Huntley had never won a state championship in any team sport before the 2018-19 school year. That all changed last month when the Red Raiders' softball team won their last 19 games of the season and defeated St. Charles East, 1-0, in eight innings in the Class 4A state final.
Before the season, Huntley's softball team had only gone as far as the sectional finals, losing to Barrington in the past three postseasons. The Raiders ended the streak and beat the Fillies, 6-1, in this year's sectional semifinals, and got past McHenry, 4-3, in the final.
The Raiders weren't done.
After a 3-1 win against Hersey in the supersectionals, Huntley upset nationally ranked Marist, 3-2, in the state semifinals to earn a shot at the school's first state championship. A sacrifice fly by Sofia Tenuta in the eighth inning was all the offense needed against St. Charles East.
For leading Huntley to a program-best 35-7 record and first state championship in school history, Raiders coach Mark Petryniec has been named the Northwest Herald Softball Coach of the Year by the sports staff.
Petryniec, who started coaching Huntley in 2004 and will enter next season one win away from 350, talked to sports writer Alex Kantecki about overcoming injuries, his biggest pet peeve as a coach and how the Raiders can make more history next year.
How does it feel to be a state champion?
Petryniec: It’s a little surreal. You spend your entire career, and this is the end game. The ultimate goal is to win state, and every year until now you’ve come up short. This year we accomplished it. In the most basic terms, it’s the best feeling in the world.
What was the biggest challenge you faced this year?
Petryniec: We probably had more injuries than we’ve ever had. Our training room was always full. Even before state, the girls were getting treatment.
How did it feel to finally beat Barrington?
Petryniec: In the big scheme of things, it was just another step to the ultimate goal. But, obviously, a team that has knocked us out of the postseason [four out of the past five years], it was a big hump for the girls to overcome. Once that was taken care of, we felt like the sky was the limit.
If you could coach softball at any college, where would it be?
Petryniec: I would never want to give up my job at Huntley, but if I could go to any university, it would have to be my alma mater, Illinois State.
Which player made you laugh the most?
Petryniec: There were many players that made us laugh on a daily basis, but I'll say our freshman, Reese [Hunkins]. Sometimes, I don’t think she knew who we were playing or where we were. Just a little joke of, ‘Wait ... what town are we in?’ would lighten things up. We’re very lucky to have her for the next three years.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Petryniec: I’m a phenomenal cook. Anything Italian is my specialty. My mom taught me well.
What would be your walkup music in softball?
Petryniec: Based on what they did to my hair in the postseason, anything by Eminem.
What’s your biggest pet peeve as a coach?
Petryniec: Picking up a loose ball with your glove.
What do you do when you’re not at school or coaching softball?
Petryniec: That’s my kids. Definitely my kids love the Wii. We do a lot of Wii Dance. Literally, anything with my kids. If I’m not coaching softball, I’m doing something with them. I have two, Bella (9) and Luca (6). They're a handful.
What are you looking forward to most next season?
Petryniec: Probably the No. 1 thing I’m looking forward to is getting back to where we just left [East Peoria], and showing everyone it wasn’t a one-time thing. I think we have that capability. We lost a lot of talent, but I think Huntley is going to be really strong for the foreseeable future.
What will you remember most about this year's five seniors (Grace Kutz, Courtney Mills, Kendra Mitchell, Sofia Tenuta and Taylor Zielinski)?
Petryniec: The collection and different personalities that came together to achieve one goal. Coach Matt [Langton] and I knew that this group could be the group to [win a state championship]. They all have strong personalities. When they came together, we became unstoppable.