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The Caravan

The student news site of Mount Carmel High School

The Caravan

The student news site of Mount Carmel High School

The Caravan

State tourney success for Caravan chess

Jaime Valerio
The Caravan chess team competed in the State Tournament on February 9th and 10th at the Peoria Civic Center.

“Checkmate,” said Evan Wiersema, captain of the Caravan chess team, clinching the victory for MC against Saint Rita in the last round of the state tournament. 

On February 8th, eight MC chess players along with their coach, Dr. Jon Berry, hit the road to Peoria to compete in the IHSA State Tournament, the largest high school chess tournament in the United States. The Caravan were represented by senior captains Evan Wiersema and Luis Munoz, along with juniors James McCormac, Declan Deering, Angelo Correa, and Jordan Whaley, and freshmen Gabriel Valerio and Sam Walsh. The two-hour drive was a team-building experience to remember. 

“I’m going to remember it for a long time,” said Deering. “From meeting the new freshmen to getting a better relationship with my teammates, it was just an awesome experience.” 

The Caravan finished with a strong 6th place out of 25 teams in division 2A, putting up points against stronger teams. MC placed higher in their own division than all of the Chicago Catholic League competitors did in theirs respectively, with Ignatius 7th and Marist 9th in 3A, Rita 12th and De La Salle 16th in 2A, and Latin 7th and Parker 9th in 1A. 

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There were no buses to take the chess team down to Peoria, so carpooling was necessary. Dr. Berry and Wiersema took on that responsibility. This meant that space was limited, and only the starting eight could make the trip down. 

With there being no alternates to sub in like there might be in matches closer to home, all MC attendees had to play a full seven games, which was a test on their stamina. In chess it is often better to take a draw individually if the team has already won in order to conserve mental strength. 

“Playing all seven matches was rough,” said junior Jordan Whaley. “I slept for like two days after because of how mentally drained I was.” 

Only Wiersema had competed at the state tournament before, and two of the Caravan starters this year are freshmen, so this was an inexperienced group. 

Not only did the players lack experience, but so did the coach. Given that this is only his second year coaching the chess team, Dr. Berry thinks that the future is bright in the upcoming years. 

“I am extremely proud of how well we did,” said Dr. Berry. “The competition was intense the whole time, and it didn’t let up for the whole two days.” 

With this being their last time playing chess for MC, this tournament was very important to the two captains. 

“Over the state tournament I think our younger players began to mold themselves more into men and leaders, and being able to be a leader to them was something special,” said Munoz. “Also beating Rita three times in a single chess season was simply awesome.”

Munoz has the strong belief that things like chess are very important to the image of MC that is put out to people. 

“I think returning to chess state is very important to the future of not only the program, but also of the school itself,” Munoz said. “Going to chess state and doing relatively well and going to any intellectual state tournament paints Carmel in a very good light.”

For Wiersema, who got the chance to play many of the best high school chess players in Illinois, the act of getting back to state really solidified his journey at MC. 

“This year’s competition was so important to me because it was closure for the four years of chess I played at Carmel,” Wiersma said. “The Mount Carmel chess club created so many important memories for me that I will never forget. I was able to rise from board eight, the lowest board on the team, to board one, the highest board, and I competed with and met some truly amazing people along my journey. 

“In this tournament, I got to witness how my four years of hard work paid off and proved that I could hold my own with the top players at many schools.”

The final match of the tournament would be a big decider in how the team placed, and it was down to the wire. 

“The last match in this tournament was something I will never forget,” said Wiersema. “Both me and Ozzie, someone I have been playing chess with since freshman year, were in very losing positions, and while playing my game, I already thought of our match as lost because me and Ozzie would have to win for us to win the match. In the last few minutes, Ozzie found a great tactic and checkmated his opponent, and I evened my game out to a drawn endgame, which I won. 

“It was a great way for me and Ozzie, who have been a part of the Mount Carmel Chess Club since we were freshmen, to finish our final season.”

It’s safe to say that this was a very successful season for the chess team, and they hope to be back and better next year where they have the goal of placing first in their division. 

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About the Contributor
James McCormac '25, Staff Writer
James McCormac is a junior at Mount Carmel. He lives in Bridgeport and attended Old Saint Mary's Grammar School. James is a member of the Varsity football team, the chess team, boxing, and The Merchant. Outside of school James enjoys doing volunteer work. His hobbies are reading and lifting.