Top 10 Northwest Herald local sports stories of 2020

COVID-19 aside, 2020 still produced some great local sports moments

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with sports at every level since mid-March.

The IHSA canceled its boys basketball state tournaments, and eventually its entire spring season.

The fall season saw some outdoor sports able to compete, but football, volleyball and boys soccer were put on hold until mid-February.

There were still many outstanding achievements around the Northwest Herald area before the coronavirus shut things down, and a few which occurred later.

Here is the list of the top local sports stories for 2020, voted on by the Northwest Herald sports staff. Ten points was given for first-place votes, nine for second and so on down the line.

Interestingly, three stories received first-place votes, and the top five finishers were within six points of each other.

1. Champions once again

Marian Central junior Dylan Connell entered hallowed territory by winning his third Class 2A state title, taking the 170-pound championship to finish 46-0. Huntley’s David Ferrante also repeated as the Class 3A state champ at 170 pounds. Ferrante has the only two state wrestling state titles in his school’s history.

Connell joins Richmond-Burton’s Jordan Blanton (2005, 2006, 2008) and Crystal Lake Central’s Trevor Jauch and Joey Kielbasa (2009, 2010, 2011) as the area’s only three-time state champions. Connell would have had a chance to become the 15th four-time state champ were it not for the coronavirus. The IHSA moved wrestling, considered a high-risk sport by the Illinois Department of Public Health, to the summer season (May 3 through June 26), but there is not determination on a postseason state series yet.

Ferrante, a senior last school year, now attends Northwestern. Connell will wrestle at Illinois next year.

2. Breakout NFL seasons

Robert Tonyan, a 2012 McHenry East graduate, and Dennis Gardeck, a 2013 Crystal Lake South grad, both came to the NFL as undrafted free agents in 2018.

Tonyan made the Green Bay Packers’ roster as a backup tight end, contributing mostly on special teams. Gardeck made the Arizona Cardinals as a linebacker and also was a key special teams contributor.

Now, in their third full season in the NFL, both are making the most of expanded opportunities. Tonyan has 49 receptions and is tied for fifth in the NFL with 10 touchdown catches.

Gardeck still thrives on special teams, but also has been utilized as a pass rusher on third downs. He has seven sacks for the season, tying him for 25th in the NFL. He has recorded those sacks on 93 total defensive snaps.

Gardeck recently had five sacks in three games, but was lost for the season with a knee injury.

When tight end Jimmy Graham signed with the Bears and the Packers brought no other free agents in to replace him, Tonyan seized the opportunity.

Tonyan’s biggest game came on a Monday Night Football victory over Atlanta when he caught three touchdown passes.

Gardeck became a sensation among Cardinals’ fans with his “Hit the Strobe” dance after each sack.

3. Season’s over

The IHSA held out as long as it could before finally suspending its spring sports season in late April because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCAA had already canceled its spring seasons, the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball were all on hold.

The IHSA tried to find a way, but the cases were too many and the risk too great to get the spring season in.

Over the summer, the IHSA modified its sports seasons to align with recommendations from Gov. JB Pritzker and the IDPH, making fall (through Oct. 31), winter (Nov. 16 through Feb. 13), spring (Feb. 16 through May 1) and summer (May 3 through June 26) seasons.

Cross country, golf and girls tennis made it through the fall outdoor season, while girls swimming finished indoors. But due to a spike in cases, no winter sports, not even those termed low-risk, have yet started.

The IHSA last stated it hopes to begin winter sports at some point in January, but nothing is certain.

4. Bobby Miller becomes a Dodger

In 2019, Cary-Grove pitcher Quinn Priester became the highest area player ever taken in MLB’s First-Year Player Draft when he went No. 18 to Pittsburgh. Priester was the first area player ever taken in the first round.

Just a year later McHenry graduate Bobby Miller, a junior right-handed pitcher at Louisville, was taken with the 29th pick in the draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Miller (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) was hitting in the high 90s on his fastball and had a strong two-plus seasons with the Cardinals. He started in a College World Series game as a sophomore and Louisville was ahead before a rain delay forced him out.

Miller was the Northwest Herald Baseball Player of the Year in 2017; Priester won that honor in 2019.

5. Going out winners

Cary-Grove and Hampshire’s boys basketball teams experienced a rarity by winning the last game of their seasons. That was because after winning their respective sectional semifinals, the pandemic stopped the boys state tournament before the sectional championships.

C-G (31-3) finished with a school record for victories and was set to meet St. Charles North in the Class 4A McHenry Sectional championship game. The Trojans’ season ended with a thrilling double-overtime win against Huntley, a team it split Fox Valley Conference games with during the season.

Hampshire (22-11) knocked off Boylan in its Class 3A Boylan Sectional semifinal and would have met Wauconda in the title game.

6. Wolves get back on top

Prairie Ridge’s co-op girls gymnastics team won its fourth team state title in six years, led by freshman Gabby Riley’s all-around championship.

The Wolves, who draw athletes from Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge, had some drama in Saturday’s finals.

In the individual finals, team scores can improve and Carmel briefly took a small point lead, but sophomore Gracie Willis came through with a state-championship floor routine and Riley did the same on balance beam. Both their scores pushed the Wolves back past Carmel for the state team title.

7. Super-charged Chargers

Dundee-Crown’s girls basketball team won a Class 4A sectional title, its first since 2003, then fell to Lake Park in the Elgin Supersectional.

But it was a tremendous run for the Chargers, who won the FVC title and went 29-7 without one of their best players, Gianine Boado, who suffered a torn ACL early in the season.

Junior forward Alyssa Crenshaw led D-C and was selected Northwest Herald Girls Basketball Player of the Year, while Chargers coach Sarah Miller was named Northwest Herald Coach of the Year for a second time. She also received the honor in 2017.

8. Three-peat for Quinn Cynor

Woodstock North co-op swimmer Quinn Cynor went 3 for 3 on Northwest Herald Boys Swimmer of the Year honors after an outstanding junior season.

Cynor, who attends Woodstock, earned two top-five finishes in the IHSA Boys Swimming and Diving State Meet, taking third in the 200-yard freestyle and fifth in the 100 backstroke.

Cynor won sectional titles in both of those events and was also the Most Valuable Swimmer in the FVC Invitational. He broke the Stevenson pool record in the 100 backstroke, beating the time of Olympic medalist Matt Grevers, a 2003 Lake Forest graduate.

9. Peter Walsdorf blows away the field

Marian Central senior Peter Walsdorf finished his IHSA cross country season unbeaten and ran away from the field at the Class 2A Belvidere Regional and Lakes Sectional. He won those races by 31 and 38 seconds.

The Hurricanes’ star started his postseason by winning the East Suburban Catholic Conference title over Marist’s Jake Phillips, who gave Walsdorf one of his closest races.

The IHSA canceled its state meet because of the pandemic, but il.milesplit.com put on the ShaZam Championships, which were like unofficial state meet races. Walsdorf took ninth in the boys Division II (Class 2A) race.

10. Eric Klutke’s strong finish

Crystal Lake Central junior Eric Klutke played strong golf all season, but was never better than at the end.

Klutke shot 4-under-par 68s to win the FVC Tournament and Class 3A Mundelein Regional. He then shot 72 at the Auburn Sectional and was runner-up, losing on the first hole of a playoff.

Klutke led the Tigers to the regional title and was selected as Northwest Herald Boys Golfer of the Year, the first Tigers golfer to win since Joe Affrunti won in three consecutive years, from 1996-98.

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.