The school that kept on piling up memorable moments throughout the high school sports season was Notre Dame High School.
It was no surprise that the Irish soccer team won the Class 2A soccer title. Notre Dame has long been one of the state’s elite soccer programs, but again, the moments of their state championship victory over Ridgewood is what made the game memorable.
The final score of the game was 8-0, which tied the largest margin of victory in a soccer state championship game. Goalkeeper Mark Streid is used to protecting the net, but he ditched the yellow jersey so he could score the eighth and final goal of a record-setting season.
On the very same day that PND cemented itself as the top soccer team in the state, the Irish took first place at the state cross country meet.
Two state championships. One day.
Just a few weeks later, Becky Stoughton won the 200 and 500 free at the state swimming meet.
And that was just the fall season.
Throughout the winter we were entertained by the PND boys basketball team, who spent most of the season as the number one team in Class 3A. The Irish rolled through an unbeaten regular season, winning titles at the Tournament of Champions and the State Farm Classic.
Notre Dame’s first and only loss came during the sectional semifinals against Mid-State 6 foe Central. However, the Irish won their first regional championship since the late 1990’s.
The area’s best basketball player - Max Bielfeldt - elevated himself from being a mid-major recruit to eventually choosing Michigan over Illinois.
In the spring, the girls soccer team made it all the way to super-sectionals with Jennie Coughlon in goal. She was one of the Irish’s biggest scoring threats and it turned out she was also their best defense. PND faced some injuries, forcing Coughlon to be in net for the last part of the regular season and the entire postseason. The only two goals she allowed throughout the playoffs were in the team’s super-sectional loss to Lemont.
Baseball, though, might have been the biggest surprise. Solid pitching propelled PND all the way to the super-sectional. They lost to Maple Park Kaneland on Monday, falling just one win short of making the state final four.
It’s fitting that the high school sports season began and ended with Notre Dame.
Best School - Notre Dame (see above)
Best Team - Notre Dame Boys Soccer: There was no team in the state, perhaps even the country, that was more dominant than they were.
Biggest Surprise - Normal Community Boys Basketball: The Iron finished fourth in the state’s biggest class, 4A, despite not even being picked to win their own conference. This team will be fun to watch again next season.
Great Story - Tremont Baseball: They closed out the season in the state final four at O’Brien Field and took fourth place. It’s the first state trophy the school has won in two plus decades.
Best Games - Richwoods/Joliet Catholic Football (State Quarterfinals): Noah Moore makes an unbelievable catch in the corner of the endzone on fourth down with just seconds to spare in the fourth quarter.
Central/Rock Island Basketball (Sectional Final): The Lions easily had one of the most talented teams in the state, but they finally came together in the postseason. I’ll remember this game because Central shot something like 17-of-54 from the field, made a fourth quarter charge when it seemed like the game was over and actually had a chance to win in the closing seconds. Rock Island won 54-52 and went on to win the Class 3A title.
I thought the Bulls had no chance of winning a championship when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted for South Beach instead of Chicago.
My expectations were at least realistic. I wasn’t expecting all three to sign with the Bulls, nor did Chicago have the cap space to facilitate such move. I thought to myself, “hey, if they at least get one of these guys, that makes Chicago a championship contender with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah already on board.”
The denial started when reports surfaced on the day of “The Decision” that LeBron, Wade and Bosh wouldn’t be taking their talents to the Windy City. I even convinced myself before “The Decision” aired that the LeBron to Miami report was perhaps a smokescreen to make the now infamous program that much more dramatic.
After LeBron uttered “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach,” I didn’t want to light my LeBron Cavs jersey on fire like most of Cleveland did. Rather I was ready to torch my Ben Wallace Bulls jersey. I figured that I could get some temporary use out of the number three jersey by duct taping Wade’s last name over Wallace’s. Ultimately, I didn’t light the Zippo and the Wallace jersey is collecting dust in my closet.
However, I was impressed by the secondary players the Bulls were able to sign in free agency. The fact remained that these guys were secondary. Carlos Boozer, Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver were all nice. Of course there’s a but…but they just weren’t the star power that I thought the Bulls needed to win a title.
I even wondered how Chicago would do with an overhauled roster and a first time head coach running the show. The Bulls started the season playing good - very good.
I still wasn’t satisfied.
Carmelo Anthony wanted out of Denver and the Bulls had my approval to unload Noah if that’s what it took to get him to Chicago. I thought it gave the Bulls another scorer to compliment Rose and a true 1-2 punch in the their starting lineup.
The Knicks and Nets were making plays for Anthony, but a couple separate deals fell through for New Jersey and it didn’t seem viable for New York to unload their roster to only be left with Carmelo and Amare.
I again entered dreamland again by thinking that Denver would want to get something rather than nothing for Carmelo, so they would ultimately agree to take a player like Luol Deng. It was reported that the Nuggets had no interest in Deng from the beginning because of his massive contract.
We all know what happened from there: The Knicks gave everybody on their roster to Denver for Carmelo and Chauncey Billups.
All the Bulls did was lock up the top-seed in the Eastern Conference without acquiring LeBron, Wade, Bosh or Carmelo.
Ultimately, the Bulls made the biggest leap because Tom Thibodeau made the Bulls a better defensive team and Rose elevated himself to among the NBA’s elite by developing a consistent offensive game.
Chicago’s dynamic would be very different with another star player on its roster. As it turns out, the Bulls had that star player on their roster all along.
I don’t know if the Bulls will win a championship, but they will be in contention for years to come.
Now if they could only acquire a good shooting guard…
“I’m reluctant to say one of those things over the other. It’s always helpful to have head coaching experience, but I wouldn’t want to say we’re only looking at head coaches. The reason is that there is some great assistants out there and most people have been an assistant coach at one point in their life and they’ve got to have their first opportunity. Making discerning judgments on who can become a head coach and be a successful one is what you have to do as it relates to assistants. It’s always nice to have somebody who has a proven track record as a head coach and go that route. Again, the best person and the best fit for Bradley is really what we’re looking for.”—Bradley AD Dr. Michael Cross on the search for Bradley’s new basketball coach
“I want to play for Bradley. There’s no question about it, but at the same time you have to understand that this is a big four years of my life and we have to take in consideration of what’s best for me and what’s the best fit. I am going to wait and see who the coach is going to be and sit down and talk with the coach, see what his plans are, see which way he wants the program to go and if it’s something me and my family think is right, we’re going to stay there.”—Limestone Senior Donivine Stewart on his future now that Bradley is looking for a new basketball coach.
What I do know is that Bradley’s basketball program now possesses all the intangibles to have a successful program that should be in contention for conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths every year.
The Braves currently possess what few mid-major programs in the entire country have: the total package.
- Bradley has a fan base that is usually at least 9,000 strong at Carver Arena
- The university has Renaissance Coliseum, a new on-campus facility that has an arena, a practice court, locker rooms, an academic center and a team lounge
- Peoria is not only a basketball hotbed, but the Bradley program should be able to pull talent from metro areas like Chicago and St. Louis
- Academically, Bradley is a great place to get a college education
It’s not ridiculous to have high expectations for the Braves. I’ve been around plenty of mid-major programs over the years that didn’t have a very good fan base, the facility wasn’t quite up to par or was geographically challenged to land the basketball talent necessary to win.
The best mid-majors overcome those deficiencies.
Right now, the Braves only have one: winning. Bradley has just two NCAA Tournament appearances in 20 years. The last came in 2006 when Les guided the Braves to the Sweet 16.
A winning culture can be cultivated. In many cases, the other stuff simply can’t.
I’ll make this quicker than the previous mega-post on the high school hoops postseason. Take these picks for what they are - an educated guess. I haven’t seen every team in the state play this season, so some of this is based off of what I’ve read and heard.
Class 3A Final Four
Peoria Notre Dame
Semifinals: Notre Dame over Morgan Park, Crane over Lincoln
Finals: Notre Dame over Crane
Quick Analysis: Peoria Notre Dame becomes the first team in the city’s history to win an undefeated championship.
Class 4A Final Four
Niles Notre Dame
Semifinals: Simeon over Benet, Niles ND over NCHS
Finals: Simeon over Niles ND
Quick Analysis: It’s too bad that Benet and Simeon won’t play for a state championship. They’ll provide a thrilling semifinal game, but the loser should be known as second-best.
Since I moved back to central Illinois in September, I’ve been waiting for this four-week stretch of pure basketball bliss. I grew up in the Springfield-area and was well aware of the deep basketball tradition that Peoria had and now I’m thrilled to be totally engrossed in the action.
I was at Carver Arena in 2004 when the Shaun Livingston led Central team completed a run of back-to-back titles. Since then, four big school teams have been back to the title game but haven’t held up a first place trophy.
Seven years after the Lions won, an undefeated Peoria Notre Dame team is the favorite to win the state title in 3A. The Irish would be the first undefeated champion in Peoria history. Central and Manual have won all nine of the city’s titles. Consider the dynasties - Manual’s titles teams loaded with Division-I talent from 1994 to 1997 are legendary, while the 2003 and 2004 Central teams were electrifying and have Peoria’s most notable NBA player in Livingston, who was the fourth overall pick out of high school in ‘04.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that times have changed - those squads won championships in a two-class system. Those teams had few measly losses, but are completely in a class of their own. It’d be hard to compare this year’s Notre Dame team against those aforementioned institutions.
Before any talk like that can even begin Notre Dame has to get through the gauntlet.
The Bloomington Central Catholic girls basketball team has been good this season.
The Saints stormed through the playoffs, winning by an average margin of 34 points per game, including a 32 point win over Litchfield in Monday’s super-sectional.
That’s how good they’ve been.
BCC, the defending 2A champions, is taking a 41 game winning streak into this weekend’s state finals.
If the Saints complete a run of back-to-back titles, the questions will start flying about where they belong in the history books.
Since the IHSA started the girls basketball playoffs 33 years ago, their have been 12 undefeated champions and 12 teams that have won consecutive titles. The only three-peat team was Teutopolis, who won in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
In terms of winning percentage, those Teutopolis teams from 1988 and 1989 had a two year record of 63-1. If Central Catholic wins the state championship on Saturday, they will have completed a two year run with a 65-1 record.
The Saints would come out with a marginally better winning percentage, while Teutopolis has the distinction of being the only team to win three consecutive titles.
BCC doesn’t have the long-term sustainability to brag about like Chicago Marshall’s seven championships or Teutopolis’ five titles.
The debatable topic is if the Saints win, has their been a more dominant team during a two-year stretch than Bloomington Central Catholic?
Comment below or sent me a @ reply on Twitter. @kdierking
Now that high school holiday basketball has been fully digested and the latest AP basketball poll has Peoria Notre Dame as the top team in 3A, let’s take a look at the Irish’s potential path come late February/early March.
The IHSA has only released regional and sectional assignments, but it still can paint a picture of what’s ahead.
The Irish are in the Dunlap regional that includes Galesburg, Richwoods and the host Eagles.
The Knights and Galesburg pose challenges to PND and we’ll get to see a more experienced Irish team match-up against a young Richwoods squad on Friday night.
Assuming that Notre Dame comes out unscathed, the sectional at Bradley’s Renaissance Coliseum should feature Rock Island (Rock Island Regional), Manual or Central (Manual Regional) and a Yorkville Regional that has no state-ranked team’s in the latest poll.
Notre Dame defeated Rock Island by 17 points in last week’s State Farm Classic semifinals, but the biggest threat is who comes out of the Manual regional.
Central has a team that will continue to get better as the season draws closer to the postseason. Lions coach Dan Ruffin put together a tough schedule that has challenged a squad that is still gelling with Woodruff transfers.
Manual is a team that was just a few points away from a state championship last year, but lacks seniors this season. The Rams are an extremely fast team and has a group of solid guards. They also played Notre Dame big men Max Bielfeldt and Drew Blumenshine very well in a December meeting. However, that left the ND guards with open looks on the perimeter and guys like David Molinari made Manual pay.
We’ll have a much more definitive picture of Manual and Central’s development when Notre Dame plays them in the second round of Mid-State 6 play. The Irish play at Manual on January 28th and host Central on February 4th.
Keep in mind that Notre Dame has never gotten out of regionals, yet now they’re the team with the biggest target on their back as we head into the second half of the regular season.