Balciunas finds a basketball home in Lemont

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Balciunas finds a basketball home in Lemont

Lemont is a football school, like Mount Carmel and Providence and Maine South and Glenbard West and Lincoln-Way East and Wheaton Warrenville South. Coach Eric Michaelsen's football team has lost only 17 games in the last nine years and finished second in the state playoff in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, coach Rick Runaas' basketball team was 25-3 last year, the program's first winning season since 2001. Lemont has qualified for the Sweet Sixteen only once. Coach John Jones' 26-4 team lost in the supersectional in 1975.

"I tell the kids that they have to earn the recognition we get," Runaas said. "If you want more, you have to win big games. We finished third in the Romeoville tournament last year. We want to win the title this year. And we have to win games against teams like Richards, Hillcrest, Providence and Thornton Fractional North."

Lemont had a chance to make a statement last Saturday against Marian Catholic. But Tyler Ulis scored 25 points and Marian Catholic prevailed 77-56, snapping Lemont's nine-game winning streak.

The Indians bounced back by defeating Fenger 75-63 on Wednesday in the opening round of the Romeoville tournament. Mike Wisz sparked the Indians by scoring 26 points.

In his fourth year, Runaas has three starters and four other experienced players returning from last year's 25-3 squad, which lost to Providence in the regional final. After going 8-18 for two years in a row, Runaas said he finally found a class that bought into his coaching philosophy.

"I found a group of young men to focus on," he said. "Last year's senior class dedicated a lot of time and energy to the program. They changed the culture on how to think about basketball at Lemont.

"We taught our kids how to play fast, not slow. We let our kids play. The community opened up a recreation center two years ago. The kids are playing more basketball than ever before. And they are involved in more travel basketball. Our freshman and sophomore teams are both 8-0."

Runaas insists another means of tracing the rise of interest in basketball in Lemont and the recent success of the Indians' varsity is the emergence of 6-foot-1 senior point guard Juozas Balciunas, who transferred from St. Joseph after his sophomore year. He averaged 17 points per game last season and is averaging 22 this season. He scored 22 in the loss to Marian Catholic.

"He is our leader, the stereotypical coach on the floor," Runaas said. "He knows how I want the game played. He shoots well off the dribble. He handles the ball. He is better than the recognition he gets. I haven't seen a better point guard this year."

Balciunas came to the United States from Lithuania when he was 10 years old. Although he lives in Lemont, he chose to attend St. Joseph in Westchester because of its reputation as a great basketball school. He also decided to follow two of his close friends to the school.

After two years, he decided to transfer to Lemont. "My parents and I talked about it. It was too far to drive and the tuition was too expensive. It was a tough decision. But I'm glad I did it," he said.

Ironically, Balciunas didn't begin playing basketball -- or any sport, for that matter -- until he was in sixth grade. He began playing club basketball at the Lithuanian center in Lemont.

"The more I played, the better I was getting. The more hard work, I got better and better," he said. "I loved playing basketball, to compete and meet new people. It drove me. Once I started playing, I didn't joke around with it. I did things I had to do to get better."

He wants to play in college. He is talking to Division II and III schools, including Lewis University. But recruiting isn't a priority at the moment, even though he is a senior. He is just focusing on the basketball season.

"Every game is a first game, like a championship game," he said. "We don't talk about our record, even if we are 10-1. We just try to be 1-0 after every game.

"My game? To play as hard as I can, to do whatever it takes...score, rebound, pass, hustle, dive for the ball, do the dirty plays. I don't talk about scoring, about averaging so many points, I have more opportunities to score this year. When we play a good team, they realize we have tough players and we play hard."

Balciunas lines up with 6-foot-2 junior Mike Wisz (17 ppg), 6-foot-3 senior Jack Shereck (8 ppg, 9 rpg), 6-foot-5 junior Jake Terrazas (7 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-3 senior Martynas Einikis (12 ppg, 6 rpg), another Lithuanian who transferred from Oak Lawn. The sixth man is 5-foot-10 senior Joe Hehir (10 ppg).

"We could have done better last year, especially the last game against Providence. We weren't ready to play them the second time," Balciunas said. "But this year we don't think like that. We beat Evergreen Park back-to-back. We played hard from the first minute. We don't under-estimate any opponent.

"The difference with this team is our chemistry. The younger kids saw what they saw last year. They want to be a part of what we had last year. Everybody is bringing good energy. We're more physical this year, stronger, and we have more scorers, not just me. That's our edge.

"I don't look at it that this is my team. But I try to be the leader. We have a lot of leaders. My friends joke around about Lemont being a football school. I say it isn't a football school anymore. It's a basketball school, too. I think the town and the school feel that basketball is important, just as important as football.

"Football has been huge in Lemont for a long time. Basketball has only been good for the last two years. I feel it is a basketball school right now. More people show up for the games and support us. We want to show that last year wasn't a fluke, a one-year thing. We came out with the mentality that we want to prove how good we are to the people who doubted us."

Preview: Channel Seed Ag Bowl opens Iowa football season Thursday on CSN+

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Preview: Channel Seed Ag Bowl opens Iowa football season Thursday on CSN+

High School football is back in Iowa as you can catch the fourth annual Channel Seed Ag Bowl live on CSN+ on Thursday night.

This year's game will feature the visiting Northeast Rebels as they take on the Central DeWitt Sabers in a game that will start at 7:00 p.m.

Taking place at Birney Field in Dewitt, this game is the season opener for both schools as these two haven't matched up on the gridiron since 1984. The former Big Bend Conference rivals are only 20 minutes apart but haven't played in over 30 years as Thursday's game should make for a unique atmosphere.

Besides the live CSN+ broadcast, you can also see this game streaming live on CSNChicago.com as you can find the live stream here. If you wish to find CSN+ click here for the channel finder

AP Illinois preps football rankings: Preseason

AP Illinois preps football rankings: Preseason

Here are the preseason rankings of Illinois high school football teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters.

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Loyola (10) 0-0 100 -
2 Lincoln-Way East 0-0 79 -
3 Glenbard West 0-0 60 -
4 Homewood-Flossmoor 0-0 52 -
5 Edwardsville 0-0 39 -
6 Marist 0-0 37 -
7 Palatine 0-0 32 -
8 Waubonsie Valley 0-0 29 -
8 (tie) Glenbard North 0-0 29 -
10 Huntley 0-0 28 -

Other receiving votes: Brother Rice (27), Naperville Neuqua Valley (17), Stevenson (8), Oak Park River Forest (5), Naperville Central (5), Glenbard East (2), Oswego (1)

Class 7A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Chicago Mt. Carmel (7) 0-0 91 -
2 East St. Louis (2) 0-0 72 -
3 Batavia 0-0 64 -
4 Libertyville (2) 0-0 62 -
5 Normal Community 0-0 54 -
6 Bradley-Bourbonnais 0-0 46 -
7 Jacobs 0-0 37 -
8 Wheaton Warrenville South 0-0 33 -
9 St. Charles North 0-0 27 -
10 St. Rita 0-0 22 -

Other receiving votes: Benet (21), Geneva (13), Lake Zurich (12), Lincoln Way West (12), Wheaton North (11), Machesney Park Harlem (9), Niles North (9), Schaumburg (4), Whitney Young (3), Fenwick (2), Belleville West (1)

Class 6A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Montini (8) 0-0 104 -
2 Sacred Heart-Griffin (Spr) (2) 0-0 92 -
3 Cary-Grove (1) 0-0 88 -
3 (tie) Prairie Ridge 0-0 82 -
5 Crete-Monee 0-0 76 -
6 Rockford Auburn 0-0 25 -
7 Lemont 0-0 21 -
8 Providence 0-0 20 -
9 Belvidere North 0-0 16 -
10 St. Laurence 0-0 15 -
10 (tie) Quincy 0-0 15 -

Other receiving votes: Oak Lawn Richards (13), Hinsdale South (10), DeKalb (9), Kennedy (7), Danville (7), Riverside-Brookfield (5), Lakes Community (3), Normal West (3), Chatham Glenwood (3), Grayslake (3), Harvey Thornton (3), Lake Forest (2)

Class 5A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Nazareth (7) 0-0 119 -
2 Peoria Central (1) 0-0 107 -
3 Washington 0-0 101 -
4 Joliet Catholic (5) 0-0 83 -
5 Champaign Central 0-0 54 -
6 Sterling 0-0 34 -
7 Sycamore 0-0 30 -
7 (tie) Centralia 0-0 30 -
9 Metamora 0-0 26 -
10 Triad 0-0 24 -

Other receiving votes: Woodstock Marian (23), Highland (18), Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights) (17), Eisenhower (15), Tinley Park (8), St. Francis (6), Dunlap (6), Richwoods (4), LaSalle-Peru (4), Jacksonville (3), Glenbard South (1), Peoria Notre Dame (1), Chicago (Solorio Academy) (1)

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Phillips (11) 0-0 127 -
2 Althoff Catholic (2) 0-0 118 -
3 Rochester 0-0 99 -
4 Breese Mater Dei 0-0 68 -
5 Geneseo 0-0 52 -
6 Marengo 0-0 46 -
7 Mateno 0-0 45 -
8 Johnsburg 0-0 44 -
9 Richmond-Burton 0-0 36 -
10 Plano 0-0 28 -

Other receiving votes: Rockford Lutheran (17), Columbia (15), Taylorville (9), Quincy Notre Dame (5), Murphysboro (3), Rock Island Alleman (1), Herrin (1), Bethalto Civic Memorial (1)

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Bishop McNamara (8) 0-0 124 -
2 Tolono Unity (3) 0-0 110 -
3 Wilmington 0-0 75 -
4 IC Catholic (2) 0-0 63 -
5 Monticello 0-0 48 -
6 North-Mac 0-0 43 -
7 Pana 0-0 42 -
8 Newton 0-0 39 -
9 Paxton-Buckley-Loda 0-0 34 -
9 (tie) Byron 0-0 34 -

Other receiving votes: St. Joseph-Ogden (31), Bloomington Central Catholic (20), Carlinville (15), Elmwood-Brimfield (15), Breese Central (10), Williamsville (9), Princeton (8), Winnebago (5), Aurora Christian (5), Mercer County (3), Mt. Carmel (3), Herscher (2), Dwight (1), Westville (1), Marshall (1)

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Auburn (1) 0-0 90 -
2 Downs Tri-Valley 0-0 84 -
3 Maroa-Forsyth (2) 0-0 79 -
4 Deer Creek-Mackinaw (3) 0-0 73 -
5 Sterling Newman (1) 0-0 52 -
6 St. Bede 0-0 48 -
7 Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 0-0 35 -
7 (tie) Wethersfield 0-0 35 -
9 Mendon Unity 0-0 20 -
10 Orion 0-0 42 -

Other receiving votes: Rockridge (15), Nashville (14), Bismarck-Henning (11), Hall (11), Eldorado (7), DuQuoin (6), El Paso-Gridley (4), Champaign St. Thomas More (4), Villa Grove (4), Clifton Central (3), Chester (3), Fulton (3), Hamilton West Hancock (3), Eastland-Pearl City (1), Lawrenceville (1)

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Stark County (3) 0-0 91 -
2 Decatur St. Teresa (2) 0-0 76 -
3 Ottawa Marquette (1) 0-0 65 -
4 Lena-Winslow (2) 0-0 62 -
5 Tuscola 0-0 60 -
6 Forreston (2) 0-0 53 -
7 Carrollton 0-0 36 -
8 Dakota 0-0 31 -
9 Mt. Sterling (Brown County) 0-0 30 -
10 Athens (1) 0-0 27 -

Other receiving votes: LeRoy (26), Arcola (23), Bureau Valley (22), Stockton (16), Camp Point Central (13), Pawnee (11), Galena (6), Cerro Gordo (Cerro Gordo-Bement Coop) (5), Concord (Triopia) (4), Sidell (Jamaica)-Salt Fork (2), Hardin (Calhoun) (1)

Edgy's IHSA Class of 2017 Top 60 recruit rankings

Edgy's IHSA Class of 2017 Top 60 recruit rankings

With the 2016 IHSA football season on the horizon, CSNChicago.com Preps contributor Edgy Tim unveiled his EDGYTIM.com Illinois Class of 2017 Top 60 recruit rankings.

A few items of note: Out of the top 60 recruits listed, only 12 remain uncommitted at this point. It’s a staggeringly high number compared to the past few recruiting classes. In more than a few cases, academics remain an issue from some of the names listed both as uncommitted and committed recruits. 

Position of strength? 14 out of the 60 listed are defensive linemen. Throw in Peoria’s Kendrick Green, who has also drawn offers as a defensive tackle, and that makes 15. The wide receivers are also strong in this class — especially at the top of the rankings.

​​​​​[PREPS: Edgy Tim's Countdown to Kickoff series]

Position of concern? Once again, quarterbacks seem to be getting a rough ride here in Illinois. Jacobs' Chris Katrenick (Bowling Green), Marian Catholic’s Cam Thomas (Illinois) and East St Louis’ Rey Estes (Missouri) are the only three quarterbacks to crack the Top 60. The remaining group could also find tough sledding at the FCS level. I've spoken to several in-state FCS coaches who currently have no in-state quarterbacks listed at the top of their recruiting boards.

1. Al Epenesa, DE, Edwardsville (Iowa)

2. Jeff Thomas, WR, East St. Louis (Undecided)

3. Isaiah Robertson, ATH, Neuqua Valley (Notre Dame)

4. Kevin Jarvis, OG, Maine South (Michigan State)

5. Cole Kmet, TE, St. Viator (Notre Dame)

6. Ricky Smalling, WR, Brother Rice (Illinois)

7. Dalton Wagner, OT, Richmond-Burton (Oklahoma)

8. Jake Marwede, TE, Loyola Academy (Duke)

9. Izayah Green-May, DE, Bolingbrook (Wisconsin)

10. Jacub Panasiuk, DL, Lake Park (Michigan State)

11. Vederian Lowe, OT, Rockford Auburn (Illinois)

12. Olalere Oladipo, DE, Huntley (Undecided)

13. Kendall Smith, ATH, Bolingbrook (Illinois)

14. Micah Awodiran, ILB, Marist (Yale)

15. Tyler Jost, OL, Libertyville (Iowa State)

16. Logan Christopherson, TE, Lemont (Missouri)

17. Ivory Kelly-Martin, RB, Oswego East (Iowa)

18. Christopher Bell, WR, Bishop McNamara (Western Michigan)

19. Kendrick Green, OL/DL, Peoria (Undecided)

20. Joshua Maize, DE, Deerfield (Undecided)

21. Chris Katrenick, QB, Jacobs (Bowling Green)

22. Isaac Hawn, OT, St. Charles North (NIU)

23. Camron Harrell, ATH, Bradley (Iowa)

24. Cameron Thomas, QB, Marian Catholic (Illinois)

25. Marc Mondesir, OLB, St. Rita (Illinois)

26. Jace James, WR, Glenbard North (Northwestern)

27. Cameron Ruiz, DB, Lakes (Northwestern)

28. John Michael Schmitz, OG, Homewood-Flossmoor (Western Michigan)

29. John Mitchell, DT, Crete-Monee (Undecided)

30. Robert Topps III, DB, Marist (Kansas)

31. Eric Rooks, ATH, De La Salle (Undecided)

32. Jordan Rowell, RB/S, Immaculate Conception (NIU)

33. Ian Swenson, DB, Loyola Academy (Connecticut)

34. Caylon May, DT, Rich Central (Undecided)

35. Devonte Dunn, DT, Nazareth Academy (Toledo)

36. Prince Walker, RB, Montini Catholic (Western Michigan)

37. Rey Estes, QB/ATH, East St. Louis (Missouri)

38. Tyrice Ritchie, WR, Homewood-Flossmoor (Undecided)

39. Bill Kuduk, OG, Marist (Kansas State)

40. Chris Elmore, DT, Phillips (Western Michigan)

41. Jamezz Kimbrough, OL, Homewood-Flossmoor (Central Michigan)

42. Joe Spivak, DT, Montini Catholic (Undeciced)

43. Dylan Deatherage, OT, Bishop McNamamra (Western Michigan)

44. Jackson Perkins, DE, Barrington (Navy)

45. Mitch West, DB, Montini Catholic (Purdue)

46. Jawon Denton, LB, Morgan Park (NIU)

47. Noah Hickcox, DE, Rockford Boylan (Western Michigan)

48. Dexter Warren, S, Phillips (NIU)

49. Michael Kennedy, OLB, Mount Carmel (NIU)

50. Marcus Hayes, DB, Rockford East (Western Michigan)

51. Owen Piche, ATH, Neuqua Valley (Navy)

52. Jordan Nettles, RB/DB, Romeoville (NIU)

53. Juawan Treadwell, DB, Crete-Monee (Undecided)

54. Jordan Brown, DE, Lemont (Air Force)

55. Chris Sampleton, DE/TE, Nazareth Academy (Yale)

56. Collin Stallworth, WR, Rochester (Undecided)

57. Phazione McClurge, DB, Mount Carmel (NDSU)

58. Jaylon Bester, RB, Belleville Althoff (Miami OH)

59. Dorion Pollard, OLB, Hinsdale Central (Ball State)

60. Trey Telez, OLB, Lincoln-Way West (Undecided)