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Keeping up with ... Bartlett's Mohamed Mohamed
In only his fifth year of competitive running, Southern Illinois' Mohamed Mohamed has proven to be a quick study.
The junior cross-country standout's running career reached a new high over the weekend when he qualified for the NCAA Championships Nov. 29 in Terre Haute, Ind. with a 14th-place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Peoria Saturday morning. He was the Salukis' top finisher with a time of 30:28 in the 10k race.
"I want to make it to nationals, no matter what," Mohamed said before the race. "It's a really tough region and I'll have to run my best race, but I know I have it in me to get there."
There are two ways to qualify for the NCAA Championships. The first is to qualify as a team, which didn't occur, as Southern finished seventh out of 23 teams. The top two teams at each of the regional meets around the nation automatically qualify and a selection committee then reviews the third and fourth-place finishers in each region to pick the remaining 13 teams.
Individuals qualify by finishing as one of the top four runners not already on a qualifying team, which is how Mohamed, a former Bartlett standout, punched his ticket. Regardless of where he finishes at nationals, qualifying could serve as a springboard to even bigger things.
Even with Mohamed's quick rise in the sport, it took some time to discover how to squeeze the most out of his ability. He experienced a lot of success very quickly, as was evidenced by his seventh-place finish in the 2004 Class AA cross-country state finals, but he had little idea how to harness his raw physical gifts until two summers ago.
"I stayed down in Carbondale the summer before my sophomore year and really learned to dedicate myself," he said. "I didn't really know before then how to do that -- the kind of training, eating right, all of those things."
That's not surprising, given that Mohamed didn't begin running until the spring of his junior year at Bartlett. His family moved from Chicago to Carol Stream before that school year and he figured he would play basketball like he had in the previous two years. Once in the suburbs he noticed that his younger brother, Ahmed, had begun performing well in track and field, so he figured he would give running a shot as well.
Mohamed's surprising finish at the state meet as a senior to cap his first cross-country season showed him and college recruiters that he had raw talent. But becoming a "runner" instead of someone who simply runs was a task that still lied ahead.
"I had to buy into having the right mentality," he said of his early years at SIU. "I had to improve not only physically but to get my head straight. Your coach can only do so much for you; you have to be a student of the sport."
His ongoing running education has also included a sizable increase in the mileage he absorbs each week. He began his college career in the 50-60-mile range per week but now has that number more around 90-100 miles weekly, a level that has him on the same footing as most of the nation's top runners.
Mohamed ran his breakthrough race last fall when he won the Missouri Valley Conference championship with a time of 24:56.85, which was more than 10 seconds faster than the runner-up. He became the school's first individual conference champion since Stelios Marneros in 1996 and in the process provided a huge boost of confidence.
"After that race, I was pretty confident I could get to nationals," Mohamed said. "I realized 'I can really do this' but after I didn't make it lit a fire under me to want it so much more now."
Besides that extra motivation, Mohamed also was aided this year by two teammates both capable of winning virtually every race they. Sophomore Jeff Schirmer, Mohamed and senior Kevin Doran, finished 1-2-3 at the Missouri Valley conference meet Oct. 27, leading to SIU's first team title since sharing the top spot with Indiana State in 2004.
While cross-country usually is considered an individual sport, Mohamed can't stress enough how having two others to accompany him at the front of the pack has helped his performance and didn't mind at all coming in second to Schirmer at the conference meet.
"It's great to have two other teammates who are on the same page as me," he said. "Last year in the conference meet I ran almost the whole race by myself and that can only take you so far. It's easy to be happy when the team does that well."
Six local men's basketball products, five of whom played in the Chicago Public League, recently were selected in the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) draft. The top Chicago-area pick was former Seton Hall standout Kelly Whitney (Marshall), who was taken by the Colorado 14ers with the last pick of the second round. Whitney, a 6'8" forward, finished his college eligibility at Seton hall in 2006 where he was a second-team all-Big East pick as a senior.
Forward Marcus White and guard Anthony Harris, both from Young, were picked in the third round. White went to the California D-Fenders and Harris was picked by the Anaheim Arsenal.
White began his college career at Connecticut before transferring to Purdue, where he played the 2005-06 season. Last year he split time playing professionally in Lebanon and Iraq. Harris played the last four years at Miami (Fla.) where he started 77 of 106 games and left the school ranked sixth on the Hurricanes' all-time assists list.
Former Chicago State guard Royce Parran (Lincoln Park) was picked in the seventh round by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Parran averaged double-figures for Chicago State in each of his last three seasons, including 18.0 points per game as a junior when he was a second-team all-Mid-Continent Conference, and 14.5 points per outing last year as a senior.
Forward Ron Howard went two spots after Parran to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Howard (Young) played this summer in a Mexican League. He began his college career at Marquette in 2001-02 and transferred to Valparaiso for his final three seasons. While there he was a second-team All-Mid-Continent Conference pick his junior and senior campaigns.
Rounding out the local players picked is former Bucknell point guard Abe Badmus (Notre Dame). he was an eighth round selection by the Tulsa 66ers. Badmus played in the NCAA Tournament to cap his sophomore and junior seasons and ended his college career second on the school's all-time games played (123) and steals (217) and fifth in assists (375). He entered Bucknell's starting lineup during his freshman year and was the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Two men's soccer players with local ties -- UIC senior midfielder Cesar Zambrano (Brother Rice) and Loyola senior defenseman Iradj Farahmand II (Glenbrook North) -- were named first-team all-Horizon League last week.
It was the third year in a row that both have received all-conference honors, as Zambrano was named to the first team as a sophomore in 2005 and the second team last season and Farahmand was on the second-team as a sophomore in 2005 and a first-team member a year ago as well.
Farahmand was also recognized as the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. His play was instrumental in Loyola only allowing only two goals in its eight conference matches in 2007. One of the previous highlights in Farahmand's collegiate career was being named the Most Valuable Player in the 2006 Horizon League Conference Tournament last November.
Loyola is top-seeded in this year's tournament, which gives the host Ramblers a bye into Friday's semifinals.
As for Zambrano, he was the Flames' leading scorer in 2007, topping the squad with five regular season goals and assists apiece for 15 points. He also scored UIC's second goal in its 4-0 conference tournament quarterfinal match vs. Wright State Sunday night, paving the way for a semifinal matchup Friday vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Loyola.
Also honored in the conference's year-end awards were Loyola junior goalkeeper Brian Byrne (Buffalo Grove), Loyola senior midfielder Keum Sung Kim (Hersey) and Butler junior forward Frank Patano (East Leyden).
Byrne was the goalkeeper on the conference's all-Newcomer Team and Kim and Patano were second-team all-conference picks.
Byrne, a transfer from Lewis University, was second in the league with a goals-against average of 0.68, allowing only 13 goals on the season. He led the league with a save percentage mark of .841 and 10 shutouts.
Kim was a first-team all-conference selection the last two years and was the league's Newcomer of the Year in 2005 after not playing as a freshman in 2004.
Patano was second in the conference in scoring with 29 points (14 goals, one assist).
Also in men's soccer, Dominican University (17-4-1) saw its season end Sunday with a 1-0 loss to Washington (Mo.) in the second round of the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Tournament. Three Chicago-area natives stood out for the Stars throughout the year and that trend continued in the team's opening-round 1-0 win over Wisconsin-Whitewater Saturday.
Junior forward Matt Kochanowski (Fremd) scored the lone goal in the first-round win over Whitewater, which added to the team-high 43 points (12 goals, 19 assists) he accumulated during the regular season. He also averaged the second-most points per game in the Northern Athletics Conference. The goal Saturday was the fourth game-winning goal of the season for the 2006 NAC Player of the Year.
In goal for the Stars was junior Piotr Sliwa (Taft). He had a 0.46 goals-against average for the year (regular season) and lowered that mark to 0.20 in conference play when he only allowed two goals. His shutout Saturday was his 10th of the season, which included one stretch of five consecutive shutouts.
Sliwa also started a good portion of the Stars' matches in 2005-06 when he recorded a 24-2-3 mark with nine total shutouts.
Sharing the team's regular season lead with 12 goals was junior midfielder Plamen Pamukov (East Leyden). He was an all-regional pick by the NSCAA in both 2005-06 and his 16 assists as a freshman in 2005 ranked fifth in the nation.
In women's soccer, Loyola won its second straight Horizon League Tournament Championship Sunday afternoon by taking a 3-2 decision on penalty kicks over top-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Ramblers find out their destination and opponent in the upcoming NCAA Tournament when pairings are announced Monday night.
During the entire season, several local products have led the way for Loyola, paced by conference Player of the Year Cynthia Morote-Ariza (St. Ignatius). The sophomore set Loyola single-season records for goals and points and played a part in 69 percent of her team's scoring in the regular season, leading Loyola to a 14-8-1 overall record. Eleven of her 15 regular season goals came in conference play, including four multi-goal performances. She notched a hat trick versus Cleveland State on Oct. 5 and added two goals in three other matches.
Morote-Ariza assisted on two of Loyola's goals in the championship game win on Sunday and she was named the tournament's MVP for the second straight year. She burst onto the scene as a freshman, setting a school season-record with nine goals and was the conference's Newcomer of the Year in addition to being named fist-team all-Horizon League.
Joining Morote-Ariza on the all-conference first-team was senior defender Heather Lau (Lake Zurich) and sophomore midfielder Jackie Vera (Lane Tech).
Lau scored the game-winner in the Ramblers' 1-0 win over Wright State in one of Friday night's semifinals. She was an all-tournament team member in both 2004 and '06 and a first-team all-conference pick as a junior in 2006 as well.
Vera was the first Public League performer to ever sign with the Ramblers and like Morote-Ariza, she also was a first-team all-conference pick and a member of the league's all-newcomer team as a freshman.
Wisconsin-Green Bay freshman swimmer Shannon Demrow (Jacobs) is off to a fast start to her collegiate career. She was named the Horizon League Female Swimmer of the Week last Monday for her performance in the St. Cloud (Minn.) Husky Invitational on November 3.
In that meet, which saw UWGB claim both the men's and women's team titles, Demrow won the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:09.46 and turned in three runner-up finishes. She was second in the 400-yard individual medley (time of 4:37.01), 200-yard freestyle (1:55.82) and the 100-yard freestyle (54.66) and was also a member of three winning relay teams.
In the school's subsequent meet, last Thursday vs. South Dakota, Demrow continued her winning ways, claiming both the 1000-yard freestyle race (10:30.39), as well as the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 2:10.87.
She got off on the right foot in her collegiate debut October 5 in a dual meet vs. Wisconsin in which she recorded two second-place finishes. She swam a time of 10:42.09 in the 1000-yard freestyle vs. the Badgers and clocked in at 5:10.32 in the 500 freestyle.
In volleyball, Carthage College senior middle blocker Jori Simmons (Lincoln Way-East) continues to add to her list of individual honors. Following the Big Red's second straight CCIW conference tournament title last weekend, Simmons was named an first-team all-conference performer for the fourth straight year. And later in the week Simmons became a three-time AVCA first-team all-Midwest Region selection.
North Central senior outside hitter Maggie Kelly (Fenwick) also was chosen as a member of both the first-team all-conference and first-team all-region squads. Kelly led the CCIW in kills (146) and kills per game (5.62 avg.) this year and her 640 kills in 2007 set a new North Central single-season record. She'll also leave the school as the Cardinals' all-time kills leader.
Other local players listed on the first-team all-CCIW roster were Illinois Wesleyan senior setter Jenna Passananti and Augustana junior setter Jaime Spolum (St.Charles North). Passananti was named for the second straight year and was also on the CCIW all-tournament team. Spolum led the league in assists and was a major reason for the Vikings' stark turnaround that saw them improve to 22-13 in 2007 after a 6-24 mark in 2006.