2018 was an incredible year for local athletes. From the Winter Olympics, to MLB and NFL debuts, to multiple high schools teams competing for state championships, the year was full of exciting competition. Here are our top picks for the top local sports stories of 2018, as voted on by the Northwest Herald sports staff.
1. Local flavor in Winter Olympics
McHenry County sports fans had been captivated before by the Winter Olympics, but never before did they have local rooting interests until the 2018 Games in Pyeonchang, South Korea.
Figure skater Bradie Tennell, of Carpentersville, made Team USA, while three members of the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove (Michael Glasder, Casey Larson and Kevin Bickner) made the men’s Team USA ski jumping team. It was the first time in Norge’s 113 years of existence that it produced any Olympian.
Tennell, 20, wound up winning bronze in team competition and finished ninth place in the women’s competition. She was first in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in the short program and in combined scores, and was named as one of the three women to Team USA.
Bickner, of Wauconda, finished in 20th place in the large hill competition. Team USA finished ninth out of 12 teams. Glasder is from Cary and Larson is from Barrington.
2. Cary-Grove football is perfect
Cary-Grove’s football team came close to its second state championship in 2012 and again in 2014. This season, the Trojans came home with the Class 6A state championship after beating Crete-Monee, 35-13, at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
C-G’s closest call came in its semifinal game at Niles Notre Dame when the Trojans trailed, 21-20, and the Dons were inside the Trojans’ 10 when C-G’s Danny Daigle intercepted a pass in the end zone. The Trojans drove down the field for the game-winner to reach a title game for the fifth time.
There was no doubt in the championship as the Trojans possessed the ball for just short of three quarters, grinding out long drives that finished with touchdowns. Quarterback Ben McDonald was the Northwest Herald Player of the Year and coach Brad Seaburg was Northwest Herald Coach of the Year.
3. Final Four Fever
In 2017, Jacobs senior Cameron Krutwig was a force on one of the best boys basketball teams in Fox Valley Conference history, leading the Golden Eagles to a 30-2 record and a Class 4A sectional championship. Jacobs lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Fremd, 36-35, in the Hoffman Estates Supersectional.
In 2018, Krutwig, a 6-foot-9 freshman, played an integral role in Loyola’s magical run to the NCAA Final Four as the Ramblers’ starting center. The same polished post moves and relentless rebounding work that local teams saw served Krutwig well at the next level. Loyola eventually lost to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, but had its best season since 1963 when the Ramblers won it all.
4 (tie). Crystal Lake South boys soccer wins it all
Crystal Lake South won the Class 2A boys golf team state championship in 1980 and did not win another team state title until the baseball team won the Class 4A State Tournament in 2017.
The Gators waited only about 16 months to get another state championship. Their boys soccer team went 22-2-3, won the outright Fox Valley Conference title and then brought home the Class 2A state title.
It was not easy. South won three times in overtime penalty-kick shootouts. The Gators beat Wauconda, 2-1, in a PK shootout for the Antioch Regional championship.
At the state tournament in Hoffman Estates, they edged Waterloo Gibault, 2-1, in a PK shootout and then topped Peoria Notre Dame 4-3, in another PK shootout. Both times, backup goalkeeper Oscar Estrada entered the game for the shootout and stopped key shots to give the Gators the victories.
4 (tie). MLB local wave
Within the span of a couple weeks in June, former Prairie Ridge baseball players Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets) and Nick Martini (Oakland), both were called up to the major leagues. Later, former Crystal Lake Central pitcher Connor Sadzeck (Texas) also got the call, giving the McHenry County area three major leaguers in one season.
Martini, who played with Oakland, was briefly sent back, but returned two weeks later and was part of a 97-win team that earned A’s skipper Bob Melvin the AL Manager of the Year. Martini, who is known for having great plate discipline, frequently led off for the A’s. He hit first in the AL wild-card playoff game against the New York Yankees and was 1 for 4 in that game, a 7-2 A’s loss.
Martini wound up hitting .296 with a .397 on-base percentage in 55 games. Kaczmarski was later sent back to Las Vegas, where he had been one of the top hitters in the Pacific Coast League before he was called up. Sadzeck walked 11 batters in 9 1/3 innings, but allowed only six hits, struck out seven and had an ERA of 0.96.
6 (tie). Huntley baseball's runner-up finish
The Class 4A Baseball State Tournament championship game between Huntley and Plainfield North was as good as it gets. Eventually, North left fielder Brady Miller saved three runs with two defensive gems and hit a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth inning for the decisive run.
Huntley battled back and had the tying run at second when the game ended. The Red Raiders ended their best season in school history at 33-7 with a state runner-up finish. They nearly brought home back-to-back state titles for the FVC.
6 (tie). NFL local wave
Marian Central graduate Bryan Bulaga started his ninth season in Green Bay, while Woodstock graduate Mike Liedtke began his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this summer.
Three concussions last season forced Johnsburg graduate C.J. Fiedorowicz, a tight end in Texas, into retirement, but there were two training camp surprises that brought the local number of NFL players to four.
McHenry graduate Robert Tonyan stuck with Packers as a backup tight end and Crystal Lake South product Dennis Gardeck made the Arizona Cardinals at linebacker. Both played primarily on special teams this season.
8. Keegan to Michigan
Crystal Lake South offensive lineman Trevor Keegan was graded as a four-star recruit by scouting services and rated as tied for the No. 1 recruit in Illinois.
Keegan (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) received about 30 NCAA Division I offers, more than any football player in area history. All four College Football Playoff semifinalists from last season (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma) made offers.
Keegan pared his list to six – Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State – over the summer. Then narrowed that to three (Georgia, Michigan and Penn State) last month.
On Dec. 14, Keegan sat on the stage in South’s auditorium with his parents and sister and revealed that he would attend Michigan. The decision was a difficult one, as Amanda Keegan said her son “adored” all three final schools.
9. Dylan Connell wins state
Marian Central had not produced a state champion wrestler since Rich Powers won back-to-back Class 1A titles at 167 pounds in 1986 and 1987.
Freshman Dylan Connell (46-2) won the Hurricanes’ first state title since Powers with a 4-3 victort over Cahokia’s Martell Boone for the Class 2A 152-pound championship.
Connell, who was wrestling with a shoulder that required offseason surgery, outlasted four senior wrestlers during the tournament to take first.
“It’s something that every kid wants to be,” Connell said. “It just feels so good. Freshman year, I got it.”
10. Prairie Ridge volleyball takes fourth
Prairie Ridge had won three Class 4A regional titles in a row before this season, but could not get out of the sectional tournament.
This year, the Wolves won their sectional and advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2005, the second of back-to-back runner-up finishes.
Setter Jayden Otto (Eastern Michigan), middle blocker Sammi Lockwood (Notre Dame) and outside hitter Hannah Baudin, a junior, led the way for Prairie Ridge, which also won the Fox Valley Conference championship.
Coach Stefanie Otto, who got to coach both her daughters, had Jayden in lineup and older daughter Taylor on the bench as an assistant coach. Jayden was the Northwest Herald Player of the Year.