Illinois athletes who set the standard in fall sports

File Photo
FORMER WILDCAT STANDOUT Owen Weaver motors into the end zone for a touchdown during the 2015 season. Weaver is the single-season rushing record holder at Wilmington.

Shawn Long
Sports Writer

by shawn long
Sports writer
They are the best of the best when it comes to high school sports in Illinois. They’re the athletes who have had the most impact when it comes to playting fall sports.
Among the top football players in class 2A, was monster Jacardia Wright. Wright had tree trunk legs and he displayed it on the field at Decatur St. Teresa when he rushed for over 8,000 yards in his four seasons as a Bulldog. He also scored 150 touchdowns.
He was 6-0, 200 pounds and he ran with every bit of it, busting for 10.9 yards per carry in his career. His best game was a 364-yard, six touchdown performance during his senior season.
Wilmington doesn’t have a lot of tall running backs. They’re usually short but do they pack a punch. The best running back comparable to the size and natural athleticism of Wright would be Owen Weaver, who is coincidentally the overall season leader in rushing with 2,041 yards.
Weaver was 6-0, 195 pounds so he had the same build as Wright. Weaver share the limelight during his junior season when he split carries with another 1,000-yard rusher, Nick Hawkins, so he may not have gotten the ball as often as Wright. Still, he broke for 9.3 yards per carry in his two seasons with 46 touchdowns. His best game came in a 62-28 win over Sandwich where Weaver ran for 241 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns.
If one was looking for one of the best players in Class 3A, they’d look no further than Aurora Christian’s 2011 graduate Anthony Maddie. Maddie was a dual threat quarterback for AC, who holds the state record for points in a season with 428, which is 52 points better than Morris’ world class running back John Dergo.
Maddie threw for 3,799 yards with 1,117 yards on the ground, which is second on the list all-time for total offense. Maddie single handedly led his team to a state championship in 2011 with three touchdowns on the ground and two through the air.
Maddie has some similarities to another 3A quarterback from Reed-Custer, who led his team to a quarterfinal appearance, the best in school history and that is the current quarterback Jake McPherson.
McPherson is a little taller than Maddie as he stands at 6-2 while Maddie was 6-1, 185 but he possesses the same long strides and speed that Maddie did. McPherson finished with 1,124 yards passing, 847 yards rushing and 30 total touchdowns so he proved he can be every bit as dominant a rusher as he was a passer.
The best overall player in Class 4A would have to be running back Ty Issac from Joliet Catholic Academy. Issac didn’t have the career stats like some because JCA was loaded with running backs. But he had one of the most ridiculous stats in state history.
In a back-and-forth 2011 state title game between JCA and Lombard (Montini), Issac ran for 515 yards on just 26 carries with six touchdowns. That added on to his 2,114- yard campaign. He also had 36 rushing touchdowns coming into this game with 45 total touchdowns. He was the running back who utilized his linemen. He would grab onto the shirt tails of the offensive lineman while running to have them lead him to the hole.
The only 4A comparison to that JCA monster, who was 6-3 and 217 pounds, would be Daniel Jezik, a former Coal City standout. It was not because of his height nor weight as the 2020 graduate was only 5-9, 195 pounds.
It was how clean he hit the hole. It also didn’t hurt that he was an All-State wrestler who could bust through any tackle. Jezik ran for 2,237 yards with 25 touchdowns his senior season.
His most impressive game was one that earned him the honor of Chicago Bears Player of the Week when he ran for 295 yards with two touchdowns in a 34-20 upset win over Bishop McNamara. Jezik led the Coalers to a semifinal appearance and a 12-1 record.
You would not be able to talk about great players in volleyball without mentioning one of the all-time best outside hitters in Class 2A, Decatur St. Teresa’s Marie Less. Less is currently 16th in state history with 1,547 career kills.
She was 5’11, like all good hitters, which allowed her to jump high at the net. At St. Teresa, she led them to the Final Four in 2010 and 2011. She also holds three school records there for kills in a season (495), career kills and career digs (1,426). She’s also ranked eighth for kills within a single match with 32.
Her best Class 2A comparison from Wilmington is Alexis Zouganelis. While Zouganelis was shorter at 5’9”, she was instinctive on the court and could read the court as the play unfolded. She always knew where to be and often was right where she needed to be.
Along with that, she was an excellent hitter and holds the record for kills at Wilmington with 863 lifetime. She notched 18 kills in a match during a very successful 2008 season which saw the ‘Cats win the sectional championship with a 32-4 record.
If one was also looking for the best setter in Class 2A, they’d find that St. Teresa’s 2011 graduate Jordan Wooden would be that girl. At just 5’5”, Wooden was really good at what she did. She would know where her hitters were going before they got there. In her senior season, Wooden and Less led the Bulldogs to a Final Four Appearance when Wooden had 764 setting assists. She’s not close to the record of assists during a match as it’s 60 but she did have 30 assists in a match which is as good as it gets.
Coal City had a setter like that in Kassie Aldridge. She was short and really good at getting the ball up perfectly for her hitters. She holds the school record for assists with 1,115 lifetime. She picked up 439 during her senior season. She also got close to Wooden’s mark with 27 setting assists in a single contest. Aldridge and the Coalers won the regional with a 23-10-2 record during her senior season in 2014.
As for the best overall server in Class 2A, that would be Princeton’s 1981 graduate Mary Bouxsein. She leads the state with 573 aces in just 87 matches. She also has the second most aces in a season, delivering 189. During her run with Princeton, she led the Tigers to three district titles, four sectionals and one state appearance during her junior season when the team went 19-5. She served up 22 aces during a match in 1978 which is second most.
Reed-Custer’s Madilyn Alton was one of the best overall volleyball players the area has ever seen. She led the Comets in three different stat categories with 558 kills, 1,120 digs and 149 aces. Alton was 5-10 and she used her height to her advantage. There was a match where Alton had six aces in a game against Serena during her senior season.
If one was looking for the best overall goal scorer in Class 1A, you’d look no further than Elgin (St. Edward’s) 2018 graduate AJ Franklin, who pounded through an amazing 70 goals to lead his squad to a third place finish in his junior year as they finished that season 27-2.
There is no comparison to a 70-goal season as the most scored in a single season between Coal City, Wilmington and Reed-Custer is 25 by Wilmington’s Dylan Swearengen. He and his brother Dawson helped Wilmington win the regional title in 2016. They were a dynamic duo who each scored at least 20 goals that year.
However, it is interesting to note Peotone’s 2002 graduate Kevin Mikuce scored 42 goals to help the Blue Devils qualify for state. Mikuce later came back to Peotone to coach for three seasons, all of which were regional championship seasons.
If somebody was looking for the best overall player in Class 1A, it would without a doubt be Chicago FW Parker’s 2008 graduate John Berggren, who knocked through 65 goals with 60 assists during a 2008 fourth place medal season. Berggren was best at doing it all.
There have been a couple do-it-all players over the past few years. None compare to Berggren but Reed-Custer’s Danny Kuban gave that two-way player role a try last season and scored 22 goals with five assists.
He poured it on for the Comets, scoring five goals against Wilmington and four in another game against Plano to give him his 22 for the season as he would score two more hat tricks. He currently has the record for goals in a season and is tied for third with 26 goals and one season left to go.
The best goalie in 1A is Alton Marquette’s Zach Horn, who collected 310 saves during their state championship season in 2012 when the team went 17-6-3.
There’s no one quite like Horn, who did that in a season but the closest would be Coal City’s 2017 graduate Hunter Bannon, who corralled 526 saves from 2014-17. He stopped 170 in a season.
There have been so many athletes who have made a difference for their teams in Class 1A. These are just a few.