Bolingbrook ranks No. 1 in preseason

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Bolingbrook ranks No. 1 in preseason

Bolingbrook wasn't even ranked among the top 15 teams in Illinois at the outset of the 2011 high school football season. So the Raiders went on to win 13 of 14 games and the Class 8A championship. That's what can happen when there are no expectations and no pressure to live up to them.

No such luck in 2012, however. Bolingbrook figures to be rated No. 1 in the preseason and coach John Ivlow wouldn't have it any other way. His team has earned as much celebrity as Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin.

"We are the team to beat. We still wear the crown. We have what it takes to win again," Ivlow said. "We're excited for the challenge. We're tired of the summer. We want to start the season.

"Personally, I feel better going into this season than last year. I know the offensive firepower we have. If we can slow people down on defense, I don't feel anyone can keep pace with us on offense."

Bolingbrook, which hosts Plainfield South in its opener on Aug. 24, returns eight starters on offense, including Illinois-bound quarterback Aaron Bailey, whom Ivlow touts as the best player in the state. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder with 4.51 speed rushed for 1,983 yards and 30 touchdowns and passed for 1,039 and 10 touchdowns last season.

In the state final, Bailey rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns and completed 8 of 13 passes for 140 yards as second-ranked Bolingbrook upset top-rated Loyola 21-17. His 33-yard scoring dash with 5:01 to play overcame the Ramblers' three-point lead.

"He can be a lot better," Ivlow said. "We will showcase his arm more this season. We live on big plays and he has the ability to break big plays. He has the ability to turn nothing into something. People will come out just to see him play."

Bailey will be surrounded by several other difference-makers and game-breakers--junior cornerback Parrker Westphal, one of the most celebrated defensive backs in the nation, running backs Omar Stover and Jaden Huff and wide receivers Chandler Piekarski, Brandon Lewis and Quincy Woods, whose father once quarterbacked at Rich East and committed to USC.

Ivlow also predicts future stardom for freshman linebacker Tuf Borland and Huff's identical twin brothers, safety Jacob and linebacker Julian, a pair of promising sophomores.

"Offensively, we can be better than last year," Ivlow said. "Defensively, we must replace nine starters. We graduated some great defensive players (including Florida-bound linebacker Antonio Morrison). But we have 11 kids who can play defense somewhere. It is a matter of getting them in the right places."

To prepare for the 2012 season, Ivlow met with new Illinois coach Tim Beckman and fellow high school coaches Dan Sharp of Joliet Catholic, Andy Bitto of Carmel and Craig Buzea of Homewood-Flossmoor to pick up some tips. "We have grown as a coaching staff. Now we know what it takes to win a championship," he said.

"I'm still a rookie. I'm constantly learning. I met with coaches who do similar things. I wanted to learn how they do things, how they structure their programs. I have good assistants and kids. It's a constant learning process. Now we are more confident than ever before."

According to Ivlow, the key to Bolingbrook's success is the weight room. "It has been the sole key to us maintaining our level of competition. Our kids are in shape with a coat of armor and muscle. This could be the best conditioned team I have had in 11 years. They spend as much time in the weight room as they do on the practice field," he said.

A few years ago, Ivlow noticed that his players weren't strong or big or physical. He looked at successful programs, high school and college, and realized that their work in the weight room was the answer to their success, a confidence-builder that turned a so-so program into a champion.

So when he gathers his varsity squad together for the first practice on Wednesday, Ivlow won't have to deliver a "win one for the Gipper" speech. His program is all about getting down the business. It takes a great effort to reach the top but it takes an even bigger effort to stay there. And once you get there, you like the feeling.

"In the summer, we don't get rah-rah. It's all about teaching," Ivlow said. "Some kids won't come out in August. We started with 75 and ended up with 60. Football isn't for everybody. We're dead serious. We don't take anything for granted.

"We don't do a lot of teaching in August. We've already formed our opinions about the depth chart. This is my first year doing it this way, after winning last year. Like it or not, we still are No. 1 until the playoff comes around.

"The work ethic has always been there. Our kids are so competitive. We have competition in some key spots...running back, offensive line, receivers, linebacker, defensive back. We didn't have that in the past. Kids can't sit back and get by with what they accomplished last year."

Bailey is the team leader and Ivlow predicts he will surpass USC-bound running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic as the premier player in the state. He looks for Bailey to become a more accurate and reliable passer. Last year, he completed only 44 percent (58-for-131) of his passes.

"He touches the ball on every play," Ivlow said. "Isaac is great. But he doesn't touch the ball every time."

Bailey will be even more difficult to defend this season. Ivlow has expanded the shotgun package in his offensive playbook so Bailey won't take as many snaps under center as he did a year ago.

"This group eats and sleeps football," Ivlow said. "If you tell them to be in the weight room at 3, they are there at 2. They put in more extra work than any other team I have had, not just 4 or 5 guys but 20 to 30 consistently.

"This isn't a big team but it is quicker. We have a lot of kids who can run. And don't be surprised if 5 or 6 or 7 sophomores start on both sides of the ball.

"We have that elusive state title. We have a great appreciation for the time and effort it takes to get there. We have worked at so many aspects of the game to try to get better. For example, we're better at kickoff returns this year. And that's my job. I handle that. I didn't feel I did a good job of it last year."

David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

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David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

David Accam is the Chicago Fire's best player and when he plays the team is better.

While that statement should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Fire on a regular basis this year, it is worth mentioning because of how much time Accam has missed this season.

Accam played a starring role in the team's 4-3 loss in the season opener. He had a goal and an assist. The next match he scored early in Orlando before the Fire were forced to defend while playing down a man due to a red card.

Then he got injured. Accam missed six games and the Fire scored four goals in those matches without him. After making two abbreviated appearances during the team's recent road trip, he was unable to play last week at home due to a suspension.

“It’s difficult for me because I’ve been through a lot in the last two months," Accam said. "For me I’m just happy to be on the pitch now and playing. It will take some time for me to get into match fitness and start going, but I’m happy with my performance today.”

Accam scored in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Portland. It was his first start at home since his barnstorming season debut back on March 6. It was also his first 90-minute outing since March 11.

Kennedy Igboananike assisted on the goal. The partnership in the attack between Igboananike and Accam is one the Fire needs to become a fine-tuned weapon for the team to have a successful season.

“I think what we are looking for is to have associations in the team and the two of them work very good together," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We could see that in the first game when David was fit, also in the second game until we had the (red card). Since then David was injured, but David is very important. Not only because of his individual qualities, but he improves our team in how our team feels better on the field and offensively with more potential."

Accam had five shots, two on goal, and Igboananike had four shots, three on goal. Accam thinks the team is starting to improve its on-field chemistry.

“I think so, especially in the front three," the Ghanaian said. "We are creating chances. Last week we created a lot of chances and today, too.

“In the last two games we started to feel the way we wanted to play and for me it’s been much better. We conceded one goal in the last three games and we created I think more than five clear chances so for me it’s getting better.”

Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

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Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

Getting a second goal is becoming a thing for the Chicago Fire.

A thing they aren't getting.

The Fire pushed for a go-ahead second goal against Portland on Saturday, but it never came. The team's inability to find a second goal, something the team hasn't scored since the season opener, meant they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against the Timbers.

In a lot of ways, the Fire played better. They outshot Portland 17-8, 6-2 in shots on target, and in the second half had rare extended stretches of possession. But they were still not able to break a halftime deadlock.

"It was just that we didn’t score that second goal, which was very important for us," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We are building the momentum. We were close to winning this game today and we are happy with the performance.”

The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) are now 2-2-3 in seven home matches.

Portland (4-6-4, 16 points) took the lead in the 18th minute when Diego Valeri took advantage of a poor Rodrigo Ramos clearance. Ramos' ball got caught up in the wind and stayed near the box. Valeri won the ball back and beat Sean Johnson from a tight angle, sliding a shot just inside the far post.

Almost immediately the Fire leveled the match through David Accam. Accam, making his first home start since the season opener, redirected a Kennedy Igboananike centering pass to tie things back up.

“I know when he goes wide I need to be in the box," Accam said. "I know he has a good left foot also to put that ball in the box so I was in the right position when the ball came in.”

It was Accam's third goal of the season and his first since March 11. Accam and Igboananike created most of the dangerous chances for the Fire, linking up regularly other than the goal.

Another forward who could have joined the attack, Gilberto, was out for personal reasons. The Brazilian had played his best of the year last week.

The Fire had a strong wind at their backs in the second half and used it to keep the ball in Portland's half and extend the lead in shots they took into halftime. Despite being unable to get the win at home, multiple players claimed they are seeing progress in the team's performances.

"I think we’re finally putting full 90s together as a team," midfielder Matt Polster said. "I think during the beginning of the season we were getting used to each other. I think we put in good 65, 70 minutes of a game. As we’re growing as a team now I think we’re putting a full 90 together.”

Now the Fire go on break for the Copa America. The team will not train next week other than a fitness plan given to the players. The next match will be in the US Open Cup on June 15 with both location and opponent to be determined on June 1.

The next MLS match is June 18 at Philadelphia and the next MLS home match will be July 1 against San Jose.

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

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Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

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