State-bound Sandburg packing plenty of motivation

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All season long, Sandburg’s Eagles have had something extra fueling them.

With Jane Caliendo — Sandburg’s girls swimming and water polo coach and wife of boys coach Jim —battling cancer, she never is far from the minds of Sandburg’s players.

“She definitely inspires us,” Sandburg’s Zach Roper said. “We always want to win for her.”

Caliendo’s fight isn’t the only source of inspiration.

“This team’s been through a lot,” Roper said. “Mitch [Zieler’s] dad passed away. My grandmother passed away. It’s been an emotional year. It’s all brought us closer together, though. It feels amazing to get to state this year.”

The Eagles (25-8), making their fifth state appearance in seven seasons, will take on top-ranked Naperville North (32-1) in a quarterfinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

Sandburg never has lost a quarterfinal, taking home a state trophy in all four of its prior state appearances: a second, a third and two fourths.

The Eagles know they have a tough challenge ahead of them as they attempt to extend that streak.

“We have to come out and match their intensity,” Sandburg goalie Sean McNicholas said. “They’re a big, strong team and we have to be ready for that. We’ve got to play good team defense.”

Roper has poured in 168 goals on the season and also leads the team in assists and steals. Zieler and Majd Ibrahim have emerged as strong second and third offensive threats.

The McNicholas-anchored defense allows less than seven goals per game.

Naperville North beat Sandburg 9-4 in North’s tournament April 12.

Brother Rice, meanwhile, will look to continue its Cinderella postseason run. The Crusaders are the only team to advance to state that wasn’t the top seed in its sectional — and they were seeded fourth in the Stagg Sectional.

The Crusaders (11-17), who lost in the quarterfinals last year, will take on host Stevenson (26-7) at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Brother Rice made some dramatic changes to its offense before sectionals, and it paid off as the Crusaders upset top seed Curie and No. 2 seed Stagg.

“We were so used to going with a 3-3 and we decided it wasn’t working,” Rice coach Tony Cichowicz said. “We wanted to attack more and drive and either score or draw an ejection. It worked (in the sectional).”

The Crusaders, who are led by Matt Bachler (61 goals) and Dan Whalen (47), lost to Stevenson 10-9 on March 22 and 15-5 on May 2.

“We really pulled it all together in the end,” Bachler said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

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