The sports year of 2016 was filled with several memorable moments, but some stood out above all the others.
Here are a few of those stories:
OUT ON TOP
New Trier may have beat Maine South this season and ended the Hawks’ 77-game Central Suburban League South title, but the Hawks ended the season with the last laugh as it defeated Loyola 27-17 to claim the Class 8A state championship.
Maine South finished the season 11-3, being the first three-loss Maine South team to win the title.
Maine South is only the second three-loss team to win a Class 8A title since the IHSA went to an eight-class system in 2001-02. The only other one was Naperville Central in 2011-12.
Of the three losses on the season, Maine South had the chance to avenge two of its three losses, knocking off Barrington and Loyola in the playoffs.
Maine South was paced in the running game by Fotis Kokosioulis (18 carries, 106 yards) and Nick Leongas (20-76, touchdown).
Leongas completed 11-of-20 passes for 124 yards and a score to Luke Hinkamp (3 catches, 35 yards). Holbrook had four catches for 33 yards, while Kokosioulis added a pair of catches for 44 yards.
Leongas was also the 2016 Voyager Media Offfensive Player of the Year.
After missing most of the last two seasons to injury, Maine South quarterback Nick Leongas was told by some close to him that football may not be the best sport for him going forward.
After all, he missed his entire sophomore campaign with a torn meniscus in his knee – which he reinjured that winter in basketball – and last season was lost after week two when a hit in the game against Loyola broke his jaw in two places.
On the season, the senior completed 166-of-267 passes for 2,871 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 163 times for an additional 1,116 yards and 11 scores.
To simply say the Niles West boys gymnastics team made history at the IHSA state meet would be an understatement.
The Wolves tallied 154.7500 points at the meet, beating Glenbard West’s 154.4000 points to claim the program’s first-ever state championship and the first title for Niles West since the girls basketball team won state in 1979.
The Wolves came in as underdog, because the team advanced to state as an at large berth and did not win the sectional title. They are the first at large state champion since the 1992 season.
Not winning the sectional just added to the motivation for the team at state.
Niles West may have been an underdog in the sense that it was an at large team, but it also had one of the state’s top weapons in senior Nomondalai Jamiyankhuu, who came in as the defending all-around champion.
And, in the midst of the team taking the title, Jamiyankhuu defended that title, scoring 55.35 points. He scored a 9.35 on floor, 9.45 on pommel horse, 9.15 on rings, 9.55 on vault, 9.05 on parallel bars and an 8.8 on high bar.
And while Jamiyankhuu was the team’s top gymnast, he was not the only reason the Wolves won state.
In the beginning of the season, the Niles West volleyball players joked around about how great it would be to play in the state finals.
As the year rolled along and the Wolves began to win matches – the joke became a reality and their opponents became the punch line.
And when West took the court at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena in the IHSA Class 4A state finals, the team still played with the same jovial attitude it had when state was only a joke early in the season.
Niles West dropped both its state matches, losing 20-25, 25-21, 16-25 in the third-place match to Stevenson and fell in the semifinal 25-13, 25-15 to eventual state champion Mother McAuley – the No. 1 ranked team in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.
In the final match of the season, Kaila Johanson led the Wolves with 15 kills, while Natalie Pehar added 14. Eleni Balourdos tallied 27 assists for West, adding a team-best nine digs. Against McAuley, Pehar tallied nine kills, Balourdos added 15 assists and Johanson and Bianca Tomuta each had five digs.
There was a time during the season that Niles West would have never expected to be in the final four.
For the second year in a row a lefty from Notre Dame finished All-State.
Last year it was Tom Ochal who finished runner-up at the state meet.
In 2016 it was Connell Kelleher, who shot a 2,799 to place seventh in the state at St. Clair Bowl. After a solid Friday, it was Saturday that pushed Kelleher over the top with a 1,439.