Schaumburg recalls 2001 championship season


Schaumburg recalls 2001 championship season

Kyle Bolger was 7 years old when he watched the 2001 state championship game between Schaumburg and Thornwood on TV with his parents, brother Brandon and sister Heather.

"I recall (Thornwood's) Eddy Curry and (Schamburg's) Mark Pancratz, the ones everyone was talking about," Bolger said. "The main thing was to shut down Curry (the No. 4 pick in the 2001 NBA draft), the key to the Thornwood team."

Schaumburg's swarming and smothering defense did just that and the Saxons went on to upset heavily favored Thornwood 66-54.

"People still recall what a big accomplishment that was," Bolger said. "They always played hard, no matter what. They never gave up. They stuck together throughout that game. They were a great team that played together and played great defense. That's what our team does. We preach the same thing."

Matt Walsh, in his third year as Schaumburg's head coach, recalls the 2001 team, too. He was an assistant coach at Conant at the time. In fact, with a little luck or twist of fate, it could have been Conant rather than Schaumburg playing in the state final.

"Conant played Schaumburg in the sectional semifinal and lost in overtime. Conant had a shot at the buzzer to win in regulation time but it didn't go down. Schaumburg went on to win state. We realized how good they were," Walsh said.

"People still talk about it. There were some doubters because no Mid-Suburban League team had ever won state. But it wasn't a huge shock to a lot of people in the area. They played together so well. They were so good on defense. And they had strong leaders in Mark Pancratz and Tony Young. They also had 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-8 players. They weren't intimidated by Eddy Curry."

So that was 2001 and this is 2012. How good is this team? Schaumburg is 15-5 and in first place in the Mid-Suburban's West Division after beating Hoffman Estates 69-50 last Friday. The Saxons play at Glenbrook South on Tuesday and at Fremd on Friday.

"Our best days are ahead of us," Walsh said. "This is a good team that has a lot of room for improvement. Only good teams are the ones that are getting better. We play defense every night and we play well together. But we can improve both. The sky is the limit.

"How far can we go? Our past success gives us confidence. We go into every game thinking that we have opportunity to win. Two statistics that we talk about all the time are rebounding and eliminating turnovers. We have the pieces and the players to be as successful as we want to be."

The starting lineup is Bolger (11 ppg, 4 assists), a 6-foot-1 junior point guard; 6-foot-3 senior Christian Spandiary (15 ppg); 6-foot-5 junior Jimmy Lundquist (10 ppg); 6-foot-2 senior Michael Mallett (7 ppg); and 6-foot senior guard Joey Faleni (6 ppg).

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-9 senior Thomas Byrne, the backup point guard; 6-foot-1 junior Cole Reyes, 6-foot-3 junior Bobby Green and 5-foot-11 senior Justin Hill.

Two weeks ago, Bolger scored 13 points and converted two free throws with eight seconds to play to lift Schaumburg past Barrington 49-46 to claim sole possession of first place in the Mid-Suburban West. Spandiary scored 17 points, Lundquist 10. Against Hoffman Estates last Friday, Spandiary scored 14, Mallett 13, Lundquist 12.

"We have great team chemistry, no fighting," Bolger said. "We put in hard work to get better. We play hard but we're all friends at the end of the day. We all grew up playing together in sixth, seventh and eight grade on the Schaumburg Junior Saxons. We've known each other since elementary school and middle school."

Bolger is familiar with the Schaumburg way of doing things. His brother Brandon was an all-conference and all-area player at Schaumburg. His father runs the feeder program. A two-year starter, Kyle is described by Walsh as one of the team's leaders.

"I see myself as one of the leaders of the team," Kyle said. "My job is to get our team to win, whatever it takes."

Bolger and his teammates remember last year, when the team was 18-12 and lost to Niles North by one point in the sectional final. The experience left a disappointing taste in their mouths. They are determined to do better this season.

"Last year, we knew we could have gone farther than we did. It was upsetting to us. We were a better team than that," Bolger said. "We had a big lead against Niles North and lulls on defense gave them momentum at the end of the game. We had a last-second shot. It went in and out. That made everybody feel even worse. We felt we were right there.

"We knew we had to come back and work even harder than last year. We had to step it up because we want to go father this year. We're more experienced this year. I'm the point guard and I have to get people to score. Then they make me look better. The kids know how to score on this team. I have to give them open shots."

Walsh, 36, a Conant graduate of 1993, played basketball at Conant, coached feeder teams while attending Dominican University, then assisted coach Tom McCormack at Conant for 13 years. When coach Bob Williams left Schaumburg, he interviewed for the job and was hired.

"I came to a great program," he said. "I was aware of the great tradition. I was concerned with adding to it. These kids have a culture of hard work and high standards. Kids are held accountable to do the right thing and not always the easy thing."

Walsh grew up and was raised in Schaumburg. He learned the game and was taught the blue-collar values while participating in the park district system. He recognized that parents teach the values of hard work, that they are part of the team.

"It is a blue-collar mentality," he said. "Kids have bought into being unselfish and understanding that if they buy into the philosophy, the rewards of being part of a successful team are ahead of them."

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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