A summer full of commitments in Lake County sports might ultimately be most remembered for a breakup.
High school football practice officially began Monday, and once again the county doesn't lack Division-I talent. As we get ready to embrace the 2014-15 school year and welcome the classes of 2018, here's a recap of what's happened the last couple of months while we enjoyed pleasantly cool summer weather.
It's not you; It's me
The North Suburban Conference is breaking up. The conference, which has featured two divisions (Lake and Prairie) since Vernon Hills began varsity competition in 2000, will have a new look come the 2016-17 school year.
The Grayslake and Wauconda school boards passed resolutions last week to form a new athletic conference, which has yet to be named. Community High School District 117, Grant Community High School District 124, Round Lake Areas Schools District 116 and North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 will vote on the resolution this month.
When all is said and done, the eight-member conference will include Antioch, Grant, Grayslake Central, Grayslake North, Lakes, North Chicago, Round Lake and Wauconda. Vernon Hills figures to stay in the North Suburban Conference, which will also feature eight schools.
In the end, the breakup is probably for the best. Vernon Hills will be the smallest school in the NSC, but the Cougars should be competitive in most sports. In Paul Brettner, Chris Curry, Jay Czarnecki, Bill Bellecomo, Doug Gerber, Shawn Healey, Greg Stilling, Matt McCarty, Jerry Miceli and Ron Long, VH has top-notch coaches who have been at the school since it opened.
The Cougars will be fine.
And it'll be good to have both Grayslake schools in a Lake County conference.
Going out on top
Before he was named Dave Mohapp's successor as Warren's football coach earlier this year, Bryan McNulty agreed to become the school's new head softball coach. He stuck to the commitment, then led the surprising Blue Devils to the Class 4A state championship.
Last week, McNulty submitted his resignation as softball coach, meaning Warren will have a new coach for the fourth spring in a year.
A good guy whose competitiveness was obvious to anyone who watched the Blue Devils play softball last spring, McNulty has a young family.
Good call, Coach.
Bryan McNulty's first Warren football team features a major-college recruit after tight end Caleb Reams verbally committed to the University of Illinois. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior gave a soft verbal commitment to Western Michigan in the spring, but he kept receiving offers.
Also last week, Stevenson two-way lineman Nick Dillon committed to Eastern Michigan. The summer also saw Dillon's teammate Cameron Green, one of the best wide receivers in the state, announce his intention to attend Northwestern, while speedy Grayslake North running back Titus Booker verbally committed to Indiana. Lakes two-way lineman Ryan Mullen will also play D-I after committing to Miami (Ohio) late in the spring.
Welcome back, Alex
In 2006, Alex Vikartofsky was named captain of the Daily Herald's Lake County All-Area softball team after pitching Stevenson to a school-record 30 wins.
Last month, Vikartofsky was named her alma mater's new head softball coach. She replaces her former coach, Larry Friedrichs, who finished his 27-year SHS career with a record of 515-379-4.
Vikartofsky served as Stevenson's JV coach this past spring after spending the previous three seasons as an assistant varsity coach at two Ohio high schools, Middletown and Colerain. She also has been a coach in the Lake County Fastpitch Softball Association since 2007, as well as a private instructor since 2010. Vikartofsky also spent the 2012 season as a player-coach with the Therwil Flyers in Basel, Switzerland, helping to introduce the sport to that country.
"We're very pleased and excited to introduce Alex Vikartofsky as the next head softball coach," athletic director Trish Betthauser said. "She brings a strong level of experience and expertise after having coached and played with many different organizations. She loves to teach the game of softball and help players achieve their personal and team goals."
Vikartofsky played three seasons on the SHS varsity (2004-06), finishing her Patriot career second all-time in victories (41), shutouts (18) and earned run average (0.75). Her senior season was one of the best in school history. She won 23 games -- 10 by shutout -- with a 0.32 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 177 innings.
After high school, Vikartofsky pitched one season for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio before suffering a career-ending injury. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Miami.
Carmel Catholic's baseball team lost a top talent, as switch-hitting junior third baseman/pitcher Cal Coughlin announced he's transferred to Lake Forest.
Another Corsairs slugger, junior Cooper Johnson, verbally committed to the University of Mississippi.
Johnson, the only sophomore to make the 2014 All-East Suburban Catholic Conference team, is a strongly built, 6-foot catcher who batted in the middle of the Corsairs' order during the spring. Ole Miss went 48-21 this season.
King of the Hill
Warren senior pitcher Andrew Hill verbally committed to Bradley University this summer. A varsity pitcher the last two springs for the Blue Devils, Hill posted a 0.83 ERA with 50 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 50 innings this past season, earning all-area honors.
Kirby headed to Stritch
Billy Kirby, a varsity regular for Carmel Catholic's basketball team the last three seasons, will play basketball for Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. The Wolves won the NAIA Division II national championship in 2013.
"I think Cardinal Stritch is a really good fit for him," center Jack George said of his high school teammate and good friend. "He's definitely going to bring some toughness to that team. He and I were in the gym constantly in the spring working on our shot. He can really, really shoot it now."
The 6-1 Kirby averaged 7 points per game last season, while being a dependable defender.
"I think the most important thing is going to be his IQ," said George, who committed last spring to play for D-I Elon University. "He knows so much about the game. He studies it a lot. He goes on YouTube and watches clips of players and what moves they make, and what reads they're making. I'm just happy for him. I know that's what he's been working on tirelessly for his whole life."
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