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Keeping up with ... Oak Park's Tori Karsten
After years of playing a sport in Illinois (with which) few are familiar with, Tori Karsten now finds herself in a field hockey hotbed.
Named the state's top prep senior at Oak Park-River Forest, the college sophomore has emerged as one of the best players on a 17th-ranked University of Delaware squad.
that began the season seven straight wins.
"It's huge out here," Karsten said of the sports' regional popularity. "Back at home I would have to explain everything to people but everybody knows what you're talking about on the east coast."
Karsten's is second on the team with 12 points, tied for second with five goals and thanks to her offense the Fighting Blue Hens started the season with seven straight victories and are ranked 17th nationally.
She had two goals in a 4-0 victory over Rutgers on Sept. 7 and on Sunday scored the game-winner in a double-overtime victory over Virginia Commonwealth that snapped a two-game losing streak.
"We're really excited to be up there in the rankings," Karsten said. "It brings a lot more pressure but it's great to be recognized nationally."
Being recognized at all wasn't an issue in the Chicago area, where field hockey isn't on the map. It's not even an official IHSA sport. Including Oak Park, Karsten estimates there are about 20 local high school field hockey programs.
Among Midwest colleges only four -- Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford -- ranked in this week's NFHCA national poll. The rest are all on the east coast, and the only Chicago-area products on any of those rosters are Michigan's Jenner Johnson (Lake Forest) and Karsten's high school teammate Alissa Pullos. Another former Oak Park player, Stephanie Bernthal, plays at Kent State.
Karsten was introduced to field hockey in sixth-grade through a friend of her mother. One of the area's better youth programs was run in her community by now-retired Oak Park coach Barb Liles with varsity players chipping in with instruction. Karsten immediately took to the sport and moved her way up through the ranks until she found herself playing at a high level at a young age.
"It was kind of a fluke thing," she said of her start. "I just loved that it was completely different from anything I had done before and that I had to start from scratch. I built up my skills and found out that I had talent."
Karsten also credits her early exposure to soccer in helping her adapt to field hockey.
"The positioning is a lot like soccer and it gave me the ability to see the whole field," Karsten said. "I was always pretty fast but soccer taught me to see other players on the field, too, instead of just out-sprinting people."
After helping the Huskies' to a state title as a sophomore in 2003, she became a highly-coveted recruit in the following two years.
When it came time to choose a college, Delaware had a decided recruiting advantage because her older sister, A.J., was alread on the Blue Hens' roster. The two sisters played together last season but A.J. isn't playing this fall, opting instead to concentrate on an internship to advance her hotel and restaurant management degree.
While her sister's presence helped make for a smooth transition last year, Karsten noticed a big difference in the caliber of play compared to high school. She, however, adapted quickly and made an immediate impact on the Delaware program, starting 14 of 16 games and ranking third on the team in goals. She was named to the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie team.
"There's a huge difference in the speed of play," Karsten said. "You can't get away with any of the things you got away with in high school. You have to be much more precise and there are a lot less fouls. It's a cleaner game."
While Karsten admits she has plenty of areas to improve, including getting into what her coaches call a "triple threat position", where a player has the ability to pass, dribble or shoot, she doesn't lack confidence
"I'm not always thinking to pass or dribble; I'm not afraid to shoot," she said.
A big reason for the Northwestern volleyball squad's impressive non-conference run was the play of sophomore libero Kate Nobilio (Johnsburg). She helped Northwestern (10-3) to wins in its final seven non-conference matches and the team added an eighth straight win in Friday's conference opener, a road upset of No. 23 Ohio State before falling to No. 3 Penn State the following night.
Included among Nobilio's early-season achievements are breaking the school record for digs in a three-game match with 31 on Sept. 8 when the Wildcats claimed the Georgetown Classic championship with a win over Towson (she also holds the school mark for a four-game match). Before that match, Nobilio was named to the all-tournament team.
She also earned MVP honors at the 26th Annual Wildcat Classic, which Northwestern won for the third straight year on September 15 with a win over St. Louis.
Two days after that tournament ended, she was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. It was the second such honor of her career, as she also earned the award last Oct. 16. Heading into outings in Evanston against No. 9 Wisconsin and Illinois this weekend, Nobilio leads NU with six digs per game and has more than twice as many digs (264) than any of her teammates.
As a freshman in 2006, Nobilio appeared in every match and game and led the team with 508 digs (4.70 per game), ranking second in NU single-season history. That mark also put her third in the Big Ten in digs per game and she became Northwestern's first player since 2001 to be named to the conference's all-freshman team.
Also in Evanston, senior outside hitter Lindsay Anderson (New Trier) continues to add to her career resume. She was named the MVP of the Georgetown Classic and last November became the 17th player in school history to record 1,000 career kills. She leads the Wildcats with 178 kills on the year.
Three Chicago-area products are a big reason that the Michigan volleyball team is off to one of the best starts in recent memory. After opening the Big Ten season over the weekend with a Friday night win over Illinois, the Wolverines (13-1) suffered their first loss of the year the next night in a hard-fought loss to No. 9 Wisconsin.
Leading the way for Michigan has been 2006 first-team All-Big Ten performer Katie Bruzdzinski (Naperville North), who tops the squad in kills (215) and kills per game (4.48). The senior outside hitter is in her third year as team captain and is the only player in program history to be awarded three Big Ten Player of the Week designations, including two weeks in a row last November.
Junior middle blocker Beth Karpiak (Lyons Township) ranks second in both kills categories behind Bruzdzinski, ending the weekend with 170 kills in 48 games (3.54 per game).
And helping lead the offense is freshman setter Lexi Zimmerman (Barrington). She was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school and helped lead Barrington to the state semifinals last fall. Zimmerman has acclimated well to the college game, having played in all 48 games for Michigan thus far, recording a team-high 678 assists.
Illinois junior baseball player Joe Bonadonna (Stevenson) recently was honored for his play in this summer's Northwoods League. The second baseman won one of the league's Silver Glove Awards, which is given annually to the league's best defensive player at each position. After splitting time for Illinois last spring at two outfield spots and at second base, his time this summer with the Duluth Huskies came exclusively at second. He he made just seven errors in 68 contests and also was one of two players to break the NWL record for stolen bases in a season with 45 thefts in 56 tries.
He hit .318 last spring for the Fighting Illini, starting 22 of 37 games. While in high school, Bonadonna earned six varsity letters, three apiece in baseball and football. A highlight of his gridiron career came when he set a record for the longest touchdown reception in a state title game when he reeled in a 71-yard score in Stevenson's Class 8A 35-14 loss to Lockport.
Northern Illinois sophomore linebacker John Tranchitella (Driscoll) is having a breakout season for the Huskies. After playing mostly as a reserve as a freshman last fall (five tackles total), he has become one of NIU's most productive defenders, ranking third on the squad in tackles (21) and recording his first career interception in Saturday's road win over Idaho. In addition to the pick vs. the Vandals, Tranchitella had two tackles for loss and broke up three passes.
While at Driscoll, Tranchitella helped the Highlanders to three state titles, highlighted by his three touchdowns in Driscoll's 2005 Class 4A title game 42-7 win over Newton. During that season he led the team with 18 touchdowns, 38 catches and 643 receiving yards.
Also coming up big in Dekalb is junior defensive end Larry English (Marmion). The 2006 first-team All-MAC selection broke his own school record Saturday with five sacks at Idaho. He had only tallied one sack in the Huskies' first three games and the outburst Saturday exceeded the effort he had as a redshirt freshman in 2005 vs.Temple when he registered 4.5 sacks in addition to forcing and recovering a fumble.
English was named in June as one of 49 players on the 2007 Bronko Nagurski Award Preseason Watch List. The award is handed out by the Football Writers Association of America and honors college football's top defensive player. This year's award will be presented in Charlotte, N.C. on December 3. He tallied team-highs in both tackles for loss (16) and sacks (12) in 2006, with the sack total breaking the school record.