By Marty Farmer
For a program that has won 20 state championships since 1974, the Fenwick boys water polo team has endured its share of heartbreak in recent seasons. In the state semifinals last year, New Trier scored with 27 seconds left in regulation to stun the Friars 12-11. In 2016, York upset Fenwick 10-9 in a riveting sectional final.
Undeterred by these losses, the Friars' agenda remains the same.
"Our goals are to win conference, sectionals and the state championship each season," Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. "Beyond that, our team strives to be better players, teammates and people every day. If we can treat each other and ourselves with respect, we will have a great season."
Considering the pipeline of talented players in the program, it's a given Fenwick will be successful each spring. Last season, the Friars finished 25-10 with a fourth-place finish at the state tournament. They dominated the Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference with an 11-0 record and won the league's regular-season and tournament titles.
Despite the loss of 11 seniors to graduation in 2017, the Friars' lineup is loaded with playmakers again.
Seniors Ivan Soto (42 goals, 31 assists, 33 steals), Alejandro Perez, Ben Lulich and Jamie Heneghan provide leadership and experience this year.
Junior Payton Comstock had 91 goals, 38 assists and 68 steals as an All-State performer in 2017. Fellow juniors Dan Lynch (13 goals, 15 assists, 51 steals) and Ramses Flores (19 goals, 43 assists, 45 steals) are other notable contributors. Alex Figus, Nate Fisher and Manny Ruiz, all brought up to varsity at the end of last season, add depth to the roster.
"I want a team that wants to work," Perry said. "Our team's strength is a willingness to put in the work. As Fenwick students, the boys are expected to work incredibly hard in and out of the classroom. I believe that this is one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life."
While the Friars' defense was strong last year, Perry cited improved individual and team defense as priorities this spring.
Fenwick and Loyola are the top two contenders to win the Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference. St. Ignatius, St. Patrick and Brother Rice have strong teams as well.
"Everyone in our conference is tough with high-level coaches and student-athletes," Perry said. "I love competing in the MCAC."
Fenwick edged Loyola 13-11 in Wilmette, March 5, in the season opener.
The Friars host their annual Dan Lynch Tournament this weekend (March 15-17) then kicks off the tourney against Oak Park and River Forest on Thursday, March 15 at 5 p.m.
"It's the biggest regular-season tournament of the year," Perry said. "This year's field is the most competitive we have had in years."
Essentially all the top teams in Illinois plus Dr. Phillips from Orlando, Florida and St. Louis-area schools DeSmet and Parkway West will compete in the tournament.