MSL title game: Barrington, Rolling Meadows put it all on the line
When the ball didn't bounce in November or December, the thought that there would be a Mid-Suburban League boys basketball championship game was a dream. Then, when the season did begin in early February, there was no telling if it would come to a conclusion.
But here it is.
Saturday, the MSL title game will feature unbeaten and host Rolling Meadows of the East against West division champion Barrington. The game will tip at p.m. and again be limited to just 50 fans. But it will be livestreamed by Rolling Meadows on its YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-nKpwvWfnC2FWeK1cBTNQA.
"Every game this season feels like a bonus," said Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich, whose team last appeared in the game in 2012 and won it in 1991.
"We feel fortunate to be playing at all, let alone to have the honor to play in this particular game."
Barrington coach Bryan Tucker agrees.
"How does it feel? Our kids are excited for the opportunity to play in this game," said Tucker, whose team last appeared in 2018 and won it in 2015.
"With such a talented and competitive league, it is a great accomplishment to play in the game."
The teams met on February 20 in a crossover game at Barrington. Rolling Meadows won that game 72-51.
"Barrington is a talented, well-coached team," Katovich said. "The first game has absolutely no bearing on this game. Barrington is skilled, long, and physical with a lot of weapons. We expect a tough game, and that is how it should be. Either team can win. This will be a fun battle between two very good teams."
Barrington (10-2) is young with just one senior in its starting five.
Barrington is led by 6-foot-6 Will Grudzinski, who is the Broncos' leading scorer at 16 points per game. Damian Zivak. who is 6-5 and the lone senior, is averaging 12.5 points while 6-8 Nate Boldt is averaging 8 points. Guards Daniel Hong, who is at 7.1 points and leads the team in assists, and Evan Jno-Baptiste, who is averaging 5.1 ppg and is the team's best defender also contribute.
"We lost to them before," Tucker said. "Hopefully, we can learn from that experience, and work on eliminating some of our deficiencies. To win would be a great accomplishment, especially since we are playing such a talented and undefeated opponent -- one who manhandled us the first time we played."
Rolling Meadows (14-0) is not just Max Christie. But it sure does help to have the all-time leading scorer in MSL history and a McDonald's All-American leading your team.
Christie, headed to Michigan State in the fall, averages 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. He gets tons of help from his brother Cameron, who is averaging 12 points, Daniel Sobkowicz (11 ppg, 7 rpg) and Orlando Thomas (9 ppg). The Mustangs also have great role players like Ryan Stubitsch, Luke Duffer, Aidan Hosler, Alex LeBeau, Ryan Schoessling and Foster Ogbunna, who had a 17-rebound game earlier this year.
"Our guys have worked incredibly hard," Katovich said. "This group of eight seniors is a special group that have been playing together for a long time. The MSL this year had so much talent on both sides of the divisions and there were so many deserving teams.
"Win or lose, our team has done an absolute tremendous job representing Rolling Meadows High School. We are incredibly proud of everything they have accomplished."
Let's play two:
With the overlap of basketball and the start of the traditional fall sports like football and soccer, there are many area players that have been doing double duty during the final two weeks of the season.
Prospect's Luke Zardzin and Gary Moeller are two of those athletes. Both are juggling basketball with football practice where Zardzin is one of the area's top running backs and Moeller is coming off a 2019 season where he threw 28 touchdown passes.
Typically, their day begins at 5 a.m. when they wake and ends after 10 p.m. The pair have football practice before school, then classes, then either basketball practice or a game.
"They are the two most important and accomplished football/basketball players in our building," Prospect basketball coach John Camardella said. "We are in conversation with them multiple times a day regarding the state of their body and mind to make sure we are supporting them based on their needs. There are some days they will barely practice as we are trying to save them for games, and other times where they will participate in multiple physical activities a day only to be up before sunrise the next morning."
Rolling Meadows' Daniel Sobkowicz knows that feeling well. Not only has Sobkowicz been a pivotal player in the Mustangs' run to the MSL East title, but he has been getting ready for the upcoming football season, where he is one of the area's top wide receivers.
"I am actually feeling really good," Sobkowicz said. "I am taking care of myself really well. I am getting both things in each day. I am a little tired at times. But I do a lot of stretching before I go to bed and that helps."
Camardella said that he has respect for this year's group of athletes.
"High school student-athletes are always resilient," he said. "But this class has gone above and beyond in achieving success with less prep time, less time to rest, and more daily responsibilities than any previous high school graduating class. Our entire staff stands in awe of what these young people continue to accomplish despite the circumstances."