Senior Brad Hruska and his Riverside-Brookfield High School boys water polo teammates accept the challenge of having no more than nine players for matches this season.
“In preseason and regular season I’d say we are all working twice as hard as last year because we have to make up for the players we have lost,” Hruska said. “Some of the greater strengths would be that as teammates we are close to one another and know each and everyone’s skill level. A big factor is that we are small and communication in the water will be very important and for everyone to have a part in helping the new players get better.”
Four starters return — juniors Alex Jacobs (26 goals, 45 assists, 36 steals in 2022) and Hayden Marrs, who had team highs of 38 assists and 67 steals along with 30 goals, and seniors Ruska (16 goals, 21 assists, 15 steals) and Murphy Regan (18 goals, 31 assists, 19 steals).
Other team members are sophomores Julio Aranda, Martynas Bieliauskas, Rylan Bruno and Avi Ponnappan and freshmen Jake Kocourek and Henry Manning.
The Bulldogs are hoping to at least return to the sectional semifinals. They were 12-12 last season and reached the Lyons Township Sectional semifinals before losing 17-5 to the host Lions, who finished third in state.
“[Our plan is] build off what we are good at, work on what we are weak on,” RBHS coach Kevin Wolak said. “I think our strength is going to be our outside shooting coming from Alex, Murphy and Brad.”
The Bulldogs graduated first-team all-sectional player Liam Matthews from their three 2022 all-sectional honorees. Marrs was second-team all-sectional and Murphy Regan was third-team all-sectional. A member of the Class 2A boys cross country state championship team in November, Marrs currently is splitting time between sports and mostly competing indoor track.
Jacobs should pick up some of the offensive slack. He made the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program Midwest Zone team and had a busy offseason with Elmhurst Aquatics.
“Alex will play a huge role on our team,” Wolak said.
“I think that I have improved from last season because I have been training more specifically for water polo,” Jacobs said. “I joined an offseason program to get better skills and bring more experience to a young team that we have this year.”
Hruska, who has worked on improving his speed in the water, and Regan seek to provide leadership as seniors.
“Based on my experience, I can see that it’s important to have a good defense,” Regan said. “We have strong swimmers, which is a key to having a good water polo team. We also have a team of players that are dedicated to trying their best.”
The Bulldogs have started 1-3, losing their season and home opener to Curie 22-5 on March 8 and finishing fourth at the Bradley-Bourbonnais Tournament on March 11. RBHS beat Lincoln-Way Central 16-12 and lost to Maine South 19-9 and Bradley-Bourbonnais 8-5 for third.
Ruska (15 goals), Marrs (8 goals, 10 assists, 15 steals), Regan (7 goals, 4 assists, 10 steals) and Bieliauskas (29 saves, 7 assists) are among the early contributors.