Six incredible teams, four state champions and dozens of incredible athletes make up the Season 15 NSW Team of the Year Award nominees! This segment is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank.
Metea Valley Girls Volleyball
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top. Metea Valley girls volleyball was the most improved team from last year to this year. The Mustangs went 4-10 in the condensed spring season a year ago. This fall, the team went 40-2! That might be one of the most drastic turnaround for any team in IHSA history! So they jump right into the Team of the Year category. You knew something different about this years Metea squad in September when the Mustangs defeated powerhouse Benet Academy for the first time ever. Metea had won the DVC title before, but this year the team won a regional championship for the first time as well. A big reason for the turnaround was bringing back talented seniors like setters Emma Bludgen and Reagan Holmer, along with outside hitter Maura Pilafas and All-American libero Morgan Rank. Playing in the fall was also a massive factor as juniors Annabelle Troy and Kira Hutson and senior Halle Sullivan were able to join the roster after playing club volleyball the previous spring. Those three additions proved to be massive as Sullivan led the team in blocks, Troy broke the program record for aces in a season and Hutson developed into a 1st team All-American player, setting the single season record for kills with over 470. Team and Individual records fell by the wayside all season with Morgan Rank setting the record for digs as the Mustangs won the Sectional and Super Sectional titles as well. Making their first ever State appearance, the girls in black and gold showed no intimidation, dispatching Barrington in straight sets in the semi-finals. In the State Championship match, the Mustangs faced the most celebrated volleyball program in state history, Mother McAuley, winners of 15 state titles. This time, Metea showed some nerves, dropping the opening set 25-15. However this group did not come this far to back down, as MV roared back in set two 25-18 to force a third set. By the end of the tiebreaking set, Metea Valley girls volleyball had made history, winning the first ever IHSA State Championship for the Mustangs.
Benet Academy Girls Basketball
For Benet Academy Girls Basketball, the bar for the program has been set as high as possible since Coach Joe Kilbride took his first two teams to back to back 4A state championships in 2015 and 2016. While the Redwings did not add a third state title this winter, the 2022 squad certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside that elite company. The team’s first 30 win season since 2016 was a well-balanced group led by All State picks Morgan Demos in the post and guards Margaret Temple and Lenee Beaumont. Kendall Sheridan, Sam Trimberger and Emilia and Magdalena Sularski also played key roles on the court. Beaumont emerged as the star, averaging 15 points per game and earned in first team All-State selection. The Redwings ran through the ESCC competition, and pretty much any other competition the team faced with just three losses by a combined 10 points after the regular season. After a hard fought sectional championship game win over Naperville North and a Super Sectional victory against Whitney Young, Benet Academy found itself back at Redbird Arena for the fourth time in eight seasons. A pair of close losses to Stevenson and Bolingbrook ended the year for the Redwings at 30-5, as they raised a 4th place trophy. Despite the defeats at the State Tournament, Benet Academy remains firmly entrenched as a girls basketball perennial power.
Warriors Hockey Club
For the first time in three years, the Blackhawk Cup tournaments returned to competition this winter. That meant the Warriors Hockey Club was finally able to defend their throne after winning the Combined Division Cup back in 2019. While many of the names were different, the results on the ice were very familiar for this team made up of Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley skaters. The Warriors dominated the Illinois West regular season, going 23-1 including another Carillon Cup Championship in November. The team had five of the top 11 scorers in the conference with Ryan Callahan, Matthew Dickinson, Ryan Burk, Ian Altekruse and Evan Ziegler. Jack Poidomani and the Warriors defense was also impressive, with a 0.927 save percentage and only 1.71 goals allowed per game from the goaltender. Despite a loss to Maine in the Illinois West Cup Championship series, the Warriors regrouped for the run through the Blackhawk Cup. The Warriors were able to earn another trip to the Combined Division Final after a 1-0 win over Chicago Romans. The team would face Illinois West rival Wheaton West in the Blackhawk Cup championship. Despite trailing late in the second period, the green and gold tied the game and took a 4-3 lead late in the third on a goal from Ryan Burk. They were able to hang on win the Blackhawk Cup once again to “repeat” as Combined Division Champions. Following another celebration on the ice and another impressive season overall, the Warriors Hockey Club remains undefeated in Blackhawk Cup play since the 2018 Championship game.
Naperville North Girls Water Polo
There is only one returning team on the Team of the Year nominee list from last year and they are back for good reason. The Naperville North girls water polo team is also the only local team to repeat as state champions. Following a perfect 30-0 season in 2021, some wondered how the Huskies would perform as the clear team to beat despite losing several All State caliber players. Well it turns out there was nothing to fear for North water polo fans. This senior group including All State swimmer Claire Jansen, basketball star Sarah Crossett, Mia Sparacino, Alex Mantel, Cambria Swanson, and goalie Ella Selman was more than enough to power the Huskies to another top ranking. Brilliant underclassmen Sophie Raquel and Kelsey Wessel joined Jansen and Selman as All State selections. Wessel was named Illinois Girls Water Polo Player of the Year, tallying 85 goals and 43 assists. Helmed by Illinois Water Polo Coach of the Year, Andy McWhirter, the Huskies rolled through the sectional round. Once you get to the State Quarterfinals, it isn’t supposed to be easy, yet Naperville North stormed past Lincoln-Way East and Lyons Township by combined scores of 25-7. The Huskies then won their second straight state championship with a 9-5 victory over Stevenson, capping off another incredible campaign with a final record of 32-1-1. One of the greatest two year runs the state has ever seen.
Benet Academy Girls Soccer
If you looked at their record in late April, you would not have guessed that the Benet Academy girls soccer team would eventually make the Team of the Year nominee list. The Redwings stood at 9-4, which was already the most losses the team had accrued since 2017. However from April 23rd through June 3rd, Benet did not lose a game. The team turned things around thanks to high powered seniors like Mariana Pinto, Katie Lewellyan and Annastacia Thiel. Young talent like Keira Petrucelli, Anna Casmere, Rachel Burns and Gabi DiMatteo helped the Wings go undefeated in the ESCC. Once the 2A state playoffs began, Benet continued to crush the competition. A high scoring offense and stellar defense and goal tending from Shannon Clark led to BA outscoring opponents by a margin of 24-1 en route to regional, sectional and Super Sectional titles. The Redwings then defeated Deerfield in the semi finals in thrilling come from behind fashion by a 3-2 score. In the 2A championship, Benet fell just short of a second State title in three seasons, losing a 1-0 heartbreaker against Triad to end the season. All year long the Redwings showed their resilient spirit and with only four seniors graduating, the red and black is sure to be back as a state contender.
Metea Valley Girls Soccer
Ever since they won their first regional championship 10 years ago, Metea Valley girls soccer has been so close to breaking through into the elite programs in the state of Illinois. This spring, the Mustangs finally proved they belonged. A mix of senior leaders like Jocelyn Grabow, Addison Wargo, Justyce King and Leanne Barrett and talented underclassmen like Tyra King, Lucy Burke, Olivia Hernandez and Jordan Lange lifted the black and gold to the program’s first DVC Championship. Metea then won a 7th consecutive regional championship over Plainfield North and for the first time ever, the Mustangs defeated the Huskies in post season play with a 1-0 sectional championship win. The team then rolled over Edwardsville 2-0 in the Super Sectionals. Another 2-0 victory over Lincoln-Way Central in the State Semi finals put Metea up against perennial power Barrington in the 3A State Final. Following 100 scoreless minutes, the Mustangs outlasted the Phillies after 9 rounds of penalty kicks where senior goalie Julia Straub made several monster saves. Abigail Ondrus, who had not scored a goal all season delivered the State Championship winning PK goal. A state title and a final record of 22-2-1 with no losses to teams from the state of Illinois has lifted the Metea Valley program into the top tier of girls soccer.