Physically, St. Rita's Jordan Matthews hasn't changed much from last season.
He's still supremely fit.
His exceptional basketball skills — dribbling, defending, decision-making and driving to the basket — remain at a level few other point guards in the Southland can match.
Mentally, however, the 6-foot, 170-pound combo guard is a different kid.
"Everything has changed from that standpoint," he said. "My work ethic has changed. I'm more of a leader. I'm making these guys (teammates) go hard harder and, in turn, that's pushing me to go harder.
"There's no slacking off this year. We know how good we can be."
By: Tony Baranek
The way St. Rita senior Chris Childers sees it, he needs to ramp up his running game.
"The O-line does great, I just need to make better reads on my runs," he said. "I need to be a little more patient."
As a receiver, Childers was a gamebreaker for the Mustangs in their 38-21 Catholic League Blue victory Friday over Mount Carmel.
St. Rita was clinging to a seven-point lead late in the third quarter when Childers made a one-handed catch on a pass from Jake Zylman. He took the ball 17 yards to the Caravan 1.
Three plays later, David Gleaves ran it in for a score, sending the Mustangs on their way.
Childers finished with 90 yards rushing and added a 24-yard touchdown reception for St. Rita (4-1, 1-1).
Alek Thomas rushed for 104 yards and Kyle Davis scored on an 84-yard run for Mount Carmel (3-2, 0-2).
Childers had some impressive runs late, appearing to gain confidence from his key catches.
"You've just got to keep your head up," Childers said. "Jake really did a nice job on that (TD pass), and I just did my thing. I couldn't have done it without the O-line and Jake.
Talking with the coaching staff of the sophomore team this past spring, St. Rita Coach John Nee heard glowing reports time and time again about Diego Koval.
Pitching mostly out of the bullpen this summer season, Koval showed skills that drew comparisons to Kansas-bound Steve Washilewski.
Taking the mound in the summer state title game, Koval delivered in a big way. The junior fired a complete game, striking out 3 and allowing a lone run on 5 hits as St. Rita claimed an exciting 4-1 victory over Lincoln-Way East (LWE) on July 24 at Benedictine University in Lisle.
By John Nee '93
The varsity baseball team lost 21 seniors to graduation this past spring including 25 of the team’s 29 wins on the mound. Inexperienced with potential is a way to describe the 2018 St. Rita pitching staff. They did not disappoint this week as the staff gave up three runs in four games as the Mustangs won the Richards Regional to advance to The Phil Lawler Summer Classic in Naperville next week.
Seniors Mike Rios and Payton Condon, along with juniors Matt Callahan, Diego Koval, Logan Strutz, Vic Aguilar, Mike Benson and sophomore Justin Valdez combined this week to allow only three earned runs in 22 innings pitched as St. Rita won doubleheaders over Oak Lawn and Brother Rice on Tuesday and Bremen and Mt. Carmel on Thursday. It will be St. Rita’s first appearance in the Lawler Classic since winning the tournament title in 2013. The Mustangs also took home the summer state championship in 2005 and 2009.
The Mustangs offense also provided some fireworks on the week as they scored 43 runs in their four wins. Sophomore Luke Napleton led the charge in the semis and championship game as he had a two-run single and RBI triple against Bremen in the semis, and he provided the big blow against Mt. Carmel in the championship game with a bases-clearing, three-run triple to put the game away.
The Mustangs (11-3-1) will next play at Naperville Central High School on Monday July 17th against Lake Park High School. Game time on Monday is 10:00 a.m. The full tournament schedule can be found at www.tourneymachine.com.
By: John Nee '93
The Chicago Catholic League Blue Conference is widely regarded as not only the best baseball conference in the state of Illinois, but also as one of the very best conferences in the entire country.
With that being said, when it’s time to choose an all-conference team, invariably some really good baseball players will be omitted from the final list. That was the case again this year as only three St. Rita Mustang seniors were named first team All-CCL Blue at the conference meeting last Sunday.
Senior Kansas signee Steven Washilewski led the way for the Mustangs with his sterling (4-0) record against Catholic League Blue competition. In his four starts against Blue opponents (Providence, Brother Rice, Mt. Carmel, and St. Laurence) Wash allowed only four earned runs while striking out 25 and walking only three in his 25 innings of work. His line also included complete game shutouts at Providence and at Brother Rice. Overall, Washilewski leads the Mustang pitching staff in almost every category with a 10-1 record and a minuscule 0.83 ERA while striking out 87 batters and walking only 16 in his 67 1/3 innings pitched.
Senior first baseman and Benedictine University signee Tyler Woynerowski joined Washilewski on the first team. Woynerowski in 21 Catholic League games hit .375 with four homeruns and 23 RBIs to lead the Mustang offense. Overall, on the season he is hitting .353 with four homers and 32 RBIs.
The third member from St. Rita to be named to the first team All-CCL Blue team was senior second baseman/pitcher Lewis signee Matt Verdun. In his 21 league games, Verdun led the Mustangs with a .441 average and a .552 on base percentage. He also hit one homerun and drove in 14 to go along with his team-leading 10 doubles. Overall, Verdun leads St. Rita with a .481 average with one homer and 28 RBIs including a robust .552 on base percentage.
Retiring Head Coach Mike Zunica was voted the Lawless Award Winner as the top coach in the league by his fellow coaches, an award to an out-going legend in the league who has left an imprint on all things baseball in the Catholic League for many years to come. Zunica is a member of the Catholic League Hall of Fame after starring at St. Francis De Sales in the early 1980s and leading the St. Rita baseball program to unprecedented heights in his 21 years at the helm.
St. Rita Baseball competes next in a sectional playoff game vs. Br. Rice at St. Rita on Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
By: John Nee '93
The Mustangs (28-8) advanced to Saturday's (May 27) regional championship game at 2:00 p.m. Lyons Township with a 9-2 win over Whitney Young.
Jake Zylman (3-3, 2B 2RBIs) and Blake Soria (2-run HR) led the offense. While Connor Kelly threw 3 shutout innings for St. Rita.
The Mustangs will next play the winner of Saturday's other regional semifinal between Lyons Township/Jones on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at Lyons Township.
By: John Nee '93
St. Rita Head Basketball Coach Gary DeCesare is back in his native New York City this weekend to be inducted in New York’s Catholic High School Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame.
In his 16 years at the helm of his alma mater St. Raymond’s in the Bronx, DeCesare compiled a career record of 288-139 overall. He has coached over 30 D1 basketball players and countless D2 and D3 players. Four of his former players have gone on to play in the NBA (Ernest Brown, Terrence Rencher, Julius Hodge, and Allen Ray) and many more have gone on to play overseas.
Throughout his illustrious career at St. Raymond’s, Coach DeCesare won four CHSAA City Championships (1991, 1993, 2000, and 2001) and two New York State Federation Titles (1993, 2001). In addition, DeCesare was a three-time New York Coach of the Year recipient.
At St. Rita, DeCesare has continued his run of success leading the Mustang Basketball Program to unprecedented heights never before achieved in the school’s 112-year history. He has led the Running Mustangs to three regional championships (2014, 2015, and 2017) and four Catholic League championships (2012-2015).
St. Rita Head Basketball Coach Gary DeCesare, who led the Mustangs to a (19-11) record and a berth in the Class 3A sectional championship game, has been named Boys Basketball District 3 Coach of the Year for the 2016-2017 season.
DeCesare has been recognized as District 3 Coach of the Year three times in the last four years for leading his Running Mustangs to three sectional championship game appearances (the first three in St. Rita Basketball history).
In his tenure at St. Rita after a successful run as Head Coach at St. Raymond’s in the Bronx, DeCesare has led St. Rita to four Catholic League Championships (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) and Regional Championships (2014, 2015, 2017). The Mustangs return several key players for the 2017-2018 season as they expect to be one of the top teams in the Chicago Catholic League.
By: John Nee '93
The 2017 season went full circle for retiring head coach Mike Zunica on Sunday as his Mustangs continued their dominance of the most prestigious tournament in the state of Illinois claiming their third Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Tournament championship in the six years of the tournament’s existence.
As for going full circle, the Mustangs (27-8) travelled to Standard Bank Stadium on March 18 for Zunica’s final opening day as skipper of St. Rita. They came away with a 1-0 victory over Glenbrook North. On Sunday in their regular season finale, with the stakes a little higher, the Mustangs once again used pitching and defense at Standard Bank Stadium in a 1-0 win over Catholic League Blue rival St. Laurence to claim the illustrious title.
Senior Matt Verdun (3-3) was the star on the mound and at the plate for St. Rita against the Vikings. He pitched his first complete game of the season shutting out the potent St. Laurence lineup on only three singles while striking out five and walking five. Verdun also provided all the offense the Mustangs would need with a first-inning, run-scoring single following back-to-back walks to seniors Charlie Rodriguez and Justin Ruthrauff to lead off the game.
The Mustangs had to beat Catholic League rivals Providence 10-2 on Thursday at Wheaton College, and Mt. Carmel on Friday 11-1 at Standard Bank Stadium to advance to Sunday’s championship game against St. Laurence.
Verdun pitched out of two jams against the Vikings on Sunday. After loading the bases in the 6th, he induced the St. Laurence hitter to hit a sinking liner to center when Rodriguez dove to make the catch and ultimately save the game for St. Rita.
By: John Nee '93
The St. Rita Mustang track team claimed their second sectional championship by winning their own sectional in convincing fashion on Thursday afternoon.
The Mustangs were lead by state qualifiers Theo Phipps in the long jump and hurdles. The senior set personal bests in both events to advance to this weekend’s state meet in Charleston, IL at Eastern Illinois University.
Other individual state qualifiers for St. Rita include: Senior Anthony Driver in the Triple Jump, sophomore Mick Doyle in the Long Hurdles, and sophomore Marcus Coleman in the 200M dash.
Three Mustang relay teams also advanced to next week’s meet in Charleston: the 4X100 consisting of Phipps, Coleman, senior Rashaad Williams, and freshman Tahron Hayes; the 4X200 consisting of Coleman, Williams, Doyle, and freshman Christian Law; and the 4X400 consisting of Coleman, Doyle, senior Nick Martone, and sophomore Andrew Lenehan.
The Mustangs will depart for Eastern Illinois later in the week lead by Head Coach Pierre Nealon and assistants Mark Bonds ’11 and Chris Coates-Nightengale.
By: John Nee '93
The Catholic League Blue is widely regarded as the best baseball conference in the state of Illinois and according to some maybe the entire country.
On Senior Day Saturday at St. Rita, Kansas recruit and Mustang Ace Steve Washilewski took the hill for his fourth start against a CCL Blue opponent this season, and just like the previous three, it ended in a St. Rita victory. The Mustangs prevailed over the Vikings 10-5 on a warm spring day at 77th and Western as Washilewski (8-1) allowed two runs in his 5 2/3 innings of work to pick up the victory.
In his four starts against the Blue (Providence, Brother Rice, Mt. Carmel, and St. Laurence) Washilewski has allowed only four earned runs in 25 innings of work (1.12 ERA) striking out 26 while walking only four.
The Mustang offense exploded in the bottom of the first on Saturday for four runs keyed by a bases-loaded double by senior Tyler Woynerowski to stake St. Rita to lead they would never relinquish.
Senior Justin Ruthrauff was the hitting star on the day going 3-3 with a walk. After a gritty at-bat in the first that lead to a bases on balls, Ruthrauff doubled and tripled in consecutive plate appearances before delivering the big blow, a 2-run single to right, against a drawn-in infield to give the Mustangs some insurance runs late in the game.
Senior designated hitter Blake Soria added a solo homer to left center for the last run of the day for St. Rita.
The Mustangs (23-7, 15-5) look to complete the sweep of the Vikings for the second consecutive year on Monday, May 15 as they travel to Burbank for a 4:30 p.m. first pitch.
The St. Rita High School volleyball program recognized four seniors on Wednesday, May 10 at their final regular season home match vs. St. Francis of Wheaton. Those seniors are: Sean Coghlan (St. Cajetan), T. J. DeCesare (St. John of the Cross), Liam Kelly (St. Cajetan) and Brendan Murney (St. Alexander).
Despite a tough loss to St. Francis, St. Rita is looking forward to future challenges. While the freshman team recently captured a share of the Catholic League title, the varsity team is preparing for upcoming playoffs. Head coach Brian Hagen '04 said. "It's been a great experience to coach these young men. Our seniors have accomplished a lot during their time; but their work isn't done yet. I expect them to continue to provide senior leadership for our team as we head into the regional semi-finals at Gwendolyn Brooks Prep on May 23."
Mike Zunica thought he was done getting emotional.
St. Rita honored its baseball coach during a pregame ceremony Saturday by retiring his No. 13 and naming the field after him, beginning with the 2018 season.
"It got the best of me," Zunica said. "I didn't think I would get emotional but I did. Once the game started, I thought I was good."
Junior catcher Jake Zylman then cracked a grand slam in the first inning of the Mustangs' 12-5 Catholic League Blue victory over Loyola.
A day apart, St. Rita High School graduates Pat O’Connor and Kenny Golladay picked up the phone and heard the words they had both dreamed about for years.
By: John Nee '93
On Sunday afternoon, May 7, 2017, at Beverly Country Club, the entire St. Rita Basketball Program came together to celebrate their success this season at their annual awards banquet. The keynote speaker was former Duke University guard and current Head Basketball Coach at Marquette University Steve “Wojo” Wojciechowski.
Coach “Wojo” emphasized to the St. Rita basketball players in attendance to use basketball as a vehicle to college. He was a McDonald’s All-American high school player who earned a scholarship to play for Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. “Wojo” then joined the Duke staff where he spent 15 years as an assistant before taking over the Marquette program 3 seasons ago.
Former St. Rita Head Basketball Coach John Bonk ’75 was also in attendance to help induct two of his former players, Rashay Russell ’03 and Michael Rembert ’03, into the St. Rita Basketball Hall of Fame. Coach Bonk spoke of the high character of both inductees and the impact that each of them had on him and the entire St. Rita Basketball Program as they led the 2003 team to St. Rita’s first Catholic League Basketball Championship since 1970.
Freshman Dalen Horace, sophomore Myles Montague, and senior Paul Kingsley each spoke on their teams’ seasons thanking their teammates and coaches for a great experience. Head Coach Gary DeCesare then announced the award winners for this season.
The following members of the basketball program were recognized for special awards:
Fr. McNicholas Basketball Award
Senior Team Managers Justin Perdue and Bobby Gikas
Mike Zunica Sportsmanship Award
Freshmen Joe Vidmar and Zenin Hall, Sophomore Frankie Zoller, Junior Ray Falk
Coach Ed Galvin Basketball Achievement Award
Senior Rashaad Williams
St. Rita Mustang Award
Pat Connolly, Chuck Caffrey
Coach Barney Badke Basketball Award
Senior Te’Mon Green
Coach Jim Prunty Most Improved Player Award
Senior Phillip McGuire
Coach John Bonk Dedication Award
Senior Manager Gary DeCesare
Tom Hopkins Leadership Award
Senior Manager TJ DeCesare
Fr. Tom McCarthy Academic Award
Senior Paul Kingsley
By: John Nee '93
On Saturday, May 6, 2017, the St. Rita community came out in full force to honor retiring head baseball coach Mike Zunica. In a moving, hour-long, pre-game ceremony Zunica was honored for his 21 years of service to St. Rita of Cascia High School as Head Baseball Coach. Zunica, who is retiring at the conclusion of the 2017 season to allow him to follow his son’s baseball career at Kansas University, will remain at St. Rita as President.
During the ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of family, friends, former players, and former teammates and coaches, it was announced by St. Rita Chairman of the Board of Directors Ernie Mrozek that the St. Rita Baseball Field beginning with the 2018 season would forever be known as Mike Zunica Field. Zunica’s #13 was also retired and a special gift was presented to him by his coaching staff, a state-of-the-art hand-made rocking chair made of baseball bats commemorating his years of service.
Zunica then gave an emotional 25-minute speech thanking his parents, family, friends, and coaching staff before finishing with a touching tribute to the St. Rita Community, thanking them for accepting an “outsider” as he referred to himself and embracing him as a Rita guy.
As for the game, junior catcher Jake Zylman provided some early offense by cracking his fourth homer in the last five games, a grand slam down the right field line in the bottom of the first to give the Mustangs an early 4-0 lead. After Loyola scored two in the third and three in the fourth to tie the score at five, senior centerfielder Charlie Rodriguez cracked a two-run shot to right to give the Mustangs the lead for good. Senior Steve Washilewski then put the icing on the proverbial celebratory cake by cracking a three-run homer to deep left in the bottom of the sixth to provide the 12-5 winning margin. Sophomore Logan Strutz was great in relief picking up the win while throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Catholic League Blue win capped off a very special day for the entire baseball program and particularly Mike Zunica and his family. It was a fitting tribute for the all-time wins leader in St. Rita Baseball history. It was a day neither Zunica nor his family will ever forget!
St. Rita senior goalie Trevor Scianna is planning on attending Villanova University in the fall. He’s the valedictorian of St. Rita’s Class of 2017, so admission to the prestigious Augustinian university wasn’t a problem. The cost, when you consider the travel and other expenses, though, may have been; but not anymore. Scianna recently received one of three Chicago Blackhawk Alumni Scholarships, which is worth $30,000 over his four years of college.
Any senior hockey player, who plays for his high school team, is eligible to apply for the scholarship. It is then rewarded to three current senior hockey players in the state of Illinois based upon the student’s dedication to his school, community, and the sport of hockey. Applicants were required to submit two essays about themselves, and they were required to supply three letters of recommendation from their respective schools. Scianna’s dedication to his studies while playing two varsity sports, acting as Drumline Captain for the St. Rita Band, and taking part in several service projects, including Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics, made him a more-than-deserving choice for this prestigious honor.
Scianna becomes the second St. Rita Mustang hockey player to win the prestigious award following in the footsteps of 1992 St. Rita grad and all-state goalie Mike Kelly, who coincidentally attended Villanova University as well.
All honorees are honorary members of the Blackhawk Alumni Club.