Prep Sports

NewsTribune top 2020 sports stories: Nos. 1-5

Luke Yaklich taking over at UIC top non-COVID story

The COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow over sports throughout 2020, but there were other teams and athletes that made a mark.

Here are the top stories Nos. 1-5:

5. Mendota’s Amellia Bromenschenkel graduates early, joins Division I Purdue-Fort Wayne

With the Illinois high school basketball season delayed due to COVID-19, Mendota’s Amellia Bromenschenkel decided to graduate early and join the Purdue-Fort Wayne basketball team for the second semester.

“With basketball pretty much being canceled (for Illinois high schools), I figured it would be best for my basketball career and academically to go and continue my career there,” Bromenschenkel said. “Now I’ll have an extra semester to get more strength and more experience and I can be even more prepared for my freshman year.

“Obviously, I’m really sad to leave my team and everyone here, but I know they all support me in my decision.”

The two-time NewsTribune Girls Basketball Player of the Year scored 1,752 career points, just 359 points shy of the Mendota career record of 2,111 set by Jaci Bice and 734 points shy of Hall’s Kailey Klein’s area record of 2,486 points.

4. Mendota votes to join Three Rivers, DePue joins Little Ten

A couple of area schools changed conferences this year as DePue joined the Little Ten Conference, while Mendota voted to leave the Big Northern Conference for the Three Rivers Conference in 2021-22.

“We are very excited to be a new member in the Little Ten next year,” DePue athletic director Robbie Fox said. “We already have been playing many of the schools in non-conference matches, so we are comfortable with each other. Our teams fit in well with the schools in the Little Ten when comparing the size of our teams.

“We are very much looking forward to being a part of a conference that has a long history of greatness.”

By joining the Three Rivers, Mendota will once again be in the same conference as Hall and Princeton.

“The biggest thing for us is it gets us some of those Illinois Valley rivalries back that we’ve been missing,” MHS superintendent Jeff Prusator said.

3. Legendary boxing coach Louis Rios dies

Louis Rios, who ran boxing gyms and coached area youth for nearly six decades, died in November at age 93.

Rios coached boxers to many titles, including Golden Gloves and Junior Olympics. He had fighters appear on Pay-Per-View fight cards.

Rios received the Lifetime Achievement award from USA Boxing in 2016 and was a member of the inaugural NewsTribune Illinois Valley Sports Hall of Fame class as the lifetime achievement award recipient.

“He taught you everything about life, not only about being a boxer,” former pro boxer Frank Bray said. “He taught us it was all about who we are as a person and why we’re here on this earth. That’s what Louis meant to me. That’s what I got most from Louis. It wasn’t just boxing. It was your family, going to school, making sure you were doing the right stuff and being a good person in the community.”

2. L-P graduate Luke Yaklich hired as UIC head coach

La Salle-Peru graduate and former L-P boys basketball coach Luke Yaklich took the next step in his coaching career when he was hired to be the head coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

“I am honored to lead the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames men’s basketball program,” Yaklich said. “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for my family to return to Illinois and represent an outstanding institution that I have long admired.”

Yaklich began his college coaching career as an assistant at Illinois State from 2013-17. He then moved to Michigan where he helped the Wolverines win 63 games in two years and advance to the NCAA championship game. After Michigan coach John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Yaklich interviewed for the head job at UM before accepting an assistant coach position at Texas.

1. Coronavirus pandemic cancels, postpones sports

When COVID-19 began to surge in March, bars and restaurants were shutdown, schools were moved to remote learning and sports were canceled.

Baseball, softball, girls soccer, boys tennis, track and field all went without a season in the spring.

In July, the IHSA announced plans to alter seasons for the 2020-21 school year.

The IHSA moved football, volleyball and boys soccer to the spring while allowing cross country, golf, girls swimming and girls tennis to proceed in the fall with modifications and limited postseasons.

In the fall, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced basketball was on hold, and after initially resisting, the IHSA postponed the sport. The IHSA also moved wrestling to the summer season.

The IHSA was set to proceed with bowling and boys swimming, but those sports were paused as well.