Mooney takes long trip to success

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Mooney takes long trip to success

Every week day, Matt Mooney makes a two-hour commute, back and forth from his home in Wauconda to Notre Dame High School in Niles. He has no regrets. "Your job is to get a college scholarship," his father told him. He did it. So his father pays for the gas.

"It's a good deal," said Mooney, who has signed with Air Force Academy. "Notre Dame is the best fit for me. It gives me the best chance to play college basketball and get a good education and get recognition, to play in the state tournament and against the best teams in the state."

Mooney, a 6-foot-3 senior, is the leader of a Notre Dame squad that will carry a 9-1 record and the top seed into the Wheeling Hardwood Classic on Dec. 26-29. The Dons will meet Chicago Alcott in the first round. He is averaging 16 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.

Last Saturday, Notre Dame defeated Leo 54-37 in the Chicago Catholic LeagueEast Suburban Catholic Challenge at Loyola. Mooney scored 11 points while Jake Maestranzi, a transfer from South Elgin, had 12 points, four assists and three steals.

He is one of six starters on coach Tom Les' squad. That's right, six starters. Les has a unique rotation. Before each game, he and assistants Shay Boyle and Kevin Clancy gather to determine the starting lineup. Which five will start and who will be the first player off the bench?

"We have six kids who are very good. All six deserve to be a starter," Les said. "We talked about it with the six guys. Depending on how things go in practice or the match-ups, we could start any five of those six. I could pull five names out of a hat and be comfortable.

"But the kids all want to start. We have had multiple different starting lineups. Our criteria includes a multiple of factors--who has been the best team leader that week, who has worked the hardest, who has been best in school, the best defender, who matches up the best.

"Playing time usually is even among the six players. In high school, it isn't like the NBA. There is no sixth man award, no John Havlicek. They all want to start. For teenagers to understand why they work so hard and don't start isn't an easy concept to grasp. But these kids do understand."

Three of the six have started every game to date--Mooney, 6-foot-3 senior Eddie Serrano (7 ppg, 9 rpg) and 5-foot-7 senior point guard Jake Maestranzi (9 ppg, 5 assists, 2 steals), whose brother Anthony played at Northern Illinois.

The other three are 5-foot-7 senior point guard Donte "Scooter" Stephenson (6 ppg, 4 assists, 3 steals), 6-foot-6 senior Justin Halloran (8 ppg) and 6-foot-4 junior Duante Stephens (9 ppg).

"Parents are spending a lot of money to send their kids to Notre Dame," Les said. "Based on that, I don't mind talking to them. I sat down with them before the season and talked about our unique situation.

"I explained the criteria and what we are doing. There is no preferential treatment. We are doing what is best for the boys and what is best for the team. We laid the groundwork and the parents agreed with everything. We're all on the same page."

Mooney, who has a 4.2 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, scored 27 on his ACT and ranks in the top 5 percentile of his class, leads by example. Last year, he failed to make the all-conference team. Twelve players were selected. He was 13th in the voting.

"I felt I deserved to be on the team," he said. "It was motivation for me. I worked hard over the summer and got a scholarship. Last year, we lost to Benet, St. Viator and St. Patrick and finished third in the conference.
Winning the league is a big thing this year.

"We have a chip on our shoulders. We have stuff to prove. We didn't achieve what we wanted to last year. We're starting to get noticed now. We were picked to finish second to Marist in the conference this season and we beat them by 15 last Friday."

Mooney said who starts and who doesn't isn't an issue anymore. Each player knows he needed to contribute when he gets on the floor. "Motivation for me is to never take a play off, to show up for practice and not to slack off on my grades. Everyone knows they will get their chance, even if they are coming off the bench," he said.

With four returning starters from a 20-9 team that lost to Evanston in the regional final a year ago, Notre Dame figured to contend with Benet, St. Viator, Marist, Marian Catholic, Nazareth and St. Patrick in the very competitive East Suburban Catholic. All of them have lost only once to date.

"This could be the best team I've had in six years," Les said. "As juniors, this nucleus got a significant amount of playing time against a high-quality schedule. We have great senior leadership and chemistry. The kids have put their egos and personal agenda on the side and made it a team agenda.

"We got here because we worked hard and were unselfish. If we keep doing those things, it will be a very successful season. Our one weakness is rebounding. We must rebound by committee. We are a nightmare for other teams to match up with because we have a 6-foot-6 kid (Halloran) on the perimeter. But we have to play against bigger guys under the boards. Great chemistry overcomes a lot of deficiencies. Our players cover each other's backs."

Mooney, described by Les as one of the five best players in the conference, believes there are three reasons for the Dons' success--chemistry, everybody knows their roles and the six-man rotation is multi-dimensional.

"We have six guys who contribute in different ways," he said. "We practice hard, we trust each other and we have a lot of confidence in each other. We don't have any big-time Division I players like some schools but we can play with all of them because we will out-hustle and out-work them and play as a team."

Mooney chose Air Force because it was his only Division I offer going into the season and Michigan, his dream school, didn't offer. He visited the Colorado Springs school and liked what he saw. Air Force saw him play in some summer tournaments, offered and gave him a month to think about it. In early November, he accepted. On Nov. 15, he signed. He has no regrets.

"It's a good education and good basketball. I'll be playing in a big-time conference, the Mountain West," he said.

His decision to enroll at Notre Dame was more complicated. As a resident of Wauconda, his close-to-home choices were Wauconda and Carmel in Mundelein. Neither basketball program appealed to him. His father, who attended Notre Dame, knew Les, who was coaching at Marian Central in Woodstock at the time.

"I was playing with the Carmel varsity in a summer league. We weren't winning. I asked my father: 'Do you think I'll ever play in the state tournament or against the top teams in the state?' He said: 'Not if you go to Carmel.' My older brother agreed. Then Coach Les, who had become the head coach at Notre Dame, asked me to come to an open gym. It worked out well."

Mooney used to take a train to get to school. Now he drives. To avoid the tiresome commute on a daily basis, he often stays with his grandmother, who lives in Morton Grove, or his grandfather, who lives in Skokie.

"I stay at my grandparents as much as I can to save on gas," he said. His father appreciates the sentiment.

The growing problem with high school football scheduling

The growing problem with high school football scheduling

Last Friday afternoon Joliet Catholic loaded its team and coaches into "yellow rockets" and headed to Franklin, Wis., on Opening Night. Both Lincoln-Way East and Lincoln-Way Central headed to Indiana to play games.

Hinsdale Central hosted American Fork. American Fork, located just south of Salt Lake City, traveled to Hinsdale play the Red Devils.

Play in a conference such as the DuPage Valley, which needs to find non-conference games outside of the first two weeks of the season? Then much like Waubonsie Valley (Week 7 @ Fishers (Hamilton Southeastern), Neuqua Valley (Week 5 at Indianapolis Bishop Chartard) or Naperville Central (Week 6 at national power Lakewood Ohio St. Edward) you too will be on the road out-of-state.

Finding a few non-conference games to play is becoming an adventure.

Scheduling continues to be a growing problem for many IHSA football programs. Between the pressures of getting into the state playoffs along with a conference system that also seems to be imploding by the week state-wide, something needs to get sorted out sooner than later.

How about some possible solutions?

Some have suggested expanding the IHSA state playoff field, thus making the need to schedule "five wins to get in" less of a focus for teams across the state. Yet ask any high school coach and a large majority of them have a real issue with an "everyone-gets-in" system. Letting everyone into the IHSA state football playoffs would ease scheduling but also eliminates what many coaches feel makes the IHSA football playoffs special, which is making a regular season schedule actually count.

Conferences? These days more and more conferences, many of which have decades of history and tradition, are breaking apart. From the North and Western suburbs, which have already seen new realignments to the soon-to-be powder keg located in the South and Southwestern suburbs, expect even more scrambling for teams to find games.

How about letting the IHSA take over scheduling? Again some have suggested that the IHSA handle state-wide scheduling and make football much like other IHSA sports, such as football conferences becoming more like regionals. Yet this plan would eliminate well established conferences such as the Chicago Catholic League and others who would want to maintain its history.

Yet one thing seem to becoming much clearer these days as more and more schools head to all points to play games: something needs to change when it comes to scheduling.

AP Illinois preps football rankings: Week 1

AP Illinois preps football rankings: Week 1

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

Class 8A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Loyola (12) 1-0 120 1
2 Lincoln-Way East 1-0 104 2
3 Glenbard West 1-0 93 3
4 Homewood-Flossmoor 1-0 84 4
5 Edwardsville 1-0 60 5
6 Brother Rice 1-0 57 NR
7 Glenbard North 1-0 45 8
8 Palatine 1-0 43 7
9 Waubonsie Valley 1-0 19 9
10 Maine South 1-0 18 NR

Other receiving votes: Huntley (13), Naperville Neuqua Valley (2), Naperville North (1), Hinsdale Central (1)

Class 7A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Chicago Mt. Carmel (11) 1-0 119 1
2 East St. Louis (1) 1-0 109 2
3 Libertyville 1-0 86 4
4 Batavia 1-0 73 3
5 Normal Community 1-0 70 5
6 Bradley-Bourbonnais 1-0 60 6
7 Fenwick 1-0 55 NR
8 St. Charles North 1-0 37 9
9 Wheaton North 1-0 15 NR
10 Machesney Park Harlem 1-0 10 NR

Other receiving votes: Lake Zurich (6), Geneva (5), Belleville West (5), St. Rita (4), Wheaton Warrenville South (2), Jacobs (1), Hononegah (1), Benet (1), Lincoln Way West (1)

Class 6A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Sacred Heart-Griffin (Spr) (11) 1-0 118 2
2 Prairie Ridge 1-0 108 4
3 Crete-Monee 1-0 84 5
4 Rockford Auburn 1-0 77 6
5 Montini (1) 0-1 66 1
6 Lemont 1-0 51 7
7 Cary-Grove 0-1 49 3
8 Belvidere North 1-0 41 9
9 St. Laurence 1-0 37 T10
10 DeKalb 1-0 11 NR

Other receiving votes: Chatham Glenwood (4), Providence (4), Oak Lawn Richards (4), Hinsdale South (2), Bloomington (2), Danville (1), Rockford Boylan (1)

Class 5A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Nazareth (13) 1-0 130 1
2 Peoria Central 1-0 114 2
3 Washington 1-0 106 3
4 Champaign Central 1-0 80 5
5 Sterling 1-0 69 7
6 Woodstock Marian 1-0 68 6
7 Joliet Catholic 0-1 44 4
8 Metamora 1-0 36 10
9 Centralia 1-0 34 T8
10 Triad 1-0 10 NR

Other receiving votes: Peoria Notre Dame (6), Sycamore (4), Kaneland (4), Decatur Eisenhower (4), LaSalle-Peru (2), Morgan Park (2), Rich Central (1), Cahokia (1)

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Althoff Catholic (11) 1-0 123 2
2 Rochester (2) 1-0 117 3
3 Breese Mater Dei 1-0 88 4
4 Phillips 0-1 83 1
5 Geneseo 1-0 82 5
6 Johnsburg 1-0 60 8
7 Marengo 1-0 57 6
8 Manteno 1-0 47 7
9 Quincy Notre Dame 1-0 15 NR
10 Columbia 1-0 14 NR

Other receiving votes: Taylorville (12), Richmond-Burton (7), Rockford Lutheran (4), Stillman Valley (3), Plano (2), Rock Island Alleman (1)

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 IC Catholic (12) 1-0   4
2 Wilmington (1) 1-0   3
3 Monticello 1-0   5
4 North-Mac 1-0   6
5 Newton 1-0   8
5 (tie) Pana 1-0   7
7 Bishop McNamara 0-1   1
8 Byron 1-0   T9
9 Paxton-Buckley-Loda 1-0   T9
10 Tolono Unity 0-1   2

Other receiving votes: Elmwood-Brimfield (13), Williamsville (6), Herscher (4), Breese Central (4), St. Joseph-Ogden (3), Carlinville (1), Winnebago (1), Mt. Carmel (1), Princeton (1)

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Auburn (8) 1-0   1
2 Downs Tri-Valley (2) 1-0   2
3 Maroa-Forsyth (1) 1-0   3
4 Deer Creek-Mackinaw 1-0   4
5 Sterling Newman (1) 1-0   5
6 Mendon Unity 1-0   9
7 Orion 1-0   10
8 Wethersfield 1-0   8
9 Eastland-Pearl City 1-0   NR
10 St. Bede 0-1   6
10 (tie) Nashville 0-1   NR

Other receiving votes: Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (7), DuQuoin (6), Fulton (4), Leo (3), El Paso-Gridley (2), Champaign St. Thomas More (1), Rushville-Industry (1), Clifton Central (1)

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Decatur St. Teresa (14) 1-0 140 2
2 Ottawa Marquette 1-0 117 3
3 Tuscola 1-0 106 5
4 Forreston 1-0 101 6
5 Dakota 1-0 68 8
6 Mt. Sterling (Brown County) 1-0 63 9
7 Athens 1-0 47 10
8 Stark County 0-1 30 1
9 Bureau Valley 1-0 26 NR
10 Stockton 1-0 23 NR

Other receiving votes: Lena-Winslow (16), Carrollton (11), LeRoy (9), Arcola (8), Camp Point Central (2), Hardin (Calhoun) (2), Chicago Hope Academy (1)

Recruiting news and notes: Jeff Thomas in no rush

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Recruiting news and notes: Jeff Thomas in no rush

East St. Louis senior four-star ranked wide receiver Jeff Thomas (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) put on a show in the Flyers' 34-3 win over Providence Catholic in New Lenox.

Thomas, who hauled in 5 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns while also playing defensive back, is still uncommitted and doesn't seem to be in any hurry to make a college choice.

"Everything is the same," Thomas said. "It's all about my team and the season for right now."

Earlier this summer, Thomas listed his top schools as Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Michigan State and Missouri. Missouri just added a recent verbal commitment from East St Louis QB Rey Estes and the Tigers many feel could have an advantage in landing Thomas. Missouri has four former East St. Louis Flyers on its current roster.

Deerfield senior three-star ranked defensive end Joshua Maize (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) recently released his list of favorites schools which includes Toledo, UConn, Indiana, Central Michigan, Miami of Ohio and Ball State. Maize however has also been drawing heavy recruiting looks from several other BCS level schools including Purdue, Syracuse, Rutgers, Illinois and Penn State and those schools plan to re-evaluate Maize early this fall. Maize plans to make official visits before making a final college choice and recently said, "my recruiting process is still very open at this time."

[RELATED - Edgy Tim's Top 25 power rankings: Week 2]

One position that is having rough recruiting ride in the Class of 2017? Quarterback. So far just three in-state Class of 2017 signal callers have given BCS level schools a verbal commitments including Jacob's Chris Katernick (Bowling Green), Marian Catholic's Cameron Thomas (Illinois) and Estes (Missouri). So far, the only FCS level in-state known verbal pledge comes from Hinsdale Central's Josh Bean (Columbia). 

This Thursday (Sept. 1st) is a big day in football recruiting circles for the Class of 2018. Thursday is the first day that prospects are allowed per the NCAA to receive recruiting materials (mail) along with unlimited electronic transmissions (text/instant/direct messages) from college coaches. 

"I've stayed in touch with a handful of college coaches and they all said that I would be hearing from them on Thursday," Lake Zurich junior inside linebacker Jack Sanborn said. "It's exciting to hear from those coaches along with hopefully some new schools as well."

Need proof that the recruiting process calendar is getting pushed up earlier and earlier? From my recently-released State of Illinois Class of 2017 Top 60 recruit rankings, 49 out of the 60 recruits have already given schools a verbal commitment. Out of the 11 uncommitted players, I would say nearly half of those players are being held up from giving a verbal commitment because of various academic questions/issues.