Playing men’s soccer at Carthage College is a bit like playing for a McHenry County all-star team. Nine players from seven local high schools are part of the NCAA Division III team’s roster.
Before arriving on the Kenosha, Wis., campus, many players have a history of prep rivalries.
“Some of the guys you might not have liked in high school,” said senior defender Jordan Innis, a Crystal Lake South graduate.
Innis recalled tough high school matches against Jacobs, which is represented on the Carthage roster by senior forward Greg Pignataro and sophomore midfielder/defender Taylor Pignataro.
“There were some hard tackles in those games,” Innis said. “But now those boys are two of my best friends on the team.”
Going from rivals to teammates has played healthy dividends for Carthage’s program. Thanks to this season’s 12-4 record, Carthage has produced double-digit wins for six of the past seven seasons.
“We’re a family,” Innis said. “That shows in the way we play.”
Innis said a preseason trip before each season has been critical to bonding with new teammates and strengthening relationships.
“This year, we went to Texas for a week,” he said. “We spend the whole week jelling as a team, going to dinners. We get to know each other’s personalities. It’s helped us on the field as well as off the field.”
Tuesday’s 3-1 victory against Lake Forest was the team’s 12th win of the season and highlighted two of the team’s many contributors, Greg Pignataro and sophomore forward Michael Dombrowski (Johnsburg).
Pignataro, the team’s leader in assists with eight, had two assists and a goal in the contest. Dombrowski scored his ninth goal of the season, which ranks second behind Innis’ 11.
“We’re a bunch of hard-working guys,” said Dombrowski, whose 20 points rank second behind Innis’ 23. “Our No. 1 thing is to work off the ball.”
Carthage, which won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin regular-season and tournament titles a year ago, has received contributions from numerous local players. Junior forward Christian Harvey (Woodstock) and sophomore defender/midfielder Filip Dyminski (Marian Central) each has a two goals and five points on the season, while junior defender Jake Bukiri (McHenry West) and Taylor Pignataro each has two assists.
While the offense has outscored opponents 66-17, the defense has a 1.06 goals-against average and posted five shutouts.
At 2-2 in conference play, Carthage faces crucial matches tonight against North Park (1-0-2 in CCIW) and Oct. 27 against Illinois Wesleyan (4-0) in an attempt to qualify for the four-team league tournament, which begins Oct. 31.
“We’re in a win-or-die situation,” Innis said.
As the top seed in last season’s CCIW Tournament, Carthage won overtime games in the semifinal and final to claim the league title.
Playing in those situations, Dombrowski said, gives him faith in his teammates.
“It’s our experience,” Dombrowski said. “Last year, we played a very tough schedule and we won the conference. Nobody can take that memory away from us.”
Quincy’s best: Sophomore outside hitter Carly Schmitt (Johnsburg) and junior middle hitter Brittany Atkinson (Crystal Lake South) are two of the top contributors this fall for D-II Quincy University’s women’s volleyball team.
Schmitt leads the Hawks (11-9) with 2.7 kills per set. She posted a season-best 19 kills Aug. 31 in a 3-1 win against Concord.
Atkinson is second on the team with 41 total blocks and has posted four blocks in a match four times this fall. She also has contributed 143 kills this season.
Saginaw standout: Cary-Grove grad Taylor Clarke has helped D-II Saginaw Valley State’s men’s soccer team to the top spot in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division standings this fall.
The Cardinals (9-2-3) lead their division with a 6-2-2 record thanks to Clarke and a solid defense.
A junior defender who has started every match this season, Clarke is part of a unit that has compiled a 0.95 goals-against average and collected four shutouts.
Rocket launcher: Senior outside hitter Sondra Parys is second on D-I Toledo’s women’s volleyball team with 2.82 kills per set this season.
Parys, a Prairie Ridge grad, led the Rockets (8-13) with a match-high 14 kills last weekend in a 3-0 win against Kent State.
Top tackler: Valparaiso junior cornerback Dale Cook had a season-high eight tackles last weekend in the Crusaders’ 35-21 loss to Drake.
Cook, a Jacobs grad, is fourth on the team in tackles and has two pass breakups this season for Valpo (0-6).
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.