We had so many great prep sports team that showcased superior talent and every one of these nominees made a run to State. For our final NSW Award of the show, let’s go to Justin Cornwell with the nominees for Team of the Year sponsored by BMO.
Benet Academy Girls Volleyball
Our first nominee is no stranger to the Team of the Year award category. Benet Academy girls volleyball has been an absolute powerhouse for over 15 years when head coach Brad Baker took over the program. After falling in the sectional semifinals last season, the Redwings went back to working their way to the State series at Illinois State. The team got off to a strong start, winning the always competitive Wheaton Classic. There was a bit of a rough patch with the team dropping three matches in a two week span in late October, before righting the ship as the post season began. Behind seniors like Kristen Krammer, Gabija Staniskis, Annie Eschenbach and Peyton Turner and underclassmen Ava Novak, Aniya Warren and Lynney Tarnow, the Wings rolled through the regional and sectional rounds, not losing a set along the way. They also dominated O’Fallon to win the supersectional plaque and Barrington in the State semifinals. The 4A championship match against Mother McAuley went back and forth, and needed all three sets to decide the winner. But the Macs were able to pull away in set three to win the title. A 37-5 season and a State runner up finish is more than deserving of another nomination for Team of the Year for Benet Academy girls volleyball.
Naperville Central Boys Soccer
For over a decade, Naperville Central boys soccer has been a program haunted by near misses. Three straight trips to State from 2011-2013 that ended in heartbreak and the inability to get past rival Naperville North, who has dominated the sectional since 2016. This fall, that all changed for the Redhawks. Despite an early stumble in the Best of the West tournament, Central went on a tear from mid-September through the end of the season, including victories over Naperville North in DVC play and a 3-2 thriller in the sectional championship. Joey LoDuca, Josh Weigel, Nathan Kwon and Sean O’Reilly all scored double digits goals, led by freshman phenom Chase Adams, who led the team with 21 goals and 19 assists. Goalies Dylan Scott and Austin Waite split time in net, each performing admirably all season. Defense tends to tighten up the deeper you get into the post season, but the red and white showed off their firepower with three goals in the sectional final, four in a supersectional win over Hinsdale Central and a 5-0 shutout over Stevenson in the State semifinals. In the 3A championship against Romeoville, Josh Weigel’s second half goal was the difference as Naperville Central boys soccer was victorious by a 1-0 score. What made the moment even sweeter was Chase and Carter Adams helping their father, longtime head coach Troy Adams, finally earn that long awaited State title.
Benet Academy Girls Basketball
Benet Academy girls basketball is another Team of the Year mainstay after earning State trophies in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2022. After a fourth place finish a season ago, the hopes were high once again that another trip to Illinois State may be in the cards. As per usual under head coach Joe Kilbride, the Redwings faced a daunting schedule filled with top competition from across Illinois and surrounding states. Despite some last minute defeats, the challenging journey prepared the likes of Sam Trimberger, Maggie and Emilia Sularski, Lindsay Harzich and of course, the Ms. Illinois Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year, Lenee Beaumont. Having gone through the fires prepared the Wings to erase an early deficit against Waubonsie Valley in the sectional championship. And when Kenwood hit a go ahead three pointer with less than ten seconds to play in the supersectional, Benet executed the game winning play to perfection as Beaumont found Harzich for the last second layup to send their team back to State. In the semifinals against Geneva, it was Sam Trimberger who played the hero with a rebound and a pair of last second free throws to secure a 50-48 win. The magic ran out in the 4A State championship against O’Fallon in another thriller as the Redwings fell in double overtime 62-57. Despite the heartbreaking finish, it was another season to remember for Redwing girls hoops with the State runner up trophy joining the overflowing case in the Benet athletics hallway.
Benet Academy Boys Basketball
Benet Academy boys basketball has also been a mainstay in the elite programs of the state since the early days of head coach Gene Heidkamp’s tenure. One of the most impressive aspects of Coach Heidkamp is his ability to get a new lineup playing at a high level year after year, even following the graduation of talented seniors. This year was no exception with seniors Sam Driscoll, Andy Nash and junior Parker Sulaver teaming up with the three headed monster of Nico Abusara, Brady Kunka and Brayden Fagbemi. The team cruised through the first half of the schedule before truly proving their mettle with impressive victories over Joliet West and Kenwood. The Wings entered the post season with only one loss, and that was a 52-49 defeat to top ranked Simeon in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. The record breaking season nearly came to an abrupt end in the sectional championship against Geneva, before Brayden Fagbemi saved the season with a game winning putback in the final seconds. Benet went on to advance to the 4A State championship for a third time since 2014 after blowout victories over Rockford Auburn and New Trier. Unfortunately, the Redwings came up short in the finale once again, falling to Moline to bring home the runner-up trophy. But there was no reason for this special group to hang their heads after setting a new school record with 35 wins and snagging another piece of hardware to bring home.
Neuqua Valley Badminton
Naperville is always in the mix when it comes to competing for State trophies in badminton. It’s just a matter of which local team emerges as the top contender. This season it was clear from the start that Neuqua Valley had the talent on the roster to find a place on the podium. The blue and gold won both the DVC and a sectional championship while going undefeated in conference play. Leading the way for Coach Benson was sophomore Hannah George, who built on a third place State finish as a freshman and made it to the singles championship this spring after winning DVC and sectional titles. George fell in the championship in a tough three set battle, but handed the champion Andrea Li her first set loss in over two years. Wanhan Sun brought her experience to the singles bracket and won two matches at the State meet, while the pairing of Yilin Liu and Cynthia Zhang won three matches in doubles. Aarushi Choudhary and Kanyanat Vajworarat became a doubles team just before the post season began, but the chemistry came together quickly as the Wildcats won a sectional championship and finished in 4th place at the State meet. All that added up to a State badminton runner up trophy, the best finish for the program since 2017.
Neuqua Valley Boys Track and Field
Another Neuqua Valley squad who had a spring season to remember was the boys track and field team. After winning State championships in 2018 and 2021, the Wildcats and head coach Mike Kennedy hoped for a similar performance this year. Winning the DVC indoor championship does not always translate into automatic success the rest of the season, but this year it did seem to be a sign of things to come as Neuqua Valley took home the plaque. The boys in blue and gold repeated the feat in the DVC outdoor meet, before taking home the Plainfield North sectional championship as well. Strong performances from a wide range of events led the way like Thomas Kiefer in the pole vault, James Ammenhauser in the long and triple jump and the 4X100 and 4X200 meter relays. Distance runners Robert Glenn and Zac Close performed well all year as did sprinters Jake Lansdowne and Austin Belle. On the blue track of Eastern Illinois for the 3A State meet, Ammenhauser, Close, Landowne, Belle and both relays earned All-State honors. Heading into the second to last race of the night, Austin Belle delivered a runner up performance in the 200 meters, which clinched the 2nd place trophy for the Wildcats. Another outstanding season for the program as legendary distance coach Paul Vandersteen capped off a Hall of Fame career with one final piece of hardware.
Benet Academy Girls Soccer
Our final nominee has powered itself into the conversation of the top teams in the state over the past five years. Benet Academy girls soccer has always been a solid program, but with three State appearances since 2019, Coach Gerard Oconer’s girls have proven they belong. Following a 2A runner up performance a season ago, the Redwings were eager to get another chance this spring. A mix of top returning talent like Anna Casmere, Rachel Burns, Rania Fikri, Brinkley Douglas, Reese MacDonald, Sadie Sterbenz and Keira Petrucelli combined with exciting newcomers like Ivana Vukas and Annie Fitzgerald to form a potent lineup. Goalie Shannon Clark was back in net and allowed only 14 goals all season. Benet went undefeated in ESCC play and handily won a regional championship as well. The Redwings were able to earn a second consecutive sectional championship after a late victory over Kaneland in the semis and a 4-0 shutout over Lemont in the final. The supersectional against Peoria Notre Dame needed overtime to decide a winner as both goalies kept the game scoreless through the first 80 minutes. Annie Fitzgerald was the hero as she scored the game winner in the extra session to send her team back to State. A 2-0 shutout of Crystal Lake Central set up a championship game matchup with Glenwood. This game would also need overtime to decide a winner, but unfortunately the Redwings fell 2-0 and ended another outstanding 20 win campaign as the 2A State runner up.
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