A high level of optimism always seems to make its way through Northfield this time of year, but this training camp, the New Trier Trevians are preparing for their 2023 season with an added sense of conviction.
On the heels of an uncharacteristic four-win year in 2022 that saw New Trier miss the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons, the Trevians are ready to begin their quest for redemption — and there is no shortage of confidence among players and coaches.
The Trevians featured a young roster in 2022 that included new starters in nearly every position group, many of whom lacked varsity playing time. A tough early season schedule, paired with the inexperienced group, led to a slow start.
But after beginning the campaign with an 0-3 record, the Trevians found their rhythm, winning four of their final six games. They finished their year with arguably their top showing, going toe-to-toe with perennial conference powerhouse Maine South on the road — an overtime loss on the field but a victory in the books following postseason penalties levied against the Hawks program.
This year’s group believes that some of the trying times of 2022 will fuel greater success this season.
“Building off our finish from last year was a big thing coming into this offseason,” junior quarterback and returning starter Patrick Heneghan said. “We wanted everyone on the team last year to remember how they felt after that Maine South game. That was a game where we came out, we battled, we put everything on the line against a top team in the state and we just fell a little short. That just motivated everyone this offseason to come out stronger.”
What followed the disappointing 2022 was an offseason focused on strengthening team chemistry and a greater, program-wide commitment in the weight room, the team’s captains told The Record.
A roster that had its fair share of uncertainty 12 months ago now is one that begins this year full of solidified starters and senior leadership — and a level of chemistry that wasn’t present this early on last season.
“We’re going to keep building on our chemistry; we’re playing together right now and we’re playing for each other,” Trevians coach Brian Doll said. “We seem to have a very good gel going on right now and that is one thing we as a coaching staff and the captains are really working on, because I think the more they play for each other, the more that they like each other, and it just really translates on the field.”
Doll also said that the program’s numbers are up “really big” across all levels this year. New Trier’s varsity roster features approximately 85 players while both the freshman and sophomore levels also have more than 70 players each. These are the largest participation numbers the program has seen since Doll’s first year coaching the team in 2014, he said.
The Trevians boast an offense ripe with both experience and talent — a stark difference from the young, junior-heavy unit in 2022.
Heneghan returns to lead New Trier’s attack after a debut varsity season that saw him earn All-Conference honors while passing for more than 1,400 yards and running for more than 300.
Heneghan believes the chemistry the offense built throughout last season will carry over, allowing the team to get off to a fast start on that side of the ball.
“Last year, the whole summer and even the season, was just about building chemistry with the receivers and everyone on the team,” he said. “Now coming in this year, since we have so many guys returning, the chemistry is already there from last season and we were able to just pick up where we left off last season, which is just going to put us even further ahead than other teams.”
The Trevians will lean on three-year starter Jackson McCarey to lead the team’s rushing attack. The senior speedster is fully healthy following a 2022 season limited by injuries.
New Trier’s run game struggled for much of last season as the Trevians only eclipsed 100 rushing yards three times in nine games. Doll said having McCarey back and healthy will be a “big upgrade.”
Leading New Trier’s wide receiving group is All-Conference standout Miles Cremascoli, who delivered an outstanding 2022 for the Trevs as a junior, hauling in a team-leading 50 receptions for 826 yards.
Cremascoli, who is also one of the few Trevians slated to play both sides of the ball, said he worked on improving his speed during the offseason and also continued to build chemistry with his teammates.
“I have great expectations for our offense,” Cremascoli said. “We have amazing receivers and a lot of depth throughout. Having our quarterback coming back is huge. Our offensive line has a lot of (size) … and they’re all looking really good.”
Junior wide receiver Trey Meyers — a three-sport star (baseball, basketball) — is also expected to be a key part of the Trevians’ passing game. In just three games last season, Meyers caught 18 passes for 206 yards.
“Miles and Trey are going to be really, really solid for us,” Doll said, adding that he expects defenses will have a tough time handling the collective size of New Trier’s receivers.
Ben Zieziula, Will Henry and Kiernan O’Meara are also expected to be key contributors at wide receiver.
The Trevians’ offensive line returns three starters from last season: Frank Youkhana, John McGurk and Owen Chung. The team will also add Brown University commit Liam Fitzgerald to play one of the guard positions on the line. Sophomore Francis Karp, who Doll described as a “big, wide, barrel-chested kid who’s done really well this summer,” will round out the starting five.
Having returning starters at nearly every position gives New Trier a sense of excitement about the possibilities for this season’s offense.
“We’ll be improved on offense this year quite a bit,” Doll said.
Doll has led plenty of great defenses over his nine seasons at New Trier, but the defensive line that the 2023 team features might be the best the veteran coach has had.
New Trier returns all four starters on the defensive front, led by the senior Fitzgerald, who collected All-Conference regards for his defensive prowess last season. Charlie Gardella, Jayden Salazar and Frank Zoloto join Fitzgerald to give the Trevians one of the area’s best defensive lines.
“It all starts up front for us,” Doll said. “We have all four guys back and they’re very good. This should be the best defensive line I’ve had since I’ve been here. … All four of them are doing an excellent job for us. I think they’re all very solid football players.”
The Trevians expect their linebacking unit to consist of Dylan Jeppe, Colton Berg, Aidan Corboy and Duncan White. Doll said the team will move those four backers around and will likely rotate them in and out.
Cremascoli and junior Dylan Benjamin are the team’s starting cornerbacks. Cremascoli saw significant time in New Trier’s defensive backfield last season and will again be a key part of the Trevs’ defense.
Doll has high expectations for what Benjamin can achieve this season, noting that he is “by far the biggest surprise” on the team right now.
“He is an elite football player,” Doll said of Benjamin, whose brother Artis Benjamin played for Loyola Academy. “He is a very talented athlete who loves playing football and competes at a high level. He has a huge ceiling. I think he’ll be a Division I football player as this goes on. He’s as good as I’ve seen.”
Rounding out the defensive backfield are McCarey and Nate Cata, who are expected to see the majority of time at safety for the Trevians.
With a talented and experienced group set to return, there’s also no shortage of confidence from New Trier on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we’re going to be the best (defense) in the conference,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot of returning starters and even just guys getting playing time under their belt last year, they’re going to come ready to play and know what they are going up against.”
New Trier’s special teams group is once again headlined by junior Niki Dugandzic, who’s returning to the varsity squad for his third season. Dugandzic is one of the nation’s top kickers and punters, and the Trevians are thrilled to have his game-changing talents back for another campaign.
“He’s just a difference-maker for us,” said Doll, who added that the Trevs will routinely try 50-yard field goal attempts and will even consider giving Dugandzic a chance to connect from 60 yards late in games if the wind is on their side.
Doll also said that New Trier’s special teams are in a great shape and that he anticipates the unit will be a strength of the Trevs’ team this year.
“We, at this point in time, have all our special teams in,” he said. “We had them all in before the first week of practice began. Niki has just done a great job for us and we’re very confident with all our special teams.
“I’m really excited about this group. I think we’re going to be really, really sound on special teams. I think that will be a strength of ours — and I expect every kick(off) to go into the endzone.”
Cremascoli, McCarey and Benjamin will handle the majority of kick and punt returns for the Trevs, Doll said.
SCHEDULE (New Trier 2022: 5-4`)
New Trier begins the year with a grueling five-game stretch that includes some of the state’s top teams.
Opponent (2022 record) Day, Date Home/Away Last year’s result Hersey (9-0)* Friday, Aug. 25 Away Loss: 31-0 Yorkville (8-1)* Friday, Sept. 1 Away N/A Prospect (8-1)* Friday, Sept. 8 Home N/A Barrington (5-4)* Thursday, Sept. 14 Away N/A Maine South (0-11)*^` Friday, Sept. 22 Home W: Forfeit (L: 24-17 [OT]) Evanston (4-5)^` Friday, Sept. 29 Away Win: 17-10 Glenbrook North (4-5)^` Friday, Oct. 6 Home Win: 24-17 Glenbrook South (8-1)*^` Friday, Oct. 13 Away Loss: 24-7 Deerfield (6-3)*^ Friday, Oct. 20 Home N/A
* Playoff team
^ Conference opponent
` Record impacted by Maine South’s 10 forfeited wins
The Trevians will head on the road to open their season Friday, Aug. 25, against the Hersey Huskies in Arlington Heights. The Huskies handed New Trier a harrowing 31-0 opening night defeat last year; a loss that is still fresh in the mind of many players.
“They’re a great team; we all know that,” Henneghan said. “Hersey is tough, they’re physical, they have a lot of returning guys as well but we’re ready for them.”
Doll said the Huskies could be one of the best two teams New Trier will face this year and having previously coached in the Mid-Suburban League, he knows there will be a ruckus environment waiting for the Trevs in Week 1.
“I have a lot of respect for what they have on the field and their coaching staff and I really think that’s a tough environment,” Doll said. “It’s one of the tougher high school environments to play in and we’ve been preparing our kids for that. They need to understand that going over there is not going to be like an empty place, it’s going to be packed and it’ll be a fun place to play.”
It gets no easier for the Trevs after Week 1 as they’ll head back on the road to face a Yorkville team that won 10 games in 2022. New Trier will get its home opener in Week 3 against Prospect before traveling to face a familiar foe in Barrington.
The team’s conference schedule is different this year and the changes do the Trevs no favors as they’ll open the slate against Maine South. They also will take on new league member Deerfield, who popped over from the CSL South from the North, to finish the season.
“The goal in the first five games is to find out who we are,” Doll said. “If we can get through those first five healthy and pull some good quality wins out of there, I think it will set up nicely for the back half of our season.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.