Naperville Sports Weekly Awards Show 2024 Newcomer of the Year

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Whether they were freshmen or playing on the varsity level for the first time, our Naperville Sports Weekly Awards Show Newcomer of the Year nominees shined all over the field. Find out more about these fresh faces. This segment is sponsored by BMO.

Naperville Central’s Aiden Clark

Our first Newcomer of the Year nominee is the only upperclassmen on our list. Aidan Clark stepped into the starting running back role for Naperville Central football and hit the ground running. The Redhawks won the DVC championship and advanced to the second round of the 8A playoffs thanks in large part to junior’s efforts as Clark rushed for over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns along with 14 catches out of the backfield and another score. His peak performance came in a round one playoff game over Downers Grove South, where he scored four touchdowns on the night in a 31-22 victory.

This spring he stepped into the batter’s box for the Central baseball team and proved to be just as valuable. Clark hit .377 on the season with a .463 on base percentage and a .926 OPS. By the end of the year he earned All-DuPage Valley Conference honors in both football and baseball as both squads are excited to see what Clark has in store for his senior season.

Naperville Central’s Emerson Burke

Next up is another Naperville Central two-sport athlete in freshman Emerson Burke. The Redhawk first made a name for herself on the hardwood, becoming one of the more reliable scorers and outside shooters for Coach Andy Nussbaum. An honorable mention All-DVC and All-Area pick, Burke joined teammate Erin Hackett as a major contributor on the girls basketball and girls soccer teams.

In the spring, the young Redhawk made her presence felt all over the pitch with timely goals and assists, helping Naperville Central win both a regional and its first sectional championship since 1995. Despite a supersectional loss to St. Charles North, it was a memorable season for the red and white as Burke was named honorable mention All-DVC and All-Area for a second time this year.

Naperville North’s Stas Kalabayda

Although boys gymnastics is no longer an IHSA sport, there are still plenty of great athletes competing at Naperville Central and Naperville North on the club level. The Huskies already had standout performers like Jack Halama and Matas Budreika. But it was Ukrainian freshman Stas Kalabayda who burst onto the season as one of the best gymnasts in the state. From his first meet of the year this spring, the Huskie dazzled in just about every event. At the conference meet, he competed amongst the top teams and individuals in the state, finishing as the runner up on the pommel horse and winning the first place medal on the Vault. That helped North finish in second place as a team, just behind the eventual state champion, the Wheaton Co-op. With scores that frequently tallied well into the 9’s, state championship dreams would certainly have been a possibility, but Kalabayda was unable to attend the sectional meet due to national competitions. Naperville North was still able to finish in the top ten at state as a team. Hopefully we will be able to see much more from the high flying freshman phenom in the years to come.

Neuqua Valley’s Luna Han

Badminton is a sport where it is not uncommon to see freshman come in and make a big impact right away. Neuqua Valley is a program that has produced many talented players in the past and freshman Luna Han looks to be the next in a long line of Wildcat greats. With junior Hannah George locking down the number one singles spot, Han stepped in to play two singles during the regular season and one doubles with veteran partner Kanyant Vajworarat. Han rolled through singles in conference play, never suffering a loss but doubles was always the main focus for the freshman and Coach Benson. Vajworarat was a state medalist a season ago and took her young partner under her wing as the duo flourished throughout the year.

Once the post season began, Han and Vajworarat began to lay waste to the competition, winning the DVC and sectional championships as Neuqua Valley also won the titles as a team. Despite it being her first state appearance, Han did not appear intimidated by the step up in competition and the bright lights. The Wildcat pair advanced to the state championship without dropping a set all tournament long. In the doubles final, Han and Vajworarat won the state championship in straight sets 21-16, 21-14 over Stevenson, becoming the third Neuqua duo to achieve the feat. Luna Han became the first Neuqua Valley freshman to win a first place badminton medal, helping her team to the third place state trophy.

Benet Academy’s Alaina and Sophie Rosner

The final nominee, or should I say, nominees simply could not be separated. We are talking about Benet Academy twin softball players Alaina and Sophie Rosner. After a third place finish at state in class 3A a season ago, the Redwings needed some extra punch to help with the move up to 4A this spring. The pair of freshman was just what longtime head coach Jerry Schilf needed before heading off into the sunset. Lanie instantly became one of the top hitters in an already loaded lineup, putting up a .419 batting average and driving in 20 runs on the season. Sophie was a helpful bat as well, hitting .312 at the plate with 28 RBI including a pair of home runs in a regional championship victory over Willowbrook. But it was on the mound where she made the biggest impact, earning All-Conference honors and being named the ESCC Pitcher of the Year thanks to a 2.43 ERA. With the Rosners joining talented players like Nina Pesare, Bridget Chapman, Grace Babich, and Angela and Gianna Horejs, the Wings rolled off 19 wins in 20 games in the middle of the season. Benet eventually fell in a heartbreaker to Downers Grove North in the sectional semifinals, but the future remains bright for the Redwings thanks to this dynamic twin duo.

For more highlights of these Newcomer standouts and Awards Show content, visit our Naperville Sports Weekly page!