The 2023-24 Herald Cup: No. 3 Montini (tie)

Editor’s note: Now that the high school sports year is over, we devised a points system based on team state finishes to measure which of the 85 high schools from the Daily Herald circulation area had the best athletic year in 2023-24. We’ll announce the top five small schools this week, one per day, starting with No. 5 on Monday through No. 1 on Friday. The top five large schools will be revealed next week.

Montini excelled in its traditional strengths — football, girls basketball, wrestling. After seeing a 27-year football playoff streak snapped in 2022 (not counting the 2020-21 COVID season) it returned to the postseason, in Class 3A for the first time.

The Broncos finished tied for third in the 2023-24 Herald Cup standings for small schools with 60 points that were calculated by weighing team finishes throughout the fall, winter and spring.

How they did it

A No. 6 seed, Montini football (9-4) defeated Eureka and Prairie Central, and in the quarterfinals beat No. 2 Princeton 27-9. In the semis, eventual 3A champion Byron beat the Broncos 26-20, scoring the winning touchdown in the last four minutes.

Girls basketball made the state finals for a 14th time and first since 2020. Coach Shannon Spanos’ No. 1 seeded Broncos (30-8) won the 3A Glenbard South sectional and beat Grayslake Central at the Concordia supersectional before losing to eventual champion Lincoln in a semifinal. Montini beat Hinsdale South 45-42 for third place.

Winning 12 straight wrestling matches, capped by a 2A sectional victory against IC Catholic, Montini (27-3) beat Rochelle and Chatham Glenwood in the dual state finals before falling in the title match to Washington, 30-28.

Who made it happen

Illinois High School Football Coaches Association first-team all-state picks George Asay and Alex Marre excelled with versatility. The seniors ran the ball and caught it, played linebacker and Marre returned kicks.

Playing downstate with Deerfield in 2023, transfer junior point guard Nikki Kerstein returned to Normal with Montini. Senior guards Victoria Matulevicius and Alyssa Epps gave Montini three GCAC Red division all-conference players.

Starting the dual team semifinals with 10 wins in 11 matches against Chatham Glenwood, including victories by individual state champions Allen Woo and David Mayora, the Broncos took a huge 46-6 lead to reach the title match.

Key stats

The Springfield News Gazette cited Marre’s 2,143 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns when naming the CCL/ESCC White division offensive MVP first-team all-state.

Matulevicius, Montini’s female athlete of the year, scored a reported 1,668 points in four years with the Broncos, third in program history.

Placing third and second at 152 pounds the prior two seasons, Mayora, Montini’s male athlete of the year, went 39-1 to win the Class 2A 150-pound title.

Key fact

Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Assocation hall of famer Mike Bukovsky returned for his first full season in 14 years as head wrestling coach, in addition to coaching football. He led Broncos wrestling to a state-high 23rd dual team state final, and a 21st state trophy to trail only Providence Catholic.

They said it

“We knew what we were coming in against.” — Marre on Byron, the highest-scoring team in Illinois High School Association football history.

“At the start of the season, having that change was one of the best decisions I’ve made.” — Kerstein on transferring from Deerfield, which beat Montini in a 2023 supersectional.

“That was one heck of a deal — one that everyone expected to go down to the last one or two matches.” — Bukovsky on Montini’s 32-29 win over IC Catholic that sent the Broncos downstate.

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