Breaking down five of this season’s surprise teams

Will the hot starts be a springboard for bigger things to come for these teams?

SHARE Breaking down five of this season’s surprise teams
Lincoln-Way East’s Kyle Olagbegi (22) looks to pass the ball against Westinghouse’s Terrell Craig (10) and Dartagnan Butler (0).

Lincoln-Way East’s Kyle Olagbegi (22) looks to pass the ball against Westinghouse’s Terrell Craig (10) and Dartagnan Butler (0).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

For anyone tired of the usual suspects hogging the headlines, here are five surprising teams off to outstanding starts this season. Will the hot starts be a springboard for bigger things to come for these teams?

Barrington

The preseason expectation: When you graduate all five starters, particularly from a team that reached Champaign and brought home a third-place state trophy, the expectations are going to be tempered.

But no one should have been crying for Barrington’s big departures.

The Broncos won the Mid-Suburban League West in the COVID-shortened season in 2020-21. And in the four years before that season, it averaged 20 wins a year.

Yes, a trend has developed and an expectation should have been warranted regardless of the fact the Broncos returned roughly two points a game from last season.

Where they’re at: The Broncos are unbeaten and doing it again with a host of new seniors, including Donovan Nichols, Ryan Shoemaker and Dillon Schmidt, a transfer from St. Viator. But a couple of younger players, 6-4 junior big man Alec Schmidts and sophomore guard Nick Peipert, have provided some punch as well.

Staying power: By the looks of it, which includes a favorable schedule, including a winnable holiday tournament at Jacobs, coach Bryan Tucker’s program should be looking at another 20-plus win season.

They have emerged as the favorite in the MSL West, and the sectional is again one of the softer ones in the area.

So, yes, Barrington will have a lot of staying power following this early, hot start to the season.

Lemont

The preseason expectation: The loss of junior star Nojus Indrusaitis, who transferred to St. Rita, following last year’s record-breaking season was significant. That lone but major defection took Lemont off the radar heading into this season.

But internally, Lemont still had big beliefs and expectations. They felt tremendously good about its fortunes with the return of Matas and Rokas Castillo in the backcourt.

Where they’re at: With the Castillo brothers leading the way — the two combine to average 37 points, seven assists and seven steals — Lemont is a perfect 9-0. That includes a win over a ranked Romeoville team at Thanksgiving.

This is a team that became one of the best stories last season. And here we are again, one season later, with Lemont giving us another easy-to-pull-for storyline to follow.

Staying power: A lot will be learned about this team at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament this month. Lemont will certainly get a test or two at York and the bar will be set going forward. While it’s unlikely to match it, there is no doubt this team can approach the record-breaking win total from a year ago. That would be impressive.

But the two measuring sticks remain: Catching Hillcrest in the South Suburban Blue and matching last year’s postseason success. Are either attainable? Those are big hills to climb for a team that relies so heavily on a pair of players.

Lemont will get a shot at Hillcrest in mid-January. And as far as some more postseason success? Lemont looks like a top-four seed right now and would have Marian Catholic and Hillcrest standing in its way of a repeat sectional championship.

Lincoln-Way East

The preseason expectation: When the season began, Lincoln-Way East was included in a story here on it being one of the most improved teams from a year ago. This was bound to be a vastly better team than the one that finished 11-17 and just 3-5 in league play.

And there were many in the Southwest Suburban Blue who felt the Griffins could make a run at Bolingbrook.

Those expectations started with the return of point guard Kaiden Ross, who this year has been a steady distributor. Ross boasts a 3.4 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Where they’re at: That improvement has shown — and then some — in the first month of the season. Coach Rich Kolimas’ team is an impressive 8-1 with the lone loss coming to a ranked Lyons team.

Ross has been the consummate lead guard, while George Bellevue, Tylon Tolliver and Kyle Olagbegi are all right around 11.9 points a game. Plus, freshman BJ Powell (5.9 ppg) has provided some perimeter shooting and added scoring.

With two very winnable games on the horizon, the Griffins could be heading to the Effingham/Teutopolis Christmas Tournament with a 10-1 record — and realistically come home from there with a glitzy 14-1 record.

If that were to all come to fruition, that’s a whole lot of confidence the Griffins can ride into the new year.

Staying power: There is some very real staying power potential with Lincoln-Way East.

The win total could very well surpass 20 wins for the first time since 2017-19, though the schedule revs up in January with Bloom, Curie and the two big dates still to come with Bolingbrook.

But piling up those wins, while adding one or two résumé-enhancing wins in the second half of the season, could help secure a top-four sectional seed. That would put them in a position to win just the second regional title in program history.

Marist

The preseason expectation: No one has heard much of anything from Marist since Gene Nolan departed for Naperville North in 2018 following a 27-win, regional championship season.

And there was no real reason to believe Marist would make a huge dent in 2022-23 as the season tipped off.

But head coach Brian Hynes, who was Nolan’s assistant at Marist from 2007 to 2018, returned in 2021 and has injected life back into the program.

Where they’re at: Although there hasn’t been a marquee win just yet, Marist is off to a surprising 9-0 start. That does include a lopsided win over Perspectives-Leadership and a penchant for winning some close games; the RedHawks have beaten Notre Dame, St. Viator and St. Laurence by a combined 11 points.

Marist is doing it with extreme balance and depth. Kaden White is the leading scorer at 12 points a game, while Mason Ross, Justin Lang and sophomore Keshaun Veval are all right around eight points a game. Plus, a couple of freshmen, Stephen Brown and Adoni Vasilakis have stepped up and provided a big boost.

Staying power: The question is can this team realistically contend with and beat the big names on its schedule? That includes the annual trip to Centralia over the holidays, the East Suburban Catholic Conference heavyweights and rival Brother Rice.

Throw in a loaded sectional field in a little over two months and this has the look of a team that hopes to play the role of spoiler rather than contender. Remember, it’s a team full of youth. Nonetheless, the start to this season and where the program seems to be headed is a big step forward for the RedHawks.

Since Nolan left, Marist has yet to win more than 16 games in a season and has yet to finish in the top half of the ESCC. Both of those benchmarks are attainable.

Interestingly, Marist will face Nolan’s Naperville North team this Saturday.

Yorkville

The preseason expectation: Like Lincoln-Way East, Yorkville was a team included on the short list of the most improved teams from a year ago when this season began. The Foxes struggled a year ago, finishing 9-21 overall and in last place in the Southwest Prairie West.

But there was plenty of renewed hope as this season began. Senior LeBaron Lee was a productive returner. Jason Jakstys, a 6-8 junior, got his feet wet a year ago and made a jump in the offseason. Plus, there was an influx of transfer talent that came in from Yorkville Christian.

Where they’re at: The won-loss record speaks for itself; the Foxes are 9-1. The young season has produced wins over both Burlington Central and West Aurora. But even the loss, which was a tight defeat to ranked Oswego East on the road, speaks volumes about how far this team has come in a year.

The two returning bigs, Jakstys and Lee, continue to produce. Lee is averaging 12 points and seven rebounds and Jakstys is at 10 points and 7.8 rebounds.

A couple of the Yorkville Christian transfers, Jory Boley and Dayvion Johnson, are averaging 11.1 and 7.1 points, respectively. Both are also shooting it extremely well from three (45 percent).

Staying power: This is still a relatively young team with the bulk of the firepower coming from juniors. Of Yorkville’s top eight, Lee is the lone senior.

But this team will be tested, both in league play, where Oswego East is the favorite and at the end of this month when the Foxes head to York for the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament.

Long-range, the state tournament road is interesting and logistically impossible to forecast with a sub-sectional that includes Moline to the west, Normal to the south and Bradley-Bourbonnais to the east. Who knows the road Yorkville will have in trying to win its first regional title since 2005.

The Latest
Hamstring strain is the latest in long line of injuries, IL stints.
The Bridge Access Program was supposed to be temporary and originally scheduled to end in December. Now it’s set to end in August.
Authorities say a man dropped the child at a Chicago fire station Tuesday. He was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, where he was listed in good condition, police said.
The Cubs offense’ May slog continued through the team’s 9-2 loss on Wednesday
Ten blocks of open space will be available when Red Line renovations are completed in late-2025. The transit agency is seeking public input on how the space can be utilized.