Novalee Roberto (Bill Stone/Contributor)

Upon finding her sports home in the water, Lyons Township High School senior Novalee Roberto found a new home on land.

Still living in Ohio, the standout girls water polo player often traveled to LTHS to participate in Olympic Development Program events. 

Just before her freshman year, Roberto’s family moved to LaGrange.

“I had played with the Lyons club team a little before I had come into [high] school,” Roberto said. “It was nice to have those connections. I wasn’t completely alone. I knew the area so it wasn’t completely shocking.” 

Roberto now will graduate among of the top LTHS players and continue playing at NCAA Division I St. Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Roberto leads this season’s Lions (23-1-1) with 71 assists, is second with 79 goals and shares second with 53 steals.

For the LTHS 2021 state quarterfinalists, Roberto was named first team all-state after team bests of 120 goals, 57 assists and 81 steals.

“One of the things I’ve struggled with most is confidence,” Roberto said. “[All-state] just really helps me realize I am a good player and I can do what people think I can. And [it’s] motivation to get that award again or go further and help the people around me get that award when I’m gone.” 

The 5-foot-6 Roberto takes pride in her versatility. LTHS coach Megan Jacobs likens Roberto to a “quarterback” in the water.  

“Nova is our most experienced player,” Jacobs said. “She plays very smart and not only knows her own defensive and offensive positioning. She is very vocal and often directs the girls into correct positioning.”

Offensively, Roberto can drive inside or shoot from the perimeter. Her speed makes her excellent at creating and thwarting transition attacks. She especially likes double-teaming opponents to create steals.

“I very much like to play defense,” Roberto said. “I’d like to think I’m pretty fast so I use my speed a lot. My strongest [suits] would probably be pressing and then going back to help counters.”

Roberto’s mother found her unique first name from the 1995 novel “Where the Heart Is,” by Billie Letts.

Roberto grew up in Mission Viejo, California. She started as a young swimmer but it “just didn’t fit right.” After soccer and synchronized swimming, she joined Power Aquatics water polo by her house at age 9.

After sixth grade, Roberto moved to Upper Arlington, Ohio, and continued club play with Columbus Water Polo.

“After synchronized swimming, I was like I’m already getting kicked underwater, throwing people out of the air. I might as well just try another contact sport in the water,” Roberto said.

She credits Illinois for her continued improvement, particularly her Eastside club team based in Evanston with teammates from Evanston, Hinsdale Central, York and Mother McAuley.

Roberto plans to play masters water polo and has received offers to coach after college. At St. Francis, Roberto will major in cybersecurity and minor in American Sign Language. 

Roberto was intrigued by St. Francis classes for digital forensics and criminology. She began learning sign language in Ohio to communicate with a deaf friend.

“My goal is to be fluent in her language, because we’re very close,” Roberto said.