Neuqua Valley program churning out college athletes

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Most lacrosse teams in Illinois are lucky to have one player on its roster that will go on to play the sport in college. A few have more than that, but there is one school that fields an astounding five players who have a future playing collegiate lacrosse.

It isn’t one of the North Shore power schools. Instead, it is Neuqua Valley, a relative newcomer to the state’s lacrosse scene. The Wildcats will host a ceremony at Ashwood Clubhouse on Saturday afternoon to honor the five seniors that will be playing the sport next season at their respective schools.

“We are one of the first classes to come through the Neuqua program, and I think it shows the ability the school has to develop players,” said goalies Jake Ellis, one of the seniors who will be playing in college next year.

Ellis will be attending Augustana College, as will midfielder Brock Haake. Defender Austin Jordan will be going to Alma College, attacker Mike Turner is committed to Adrian College and goalie Sammy Saniko will be suiting up for Binghamton University.

Many of the seniors played on varsity level as Neuqua Valley freshmen, something they credit for their development. By hitting the field against higher-level competition right away in their high school careers, the Wildcats matured quickly. That helped them as they became upperclassmen, with the experience of playing in big games many of their opponents lacked.

“I started playing lacrosse in seventh grade in a friend’s backyard, but really felt I grew as a player during my freshman year and started to feel I could do something with the sport,” Saniko said. “The game, I really love it. The contact and the physical play, mixed with creativity. There’s always room to improve too, so I’m glad to keep playing in college.”

Before all the seniors head off to their respective schools next fall, they want to take care of business back home in Naperville. Neuqua Valley, which has started this season 6-1, has won just one total playoff game in the past three years, and was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons. That’s a trend the group wants to put a stop to in their final season playing for the Wildcats.

“We want to win some playoff games. We have the potential to do it,” Haake said. “We just need to keep focus and play up to the best of our abilities. We’re playing well now and need to keep it up as the games get tougher.”

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