History has always been one of my favorite subjects.
Perhaps that is why I have thoroughly enjoyed researching the past two weeks for this 2-part story on the first 10 years of varsity athletics at St. Charles North.
However, there's one question I've always wanted to ask -- who came up with the nickname North Stars for a school called St. Charles North?
Why not just say the St. Charles North Stars instead of the St. Charles North North Stars?
But I digress.
While the North Stars, winners of 47 regional titles and 36 sectional crowns, are still looking for their first team state championship, they have captured a few individual state titles.
The school's first individual title was earned by then-junior Chris Peterson, who won the 500-yard freestyle (4:33.80) at the 2006 boys state swimming meet.
Peterson doubled his pleasure the next year, taking titles in both the 200 and 500 freestyle.
In 2008, John Higgins, Dan Stanek, Jimmy Brooks, and Nick Smith combined to capture the 200 medley relay state title.
One year later, St. Charles North's girls swimming got into the act, as Lauren Reynolds, Angie Chokran, Taylor Gannon, and Kirsten Hutchinson teamed up to win the 200-yard medley relay.
Coach Rob Rooney's boys and girls swim teams have combined for 13 sectional titles and 4 top-5 state finishes.
I would be remiss not to add that St. Charles North drill team coach Nancy Franson has built a state dynasty of sorts while participating in Illinois Drill Team Association and Team Dance Illinois competitions over the past decade.
The North Stars have had several close calls with 4 state runner-up team finishes -- girls golf (2003), girls soccer (2004), boys cross country (2006), and softball (2011).
Their most recent second-place finish by the softball team culminated in a wild 9-8 Class 4A title loss to Moline last June in East Peoria.
In that game, Taylor Russell went 4-for-4 with a home run, double and 5 RBI, while senior teammate Ashley Seering also was 4-for-4 with a triple and RBI.
"It was a very memorable experience for me," said North Stars softball coach Tom Poulin. "I never came close to playing in a state title game when I was in high school (at St. Charles High).
"And with it being my first year as head coach, I was as wide-eyed as the kids were."
St. Charles North's senior-dominated softball team entered the 2011 campaign hungry to make amends for the previous year's first-round regional loss to York.
"I felt a combination of pride and a little bit of relief because of the high expectations everyone had," said Poulin.
"It was the most memorable experience I've had in coaching."
Poulin also guided the North Stars' basketball squad to its second-ever regional title in 2009, as Jon DeMoss and Nick Neari helped propel the team to the sectional championship game against Dundee-Crown.
The school's first regional hoops crown was achieved in 2005 by former coach Mark Smith's team, led by Dustin "Buddy" Lee and Matt Osland.
Winning a state team title requires both good players and solid coaching, mixed in with a little bit of luck.
"You need to have a complete team and you need to play mistake-free," said Poulin.
Winning isn't everything, however.
"Three of my best memories at St. Charles North include the team playing in the state softball title game, reaching the sectional finals in basketball, and making the state football quarterfinals at Glenbard West," said Poulin.
"Our teams went 0-3 in those games but they're positive memories."
St. Charles North girls soccer coach Ruth Poulin Vostal knows something about state championship games.
As a sophomore and senior, she helped lead St. Charles to state soccer championships (1992, 1994).
Anchored by Bree Bast, Megan Christiansen, Lauren Switzer, and goalkeeper Erin Kane, Poulin Vostal's North Stars made it to the state title game in her fifth season as head coach in 2004 before dropping a 2-1 decision to New Trier (30-0).
"As much as I want it, I'll keep coaching until we win one," said Poulin Vostal, whose team placed third in 2010.
"Two years ago, our team hadn't allowed a goal off a corner kick all season until Sandburg scored 3 on us instantly (during a 4-2 semifinal loss). After the game, our girls were wishing they could do it all over again."
North Stars football coach Mark Gould, who guided the team to 8 straight postseason appearances from 2002-2009, admits that tradition will come with patience.
"I don't think the kids feel that tradition yet," said Gould. "We're starting to get some of it but it takes time to get tradition. It's not like our school has been around for 100 years."
I'm not sure what lies in store during the next century but it appears that the outlook for the next 10 years is bright.
"We always seem to have a core group of players that have that extra drive in them," said Poulin Vostal. "It was hard to do what we have done but I expect us to be one of the top teams in the state every year."
Consistency in coaching also brings with it added continuity.
"The kids know what to expect in our program," said Poulin Vostal. "I'm not necessarily looking for the best 20 to 22 soccer players. I'm looking for the 20 to 22 girls that make up the best team."
Tom Poulin believes St. Charles North will soon earn that elusive state team title.
"Our teams are going to get there," said Poulin. "I'll admit that it was a little disappointing not to be the first (team) to do it last year in softball. We'll get it done -- there will be multiple state titles won at the high school."
The North Stars' softball team should continue to reap the benefits of a strong feeder program.
"I feel softball has the potential to be the most successful sport at North for the next 20 years," said Poulin. "And reaching the sectional finals in basketball a few years ago showed us that it is something we can accomplish. We can get downstate in basketball, too."
"I'm excited about the future of sports here at St. Charles North," said Gould, who has watched one North Stars graduate -- Patrick Brown -- reach the NFL as an offensive lineman with the Minnesota Vikings.
"The younger kids coming through the program are good athletes," he added. "All of the coaches get along well and are coming together even more. We have to do a little bit more to help each other, to help get kids in the weight room, and to push them to play multiple sports."
History, albeit a brief one, is on their side.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org