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Solari learns from sisters

01/14/2013, 6:58pm CST
By Eric Van Dril

John Solari spent his childhood playing against his sisters, two of whom became All-State players. He is using that experience to help lead the Hawks to a successful year.

Park Ridge, 1/11/13--Maine South's Danny Quinn controls the basketball as New Trier's Steven Cook hits the floor during Friday's game. | Jeff Krage~for Sun-Times Media

Well before becoming a bruising, 6-4 post player at Maine South, many of John Solari’s toughest battles took place on his family’s slanted driveway against his three older sisters.

Those games of one-on-one regularly saw the youngest Solari — now a senior star for the Hawks — dominated by his older siblings. But it was those games, along with countless hours spent watching two of his older sisters blossom into all-state players at Maine South, that laid a foundation of skill, work ethic and desire that has resulted in a memorable career.

“Just from a young age, going to all their basketball games and all the tournaments, I was kind of a gym rat,” Solari said. “And then I got to watch both my sisters (Christina and Karen) play on a team that got fourth in the state. They both had really good careers in college; my sister (Karen) won a national championship last year at Illinois Wesleyan. They’re a really good influence on me and it’s really nice to be able to just go home and talk with a family that really knows the game.”

John Solari’s three older sisters — Katy (Class of 2003), Christina (Class of 2006 and an all-state selection) and Karen (Class of 2008 and an all-state selection) — have been a consistently positive influence on his life, the senior says. But at least one sister was at college during each of John’s first three varsity basketball seasons at Maine South. That changed this year, however, after Karen Solari graduated.

“Just seeing one game a year, you don’t really see how good he is and how much he’s grown in the four years he’s been playing,” Karen Solari said. “It’s crazy to think he’s been on varsity all four years, but I can remember when he was a freshman on varsity and he did just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But now he’s the main scorer. It’s really exciting.”

John Solari was the team’s leading scorer in Maine South’s 47-45 overtime win against New Trier on Friday, scoring 18 points. Beyond scoring, the senior has provided Maine South with leadership, calm and toughness.

“He’s the rock of the team,” Maine South senior Danny Quinn said. “He finishes at the rim, doesn’t make any mental mistakes. That’s huge because it has a calming effect on the floor. He’s seen it all, being here for four years.”

As John Solari and Maine South continue to pursue the program’s first CSL South title since 1999, the senior is in the midst of a recruiting process similar to Christina’s and Karen’s. The major difference is that John Solari — Maine South’s starting tight end — plans to play football, not basketball, at one of the following five schools: Dayton, Butler, Drake, Minnesota State Mankato or St. Joseph College (Ind). John Solari said he will try to find time over the next month to visit those schools.

“I’m going to find a good place,” he said.

John Solari’s time will be stretched thin over the coming months, full of college visits, schoolwork and basketball. But with all four Solari siblings in one place for the first time in years, a rematch between John Solari and Christina Solari, a second-team Division III All-American in 2010 at Illinois Wesleyan, to decide the family’s top basketball player could be in order.

“I don’t think I could beat John and that’s probably why we don’t play,” Karen Solari said. “But Christina is probably quicker than John and she has really good post moves. John might be able to power her, but I think it would be a good match between those two.”

John Solari added: “They beat me up pretty bad when I was little. But I think, right now, it would be a little different.”

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