Lyons Township High School junior Emilia Mladjan and freshman Maya Mladjan have numerous water polo balls stored throughout their Brookfield home.
Among them is their first when they began the sport they love together. Emilia was in sixth grade, Maya in fourth.
“We started on the same team at the same time,” Maya said. “We don’t really use that ball anymore. It’s kind of flat and deflated. [But] we keep it around.”
The Mladjans were among the reasons the Lions (31-3-1) were one of the best teams around. They took third in state – the program’s second-highest finish – by beating New Trier 12-11 on May 21 in their second consecutive state appearance.
Even after the exhausting state weekend, the two practiced Sunday with their EastSide club team.
“I don’t think everyone gets to have the same experience we do, winning a third-place trophy. A lot of siblings aren’t even in the same sport,” Emilia said. “I feel like we [as a team] should be optimistic. We’re losing some amazing seniors but we can’t just end it there. We still have to continue.”
A 2021 second-team all-stater, Emilia led this season’s powerful lineup in goals (147) and steals with 44 assists. Maya was second in goals (110) and assists (62).
Emilia plays center/hole set and Maya utility. If they were on opposing teams, they’d often square off against each other.
“I think it’s cool that I was able to experience [third place] with her,” Maya said. “[Emilia] has been one of my greatest teachers in water polo. She has helped me a lot. Whenever she sees me struggle in the water, she gives me advice.”
With different positions, they employ different physical warmups and drills. But they’ll also listen to music together and work two-person stretches. They also like to give those random balls – the ones with air — a workout in the house.
“Sometimes she gets a little feisty and we’ll throw balls at each other,” Emilia said. “It’s not just a her thing. It’s a me thing, too.”
During matches, their passion can sometimes be heard in a manner only sisters can communicate rather than teammates.
“This is where being a sibling comes into play,” Emilia said. “In the water, we’ll argue sometimes. We’ll get mad at each other and being a sibling, you’ll yell, but it’s all in good faith. You’re trying to give the other one some advice.”
This was a great debut for Maya, but she said she can improve through gaining confidence and experience. The trophy was her most memorable sister water polo accomplishment along with finishing third at a club tournament for EastSide to climax an enjoyable team trip to Florida.
“Next season, I’m definitely dreading [Emilia] leaving, but I’m also excited to continue playing with her. I’m definitely going to cry when she leaves,” Maya said.
Both hope to play water polo in college, perhaps at the same school. The Lions graduate six from the state roster, including all-stater Novalee Roberto and Sofia Hannon as starters, but return several veterans.
“Maya’s great. I know she’s going to get even better as the years go on,” Emilia said. “I’m glad I have one more year with her because maybe we’ll come back and take state champs next year. That’s the goal.”