G2 Crowd Organic Traffic Case Study: 0 to 1 Million

Note: This blog post was written by me and originally published on G2 Crowd’s website on June 24, 2019. It has been modified slightly.

In the span of a year, G2 Crowd’s blog went from a lightly trafficked domain with little direction to a traffic-generating machine.

For more than two years, we invested heavily in building out blog content with little direct effect on organic traffic. For the first nine months of 2017, our monthly blog organic traffic ranged from 3,000 to 5,000 sessions. In December 2017, we had 6,800 organic visitors. In March 2018, there were 50,381 organic sessions to our blog.

In March 2019, the G2 Learning Hub had 991,748 organic sessions.

G2 Learn Organic Traffic Google Analytics

We didn’t get everything right. Frankly, if we knew in early 2017 what we know today, we’d do a lot of things differently. And as a content marketing team there are still a lot of things we’re learning.

But if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s this: We know how to bring organic traffic to a blog. A lot of it.

So I decided to write this post as a guide so content people everywhere can hopefully learn from what we’ve done (and, let’s be honest, to brag a little bit). So here it is: The story of how G2 Crowd attracted 1 million monthly organic blog sessions in one year.

Why we care about organic blog traffic

Really, this is two separate questions:

  1. Why do we want blog traffic?
  2. Why do we care if the traffic is organic?

For G2 Crowd, the blog serves many purposes:

  • Thought leadership
  • Educational content
  • Brand building
  • Creating a traffic funnel to our core site
  • Domain strengthening

Essentially, G2 Crowd’s core site already drives lots of traffic because it ranks well for hundreds of thousands of keywords. But most of those include the word “software” or are specific software products. With the Learning Hub, we can find people who use software, and may need more/new software, who are searching Google for other things.

And why organic traffic? We still care about other sources; we spend time and energy on social media, creating email campaigns, and many more, but no source is more powerful or repeatable than Google. People are looking to Google first more often than not for their information, so we have to meet them where they are.

Finally, organic traffic more than any other source is a “moat” for our company. Rankings can change, yes. Google can update its algorithm (or simply use your content on its pages). But people aren’t going to stop using Google any time soon, and when you’re getting hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of visitors every month from Google, it’s really difficult for a competitor to take that away from you. It’s a moat, a safeguard for your business.

These are the reasons we care about our Learning Hub and why organic traffic is such a huge focus to our company.

The importance of keywords

For years, our teams wrote hundreds and hundreds of blog posts and used little quantitative data in how we decided what was written or how it was written. We created a lot of high-quality content, but most of the article ideation process was with the perspective of, “Is this topic interesting?” rather than, “Is there an audience for this via Google?”

The first step in building organic traffic was using SEO software (for us it was Ahrefs) to determine whether any blog topic we write has a keyword volume (how many times a word or phrase is searched monthly on Google) worthy of our time.

No matter what else you do, keyword research is far and away the most important step to getting organic traffic to your blog. If nobody is searching for what you’re writing, nobody is going to find it.

How we found our keywords

Nothing urges a company into action more than falling behind a competitor, and that’s really the impetus behind this journey to 1 million organic visitors.

We’d invested big resources into writing blogs, but had seen little return from it. On the other hand, our competitors were seeing massive traffic and backlink gains from their own blog content. We were charged with figuring out what those competitors were doing, replicating it, and then, ultimately, doing it better and beating them.

So where do you start for keyword research? We went straight to the source of our problem: If our competitors were beating us so badly, what had they figured out?

Ahrefs offers a great feature where you can look at an entire website or subdomain and see exactly what its best-performing pages are. Here’s Capterra’s blog today. It’s virtually the same as it was 18 months ago:

Capterra-free-software-ahrefs

Turns out that people want software, they just don’t want to pay for it (duh). So the first things we wrote were “Free [software type]” articles. More on how we got traffic to those articles later, but we did and still do. But realistically, there are only so many lists of free software posts we can write. Other competitors gave us additional, topic ideas, but really not too many. So where do you go for other inspiration?

HubSpot revolutionized the inbound marketing strategy, and G2 Crowd followed HubSpot’s lead in all things content marketing.

So why does that matter? Again, we went directly to the source. If HubSpot is the best at building blog traffic, we should figure out what they’re doing. Turns out they were doing a lot right.

Here is HubSpot’s blog profile on Ahrefs. It didn’t look too dissimilar a year ago.

Capterra-ahrefs-profile

Below is Capterra’s profile. This realization put our mission into perspective. We could beat our competitors with hundreds of thousands of organic visitors. But our real traffic potential is 10x (100x?) that.

HubSpot-ahrefs-profile

Essentially what we learnt was that your company competitors and your content competitors are not always the same.

When you look through search results, look through who it is that published the articles. For some terms, it is all the same industry. But for others, particularly educational content, it’s publishers with different goals.

what-is-crm

Of course for “What is CRM” there are CRM software vendors. But there’s also an email marketing vendor. And Wikipedia.

If you’re anything like us, you may realize that your biggest content competitor is the site your professors and teachers warned you not to use.

Other SEO factors

So, the keyword isn’t dead (but keyword stuffing is). I told you that you can’t ignore the keywords. But that will only get you so far. We haven’t figured everything out SEO-wise, and I also don’t think we’re doing anything particularly groundbreaking in these areas. But we read every blog we can about on-page SEO and link-building, we spend a lot of time and head space on these two topics, and we ensure everyone creating content at G2 Crowd knows how to do each.

Link-building tactics

The number one area we trailed our competitors in one year ago was in backlinks and referring domains to our site. But in a year we’ve grown dramatically here, essentially doubling referring domains over that time period.

G2-referring-domains

What did we do? At a high level, we put a dedicated team together to build links for the first time ever. Twenty months ago, nobody at G2 spent their workday acquiring links. Today, the team is seven, working in various capacities.

The team built out their linkbuilding strategy in detail, so I won’t go through it all here. But we approached backlinks with the same mindset we approached content: We analyzed our content competitors’ websites. We figured out why people linked to some articles but not to others (stats and graphics are good). We read every single outreach article we received, laughed at a lot of them, but also dissected the good ones.

Today we not only have our backlink team, but all  of our writers do some amount of outreach themselves. They know their content best, and they come up with tactics we never would have tried. More importantly, they develop relationships in the areas where they’re writing, and perhaps nothing is more important in building backlinks that creating real relationships.

We’ve all been asked for a link from someone we’ve never heard of who will never talk to us again. I guarantee you’re more likely to include a link to a friend’s resource, or even one of your online-only acquaintance who likes some of your tweets. So build meaningful relationships and don’t just ask, work together with other content creators. It takes extra time, but it will matter to your long-term success.

On-page SEO tactics

This is an area where we knew so little when we started out, and it’s perhaps the hardest area for writers to grasp if it’s new to them. SEO best practices change with Google’s algorithm, and even the experts can’t come to a consensus. Turns out, that’s hard for writers used to having the rigidity of an AP Style book at their fingertips.

But it’s possible to figure out, and it’s more than worth the time and energy. Our team go-to SEO expert is Jordan Wahl. One year ago she wasn’t on the content marketing team at G2, she was working with our PR and brand teams. For her first blog she told me she wasn’t a good writer (she was wrong). She didn’t know a thing about SEO.

She was, however, eager to learn about it. Instead of talking about alt text and featured snippets, I talked to her about use intent – the “Why” of SEO rather than the “How.” That resonated with her.

She, too, wrote a more intensive guide to our SEO strategy. It’s the playbook we used to train all of our new writers. It works: A writer on our team who started three months ago knows more about how to get featured snippets than I did a year ago.

Our general learnings, however, are these:

  • Headers, alt text, meta descriptions, etc. all matter. Build a style book for your writers and be consistent.
  • Don’t be afraid to change those tactics when you see things work. Also, go back and update old content. You’ll be amazed (embarrassed?) at some of the things you wrote in the past, and it’s ok to update them. Google likes that.
  • This one is most important: Do everything with the reader in mind. Sure, our rule is to link with specific anchor text to every blog. But if that anchor text isn’t natural in your paragraph, modify it. Don’t write something worse to follow a rule when it’s at the expense of a reader. Don’t link to something just to link, link because the reader will want to read your awesome, useful content.

Do everything with your reader in mind. We tell our writers all the time, “Create the best piece of content on the internet for your search term.” If you write the best guide, Google will reward it. If people stay on your page, click your links, come back to your post, Google knows it and moves you up rankings.

The importance of clustering

When we first started this strategy, we again focused on “free software” terms. Those worked really well. Imagine our excitement when our 6k-monthly visitors doubled in one month because of one blog post (the first one was about free databases).

What we didn’t realize was it wasn’t always going to be that easy.

In hindsight, we realized that we ranked almost overnight for these terms because G2 already ranks for thousands and thousands of terms that include “software.” To Google, these topics were a natural fit to G2 and we were already one of the leading experts in software across the internet.

When we moved to top-of-funnel, less software-adjacent terms, it was far less easy.

By early 2018 we had found hundreds of high-volume terms that were pretty closely related to software. “Social media,” “case studies,” “press releases” – these were the types of topics we dove into.

They did not rank overnight. They did not generate traffic for months and months.

One of our most senior writers helped us stumble on it by accident. She was assigned a pillar page on event marketing, an area she’d worked in previously. Because of her personal knowledge and thoroughness, she ended up with more than 20,000 words on event marketing. So instead of launching one massive, never-going-to-get-read article, she broke it into 10 more manageable chunks, each with its own targeted keyword.

It worked.

Within a few months we were ranking for hundreds of event-related terms. We haven’t written much on events since, and we still rank for 2,500 terms that include the word “event,” and these articles generate tens of thousands of organic visits every month.

event-marketing-keywords

From this we started writing more articles on related subjects rather than bouncing around to the biggest terms. We wrote on some smaller topics with lower difficulty so we could generate traffic to articles in the same area. From our experience, reinforced by similar articles, Google rewards topic expertise greatly.

Now, G2 Crowd’s writers stick to a single topic for roughly three months, writing 20-to-40 pieces of content on anything from business development to website building. We refresh this content semi-regularly and add content when we discover an article we missed or find a new angle to take. We rank for keywords and generate traffic faster than ever before, and we credit clustering our topics as a major contributor.

What’s next?

As I said in the beginning, we’re getting pretty darn good at generating organic traffic. But we’re also still learning a lot of other things.

The first 1 million organic visits largely came from content written between July 2018 and December 2018 by a team of seven content marketers, with contributions from our research team as well. Essentially, the workloads of about 10 full-time writers and four linkbuilders generated 1 million organic visits with six months of content.

So we streamlined our processes and hired more people. In December 2018 we published 75 articles on our Learning Hub. We’re now publishing more than 200 pieces of content per month. The traffic from that content growth has yet to be realized, but we have no reason but to expect it to grow even faster than it did last year.

Now our biggest question is, what do we do with all these visitors.

So while our content creation engine is churning, these are our current challenges:

  • Maximizing every visitor. CTAs, conversions, subscriptions – the list goes on. We don’t just want a visitor to read an article and move on with their life. We want to bring them into the G2 Crowd ecosystem, provide them with even more resources for free. Ultimately, if we keep them around and show them how to solve their business problems, we will one day find at least one problem we can solve for them through software, where we have millions of data points to guide their decision-making process.
  • Email marketing. Remember how we said organic traffic is a moat? Email marketing can be, too. HubSpot has hundreds of thousands of subscribers to its newsletters. Something like GDPR can affect that list, but otherwise it really can’t be taken away. We want that. There are other avenues of community we’re exploring, too. HubSpot is trying out Slack and Facebook Messenger, for starters.
hubspot-community-subscriptions

Finally, written content is just the start. Podcasting has never been more popular, as 51 million Americans have listened to a podcast. We’re going to move into video in the near future (as our CEO Godard Abel reminds us constantly, video is the future [at least part of it]).

We’re planning more original studies. Our research team is writing about technology trends. We developed a contributor network. We’re testing other types and formats of content.

In short: We’re not done, and we’re always looking for new ways to get better and increase the scope of our mission. We intentionally hired content marketers from different backgrounds so we could have as many voices in the room as possible.

Content marketing does not have a one-size-fits-all playbook, and it is changing every year. This playbook worked well for us in 2018 and 2019. We plan to keep adapting it as we go.

Evanston state-qualifier Ramin Abraham began season hating wrestling

Read on ChicagoTribune.com.


When you walk into the Evanston wrestling room and look to the right, 10 framed pictures stare back at you. Each is an image of a Wildkits great, an individual state champion on the mat.

Ramin Abraham wants to one day see his face on that wall.

The sophomore made it to the Class 3A state tournament at 220 pounds after finishing second at the Conant Sectional. At state he lost his lone match, 3-1 in overtime to Quincy senior Tyree Williams. Williams was one of 13 seniors in the weight class, and the other two wrestlers were juniors. Though he lost, Abraham was the only underclassmen to qualify at 220 pounds.

It’s not just that Abraham is young; he never wrestled before last year, and this season was his first experience on varsity. Abraham said that early in his sophomore season, he didn’t even enjoy the sport and even thought about leaving the team.

“I missed practices this year because I didn’t like wrestling,” Abraham said. “In the beginning of the season I didn’t work hard. I hated it, I hated wrestling.”

That doesn’t exactly sound like a wrestler who went 35-4 and was his team’s lone state qualifier. But Abraham’s primary sport is soccer: He grew up playing it, first in his native Syria, then in Lebanon where his family moved to avoid war. His family immigrated to Evanston more than a year-and-a-half ago, and Abraham joined the junior varsity team as a goalkeeper.

Abraham said he didn’t know much about wrestling growing up, and that it’s far less popular in Syria than it is in the U.S. His parents didn’t attend one wrestling match this season, and he said his mom is scared he’ll hurt himself in the sport, though she also has made fun of him for wearing a singlet.

Evanston wrestling coach Rudy Salinas said he believes Abraham agreed to wrestle out of duty to the school and the program: The team needed someone to wrestle at 220 pounds, and Abraham was its best option. He went through the motions of training, but his heart wasn’t fully in it. When it became clear that Abraham had the chance for a special season, Salinas had a talk with him.

“After that, things started to click,” Salinas said. “Part of it is he’s a competitor and he doesn’t like to lose. It’s really difficult to have a perfect season in wrestling. Once he endured his first couple of losses and we talked about how it wasn’t about the losses, it was about improving, he embraced that.”

Abraham asked Salinas if he was capable of being all-conference. When that was in reach, he asked if had the potential to win conference. Then the regional tournament. He did all three. After Abraham clinched the trip to state, Salinas told the team during a practice to “face the champs,” where they all look at the wall of photos. It helps to organize the team for drills, but also reminds them of what they’re working toward. Abraham joked with his coach that the next time he told someone to face the champs, they’d be looking at him.

“I’m class of 2019,” Abraham said. “I want to come back in 2020 and see my picture on the wall. That would be amazing.”

The most recent addition to the wall is Jeffrey Brown, who won the Class 3A 285-pound title in 2010. Brown first met Abraham in the summer of 2016 at a soccer camp where Brown’s brother and Abraham were attending. Wildkits soccer coach Franz Calixte introduced Abraham to Brown as a wrestler with big potential.

In December, Brown was home for the holiday break from Winona State, where he is working on his undergraduate degree. He spent a week working with the Evanston wrestling team, often wrestling against Abraham. He helped Abraham with technique, telling him to focus on perfecting a few moves instead of learning many. He also shared his own story: He was a football player first who found a passion for wrestling.

“I wanted to help him realize his potential in the sport and how good he can be,” Brown said. “It was similar to my situation: Football was my forefront but wrestling went hand and hand with it.”

Brown talked about Abraham’s big performance in the soccer state playoffs in the fall when he came off the bench just for the shootout in both the sectional semifinals against New Trier and the sectional final against Glenbrook North. Abraham made two saves each time and helped the Wildkits win both games. Brown wanted Abraham to see he’s got the potential to be great in both sports.

“I would tell him, ‘Those are things you can do in wrestling, you can have those moments in wrestling,'” Brown said. “This doesn’t mean he has to give up soccer, because he can also be good at wrestling.”

Fenwick falls to Plainfield North in OT after controversial call

Read on ChicagoTribune.com. This story also was printed in the Sunday, November 21, 2016, edition of the Chicago Tribune.


 

Fenwick senior quarterback Jacob Keller dropped back on fourth-and-15, watched the game clock expire and heaved the ball down the field, his team up 10-7 and on the verge of its first-ever state title appearance. The Friars sideline and fan section erupted in celebration, havingly seemingly won their Class 7A semifinal Saturday. But the game was not over; intentional grounding was called.

The officials — incorrectly, as it would turn out — gave Plainfield North the ball back for one final untimed play. After minutes of sorting out where to place the ball, Plainfield North took over possession at the Fenwick 5-yard line and kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime.

Fenwick got the ball first, and senior running back Conner Lillig punched it in from 1 yard out to give the fourth-seeded Friars a 17-10 lead. Plainfield North junior Dillon McCarthy scored a third-down touchdown run to cut the score to 17-16, and instead of kicking the extra point, the visitors went for two. McCarthy took the handoff, bounced outside and found the end zone, giving the 16th-seeded Tigers the 18-17 win.

The IHSA issued a statement Saturday night indicating the game officials had made a mistake at the end of regulation but said the result would stand: “Per Rule 3-3-4 in the 2016 NFHS Football Rules Book, the game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded. IHSA by-law 6.033 clearly states that ‘the decisions of game officials shall be final.'”

The IHSA also apologized to the Fenwick team and community.

After the game, Fenwick coach Gene Nudo questioned the ruling after the intentional grounding.

“I won a lot of games in the Arena League throwing the ball into the stands on the last play of the game,” Nudo said. “Our kids did not deserve to lose the game today, that’s the bottom line. As shallow as it sounds, it’s all on me. They deserved better.”

For Fenwick (11-2) it was a heartbreaking loss, and many players were in tears leaving the locker room. For Plainfield North (11-2), the celebration on the Triton College field in front of the stunned home Fenwick crowd was electric, and some players and fans were crying with joy.

“All the seniors, once they scored and we got the ball, they said, ‘We’re going for two,'” Plainfield North head coach Tim Kane said. “It was like our guys just knew we were going to score there. … I’ve been around football a long time. I haven’t seen anything crazier.”

Fenwick got the ball back for its final drive when Tigers junior quarterback Brady Miller was intercepted at the Fenwick 5-yard line by Lorente Blakeney with 1:34 remaining. Earlier in the drive, a Tigers touchdown pass was called back because the receiver had stepped out of bounds before the catch. After Fenwick’s first-down play, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kane moved the Friars to the 20, but Plainfield had two timeouts to keep hope alive.

Keller, who was named first-team all-state, finished the game 16-for-28 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Senior Jack Henige caught a touchdown for the Friars, and junior wide receiver Mike O’Laughlin finished with eight receptions for 102 yards. Plainfield North senior running back Tyler Hoosman had 78 yards rushing.

Plainfield North advances to play second-seeded East St. Louis in the 7A state championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

Pitching Depth Creates Optimism for North Shore Country Day Baseball Team in 2015

The North Shore Country Day baseball team advanced to the sectional finals for the first time in its history this season, and with all its top pitchers returning in 2015, the Raiders expect to build upon that success.

The Raiders came into the year with a fairly inexperienced pitching staff. Two seniors, Chris McCarren and Ian Meyer, had significant experience on the mound, but McCarren suffered a shoulder injury and Meyer moved to the field primarily. North Shore was forced to rely heavily on its younger arms.

There were some struggles early on.

The Raiders’ No. 1 starter, Gordie Rohrbach, had issues at times keeping the ball over the plate.

“In the beginning of the season, [Rohrbach] had trouble throwing strikes,” Meyer said. “In one game he walked eight guys in four innings.”

A small adjustment helped turn things around.

“I’ve always been focused on speed, and I’ve always had control issues,” Rohrbach said. “I dialed it back two-to-three miles per hour, and for hitters that’s very slight. But for me, it made all the difference.”

By the playoffs, Rohrbach had come into his own as a leader on the mound for the Raiders, throwing over 120 pitches twice in the postseason and tossing a complete-game shutout against rival Parker in the Class 2A North Shore Country Day Regional final on May 24.

Sophomore Jackson Gray is another player who gained valuable pitching experience for the Raiders in 2014. He started the Benedictine Sectional semifinal against Holy Trinity on May 28 and is expected to be the No. 2 starter next season.

“[Gray] throws about 50-50 with his curveball and fastball,” Meyer said. “If he gets stronger, he’ll blow away hitters.”

Junior Andrew Case, who had some restrictions on the mound after returning from Tommy John surgery, should see an expanded role in 2015.

“He should be 100 percent by next season,” coach Paul Kosinski said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to unleash him.”

And top reliever Connor Watrous is expected to contribute even more after coming in as a closer frequently as a freshman.

“Connor came in late in a lot of games,” sophomore catcher Alex Nickel said. “Next year he’ll start more.”

The Raiders are happy to have made the historic playoff run — they fell to Westmont 6-4 in the sectional final Saturday to finish the season 15-12 — but they’re far from satisfied. With the experience of this season and an offseason of development, improved pitching depth should make them even more formidable.

“We’re going to have a lot of pitchers who can pitch in the playoffs and give us quality innings,” Rohrbach said. “This year we really only had two pitchers throw in the postseason in me and Jackson. Next year we should have four or five.”

“All of them gained huge experience,” Kosinski said. “That will make them all that much more confident next season.”

 

**See the article live at HighSchoolCubeNews.com**

Jack Yalowitz Keeps Loyola baseball Team in Game Until Ramblers’ Bats Come to Life

ELK GROVE VILLAGE — It took six innings for the Loyola baseball team’s bats to get going in its regional championship game with Elk Grove, but the arm of junior Jack Yalowitz led the Ramblers until that time came in Saturday’s 16-2 win.

In the bottom of the first, Yalowitz got out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and an inning-ending double play. He followed that with two more strikeouts in a one-two-three second inning.

After the Ramblers scored three runs in the top of the third, Elk Grove came back with two runs against Yalowitz in the bottom of the inning and had a chance to score more with a runner on first and only one out. Again, Yalowitz got the Grenadier batter to hit into a double play. He wouldn’t allow another run the rest of the game.

“That’s what this team needed out of [Yalowitz] today,” Loyola coach Nick Bridich said. “Having the experience to put the team on his back and say, ‘This ball is mine. Coach, I’m not coming out of this game, I want this.’ You love hearing that out of your guys.”

Two consecutive scoreless innings brought Loyola to bat in the top of the sixth. After a first-batter flyout, the Ramblers had seven straight batters reach base before out number two, a sacrifice fly. By then, Loyola was up 9-2, and three more hits in the inning increased the lead to 11-2.

“We were confident at the plate and were seeing the ball really well,” said sophomore designated hitter Thomas Smart, who finished with four RBI. “And we came through in clutch situations.”

With potentially just six outs remaining in its season, Elk Grove needed to have an answer to the Loyola flurry. Instead, Yalowitz pitched another perfect inning, striking out the second and third batters.

“I felt stronger as the game went on,” Yalowitz said. “We kept putting on runs, and I just kept putting up zeros on the board.”

Loyola kept hitting in the seventh, adding five more runs on six hits to make it 16-2.

Yalowitz stepped back on the mound in the bottom of the inning to earn the complete-game win in the Class 4A Elk Grove Regional final. He tallied another strikeout, his seventh of the game, for the second out. He allowed just six hits and one walk on the day.

Tommy Bordignon, Fran O’Malley, Jacob Frank, Smart and Yalowitz each collected three hits for the Ramblers, who finished with 21 hits in the game.

Loyola moved on to the sectional, which it hosts. The Ramblers will play New Trier at 5 p.m. Thursday.

“At this point in the year it comes down to confidence at the plate,” Bridich said. “We don’t expect to change anything [in the sectional].”

 

**See the article live at HighSchoolCubeNews.com**

Jewell Loyd Still Hungry for Title After Two Stellar Seasons with Notre Dame

In Jewell Loyd’s first two collegiate seasons, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team went 57-1 in regular-season games — the best record among any team during that time.

During those two years the team has won regular-season and conference tournament championships in the Big East (2013) and ACC (2014). However, the Fighting Irish have been unable to capture a national championship, falling in the Final Four twice to Connecticut.

Loyd, a 5-foot-10 guard and former Niles West standout, led Notre Dame in scoring as a sophomore at 18.6 points per game, and the Fighting Irish won all 29 regular season games by an average of 24.8 points.

“Our coaching staff is very competitive, and they bring in very competitive players,” Loyd said. “Even if we win by 20, they’re not satisfied. There’s always something we can be improving.”

Notre Dame defeated ranked opponents N.C. State and Duke for its first ACC tournament championship. But it was still a long way from reaching its goal.

“Our senior class had been to four Final Fours, so not making it back would have been a waste of a season for them,” Loyd said. “With Skylar [Diggins] gone and a young team, we wanted to prove people wrong and make it back.”

After winning its first four NCAA tournament games by double digits, Notre Dame beat ACC foe Maryland by 26 in the Final Four to set up a championship matchup with UConn.

“We didn’t take any team for granted,” Loyd said. “It’s a big test of your team, you get to see how mentally tough you are.”

Before the title game, Loyd said that she heard from Niles West coaches Tony Konsewicz and Mike Parker and some of her former teammates.

Notre Dame knew it would have trouble with UConn, especially with senior forward Natalie Achonwa out with a torn ACL.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game. They’re bigger than us, and that makes it tough to rebound for us,” Loyd said. “Natalie is a leader, and not having her out there hurt us.”

Notre Dame fell behind early in the first half, getting beat repeatedly on the inside by UConn. A pair of 3-pointers by Loyd trimmed Notre Dame’s deficit to 43-38, but UConn deflated the Irish at the end of the half with an offensive rebound and put-back. 

“We missed a box-out right at the end of the half, and we were kind of frustrated because that’s a simple thing,” Loyd said. “We wanted to come out and have some energy, but some people were shot dead. We hadn’t been in that situation before, and we definitely lost some mental toughness.”

UConn would go on to win 79-58 and capture its second straight NCAA championship. For Loyd and Notre Dame, it means another offseason of preparing to make another run at a national title.

“We’ll be fine. We lost our seniors, but we’re ready and motivated and we have athletic kids coming in,” Loyd said. “Our team had a chip on our shoulder this season, but we want to be good again and we want to get back.” 

 

**See the article live at HighSchoolCubeNews.com**

 

http://www.highschoolcubenews.com/news_article/show/380288?referrer_id=608214

Talented Pitching Staff Behind Niles West’s Early Season Success

SKOKIE — The Niles West baseball team may be young, but a deep pitching staff is helping the Wolves make up for a lack of experience. 

Niles West has relied on its arms on the way to a 3-1 start.

“The pitching staff has kept us in games so far this season,” junior pitcher and infielder Blake Kons said. “Our offense has started to pull through late in games, but the pitching staff has been heavily relied upon so far.”

It started in the season-opener against Lane Tech on March 31. In his team’s 6-0 shutout victory, senior righty Cody Pazik struck out 12 through five innings. Kons fanned three over the final two innings. The pair allowed just two combined hits. 

In the second game, the Wolves gave up just a single run to St. Joseph on the way to a 8-1 victory on April 1.

“We came right back and beat a pretty good St. Joe’s club,” Niles West coach Gary Gustafson said. “We got pretty good pitching out of [Matthew] De La Vega and Tyler Stegich.”

Then Chad Thompson, Niles West’s lone left-handed pitcher, led the team to a 6-3 victory over Rolling Meadows on April 2. 

“Cody Pazik, our senior captain, had a really strong outing in our first game, and our other 2 senior starting pitchers, Matt De La Vega and Chad Thompson both had strong outings in the next two games,” Kons said. “The other juniors, including myself, have been learning a lot from those three.” 

Gustafson believes that it will be key to continue getting some of the younger players innings if the team will be successful as the season continues.

“We’ve gotten great pitching out of our staff, but we’ve got a very young team, and these guys have to get their feet wet playing varsity baseball,” he said. “And they will, and they’ll get better every day, and that’s what it’s all about.”

A big boost for the entire staff, especially the younger guys, is having De La Vega behind the plate when he’s not on the mound himself. Gustafson believes he’s “one of the top catchers in the area.”

“All our guys can throw strikes, we pace ourselves very well,” said Stegich, a junior. “And Matt De La Vega calls a great game behind the plate.”

With all of the talented arms and a catcher who knows how to manage games, the Wolves have a lot of confidence regardless of who is on the mound.

“The key for our pitching staff is getting ahead of the hitter by starting off with a first-pitch strike for most of the batters,” Stegich said. “There isn’t one guy who does great, our whole pitching staff does great, and I have confidence in all of the pitchers on our team to throw strikes and get the win.”

It’s a formula that the Wolves hope will continue to work once conference play begins.

“Hopefully our pitching will carry us throughout the CSL,” Gustafson said. “That’s what has really carried us up to this point.” 

 

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Buffalo Grove Baseball Team Holds On to Beat Niles West

SKOKIE — After a strong performance from starting pitcher Justin Hasek and some early run support, the Buffalo Grove baseball team was able to hang on late for a 7-4 road win over Niles West on Saturday.

Hasek pitched four scoreless innings for the Bison, striking out six and allowing just one hit. 

“Justin was great for us today,” Buffalo Grove coach Jeff Grybash said. “He limited his three-ball counts, which is one of our goals for him, to keep his pitch count low so he can go deep into games.”

The Bison offense came through early as well, scoring four runs while Hasek was on the mound. 

But Niles West didn’t go away quietly. Niles West sophomore Christos Tountas drove in two runs on a single to bring the score to 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth.

The next two batters walked for Niles West, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for senior Matthew De La Vega. But with a 2-0 count, he grounded out to end the inning.

“We had the bases loaded with arguably our best hitter on,” Wolves coach Garry Gustafson said. “And it was still a one-run game going into the seventh, even with the mistakes we made early.”

In the top of the seventh, Andrew Cole’s single knocked in two insurance runs for the Bison, giving him three RBI on the night. 

“We’re trying to work on little things because we really haven’t been out on the field,” Grybash said. “Obviously the result was great, but there were a lot of other little things we did really well.” 

 

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Skylar Groth, Buffalo Grove Control Hoffman Estates

Buffalo Grove 3, Hoffman Estates 0

THE SKINNY

The Buffalo Grove girls soccer team kept the ball in the attacking half of the field for most of its MSL opener against Hoffman Estates Friday, but a combination of strong winds, poor finishing and an improved Hawks team held the Bison to just three goals in a 3-0 victory. 

TURNING POINT

Through the first 20 minutes of the game, Buffalo Grove was dominating possession but had only managed to put one goal in the back of the net. Then, senior midfielder Skylar Groth changed that with a right-footed 25-yard strike that tucked just inside the left post. 

THE STAR

In addition to having the top goal of the night, Groth added an assist—to junior midfielder Jessica Kovach — for Buffalo Grove’s first goal of the game. Freshman Georgette Topalis finished a header for the final goal.

BY THE NUMBERS

In five games this season, the Bison have allowed only one goal — on a questionable penalty kick in the season opener against St. Viator. 

QUOTABLE

“Our team is a senior-laden team, and the connections we’ve been making have been getting better and better. But today, I think the girls would even admit, it was a little sloppy and there were some opportunities we didn’t finish. But it was enough for the win, and we’re happy to be 1-0 in conference.” — Buffalo Grove coach Pat Dudle

 

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