Strengths of Naperville North's Welch? A lot
Two performances in two sports over 16 days displayed Tom Welch's brilliance.
On Nov. 3, in his 20th shutout of the season, he made 12 saves to secure Naperville North's third straight Class 3A boys soccer championship, 1-0 over Libertyville.
On Nov. 19 in the Huskies' first boys basketball game the Loyola-bound Welch scored 37 points with 13 rebounds in a 64-54 double-overtime win over Hinsdale Central.
"He's a self-made player that is committed to becoming really good, and we're just really excited to see his future. It'll be fun to watch," said Naperville North boys basketball coach Gene Nolan.
Fun to watch and hard to beat, Tom Welch is the Daily Herald DuPage County Male Athlete of the Year for 2018-19.
"It's been really fun," Welch said of his high school years. "I'm going to miss it, but I'm really excited to see what I can do at Loyola."
A three-time all-state goalkeeper, college coaches had Gatorade's 2018 Illinois player of the year on their radar.
Who wouldn't want a fearless 6-foot-8 keeper with hops, who cared for his teammates, had quickness, soft hands, determination and a laser focus?
"He would almost make you uncomfortable, he was so focused. That's why he was a top-tier basketball player," said Huskies soccer coach Jim Konrad. "But if he'd played water polo? Division I."
Welch recorded shutouts in all but three soccer games he played in last fall. He gave up 4 goals, his goals-against average of 0.17 anchoring the Illinois High School Association's first perfect boys team at 26-0-0. His 20 shutouts tied for fourth in a season, his three-year total of 47 tying for ninth.
The Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association player of the year, Welch made Top Drawer Soccer and United Soccer Coaches All-America teams and played in the High School all-American Game Dec. 1 in Florida.
"Tommy managed the impossible and had an even better year than he did last year," Konrad wrote on the form nominating Welch for a 2019 Gatorade award -- won this time by teammate Colin Iverson.
Konrad added Welch "could be a professional soccer player."
Instead, last August from among many offers he chose Loyola for basketball.
"I just kind of realized I was a priority at Loyola, and I really like that," Welch said.
The feeling was mutual.
"I liked that he wanted to stay close to home and build something in his own area," said Ramblers coach Porter Moser, a Naperville native and Benet graduate.
"One of his biggest strengths is he's got a lot of strengths. He possesses tremendous athletic ability and size. That's what you can see with the eye. Things you can't see with the eye is how competitive he is, how much he likes to win," Moser said.
"As I got to know him that's what drew him to me even more. That's what we've tried to build in this Loyola program, is with persons with ability and high character."
Welch averaged 21 points and 8.6 rebounds, topping 30 points six times while shooting 60 percent from the floor, 35 percent from 3-point range.
Naperville North's sole returning starter embraced a leader's role, pacing the Huskies' repeat DuPage Valley Conference title. The DVC MVP, Welch was named Illinois Basketball Coaches Association first-team all-state.
Intense near the basket on offense and defense, Welch also often ignited Naperville North's half-court offense as a guard.
"He can play like five positions," Moser said.
"Tommy's greatest strength as a player is his ability to impact a game in so many ways on both ends of the floor," Nolan said. "But above all this stuff as a player Tommy's such a great teammate and a kid who was great to coach and a great representative of Naperville North High School."
Welch credits his mother, Wendy, for giving him athleticism. His father, Chuck, provided hand-eye coordination.
Tom Welch's height -- and humility -- came from both.
"I don't think I'm better than anybody else," he said, "though maybe I can dunk a little bit better."