Spring athletes set to head outdoors

Indoor track season underway, lacrosse teams looking to face first opponents soon

Hinsdale Central's boys and girls lacrosse teams and boys and girls track teams all have hopes to compete in the postseason, with girls lacrosse setting their sights on a state title.

This is the first in a four-part series of spring previews.

Next up: boys and girls water polo and boys gymnastics.

Boys lacrosse

First game: March 14 vs. Andrew

Last year: 10-8 regular season, lost 15-14 in sectional semifinals to Benet

Head coach: Joe Battaglia

Seasons as head coach: 1st

No. team members: 33

Strengths: We've got a lot of athleticism on the team, some raw athleticism. They are very coachable. Every day they want to keep getting better. We've got a really good culture. You see that hunger in their eyes that they really want to work hard.

Challenges: We did graduate a lot of starters. We're going to be seeing a lot of new faces out there, so it's going to be a bit younger of a team. Initially it's going to be getting the chemistry going on the field. It's a new coaching staff as well. There's a lot of positive energy. We do have some tough games coming up. Our second game of the season is against Huntley. We play in a tough conference, games against Glenbrook, York and, of course, LT. We're going to have some really good games in conference. They are challenges the boys are really excited to step up for and compete.

Who to watch: Our two captains right now (players will vote on a third, Tommy Webster and Mason Brady. Webster is a senior midfielder. He's going to be the leader of our offense and someone who always leaves it all on the field and is out there just grinding. He's one of the kids that all the other players look up to and want to be like him. Brady, he's a defenseman. This part summer, he was an Under Armour All-American. He is one of those kids who is a pretty special player. He's got an incredible work ethic. His future is very bright, not only here, but at the next level. Our goalie, Daniel Butkus, a sophomore, he's someone who puts a lot of work into his craft. Last year he was a freshman on varsity, so I think he's really going to step into that leadership role, make some big stops, big saves for us. Dean Assicurato, he's going to be our primary face-off guy but also a midfielder for us. He's out there every time trying to win possession. He's also put a lot of work into both his offensive and defensive game. He wants to make contributions on both sides of the ball.

Outlook: We're really excited. I think we're going to surprise some people. It's a new era for Hinsdale lacrosse. We're excited to take this far and have them reach new heights.

Furthermore: From 2018-20 I was the head JV coach here, so it's kind of a return of sorts for me. I left Hinsdale to launch the program and teach at Prospect High School. Now I'm back as the varsity head coach. I'm really excited to be back. When you talk about a dream job, this is it for me. I love this school, this community. It's a great lacrosse community. You have administration who is so supportive of anyone who works in this building. You have amazing kids. You have amazing support from our parents and boosters. It's really exciting to be back.

Girls lacrosse

First game: March 21 vs. Glenbard West

Last year: 2nd in state

Head coach: Matt McNiff

Seasons as head coach: 3rd

No. team members: 22

Strengths: It was a really good group of girls in terms of chemistry last year, and almost 85 percent of them are back. We also have a bunch of sophomores that made the team this year that are going to contribute pretty early into the season. We have our goalie back who had a monster state game. Right now I think the strength of the team is the chemistry. They know each other, they know their skills, they complement each other. It's nice to see.

Challenges: There's always good competition out there. Our schedule is pretty tough this year. We're going to be playing New Trier and LT again. LT is a really good team this year. York is a good conference opponent. We're going to travel to Ohio to play Upper Arlington and New Albany, and those two teams are typically nationally ranked. We also have a team from Colorado coming in. One of our former coaches is the head coach there. That will be a challenging game. We're going to be playing a team from Massachusetts in April, and we're also playing a team from Michigan in May, We have some challenges in the schedule. Last year the seniors that graduated were tremendous leaders. They had this "refuse to lose" attitude. The seniors we have this year are more leaders by example. They are really, really good players. They are not as vocal as last year's senior group, but there are a couple of girls that are starting to emerge with that leadership communication skill.

Who to watch: Emily Branken, she's our senior attacker. We're going to play her some at midfield. She spent the off-season getting into really good shape - strong, fast. She's one of our toughest players. She's one of our leaders. Kids respond to her, kids listen to her. Elisa Mann, she was our second team All-State defender last year. Arguably the best face defender in the state of Illinois. She's going to be moving from defender to midfielder and midfielder to defender. It depends on who we are playing. She is kind of a Swiss Army knife. You can put here anywhere and she is successful. Our goalie, MaKenna Schultz, she is a sophomore. Last year in our state game I believe she had nine saves. After tryouts I could not believe how much she has improved her game. It's really nice to know we've got her for the next three years. I believe she was snubbed from the All State list last year. This year, you can tell she is playing with a serious purpose. She wants to prove to people that she's the real deal. Another senior to watch is Angie Conley. We didn't have her all last year. She had a shoulder injury. As a sophomore she was one of the best players in the state of Illinois. She was first team All State in 2021. She comes to tryouts like Michael Jordan. I haven't seen anybody like her. I coach football and lacrosse and I haven't seen anybody like this kid. She's a difference maker, that's for sure.

Outlook: Win the state championship, that's their expectation, that's their goal. We're going to take it one game at a time. We had all talked about how our hearts were broken last year. We lost in sudden death overtime to New Trier on our home field. It was one of the best lacrosse games I've seen Hinsdale Central play, but it was heartbreaking to lose in that way. What we decided to do this year was to work to grieve, to heal our broken hearts. We're going to do that one game at a time. There is no opponent we are taking lightly this year. Right now Glenbard West is on our minds.

Boys track

First meet: Feb. 10 indoor season, April 4 outdoor season

Last year: top three in conference, 8th at state

Head coach: Jim Westphal

Seasons as head coach: 5

No. team members: 140 at all levels

Strengths: We've got some experience. We've got kids who are now juniors and seniors who competed at the varsity level for the last couple of years. I think experience really helps.

Challenges: Any spring sport, one of the obvious challenges is weather - meet cancellations, not ideal weather for kids to compete in. Spring is so hit or miss in the Midwest. The other is just competition. The suburbs are just really competitive and really well coached. We're always up against really high-end programs week after week. It's a good challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.

Who to watch: Aidan Bandukwala and Daniel Watcke. I anticipate them being interesting to follow. Michael Prieto, he's a junior this year. He's one of our high jumpers who's really hoping to make a dent this year in that event. Sprinter Mehlum Anjarwala would be one to watch. Owen Peterson, who is a senior this year in the sprints and the hurdles, and Mark Ortiz, he's one of our throwers.

Outlook: I think we'll do well. We really won't know until sometime in the end of April and early May. Track, especially indoors, we've only had three meets and then we're going to have our (indoor) conference meet in a couple of weeks. It's hard to get a rhythm and sustain any kind of rhythm for three months. You hope to catch the rhythm in late April and the month of May. The outlook is good, I think, if everyone stays healthy and works hard.

Girls track

First meet: Feb. 11 indoor, April 8 outdoor

Last year: sent two individuals to state

Head coach: Pat Richards

Seasons as head coach: 38

No. team members: 108 at all levels

Strengths: I think we've got a lot of depth. That's really what you need as a track team. We ran at North Central College last week, a pretty high-powered meet. We took third overall but we won five events.

Challenges: Just competing in the West Suburban Conference and staying healthy. And continuing to progress. Hopefully the weather holds up for us. We're still fairly young, with the exception of our distance runners.

Who to watch: We have two high-level distance runners that are very good, Catie McCabe and Sarah Fischer. Those girls are both going to run collegiately, one at Indiana, one at Penn. We've got another senior, Elyssa Chandler, she is a good 300 hurdler. I think she finished last year seventh in the state. She is kind of the do-it-all kid. She can pole vault, she's a very good 400 runner for us. We have several good sprinters coming back, Ana Hodneland and her little sister, Lily, has been a big surprise for us. She's a freshman. She's turned out to be one of our top 400 girls. Keira Leech is a junior, she's a top returning hurdler. She was the conference champ indoors last year in the 55 hurdles. Our biggest surprise is Zari Dorris. I just named her athlete of the month for February. She has really come on for us in the sprints, 200 meter dash, our relays, the 55 meter dash. Maya Reed is back, she's a top sprinter and jumper from last year. She's only a sophomore. And Sarah Skora, shes really come up in the 800.

Outlook: I hope in every invitational to be one of the top contenders, and obviously I want to move as many kids into the state track meet as we can and go in there and make some noise, especially with some of our big guns.

Furthermore: We're really excited.

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean