All posts by krystinaiordanou2020

How athletes manage the mental toll of injury

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

The physical health of your favorite athlete can determine the season’s success of their your favorite team. Sprains, fractures, concussions and other injuries can take a player off the field for several weeks or more.

Physical injury is a recurring aspect of sports that can’t always be avoided, but its the mental hurdles that accompany recovery that can be underestimated. We took a deeper dive into this topic and talked with Joanna Boyles, a professional soccer player for the Orlando Pride, as well as, professionals in the wellness and sports psychology field.

Photo at top: Joanna Boyles has overcome two anterior cruciate ligament injuries and is a current player for the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League.(Mark Thor/ Orlando Pride)

Keys to success: Day in the life of an NU women’s basketball player

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

Entering her final season on the Northwestern University Women’s Basketball team, senior Abi Scheid is a seasoned veteran when it comes to balancing academics, practice and nutrition among the many responsibilities that come with being a division one athlete at a top university.

Coming off her best statistical season yet in 2018-2019, Abi earned a position on the Big Ten All-Academic Team. This past week I wase able to spend a typical day with Abi. She utilizes the following strategies to stay on top of her game.

Academics

Northwestern has long been considered an academically challenging school. For student-athletes who compete in the Big Ten conference all year, the importance of prioritizing schoolwork is critical to  success. Abi’s typical day consists of early morning strength and conditioning, academic classes and afternoon practice with meals, homework and social time mixed in throughout the day.

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Abi Scheid spends multiple hours during the week catching up on work and studying in the Walters Athletic Center. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)

“Eventually you develop the skills that help you with time management, why not to procrastinate, and I think in turn it helps you with the rest of your life. It’s hard but you get used to it,” she said.

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Student-athletes on average take a minimum of three classes during each academic quarter. At Northwestern University, they must balance the rigor of sports and academics that come with being a student at the ninth best college in the U.S., according to U.S. & World Report News. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)
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Abi considers time management as the key to success for any athlete that must balance a time restricting schedule, such as hers. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)

PRACTICE

What many fans, family, and friends observe are the games and competitive landscape the athlete undertakes. However, what goes unseen are the countless hours athletes spend preparing for those moments. On days that Abi does not have a game, she can spend more than six hours in the gym. The 2019 Northwestern women’s basketball season was their most successful since 2015, as the team won 21 games and reached the NIT Championship.

This postseason success, which high-level athletes hope to achieve, pushed the season through April requiring the student-athletes to balance their schoolwork, training, travel, and games for over six months. Perfecting their craft through hours of training has led Abi and her teammates to the recent athletic achievements.

“I don’t think people understand how much time goes into being a student athlete, especially the 6 a.m. morning every day. We also have to tackle a commitment to school as well as a 20-hour commitment to basketball,” said Abi, “Every college athlete understands that if you want to get better you need to go by yourself, get extra shots up with a partner, with a coach.”

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By 6:30 a.m. the team was already getting in conditioning work in advance of their upcoming 2019-20 season opener Nov. 10 against Loyola Maryland. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)
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The team emphasizes bringing in referees to not only create a game like environment but to also help players become more knowledgeable on the changing rules of the game. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)
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Training started at 3:15 p.m. but Abi was already on the court by 2:45 p.m. perfecting her shot before practice began. (Krystina Iordanou)

Nutrition

After being diagnosed with Celiac disease in high school – an immune disease where people can’t eat gluten –  Abi has altered the way she approaches nutrition as a high-level athlete. She met with the team nutritionist and found ways to cater to her needs for optimal performance with a gluten-free diet. Training multiple hours throughout the day has players burning hundreds of calories, which makes nutrition a vital piece to their performance on the court and in the classroom.

“Coming into college I didn’t know much about getting in carbohydrates, especially before a game,” Abi said. “Coming to college definitely highlighted how important it is to eat well and fuel your body, especially with hydration.”

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Each morning, breakfast offers an array of options, such as fruit, for student-athletes at the Nona Jo’s Dining Center inside the Walters Athletic Center. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)
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Though celiac disease prevents Abi from eating traditional carbohydrate choices, she fuels up each morning with a freshly made omelet and hash browns for a healthy source of fats and carbs to start her day. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)
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In each of the student athletes locker rooms, refrigerators stock healthy snacks athletes can grab on the go in order to stay hydrated and fueled throughout their busy days. (Krystina Iordanou/Medill)

In addition to all of her work on and off the court, Abi believes her college experience has been especially rewarding because of her teammates. She considers them her closest friends.

“Our team is super close, and I think it makes waking up at 6 a.m. a little bit better. Traveling away is fun because we get to spend extra time together, “ she said. “It’s definitely a blessing to be a part of such a good team.”

Photo at top: Northwestern Basketball plans to build off their National Invitations Tournament Championship appearance last season, and make a run in the NCAA Tournament. (Krystina Iordanou/ Medill Reports)

Red Stars fall short in franchise’s first NWSL Championship game

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

Sunday’s Championship match didn’t catalyze the win the Chicago Red Stars had hoped for, as four goals by the dynamic North Carolina Courage offense proved to be too much in the match.

The Chicago Red Stars controlled play for the first few minutes of the game but an early goal from North Carolina’s Debinha in the fourth minute slowly changed the momentum of the match.

“I thought it took us a good 15 to 20 minutes to settle in the game and by that point we were already chasing against a team you don’t want to be chasing against,” said Rory Dames, Chicago Red Stars head coach, “I think when we go back and watch we’ll be pretty disappointed with the first two goals. We had three players around Debinha. She was able to get the first shot off, find the ball and then get the second one. I think when you’re in this setting their players are obviously better in this environment.”

Despite sustaining pockets of possession throughout the match, two late first half goals by forwards Jessica McDonald and Crystal Dunn ultimately sealed the Courage’s second consecutive NWSL Championship. Sam Mewis added the final goal of the match in the 61st minute off an Abby Dahlkemper free kick to complete the scoring.

The experience in these big moments proved to be an advantage for the Courage, who were playing in their third consecutive NWSL Championship, compared to the Red Stars who made their first appearance.

“It’s hard getting into finals, it’s hard to produce in the finals but it’s not hard to motivate the players. It’s hard not keeping them from getting over emotional. This team loves the big games, loves the big moments,” said head coach Paul Riley, of the North Carolina Courage.

Although Chicago players were disappointed with the outcome, they are optimistic about the team’s future and their development as players.

“This team has been extremely special on and off the field which is why it’s pretty disappointing to go out like we did, but I don’t think that’s the end of us. I think we grew a lot; we move forward, we definitely set some records and had some first for the club which is huge but it’s also time to do some reflection and learn from our mistakes as well,” said Chicago Red Star defender Casey Short.

The Red Stars have a lot of lessons they can take from this season. After four seasons of semifinal losses, the team broke through to its first Championship. They also recorded the most wins in their franchise’s history.

Despite rumors of the potential departure of the 2019 NWSL MVP and Chicago Red Star forward Sam Kerr, the team hopes to bring back the core of their many talented players.

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Julie Ertz walks across stage to receive her second place medal after loss on Sunday. (Erin Donnery)

The defensive performance of both Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher may be overlooked due to the final score, but their resilient performances in the game can provide hope for what fans can expect next season.

“I don’t think this is a finale for the team by any means, if anything I think a ton of players got a ton of experience from going through the process,” said Dames, “We’ll do our best to keep the group together (next season).”

Photo at top: Sam Kerr (center) received the 2019 NWSL MVP award during the championship weekend. (Erin Donnery)

Two Leo alums join forces to revive a premiere South Side school

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

Straightening ties, tucking in shirts, and welcoming young men to the “brotherhood” is an opening day tradition for Dan McGrath, Leo High School president, who greets the young men individually as they arrive for their first day of school.

It’s a tradition that McGrath has continued for nearly 10 years since he became president of Leo High School. McGrath graduated from the all-boys Catholic school in 1968 and went on to pursue a career in sports journalism. In 1996, he landed a job with the Chicago Tribune, but after the paper was sold to Sam Zell in 2007, McGrath considered a career change at a time when Leo High School was struggling to keep its doors open.

“I felt it was a calling for me. I woke up one morning with a feeling of great clarity and I said I need to do this,” McGrath explained.

For the last 94 years, Leo High School has anchored West 79th Street and South Sangamon Street in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, where it serves young men from Chicago’s South Side and western suburbs. Leo’s neighborhood has seen significant change since the 1960s, resulting in the heightened crime rate detrimental to enrollment numbers during the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to McGrath.

“I think it would be a tremendous loss to Auburn-Gresham if Leo were to go away. We’re very conscious of our role in the community and we try to be as supportive as we can,” said McGrath.

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Leo High School enrollment declined to as low as 120 students but has grown 40% over the past four years.

The Auburn-Gresham community has experienced over 900 violent crimes this year, according to the Chicago Police Department crime database.

However, the surrounding violence has not impacted the spirit of the school that doesn’t use metal detectors or employs security guards.

“I think there is grudging respect and admiration for what we do. The neighborhood really understands we’re trying to help these guys get a foot in the door and get their lives off to a good start,” said McGrath.

McGrath has made community and alumni outreach a priority for Leo High School. Nearly half of his current faculty and staff are Leo graduates and he credits them for much of Leo’s success in “preparing young men for life.”

This is especially true for Leo High School principal Shaka Rawls, a graduate of the class of 1993 whom McGrath hired in the fall of 2016.

“What Leo stands as is basically a stabilizing factor in this community,” said Rawls, who worked as a school and community administrator in the Chicago Public Schools before coming home to Leo. “What we stand for is that we’re one thing that is always going to be consistent. It’s always going to be a staple.”

Despite McGrath and Rawls attending Leo during different eras, their like-minded ideology, methodology, and forward-thinking goals stand as a transitional piece of the old and the new coming together to create change, Rawls said.

“All the people they are bringing here like Principal Rawls, alumni, coaches or teachers are making Leo stronger and getting exposure out to the Chicago city,” said Aurora Latifi, who is in her 18th year as a Leo mathematics teacher.

The recent success of the school stems from the integration of alumni that have kept the school open for nearly 95 years.

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Leo High School advertises the success of its current and former students all throughout the building.

“The spirit of Leo is very strong. It’s across generations, it crosses race. When you’re a Leo man, you’re a Leo man for life,” said McGrath.

Under the guidance of both McGrath and Rawls, “the brotherhood” will continue to grow this year. Leo currently has 180 young men enrolled in the school, including its largest freshman class in 15 years. Of those 180 students, 95% will receive a scholarship or financial aid this school year.

Photo at top: Embracing “The Brotherhood” of success has become a rewarding tradition for the school. (Krystina Iordanou /MEDILL)

Chicago Red Stars dynamic offensive duo aces team’s first NWSL championship bid

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

For four consecutive years, the Chicago Red Stars have endured the pain of losing in the National Women’s Soccer League semifinal. But today’s match brought out their best performance, a large home crowd, and the outcome they have been patiently working for.

In front of nearly 10,000 fans, the Chicago Red Stars clinched their spot in the NWSL championship next weekend in Cary, North Carolina, with a 1-0 win over Portland Thorns FC. Sunday afternoon’s win rewrote a story that many have become accustomed to during this NWSL season; that Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato are one of the most dynamic offensive pairings in the league.

“Good players like to play with good players. Yuki has made a huge transition from going from an old school nine to wide player. They understand each other’s movements, the way they get in and off each other, the spaces they find,” said Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames. “Hopefully we’ll see it for years to come.”

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Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr, scores game-winner that sends the Chicago Red Stars to the NWSL Championship. (ISI Photography)

From the first whistle, the Red Stars were aggressive offensively, breaking the 0-0 scoreline in the eighth minute off a beautifully played ball from Yuki Nagasato over the Portland backline to Sam Kerr. This goal marks Sam Kerr’s 19th goal of the year and Yuki Nagasato’s ninth assist, extending their statistical leads in these respective categories.

Despite Chicago controlling many early opportunities, the Thorns had the Red Stars on their heels for the better part of the second half, out shooting Chicago seven attempts to five. After an early goal, Chicago adjusted to a more defensive strategy and the spirit of the home field crowd proved to be an advantage as the game became more physically taxing.

When asked about the fans’ impact, Dames said. “Huge. [It was the] 75th minute when they started chanting the hype cheers that went out on video Saturday night and we were on the back foot a little bit. You could just see the group get a little bit of life and come back into it.”

This victory is one that Chicago players set their sights on after their semifinal loss last year against the North Carolina Courage, who the Red Stars will face in the final match Sunday, Oct. 27.

Kerr, the lone goal scorer, was excited for the opportunity ahead.

“It feels amazing. Obviously, last year was really disappointing for us and this year we’ve been reformed. We’ve been waiting 13 months for this game. We’ve been working toward this game all year. We deserve to be there,” said Kerr, “We will stick together and do what we do every week. That is believing in each other. Their (North Carolina) is a great team. They’ve been the best team for the last three or four years and they are not a team we take lightly.”

The Red Star’s next game comes against the defending NWSL champions, who ended the regular season atop league standings and will have home-field advantage. The Red Stars have yet to lose to the Courage this season with a 2-0-1 edge.

“There is one more game left. Let’s do it. Let’s bring the trophy back and then close down the city and have a party,” said Kerr.

The NWSL Championship game is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 27,  WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. Fans can watch the Championship game live on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. CTD.

Photo at top: The Chicago Red Stars celebrate their victory. (ISI Photography)

Chicago Red Stars brings women’s soccer playoff back to the Windy City

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

For only the second time in franchise history, the Chicago Red Stars will host a semifinal playoff game against Portland Thorns FC Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Seat Geek Stadium in Bridgeview.

The matchup marks the fourth meeting this season between the two clubs, with Portland having the 2-0-1 edge on the Red Stars. The Red Stars left scoreless in their last two meetings with the Thorns this season.

Many star players will be on the field Sunday afternoon, as the clubs have a combined eight players from this year’s U.S. World Cup winning squad. And that doesn’t count other well-known international players such as Sam Kerr, who is this year’s Golden Boot winner, with 18 goals on the season.

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On the verge of a state sanctioned championship, Lake View wrestler seizes the opportunities in front of her

By Krystina IordanouMedill Reports

For Lake View High School wrestling captain Dulce Reyes, competing against the boys has been common practice during her first three years on the team. But with Illinois State High School Association championship changes arising more opportunity for female wrestlers await.

The 5-foot-2-inch wrestler competed in the 106- and 111-pound weight class last year, where she finished fourth in Chicago and 10th in the girl’s state tournament, hosted by Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Organization. Before this year, there was not an all-girls wrestling team at Lake View High School, which left Reyes competing against boys during most meets and practice.

“Even though I am on the women’s wrestling team now, I was still competing against guys.There were a couple of guys around my weight and I would just practice with them. They really help me to come along, and they took me in as if I were any other wrestler,” said Reyes.

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Lakeview wrestler Dulce Reyes has been wrestling boys in her weight class since she began competing in 2016. (Jack Morgan Photography/Courtesy of Lake View High School)

Girls competing against boy wrestlers isn’t out of the ordinary for the Lake View wrestling team, according to co-captain Jonathan Carrera.

“I’ve seen girls take down guys bigger than them. I’m a heavyweight. I can go full force and Dulce could still take me down. It surprises me every time,” said Carrera.

Unlike Dulce, not every female high school wrestler is as ambitious to compete against the boys. Some girls at Lake View are scared and intimidated to compete against the boys due to the physicality of the sport, according to Carrera.

For the last three years, the IWCOA has been hosting an all-girls state championship and has added girls wrestling to its “emerging sports” list, according to their press release. Despite offering the girls their own tournament, the event does not take place during the boy’s state tournament, nor is it recognized, or state-sanctioned by their host, the Illinois High School Association.

The IHSA is the governing body for high school sports in Illinois, and Lake View Head Wrestling coach, Vaughn Camacho believes their recognition will help the sport grow because girls will have the choice and opportunity to compete against other female wrestlers.

“I think the girls should have the opportunity to do both, but it should happen in the same place (IHSA State Championship) so they get the same attention both from colleges and from the viewers.”

There are currently only 19 states that have official scholastic state championships for girls, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Camacho is hopeful that Illinois will be joining this list within the next few years.

Due to scheduling conflicts and time constraints on the boy’s tournament, a dual tournament in one location is not in the plans, but Camacho’s hope that Illinois becomes the 20th state on the list is not out of reach, according to Colleen Kristoff, IWCOA Executive Board Member.

“What we see is that states who have sanctioned the sport grow exponentially that year. IHSA will sanction an all-girls state tournament. I anticipate in the next calendar year. I fully believe that because I am working closely with them to achieve that,” said Kristoff.

Regardless of the outcome, Reyes believes a female wrestler can assist in breaking the mold.

“There is this stereotype around this sport that it’s only for boys. But once you start bringing more girls in it, you start breaking the stereotype, so it makes it easier for everyone else who’s going to try it after,” said Reyes.

In 2018, 16,562 girls competed in wrestling throughout the U.S., nearly doubling in participation over the last five years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Additionally, 63 colleges now sponsor girls’ varsity wrestling programs, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

This growth has placed girls wrestling on the national map, leaving wrestlers, such as Dulce, with opportunities to compete at the next level.

Photo at top: Girls high school wrestling is on the rise in Illinois and IHSA is being put on notice. (Jack Morgan Photography/Lake View High School)