Collegiate intramural sports are great, but Matthew Meier didn't want to be just one of the guys.
Now he plays with some of the girls.
Women, actually. The 2016 Naperville Central graduate has found a niche with the University of Illinois women's basketball team practice squad.
It checks several boxes for Meier, a two-time Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Basketball Team guard who also was an all-state track athlete and a safety and punter on the Redhawks football team.
He remains active in a sport he loves, it helps him stay fit and, maybe most important to him, it keeps him tied into basketball X's and O's.
"Intramurals, it's fun to play pickup with the guys, but you can do it all the time," said Meier, 20, still active at that level with the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He just ended flag football season in the league championship game and has moved on to, yes, dodgeball.
"But I knew I'd miss the mental part of basketball, like the coaching," he said.
In that department he has a ringer with a wealth of contacts.
The spring of his senior year at Naperville Central, after Meier said Miami of Ohio rescinded a preferred walk-on offer for basketball, he discussed options with his parents, Terry and Cindy. With Miami dragging its feet, Meier favored a top business education over another walk-on bid at Toledo. They decided on Illinois, and having heard from older Naperville boys who had played on the practice squad, Meier reached out to Aunt Katie.
That is, Katie Meier, women's basketball coach at the University of Miami in Florida, who searched the old Rolodex and connected her nephew with Illinois assistant coach LaKale Malone. When Matthew arrived in Champaign as a freshman he met with Malone, who said there was need for more players for the all-male squad. He signed up, took a couple physicals and, technically, became a University of Illinois student-athlete.
He and the others on the squad take a lot of elbows but also build relationships. Meier was surprised last year to recognize Ali Andrews, a 6-foot-2 forward out of Huntley High School he played against a decade ago at the youth level. Initially the coed component felt a little awkward, particularly when bodies bump in the post, but that went away fast.
Practices this year officially began Oct. 1, and for that hour to an hour and a half, three times a week, they are "extremely fast-paced, at a different level than high school or AAU" practices, Meier said. During drills and scrimmages the Illini women may rotate in and out but the men are on the court for the duration.
They are not required to be at all practices, though five must attend each session. School comes first and Meier, in the Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity and participating with the university's Illinois Sports Business Conference, takes his studies seriously.
Once on court he's all-in.
"It forces you to work out, which is always nice," said Meier, joined on the squad by his freshman brother, Patrick, and former Mooseheart star Hameed Odunewu among others. The squad goes about nine deep and they are expected to quickly understand and execute an Illini opponent's plays.
Perks include new basketball shoes and some attire, early registration for classes, access to athletic tutors and study centers and paid athletic insurance.
For an X's and O's guy the satisfaction goes far deeper.
"It's cool watching (a game) when we're running the other team's plays and you see the exact play you ran yesterday, and you see the girls defend it," Meier said.
Queens of the Hilltoppers
Earlier we wrote of Glenbard West's field hockey team, then left them hanging.
The Hilltoppers finished third in the Illinois High School Field Hockey Association tournament, beating New Trier 2-1 in overtime. Glenbard West avenged two prior overtime losses to New Trier to win on Tessa Erickson's rebound of a shot by Jennika Park.
"When we got into overtime again the team was very, very determined not to lose this game," said Hilltoppers coach Karen Judge.
Glenbard West (24-4) made its third straight Final Four appearance and fifth overall. Lake Forest beat North Shore Country Day for the title.
Erickson, a junior center forward, senior center defender Kailey Schmidt, junior center midfielder Amber Bode and senior sweeper Maddie Schrauth all were named Illinois High School Field Hockey Association All-Conference players with Erickson, Bode and Schrauth earning all-state. Bode was the IHSFHA player of the year, a first for Glenbard West.
"To be a junior and to receive that honor is very rare in field hockey because it's such a skill sport that it takes time to get to that point in your career," Judge said. "But she works so hard at it."
In a new award in which players were nominated by their coaches, senior midfielder-defender MaryBeth Feeley won the IHSFHA Sportsmanship Award.
"Every player on the team liked MaryBeth," Judge said. "I think it was because she was very easygoing but played with all her heart."
Finishing their checks
Two seasons ago the York Hockey Club moved into the Scholastic Hockey League from the Illinois High School Hockey League's West Division. That put the Dukes in with heavyweights such as Loyola, New Trier and Glenbrook North.
"It's very good, but it also comes with its challenges," said club vice president Jamie Ray, a 1987 York graduate and former Dukes defenseman.
Regardless of how coach Bruce Turpin and team leaders Billy Paschen, Chris Lee and Matt Anderson are doing on the ice, York is winning the charity game.
On Oct. 20 at its home rink, the Addison Ice Arena, the team held its annual Spirit Night. In conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month the club dedicated 100 percent of its silent auction proceeds and donations, about $6,000, to cancer research.
On Dec. 1, York Hockey will hold its annual Toys for Tots Night, the varsity game against Glenbrook North starting at 7:05 p.m., the junior varsity at 8:55. There is no admission fee but attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy.
The York Hockey Club has held the event since 2009, but over the last few seasons, with opponents also chipping in, it's done very well.
"It's a pretty big deal, people get into it," Ray said. "Word on the street is each of the last four years we've donated 1,000 toys or more."