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With the boys water polo state playoffs kicking off this week, the predominant question is can Fenwick win its ninth state title in a row?
While the question has become more intriguing in recent weeks due to the Friars' first loss in over 80-plus matches - a 6-5 nail-biter to Lyons Township - coupled with a recent rash of injuries, it would still be wise to pick against Fenwick (29-1, 11-0 Metro Catholic Aquatics Conference) at your own peril come tourney time.
Even without Matt Farmer (illness), Jimmy Mullen and Justin White (both recovering from concussions), the host Friars won the Metro Catholic Aquatics Conference Championship on Saturday, culminated with a thrilling 9-8 title game victory against Loyola. Playing with a protective face mask to protect his broken nose, the Friars' Viken Huening scored the game-winning goal with 42 seconds left, allowing the Friars to claim the Dave Perry Memorial Cup, named in honor of the legendary Fenwick water polo coach who passed away last September.
"Viken was out [all week] and didn't practice," Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. "He was fired up and got everybody going for this match."
Huening, who scored the game winner from six meters out, finished with four goals including two scores off penalty shots. After the visiting Ramblers took a 1-0 lead, the Friars held the advantage most of the way in a tight battle. Loyola trailed 6-4 entering the fourth quarter and tied the match at 7-7 when Charlie Dowdle found the back of the net.
"Loyola is a great team, No. 2 in the Catholic League and No. 3 in the state," Perry said. "They kind of snuck back in after we held them to four goals in the first three quarters. It was a tough game, but our boys were pretty fired up and felt like, 'hey, we can win this.'"
In the semifinals, the Friars cruised past St. Ignatius 13-5 while Loyola outlasted Brother Rice 16-10.
Fenwick begins its quest for another state championship at the loaded York Sectional this week. The top-seeded Friars will face the winner of Riverside-Brookfield vs. Foreman in a quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday 4:30 p.m. (May 9).
If form holds, Fenwick will likely take on area rival Oak Park or possibly the host Dukes in Friday's semis (4:30 p.m.), and then either Lyons Township or Curie (both viable state title contenders) in the championship game on Saturday at noon. Throw in the Friars' old school MCAC rival, St. Patrick, and the sectional is filled with quality programs.
"Our entire focus is on what we need to do against our first opponent in the playoffs," Perry said. "I think the boys are looking forward to the challenge of winning this sectional. Whichever team emerges out of York I think will have a leg up on the other teams remaining in the playoffs."
Perry expects Mullen and Huening to practice this week; however, Farmer and White remain questionable for the state playoffs.