year 23-0, and bring home a Regional title!

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