La Salle-Peru softball coach Randy Huebbe expected the Class 3A state champion to be a Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference team.
He just had the wrong school.
Sycamore beat Wheaton St. Francis 3-0 on Saturday to win the state title and officially mark the end of the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference.
“I was guessing we were going to have an all-conference championship game but I thought it would be Kaneland and Ottawa,” Huebbe said. “For Sycamore to come through and do what they did, it just shows this conference is where it’s at.”
The NIB 12 has had plenty of state-level success since it began competition in 2010-11.
The Sycamore softball team’s state championship was the 11th for the conference.
The NIB 12 also had 38 other top four team finishes — including L-P in softball, baseball and volleyball twice — and many individual and relay state championships in wrestling, track and field, bowling, cross country and swimming.
“The conference just had a variety of athletes that made it competitive,” L-P football coach Jose Medina said. “It was a dynamic conference. Our conference always had a school making some form of run in the playoffs.”
But the NIB 12 is no more.
Next school year, L-P will join Ottawa, Rochelle, Morris, Kaneland, Sycamore, Sandwich and Plano in the Interstate Eight Conference, Geneseo and Sterling will join the Western Big Six, DeKalb joins the DuPage Valley Conference and Yorkville will become a member of the Southwest Prairie Conference.
“I liked the NIB 12 and I’m going to miss it,” L-P wrestling coach Ed Wrobleski said. “It was a very, very competitive wrestling conference. There were a bunch of good teams. Even though DeKalb and Yorkville dominated the last few years, everybody else in the conference was very competitive.
“All the teams in the conference were well coached. Everybody put together a good program.”
GOODBYE GENESEO AND STERLING
Several L-P coaches said they’ll miss competing against Geneseo and Sterling as conference rivals.
“I hate to see those two go,” L-P baseball coach Matt Glupczynski said. “They’re two of our longest rivals. Ever since I played at L-P those were two games you always circled along with Ottawa no matter if it was football, basketball or baseball. You had to get yourself mentally and physically ready to go take them on.”
Several L-P coaches said they either already have scheduled Geneseo and/or Sterling in the future or hope to get the Maple Leafs and Golden Warriors on the schedule again down the road.
“What I’m going to miss the most is having Sterling and Geneseo in our conference,” Wrobleski said. “They’ve been in our conference for years and years. We’re still going to wrestle Geneseo in non-conference. Unfortunately, Sterling is not going to be on the schedule because they’re schedule is full.”
WHAT ELSE THEY’LL MISS
Along with losing Geneseo and Sterling as conference rivals, L-P coaches will miss several other things from their fellow NIB 12 coaches to more sport-specific concerns.
“I’m looking forward to competing and building new relationships in the I8,” L-P boys basketball coach Jim Cherveny said. “I’ll definitely miss witnessing Isaiah Rivera play his senior year at Geneseo. It’s been fun watching him grow the past several years. I’ll also miss the coaches from the NIB 12. I have a lot of respect for all the coaches just knowing the ups and downs of a basketball season. I wish them the best moving forward.”
Glupczynski said he’ll miss the three-game series used in NIB 12 baseball.
“It gives a little bit of a college type feel,” Glupczynski said.”You’re able to scout the team and get some charts. By the second or third game you can formulate a game plan to go after your opponent. That’s something I’m really going to miss. I really grew to like that.”
For tennis coach Aaron Guenther, he’ll miss the number of opponents the Cavaliers will face in conference.
“I’ll miss the level of competition of the NIB 12,” Guenther said. “For tennis, there will only be six girls teams and four boys teams (in the Interstate 8). Playing the same people over and over will get old quickly. I’ll miss how many different schools and student-athletes L-P got to compete against.”
While L-P coaches will miss the NIB 12, they have a positive attitude entering the Interstate 8 and expect it to be a solid conference as well.
“I believe the I8 is a great fit for all L-P sports,” Cherveny said. “By adding Sandwich and Plano, we add excellent coaches and outstanding athletes. In basketball specifically, we’ve been competing against Plano and Sandwich the past several years at the Plano Christmas Classic, so we know we’re going to have to step up our game to compete at a high level.”
The I8 will still have plenty of familiar teams as six of the eight schools are coming from the NIB 12.
“The new conference is going to be tough,” Glupczynski said. “It’s kind of combining the west side and east side of the NIB 12 and adding two other teams. From a baseball standpoint, it’s going to be a very, very tough conference.”
Wrobleski expects the two new schools — Sandwich and Plano — to be competitive.
“I think it’s going to be a good fit,” Wrobleski said. “There are still some teams we’re familiar with. We still have Ottawa, Sycamore, Rochelle, Kaneland and Morris. We’re bringing in Sandwich and Plano, who we’re not really familiar with but in years past have put together good programs. I expect them to be competitive. Hopefully, this new conference will take off. Maybe in a few years we’ll add a couple more teams and keeping building on it.”
Guenther said the I8 will provide a more even playing field in tennis.
“I think the west side of the NIB 12 was a good fit for L-P, but many of the east schools were larger or had more resources available to them,” Guenther said. “It’ll be nice not having to compete with Yorkville or DeKalb when they essentially have suburban resources available to them that aren’t an option for our students without serious time or financial commitments.
“I’m looking forward to the I8 because I think it is going to allow for us to correct some formatting that the bigger schools didn’t allow for us to have.”
Medina said it could be beneficial for the football team.
“L-P had some success earlier when the (NIB 12) conference first started,” Medina said. “We’ve tried to compete as best we could but we just weren’t there at that time. We’re starting to get slowly better. I definitely think the (NIB 12) was a great conference to be part of. We’re moving to a different one and we’ll see how that goes for L-P.
“I think (the I8) is going to be competitive as well. We just have to get the kids prepared and ready to go and compete. I think it could be beneficial. There are going to be competitive schools we’re playing against. Every Friday night we have the opportunity to win. We just have to go out there and achieve that.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.