Fall Sports Wrapup

By Randy Whalen

When you have a team advance to a state championship game, it's a good sports season for your high school.

It was a good fall sports season for Joliet Catholic Academy.

The Angels/Hilltoppers had a successful fall. Of course, that was led by the football team, which played for the Class 5A State Championship. 

Unfortunately, the Hilltoppers came up short in their bid for a 16th football state title. 

Still, the fact that they were back in the title game for the 20th time in school history and the third time in the past five played postseasons, shows that the program is consistently back among the top ones in the state. 

“I’m very proud of our players and coaches for all we accomplished this year,” JCA football coach Jake Jaworski said. “We had a great group of guys that progressed throughout the year, which led to some very memorable moments.”

It certainly did. The Hilltoppers went 6-3 in the regular season but, as usual, took off in the playoffs. They scored 145 points in their first three Class 5A postseason games. Capping that streak off with a 49-7 win over host Morris in a quarterfinal game.

Then, in an amazing state semifinal matchup between two local programs, which have combined for 25 state titles, JCA avenged a second-round loss from the previous season and defeated visiting Providence 31-21 before a packed house to advance to the title game. The Celtics (8-5) played for the 

There, JCA (10-4) lost 38-20 as Nazareth (9-5) scored the final 28 points of the game to capture its second straight Class 5A state title and fifth overall on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.

The Hilltoppers led 13-0, 20-7, and 20-10 at halftime behind a great game from senior running back HJ Grigsby, who rushed for 223 yards and a TD in the first two quarters. He, however, hurt his ankle on his last carry of the first half. He was hobbled in the second half and finished with 34 carries for 278 yards.

A key play happened toward the end of the third quarter. JCA was driving to go ahead by more, reaching the Roadrunner 19. But then threw an interception which was returned to near midfield with 2:13 left in the quarter. In the next 11 minutes, Nazareth scored four straight touchdowns to complete its turnaround from starting the season 0-4 to becoming the first football state champion with five losses in a season. 

“We got off to a great start and just couldn’t get things going in the second half,” Jaworski told the Chicago Sun-Times after the game. “We missed a couple of opportunities we had and (Nazareth) made more plays than we did.” 

Later that afternoon, Chicago Mt. Carmel (13-1) defeated Downers Grove North 35-10 to capture the Class 7A State Title. It was the 15th championship for the Caravan, tying them with JCA for the most in state history. The Trojans (11-3) were playing in their first title game since winning the Class 8A one in 2004. 

The Hilltoppers (2-1) finished second in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Green Division. But they had numerous All-Conference selections, including the Players of The Year. Dillan Johnson, on the defensive line, was the Defensive Player of the Year. Fellow senior Adrian Washington, at wide receiver, was the Offensive Player of the Year.

Also making All-Conference were seniors, Griffin Alessio, at linebacker, Patrick Durkin, at kicker, and Grigsby, at running back. Junior linebackers Nick Bueno and Daniel Rouse rounded out the Hilltopper honorees.

Other JCA teams advanced athletes to state this fall too. 

Let's start with the girls' tennis team. The Angels did fantastic, winning the title of the Class 1A Marian Catholic Sectional. There they had 20 points to edge Providence (19) and Southland College Prep Charter (17). It was the first sectional championship since 2019 for the Angels, who won on the strength of their doubles teams. 

That was seniors Callie Streitz and Ashley Murray, who defeated their teammates, senior Madisynne Gura and sophomore Megan Ardaugh 6-0, 6-1 in the title match. 

Both doubles teams went to state and were a combined 1-4 there. Streitz and Murray captured their first-round consolation match by a score of 6-3, 6-4 over Hannah Hevron and Anna Hargrave from Robinson.

"Overall we were about .500 for the season," said JCA coach girls tennis coach Tyler Eakle, whose team was 11-13 this fall. "Both doubles teams had some success throughout the year, but they both peaked at the end of the season. Callie and Ashley played a great sectional and competed great at state. Madisynne and Megan grew so much individually and as a team. 

"They were a new pairing coming into the year and built chemistry quickly. I couldn't be more proud of their success and how much they grew throughout the year."

Claire Blotnik finished her cross country career as an All-Stater. She placed 17th, with a time of 17 minutes: 48.89 seconds in the Class 2A State Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4 at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

That came on the heels of her placing second at the Geneseo Sectional on Saturday, Oct 28, at Richmond Hill Park. Lemont junior Niki Tselios (18:47.00) was first while Blotnik (19:00.40) placed second. JCA (266 points) placed ninth out of 18 teams in the sectional. Tselios (17:42.39) placed ninth in the State Finals. 

At the Metamora Regional, which was held on Saturday, Oct. 21, at Black Partridge Park, Blotnik (18:19.80) was also second. Sophomore Sophia Ramirez (17:42.60) from Washington placed first. As a team the Angel runners of Blotnik (18:19.80), along with fellow seniors Jordan Reeves (20:49.40), Annie Tibbott (21:28.70) Sophia Mihelich (21:48.00), and Kathryn Hammel (21:51.90), and sophomore Ella Heinen (22:12.90), and freshman Bella Pollack (23:35.80) qualified for the sectional with a fifth-place finish (155 points). 

"Claire achieved All-State honors in cross country, the first girl in school history to do that," JCA cross country coach Jason Midlock said. "She had a great season with five overall wins and consistently lowered her times. Claire was an excellent team leader and is looking forward to continuing her running career in college."

In boys' cross country, Nathan Ciarlette also left his mark at JCA. The senior made it to the Class 2A State Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4, and placed 34th (15:16:70) out of a field of 236, missing a Top 20 All-State finish by 11 seconds. 

It was the second fastest 3-mile cross country time in JCA history, behind Tony Nooner, who ran 15:07 in 1993. 

Ciarlette was the only Hilltopper boys runner at the Geneseo Sectional. He finished 16th with a time of 16:16.60. He placed ninth (15:56.70) to advance out of the Metamora Regional. Sophomores Chris Corsi (18:21.40) and Darian Arteaga (18:53.00), along with senior Jack Oswalt (19:04.30), junior Lucas Furlane (19:31.20), junior Colin Murphy (19:57.50), and sophomore Brandon Paone (20:28.70) rounded out the Hilltopper regional finishers, as they placed ninth (242 points) overall. 

"Nathan finished his JCA cross country career with the second fastest time ever run in school history," Midlock said. "At the state race, he went out at the record pace and held it as long as he could. Nathan pushed himself each day to get better and his hard work paid off with his fast time at the state meet. 

"Overall, both teams put in miles and came out with a lot of smiles. The runners improved their fitness, competed, and saw what a combination of effort and attitude can achieve."

Also advancing to state this fall for JCA was Quinn Swienton in the Class 2A Boys State Golf Finals. The junior made the second-day cut at the tourney which was held on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6 and 7 at Weibring Golf Club in Normal. He eventually finished 74th overall with a total of 169 (83, 86). 

Not bad for someone who barely made it out of the regional as an individual qualifier. 

"He had his worst day in three years," JCA boys golf coach David Mondrella said of Swienton in the regional. "But he survived and advanced. That's what it's about."

To show how well Swienton can play, he was third overall on Monday, Sept. 18 at the ESCC Tournament, which was held at Highland Woods Golf Course in Hoffman Estates. The top three individuals there were Benet Academy junior, Charlie Davenport (67), St. Viator junior Ryan Kalaway (70), and Swienton (71). Also making All-Conference for the Hilltoppers were seniors Connor Neville (9th, 76), and Connor Flanagan (17th, 79).

In the Class 2A Lemont Regional, which was held on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at Inwood Golf Course in Joliet, JCA placed fourth with a 320 total. Lemont (303), Providence (304), and Marmion Academy (313) were the teams that advanced to the sectional. Lemont eventually finished second in the state.

Senior Alex Nahas (75), Neville (78), senior Jake Gimbel (81), and Swienton (86) qualified out of the regional as individuals. An 88 was the last qualifying score. 

At the Lemont Sectional, which was held on Monday, Oct. 2, at Wedgewood Golf Course in Plainfield, Swienton qualified for the state spot by shooting a 76. Neville (78) just missed by two strokes.  

On the girls' golf side, there are only two classes, compared to three for the boys. JCA was in the Class 1A Providence Regional, which was held on Sept. 28 at Green Garden Country Club in Frankfort. There the Angels (419) placed fifth, behind Nazareth Academy (362), Wheaton Academy (372), Aurora Central Catholic (405), and Westmont (417). 

Seniors Audrey Redell (96) and Annie Tibbott (101) advanced out of the regional as individuals. Juniors Mary Jo Meyer and Liz Cardwell both shot a 111 for JCA. 

At the Eastland Sectional, which was held on Monday, Oct. 2 at Lake Carroll Golf Course, in Lanark. Redell (90) just missed the cut for state by two strokes. Tibbott (94) was improved in the sectional as well. 

The Angels girls' volleyball team has had many successes, including recently. They placed fourth in the state in 2021 and were third in 2022, with both of those coming in Class 3A. 

Because of those high state finishes, they moved up to Class 4A this season. They played the same tough schedule and finished third in the ESCC behind state powers Marist (33-5, 6-0) and Class 4A State Runner-Up, Benet Academy (39-3, 5-1). JCA finished 22-14 and 4-2 in the league. 

But in the postseason, it was one match and done for the Angels, as they lost to host Plainfield North 25-15, 25-20 on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in a Class 4A regional semifinal. 

"Yes, we had a decent season where we were able to again compete with some very talented teams," said JCA coach LaKisha Cameron, who finished her third season as head coach. "These ladies worked extremely hard as underclassmen to make it to State (going 24-18 last year) and it was just unfortunate that this year we had to play up a class and we were not able to make it to the IHSA finals again.

"As a program, we grew a lot in dealing with expectations and adversity and the focus next year will continue to be competing consistently match to match."

Jessica Horn, a setter, was the only senior on this season's squad.

"We are graduating a big class next year and they are adamant about finishing that season, feeling good about what they portrayed on the court," Cameron said. "Unfortunately, the hard work they put in throughout the season was not able to consistently show during regionals. 

"I am very confident that we will step back on the floor with a new agenda next year after they’ve got another year of club experience under their belt."

Junior outside hitters Ellie Blotnik, Olivia Chovanec, and Horn were selected to the ESCC All-Conference team. Juniors Brooke Simon Chenelle, Carmela Cook, Zoe Girard, and Heavenly Sarfo, along with Horn were named to the Illinois Volleyball Coaches Association Academic All-State team.

The JCA boys soccer team finished 5-17-1 and went 0-8 in the ESCC. But there were still highlights for the Hilltoppers. 

"This was a learning year for Joliet Catholic soccer," JCA boys soccer coach Tom Cranmer said. "We fielded an extremely young team with seven to eight freshmen and sophomores playing significant minutes. This was exacerbated by our injuries and illnesses that kept us from getting a consistent starting lineup on the field throughout our very tough schedule.

"Even with all of these adversities, we won our bracket of the BodyArmor Series (on Sept 24 at the Lyons Soccer Complex), winning the final two games, including the championship in penalty kicks. We also had a win and tie in the Herscher shootout."

But the future looks bright for the Hilltoppers. 

"We won our (Class 1A Illinois Lutheran) regional semi-final game (7-0 over Illinois Lutheran on Oct. 17), advancing further than last year," Cranmer said. "We lost to a very good team (Universal, 4-2 on Oct. 18) in the Regional Championship, but I feel that we made them earn that victory and we were in that game until the dying moments of that match.