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28 | March 22, 2018 | The lake forest leader SPORTS LakeForestLeader.com Boys basketball Player of the Year Cunningham uses growth to achieve career dreams Michael Wojtychiw Contributing Sports Editor For athletes, the hope is to improve as they get older, with more experience and better skills en route to hopefully earn an opportunity to play at the next level, collegiately. That was the route that Loyola senior Kevin Cunningham took during his four years at Loyola, one that saw him finish his Rambler career as 22nd Century Media’s inaugural boys basketball Player of the Year. Cunningham said he feels that every season has been one he’s grown in. “Freshman year was tough for me because I was hurt and didn’t play the whole year,” he said. “Sophomore year I got hurt again and missed a couple games, but since then I’ve just improved my whole game. I don’t think there’s a part of my game that’s gotten worse or stayed the same. I think I got stronger, more aggressive and became an all-around better player.” After having players like Ramar Evans and Julian DeGuzman as last year’s go-to players, Cunningham’s role changed this year as a senior. He moved over to the point guard position and became Loyola’s Kevin Cunningham evades a steal attempt by Notre Dame’s Troy D’Amico during the 2017-18 season. 22nd Century Media file photo the squad’s primary leader. “Ramar last year was our big leader, well and Julian too, but Ramar was our captain, he really led us when times got tough,” Cunningham said. “That really helped me because I looked up to him last year as a leader and he taught me so much. He had a great voice, through his actions and how he played; he never got rattled.” Cunningham’s new role on the team wasn’t an easy change. “I think there were some difficulties adjusting,” he said, “I had to go over the plays and make sure I knew every position, because I didn’t really know that one game I could be playing point guard, the next at two guard.” For the fourth time in coach Tom Livatino’s nine years at the helm of Loyola basketball, and second consecutive year, the Ramblers finished with 20 wins and a regional title. The Ramblers play in one of the tougher conferences in the state and were in one of the hardest sectional this season. “[Coach Tom] Livatino has a great system,” Cunningham said. “Anybody who plays for Livatino has to buy into his system or else it’ll be hard to get many minutes. Our team revolves around defense, getting good shots and not rushing shots. It’s just buying into the culture and I think every guy in the past two years did that. That leads to success.” Girls basketball Player of the Year Martinez earns award after historic season Michael Wojtychiw Contributing Sports Editor For most basketball teams, the point guard is another coach on the court. They’re the eyes and ears of what’s happening on the hardwood. Loyola Academy’s point guard, Julia Martinez, was that and more for the Ramblers this season. Thanks to her efforts, the Loyola star was named the inaugural 22nd Century Media girls basketball Player of the Year. From a young age the junior knew she wanted to play basketball and it was all thanks to family. “I’ve kind of played basketball my whole life, but probably started when I was around kindergarten,” she said. “I have two older sisters who played, and both my parents were coaches. Ever since I was younger, I always knew I wanted to play basketball and would play against the older kids.” The 5-foot-10 junior from the North Side of Chicago averaged 9.9 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, 6.7 assists per game and 2.8 steals a contest, en route to leading her team to a regional title and a sectionaltitle game appearance. She came to Loyola and earned a spot on the varsity team right away, something not easy to do at a school like Loyola. But that didn’t faze Martinez. “I feel like when I was younger, I was so confident in my game, and I love the game so much,” she said. “I came in doing what I normally do and actually wasn’t that nervous when coach (Jeremy) Schoenecker said my name for the first game my freshman year.” Point guards are usually one of two kinds, ones that are a true point guard, and pass the ball to their teammates before anything else, or a scoring point guard who isn’t afraid to put up shot after shot. “I’d probably say I’m a pass-first mentality point guard,” Martinez said. “I look to find my teammates, looking up court to see who’s open, giving my teammates the ball.” Colleges have taken notice of Martinez doing her job and she’s racked up 12 scholarship offers from Division I schools. Martinez announced her commitment to Saint Louis University on Friday, March 16. But before she gets ready to head off to college, she has one year to help the Ramblers continue to move further into the playoffs, something they’ve done three consecutive seasons now. The team made it to the sectional final this year, after losing in the sectional semifinal last season and the regional final the two years prior. Loyola has had a lot of success during her tenure, witnessed by Schoenecker picking up his 200th career victory this season and his team winning at least 20 games in a season for the eighth time in his 10 years at the helm. Julia Martinez drives to the basket in a game during the 2017-18 season. 22nd Century Media File photo “During practice, we work on a lot of different aspects, we start off with a ton of shooting, every single spot on the floor,” Martinez said. “We work on our defense, then our offense.” During the first half of Loyola’s Jan. 30 contest against De La Salle, Martinez broke the school’s career assist record, previously set by Laura Sobieszczyk’s in 1999 who had 507. Martinez now has over 540 career assists with a year to go. “I obviously have to give my teammates a lot of credit because they’re the ones putting the ball in the basket,” she said. “It means a lot, it’s pretty exciting.”
LakeForestLeader.com SPORTS the lake forest leader | March 22, 2018 | 29 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year Lake Forest’s Wilhelm chosen for inaugural honor Brittany Kapa, Sports Editor Coaches are often the needle on a compass that points players in the right direction during a long season. They string different players, personalities and skill sets together into one cohesive unit. When done right, the season often ends in success. Kyle Wilhelm, the head coach of Lake Forest High School’s girls basketball program, guided a team punctuated by talented underclassman and players who stepped up in the wake of injury. The Scouts finished the season with a 22-10 overall record and a playoff run that ended with a loss to Lake Zurich in the regional final. Because of his efforts, the sports staff at 22nd Century Media chose Wilhelm as the inaugural Coach of the Year for girls basketball. “I was not expecting this,” Wilhelm said. “I’m honored and surprised. I’m surprised in the sense that I really respect a lot of the coaches that I coach against. I see the time that everyone puts into preparing and to be named Coach of the Year is an honor.” Wilhelm, who finished his seventh year as the Scouts’ head coach, has seen his current group of players grow. The seniors came into a program that only won eight games prior to their freshman year. In four years, the Scouts’ program is a far cry from where it began — their success includes a 2017 regional championship. “This group, the seniors in particular, should really be looking back on their career and the mark that they left,” Wilhelm said. “They just finished (with season) wins of 17, Lake Forest coach Kyle Wilhelm (middle) led a young girls basketball to a second-consecutive season winning 20-plus games. 22nd Century Media File Photo 13, 23 and 22.” Wilhelm built his program, with assistant coach Reanna Perera, by harnessing the skills of individual players and rolling that into success at the team level. Wilhelm had two major challenges this season. The first was making up for the two key players who graduated. The success of the season prior acted as motivation for this year’s squad and Wilhelm saw evidence of that this past summer. “I think the big thing was ... they came in really focused this summer and really determined to meet and exceed last year’s performance,” Wilhelm said. The seconds, unfortunately, was making up for Maeve Summerville’s absence. Summerville suffered a season-ending injury at the end of the summer session. Wilhelm had to figure out how to make up 25-27 points per game from losing those three players. “As the season started, it was really just challenging those players to fill the void that Maeve was leaving,” he said. “We really talked about how it wasn’t going to be one person to do that. It was really going to have to be collective effort, and everyone was going to have to step up.” They didn’t disappoint. Sophomore point guard Halle Douglass was one of the team’s top scorers. Seniors Jen Whittington and Audrey Kaus stepped up in a big way and even Summerville’s younger sister, Finola Summerville, helped fill the gaps. “Jen Whittington, in particular, was someone who didn’t get much playing time last year as a junior,” Wilhelm said. “She really took advantage of an opportunity with Maeve being out.” Wilhelm’s centered around positioning players in spots that would utilize their talents. Those talents paid off in key games, like their 30-27 Jan. 23 win against Stevenson. The win marked the first time Lake Forest bested Stevenson in more than a decade. And like most coaches, Wilhelm’s passion for coaching derives from seeing his team succeed in key games. “We started picking up those signature wins and every signature win you get you kind of see the belief and the expectation of the team,” he said. “They raised the expectation-level themselves.” Boys Basketball Coach of the Year Teamwork key for Harris’ success Brittany Kapa, Sports Editor Simply put, coaches champion their players. In a season filled with inevitable ups and downs, it is the coach’s job to keep their teams on task. When looking at who did that the best this season across 22nd Century Media area teams it was a hard decision. Programs like New Trier and Loyola Academy stand out as having coaching staffs that are undoubtably talented. However, the sports department looked deeper into regular-season play and chose a coach that helped lift his team from a shaky start to a team that finished the regular season with confidence. Highland Park High School’s Paul Harris was chosen as the inaugural recipient for the 2018 Coach of the Year. Harris, who just completed his 19th year as head coach with the Giants, led his team to a 15-11 overall record and an 8-2 Central Suburban League North conference finish after a 0-4 start. “Our mindset as coaches, and as a program, was to try and get the guys to focus on improvement and get them to remember that past success doesn’t guarantee future success,” he said. The team’s start didn’t define the Giants’ season, and Harris even celebrated a personal accomplishment in January after nabbing his 300th career win. However, none of those accolades are more important to Harris than the growth of his team from summer 2017 until the end of the season this year. Highland Park coach Paul Harris (middle) helped lead his team out of an 0-4 start to finish the regular season 15-11. 22nd Century Media File Photo “When I think about the season as a whole, I’m just really proud of how we competed,” he said. “This was a group that set high standards for themselves. They looked forward to playing a tough schedule and they looked forward to a lot of challenges throughout the year.” Even after a rough start to the season, going 0-4 at the St. Viator Thanksgiving Tournament, the team held its head high and knew that the only direction it could go was up. “They showed tremendous resiliency,” Harris said. “With playing a tough schedule, we weren’t going to go undefeated this year. We knew that wasn’t going to happen.” Full story online at LakeFor estLeader.com Editors Note: Coach of the Year was chosen by the sports staff at 22nd Century Media. The decision was made on regular-season play and the development of the team from the beginning of the regular season until the conclusion.