By Bob Balgemann


For lots of years, Harlem has made a presence on the football and soccer fields, and in the gymnasium with its girls volleyball team.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have created an unprecedented time in the lives of student-athletes everywhere, one of the ongoing certainties around here is those three sports teams are continuing to have their share of successes.

In football, the Huskies (3-0) are entering the meaty part of their schedule starting Saturday afternoon, when longtime rival Hononegah comes to town for a 1 o’clock game. Top 3 places in the NIC-10 are at stake over the next two weeks following the first major confrontation of those contenders when the Indians and Titans played on March 3.

The Indians edged Harlem last season in a thriller, 33-30.

Through the first two games of this spring Hononegah has per-game averages of 237 yards running and 182 yards passing. Defensively, the Indians have recorded eight quarterback sacks, five fumble recoveries and two pass interceptions. They have made 12-of-16 extra point kicks and have one field goal, covering 33 yards.

Meanwhile, last week produced mixed results for Harlem in boys soccer and girls volleyball.

In football, Harlem survived a serious road scare from Belvidere North, which entered that game at 0-2 and having been outscored, 102-7, in its first two games. The Huskies rallied from a 28-12 first half deficit to edge the Blue Thunder, 44-42.

Quarterback James Cooper Jr. had one of his most memorable performances, throwing five touchdown passes and running for a sixth. He completed two scoring passes each to Dominic McCarren and Dezzion Jordan, and one to Adrian Palos. Jordan helped the defense by returning a pass interception 73 yards for a touchdown to trim an 11-point deficit to 35-32 with 6:22 left in the third quarter.

It was the third period that brought the Huskies back as they outscored North, 20-7.

The Blue Thunder had no answer for Cooper’s deep game, surrendering touchdown passes of 38, 50 and 63 yards. He now has 11 TD throws total in the first three games of this abbreviated season.

Belvidere North opened its doors in 2007 and has not had much luck with the Huskies, winning just twice and one of those wins was by forfeit. The other success was more memorable, coming in 2014 when they finished the regular season at 8-1 and tied for the NIC-10 championship. The Blue Thunder stunned Harlem, 48-22, that year.

The Huskies have won the last six meetings, 34-31, 46-28, 33-18, 33-15, 15-9 and now the closest ever, 44-42, last Saturday. 

Boys soccer

In soccer, head coach David Chu’s young boys squad is coming up with victories while gaining experience, including a 6-2 win over Stillman Valley on a recent Saturday at home.

Sophomore Salomon Trazie had a three-goal hat trick, plus one assist, to lead the win. Others making solid contributions to the offense were freshman Avery Coyle with one goal and one assist; sophomore Vasilije Ljubicic with one goal; and freshman Sora Anucauskas with a goal. Assists were recorded by freshman Huynh Ngo and sophomore co-captain Benny Crnovrsanin. 

Sharing time in goal were keepers Kaden Davies, a sophomore, who was minding the net for 80 minutes and junior An Ngo, who was back there for 60 minutes.

Offensively, Harlem opened up a close 2-1 halftime lead by scoring four times in the second half.

The Huskies returned to NIC-10 action earlier last week and were edged by Auburn, 2-1. They held a 1-0 lead at halftime only to see the Knights rally for a pair of goals in the second half to pull even at 3-3 for the season. Harlem slipped to 2-5 with the loss.

And in another tough setback, the Huskies dropped a 1-0 decision to rival Hononegah on April 2.

Seven-game statistics for Harlem show Trazie the leading scorer with three goals and two assists. Single goals have been scored by freshman Avery Coyle, who also has one assist; sophomore Vasilije Ljubicic; freshman Sora Anucauskas; and sophomore Marko Skakavac.

Additional assists have been recorded by freshman Huynh Ngo co-captain Benny Crnovrsanin.   

Girls volleyball 

Head coach Gretchen Kuchinski has been coaching in the NIC-10 since 2013 and is in her first season at the helm for Harlem. Previously she coached at Rockford East and Belvidere in girls volleyball, and at East and Guilford in boys volleyball.

The 2021 Lady Huskies are coming off an 8-10 season, their most recent that was played in 2019.

Key returning players are junior setter Ali Cserep, who stands 5 feet, 7 inches tall; sophomore outside hitter Bria Johnston (5-8); senior middle blocker Kaylin Reese (5-11); junior middle blocker De’Yana Franco-Daye (5-7); and senior outside player Kaitlin Birkholtz (5-7).

Newcomers to the varsity and expected to be contributors are freshman outside hitter Makenna Lawson (5-7); and defensive specialists Alyssa Summers, a 5-4 senior, Reese Stovall, a 5-3 junior and Shayla Vecchione, a 5-6 senior.

Graduation took Cloey Fare to the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Looking at the 2021 season, coach Kuchinski said, “Our goal is to finish Top 5. Belvidere North is the powerhouse of the conference, with Guilford and Hononegah not far behind. There have been several key games so far this spring with another one coming up – a rematch with Boylan Catholic on April 20.

In the early stages so far Harlem dropped a competitive 15-25, 22-25 decision to Boylan while rebounding to topple Rockford East, 25-15, 25-21. In another NIC-10 match, the Lady Huskies took the first game, 25-21, against Belvidere. But the Lady Bucs came back to win the middle game, 25-19, and decisive third contest, 24-14.

Andrew DeKok is the varsity assistant coach, while Ryan Horihan is the varsity volunteer assistant. The junior varsity coach is Jean Dennis; Jenna James is the freshman coach.   


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