IHSA Announces 2024 LIUNA! Difference Maker Team


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IHSA Announces 2024 LIUNA! Difference Maker Team

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LIUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, is proud to announce the 10 student-athletes from IHSA schools who were selected to the 2024 LIUNA Difference Maker Team.

Coaches were asked to nominate seniors to the LIUNA Difference Maker Team who epitomized the ideals of selflessness, work ethic, and teamwork.

“Congratulations to the members of the 2024 LIUNA Difference Maker Team, as well as all those who were nominated for this honor,” said Terry Whitecotton, the LIUNA Administrator for the Joint Apprenticeship & Training Program. “The LIUNA Difference Maker Team epitomizes dedication, resilience, and community spirit. Through their unwavering commitment to excellence both on and off the field, these student-athletes inspire countless individuals to push boundaries and strive for greatness. LIUNA recognizes that the traits that make great athletic teams and are the same traits that have helped LIUNA continue to build North America.”

The winners will be rewarded with LIUNA hard hats that encompass the grit required to be a part of the team.


  •  Tommie Carver | Charleston High School | Softball
  •  Brian Dahlstrand | Walther Christian Academy | Baseball
  •  Emma Ernst | Highland High School | Volleyball
  •  Filip Lipovski | Chicago Math & Science | Basketball
  •  Micah Render | El Paso-Gridley High School | Cross Country, Track & Field
  •  Preston Rowe | Henry-Senachwine High School | Golf, Baseball, Basketball
  •  Jack Roh | Hinsdale South High School | Swimming
  •  Makena Sears | Princeville High School | Cheerleading
  •  Allison Turner | Egyptian High School | Cheerleading
  •  Aubrey Wagner | Iroquois West High School | Basketball, Softball, Volleyball

Read reflections on each student-athlete from their nominating coach below:

“Tommie has been the greatest teammate and model for what our program is about the past four years. She has never been a varsity starter but continues to be the loudest voice in the dugout cheering on her teammates and picking them up when they are down. In my 21 years of coaching, I have never seen a student-athlete accept a lesser role than desired and continue to be the best teammate, all the while working hard to earn time on the field.  She is truly the definition of a team player, and the type of student athlete coaches hope to have the opportunity to work with."
   -Blain Mayhall, Charleston Softball Coach                        

“I didn’t take over as coach until late February, but Brian had already organized practices himself. He is unselfish and is the definition of a team player. Most players want to win and do well themselves, Brian just wants to be a part of the team. No matter what Brian does for a living after college, he will be the best co-worker, boss, or owner. He will treat others better than he treats himself and he will lead people to their best versions of themselves.”
   -Andrew Salgado, Baseball Coach                

"Four years ago, Emma lost her mother in an unexpected manner. After experiencing this tragedy, many people would pull away from responsibility, but over the course of her high school career, Emma has been such a hard worker and an incredible role model for her teammates and younger sister. In her senior season, she battled an injury that took her out for almost the whole season. However, in the last three weeks, she worked her way into varsity playing time, helping lead her team to a regional championship appearance. She plans to attend Kansas University as a pre-med student with the intention of eventually earning her doctorate in order to study the medical complication that took her mother's life.”
   -Anna Murphy, Volleyball Coach

“Filip didn’t have all the natural gifts on or off the court, but he worked relentlessly to get to where he is at. Despite that, he was a three-year varsity player who maintained a 4.0 GPA and is an Honor Roll student. He is the man of the house for his family and an outstanding leader through the ups and downs of life.”
   -Dr. Marcus Hughes, Basketball Coach

"I have had the privilege of coaching Micah for the past four years and I can confidently attest to his outstanding character, work ethic, and leadership qualities. Despite not initially possessing remarkable speed, Micah's dedication and unwavering determination have transformed him into an exceptional athlete. He has consistently demonstrated his commitment to improvement by putting in countless hours of hard work in the weight room and using the offseason to push himself to reach new heights. His relentless pursuit of excellence serves as an inspiration to his teammates and exemplifies the epitome of resilience and perseverance. Micah's selflessness and willingness to go above and beyond for the betterment of the team exemplify his exceptional character and integrity.”
  -Alex DePauw, Track & Field Coach

“In my 30 years of coaching, Preston is one of the hardest working players I have had the privilege of coaching. He works out seven days a week to be in the best physical shape possible for his athletic teams and his general overall health. He is a leader by example on and off the court, field, or course. The last two years he has led the basketball team in charges and was voted the Mr. Hustle award winner by his teammates. All of his Mallard teams will miss his work ethic, intensity and leadership skills."
   -Randy Westerdahl, Basketball Coach

“As a senior captain, Jack was not the fastest athlete on the team, but that did not deter him from being a leader and motivating his teammates to go above and beyond what they are capable of in order to succeed. Jack was the first one in the water every day and the last one to get out. He did not ever skip a lap. At meets, he would cheer on his teammates and help clean up the deck after the meet was over. He would help to make sure underclass ahletes were where they needed to be and were treating each other with respect. I am so proud of the young man Jack Roh has evolved into in his four years of varsity swimming.”
   -Beth Walker, Swimming Coach

“Makenna always goes above and beyond for her team. She’s the first to contact her team and is always at events and fundraisers. She truly has a passion for the sport and takes great pride in her accomplishments. She was an excellent leader for underclassmen and someone I could rely on. Makenna is going to school for elementary education and was also my high school TA. She was wonderful with my students and will be an excellent teacher. She is someone that works very hard but doesn’t get the recognition she truly deserves for what she does for others.”
   -Jessi Alvarado, Cheerleading Coach

“Allison has scoliosis and had to have back surgery to correct the curvature of her spine. It's a miracle that she was able to cheer for the rest of her high school career. She was the captain of our squad and is an excellent teacher, able to see a cheer once or twice and immediately be able to model and break it down movement by movement. Allison is extremely patient and diplomatic, as she knows how to be inclusive of everyone's voice, deal with big personalities, and calmly guide everyone to the best team decision. At NCA camp, strangers would come up to me and ask me about her because she smiled consistently through every moment of every performance. Her smile is authentic, she is always positive and wants everyone around here to feel positive vibes. Allison gives 100% to each activity, sport, class, and project she is involved with.”
   -Elissa Miller, Cheerleading Coach

“Often times a girl of few words, Aubrey speaks volumes through her actions. I have been coaching in some capacity for the entirety of my twenty-year career and have coached a vast array of athletes of all different ability levels. Aubrey will undoubtedly be the kid I remember as being the hardest working individual I have ever coached. She has never complained for a single second about anything.  If she has been frustrated, upset or discouraged, I never knew because her response has always been to just work harder. Aubrey is the type of kid that has made me a better person and a better coach.  When things aren’t going well, I want to find a way to fix it for kids like her because I know she’s trying everything she possibly can to get the result that we want as a team. Aubrey will approach any task or challenge with the same mindset and that is to outwork her opponent.”
   -Kristy Arie, Girls Basketball Coach


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