Founding coach Mike Mulligan explained the success of Taft’s bass fishing team as “a lot of dumb luck on our part.”
It’s more involved.
Taft qualified for state seven times in the 12 seasons the Illinois High School Association has held state finals. The last two times the Eagles qualified both boats. The state finals started this morning and Saturday afternoon at Carlyle Lake. This spring Taft was the only Chicago-area school to qualify both boats.
Each school may enter two boats at sectional. The top three boats advance to state. At the Skokie Lagoons sectional, seniors Joel Kyriazes and Marc Sipolt in Boat 1 took second. Boat 2 with Nathan Skoczen and Joe Williams took third.
They fit an unbroken string of topnotch Taft anglers. Mike Jarvis, a freshman when bass fishing began, started it. He led Taft to state three of his four years, winning a sectional title his senior year.
Next came Ken Maggiore and his younger brother Matt. After graduating, Ken became the only Illinois angler to catch two state records (burbot and whitefish) in the same day on March 22, 2017 at Montrose.
As to current anglers, here’s coach Scott Plencner’s scouting report.
On Kyriazes: “He has the most experience and is captain for sure. He is the leader of the team and organizes them. He goes out in his kayak a lot. Joel is almost like a coach.”
On Sipolt: “He is solid, not just physically, but he can stand all day in boat. Him and Joel together is like watching dancing.”
On Williams: “He caught the biggest fish at both sectionals. He caught the most fish at Carlyle. I have a lot of confidence in him. I love that he will be with me again next year. He is real quiet kid with a lot of integrity.”
On Skoczen: “Least experienced angler, but he has been to state twice. He helps Joe catch fish. Every fish he catches lately is short. I just know he will catch [keepers] at [state].”
Beside top anglers, Taft administrations have backed the bass fishing team, an anomaly in Chicago Public Schools. Taft is the only CPS bass fishing team.
After assisting Mulligan, Plencner, a history teacher, took over coaching. Mulligan, a biology teacher, was a casual angler, who bought a Lund boat when the IHSA started bass fishing in 2008-09, then he stepped up.
Plencner is an everyman angler, well, maybe more. He wrote his master thesis at Northeastern on Native American spearing in Wisconsin.
“I am the guy who is powerlining for coho and looking at carp, but these kids are better than me,” he said.
Taft has a fishing club that is ancillary to the team and develops new talent. They have ice fished on the Chain O’Lakes and for whitefish on Green Bay.
More important are the people.
“It is the community support, I couldn’t do any of this without the people driving the boats,” Plencner said. “I have had people from around neighborhood offer to help.”
Williams’ father, Rob, and Kyriazes’ father, Tony, will be boat drivers at state.
As to their chances, Plencner said, “Kids are putting in the work and doing their research. Even if we don’t win it all, we are doing Chicago proud. I am hoping they can pull it off this time. I have the best kids.”