Springing into action
With the girls' soccer playoffs getting under way, staff writer Marcus Jackson offers storylines for five different spring sports postseasons:
In the Class 2A Centennial regional, it's a safe bet Champaign Central is licking its chops for a rematch against the host Chargers, who beat the Maroons 1-0 last week. But Mick Galeski's second-seeded Maroons have a tall order in Mahomet-Seymour before they can even think about exacting revenge against Centennial.
"They're a huge threat, so that should be a tough game," said Galeski, whose Maroons beat the Bulldogs 1-0 early in the season. "When we first played both teams were kind of getting in the swing of things, but they're a very solid team with a lot of good players."
Get by the Bulldogs and an all-Champaign regional final is the likely possibility with the top-seeded Chargers playing the winner of an opening-round match between Urbana and Danville.
"I would love it, absolutely love it," said Galeski, who received two yellow cards in last week's meeting. "The last game with all the drama, we're hoping to get back at them and get a little revenge. I voiced my opinion (to the official) and after that he was being kind of picky. I said one word and he came over and sent me off."
His stay in the United States will be a short one, but Centennial tennis sensation Mauricio Gonzalez has a chance to leave a mark on the Chargers program and the state in the upcoming sectional.
A foreign exchange student from Bolivia, Gonzalez has compiled a combined record of 25-4 in singles and doubles this season and figures to challenge for the individual sectional title in singles.
"I think he's the No. 1 kid in our conference and he has a good chance to make a run in the sectional," Centennial coach Don Waybright said.
Sectional seeding will be determined May 19 and Gonzalez figures to be either the top seed or the No. 2 seed. St. Teresa's Patrick Kuhle is the other player in consideration for the top seed.
"I don't know how it's gonna come out but the Patrick Kuhle kid from Decatur is really good," Waybright said. "That would be real exciting to see them play for the sectional title."
Gonzalez came to Centennial with another Bolivian tennis player Nicholas Oporta but Oporta had to return to his home country to fulfill his academic requirements there while Gonzalez has been allowed to stay until the tennis season concludes.
"(Gonzalez) and Nicholas came in and vaulted our team from probably one of the bottom three in the conference to figuring out how we were gonna win the thing," Waybright said. "We were happy to have them come. Both are such nice kids to coach and do everything you want. It's been a real pleasure having them."
Whoever wins a Class 3A baseball regional title among the area teams will certainly have earned it. All six area schools competing in that class are taking part in the Champaign Central Regional and whether it's top-seeded Urbana or fifth-seeded Central, anyone is capable of advancing to the Mount Zion Sectional.
"It's really a tossup," said Mahomet-Seymour coach Nic DiFilippo, whose Bulldogs are seeded third. "It depends who's on the hill and who's playing well at the moment."
No. 2 seed Centennial has beaten No. 4 Danville twice and split last week's meetings with Urbana. M-S junior left-hander Jason Ziegler threw a no-hitter against Normal U-High in the Corn Belt Conference tournament on Friday.
"Every team has something that makes you say, 'Holy cow,' " said DiFilippo, whose team opens against No. 6 Rantoul. "They can all be scary. When (Urbana's Cody) Randolph and (Trey) Russell are swinging the bats, look out. Centennial's got good pitching and the same thing with Central. Danville also has three pitchers who can just be lights out if they get hot at the right time."
When Blue Ridge started the season 5-5, not many figured the Knights would be in the running for their third regional championship.
But Myron Schroeder's squad has reeled off 22 straight wins, and at 27-5 Blue Ridge has put itself in the conversation for a second consecutive sectional title and possibly more.
If they are to advance deep into the Class 1A postseason, the Knights are going to have to get by perennial power Tri-Valley, a team they've beaten during the long winning streak. In last year's sectional it was Tri-Valley that eliminated Blue Ridge.
"Of course our nemesis has always been Tri-Valley and they're in our regional now so we'll have to play well right out of the chute," Schroeder said. "I think confidence is a big thing and we've been playing well. We find a way to win and that's the best thing about these kids, they play well together."
It's been a balanced effort for the Knights. Jordan Wheeler has been a steady force pitching and the lineup features nine hitters who have belted at least one home run this season.
"The power that we've shown this year has been something," Schroeder said. "I would never have thought we could have accomplished something like that. We've made a few changes defensively that have really helped and Jordan Wheeler has just kept the other teams off balance."
Track & Field
Looking for a dark horse among the Class 1A boys' programs in track, start with Fisher. The Bunnies have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks to the efforts of the Unzicker family – Colten and Trevor. Colten graduated in 2009, but Trevor is enjoying a fine senior season and after putting on a show in last year's sectional at Paxton-Buckley-Loda, he hopes to be a busy man during the state finals at Eastern Illinois later this month.
Trevor Unzicker sits near the top of The News-Gazette's honor roll in the 400 meters, 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles. He's also a fixture on the 400, 800 and 1,600 relay teams.
Fisher also expects a solid performance from Guy Kirby, a wrestling state champion, in the 200. And Chase Kelley can be a threat to reach Charleston in the high jump.