With the Fenwick High School baseball team’s heartbreaking 8-6 rain-shortened defeat to Crystal Lake South in an IHSA Class 3A supersectional June 6, the 2021-22 high school sports season came to a close.

But there were several outstanding achievements and performances, and this week in Tate’s Take, in the tradition of the ESPYs (ESPN’s award show), I present the Tatesies — my choices for all the best moments of the year.

And away we go…

Team of the year: Fenwick football. Several good choices — including Fenwick boys cross country’s Class 2A champions (the first Chicago Catholic League team to win a title), but the Friars’ IHSA Class 5A football championship is tough to argue with given it’s the first at a school with a rich football tradition.

Fenwick (12-2) was a senior-dominated team with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and its only losses came by a combined total of four points. The Friars had four players sign with major colleges: quarterback Kaden Cobb (Ball State), center Jimmy Liston (Purdue), and wide receivers Eian Pugh (Illinois) and Max Reese (Eastern Michigan).

Game of the year: Under John Hoerster, Oak Park and River Forest High School football teams have been known for their grit and tenacity.

A good example occurred Oct. 15, 2021 when the Huskies hosted Downers Grove North. Trailing 28-27 in the final seconds, OPRF faced a fourth-and-1 on the Trojans’ 14. Hoerster had a tough decision to make, more so with starting kicker Nolan Vitale unavailable due to injury.

“Do you put in a kid who hasn’t been in this situation?” Hoerster said of backup kicker Gavin Johnson. “Gavin was kicking well during the week, and seemed like he wanted the opportunity.”

Hoerster opted for a field goal, and Johnson rewarded his faith by drilling the eventual winner from 31 yards out as the Huskies prevailed 30-28.

“I’m not going to lie, I was shaking. I was really nervous, but I had to pull through for my team,” Johnson said afterwards.

Play of the year: Fenwick led 21-17 against host Nazareth Academy at the start of the fourth quarter in the Class 5A football quarterfinals on Nov. 13. But the Roadrunners were driving and the Friars needed a big play in Valenta Stadium — a place where Nazareth has been very difficult to beat in the postseason.

Senior defensive lineman Suleiman Abuaqel provided it when he picked off Logan Malachuk on a screen pass one-handed and returned it 58 yards for a pick-six that sealed the deal in a 28-17 victory.

Athletes of the year: Josephine Welin, senior, OPRF girls cross-country/track and field. A University of Washington signee, Welin won the IHSA Class 3A individual cross country championship in the fall with a time of 16:26, helping the Huskies finish 15th in Illinois as a team.

Then, after missing the entire outdoor track regular season due to injury, she qualified at sectionals for both the Class 3A 1,600 and 3,200-meter races, finishing third and sixth, respectively.

Kaden Cobb, senior, Fenwick football. A three-year varsity starter at quarterback, the Ball State signee completed 206 of 320 passes for 2,846 yards. He threw 30 touchdown passes and rushed for nine TDs and 520 yards.

In the IHSA Class 5A championship game against Kankakee, he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score as the Friars defeated the Kays 34-15, winning the school’s first-ever state football title.

Paige Smith, junior, Trinity lacrosse. Smith enjoyed a breakout spring, tallying 107 goals as the Blazers advanced to the sectional quarterfinals. Smith scored 11 goals in Trinity’s first-round 15-10 victory over Riverside-Brookfield on May 18.

She also led the Blazers in ground balls (71), caused turnovers (16) and draws won (173).

Coaches of the year: I had a hard time making up my mind on picking out a Coach of the Year, so I opted to list a few names to share the honor:

Matt Battaglia, Fenwick football. In his second season as head coach, the 29-year-old Battaglia guided the Friars to the aforementioned Class 5A state championship.

Craig Blazer, Fenwick girls soccer. Also in his second season, Blazer led the Friars to a fourth-place finish in Class 2A.

Jason Fried, OPRF boys’ soccer. Fried led the Huskies to a Class 3A sectional title, the first in program history.

David Rill, Fenwick boys cross country. Rill steered the Friars to the Class 2A championship, the first time a Chicago Catholic League school has won a title in the sport.

Gerard Sullivan, Fenwick girls tennis. The veteran coach guided the Friars to third place in IHSA Class 1A — the first state trophy in program history.

Kristin Wirtz, OPRF field hockey. Wirtz led the Huskies to a runner-up finish at state and guided the Huskies to an 18-3-6 record that featured wins over top programs Glenbard West, Lake Forest and state champ New Trier.

Lifetime achievement: Who else could it be but Dave Power? When you have both a locker room and a playing court named after you, you have done special things.

And that’s what Power did during his 45-year coaching career, including 29 years at Fenwick. He won over 1,000 games (joining the legendary Dorothy Gaters and the late Gene Pingatore in reaching the mark) and three state championships — including 2001 and 2007 with the Friars.

Moreover, Power was a coach who genuinely cared about his players on and off the court. I had the pleasure of interviewing him the last few years and always found to be insightful. He will be missed on the sidelines this winter.

Now, summer is here. That means a break for me, though you’ll still hear from me as I have a few stories I’m working on. But pretty soon, fall sports will be here, and this year is going to start with a bang when OPRF and Fenwick meet in football.

Yes, that’s right. For the first time in over 30 years, the Huskies and Friars will do battle on the gridiron. The game opens the season; the location, date and time should be announced soon.

I have always wanted to see an OPRF/Fenwick football game, and I hope this is the start of a tradition. There’s no reason these two storied programs shouldn’t meet every year. Kudos to the athletic directors (OPRF’s Nicole Ebsen and Fenwick’s Scott Thies) for finally making this happen.

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