Lyons Township’s Brendan Whelton (left) looks to shoot against St. Rita during the IHSA Sectional championship game at Lyons Township High School on May 13 in Western Springs. | Steve Johnston

Junior Luke Jackson and his Lyons Township High School boys water polo teammates never take returning to the state meet for granted.

“It’s always a privilege to go to state. That’s something we earn every year,” Jackson said. “We’re proud to go to state as many years as we can.”

On May 13, the Lions were determined to earn an eighth consecutive state quarterfinal berth. They wasted little time proving it.

LTHS defeated St. Rita 14-4 and now advance to the state quarterfinals on May 19 at 5:45 p.m. against Fremd at Stevenson High School in Vernon Hills.

The Lions (19-10) took a 3-0 lead just 1:57 into the match and led 5-0 after the first period. Louis Grib scored twice and Sean Gripp, Brendan Whelton and Laine Tegan each scored once. 

“Possession after possession, goals in the first three minutes. I was watching the film and it did not feel in the water like it was that fast,” said Gripp. “It’s really an expectation, honestly, to make it to state. That’s what we’ve been working for the whole season, to get our sectional win.”

Whelton finished with four goals and Gripp and Tegan each had three.

The Lions had previously beaten St. Rita 15-8 in April at LTHS, but their challenging schedule also resulted in several tough losses, three by one or two goals.

The lineup lost several key seniors from last year’s third-place state finisher and return just three starters in Gripp, Whelton and goalie Charlie Vlk. The Lions have earned top-three trophies the past four state tournaments, two seconds and two thirds.

“I think we’re playing our best right now and I’ve always told them that’s the goal. We want the difficult games throughout the season to prepare for where we want to be at the end of the season,” LTHS coach Doug Eichstaedt said. 

LTHS girls fall in sectional final

Another great season for the Lions (25-5) ended May 13 with a 13-11 loss to Mother McAuley in the LT Sectional final.

LTHS was the No. 2 seed after losing to the top-seeded Mighty Macs 9-7 in April but hadn’t lost since. The Lions were hoping for their third straight state berth after finishing third in 2022. 

The Lions played without sophomore standout Maya Mladjan, who suffered a concussion in the final seconds of the victory over York on May 6. 

“I felt like it was one of the better games we’ve played. We played really well, even though the result wasn’t what we wanted,” said senior Emilia Mladjan, Maya’s sister. “The whole team stepped up to fill in that spot she would usually have been, especially Evie [Reinisch]. Estelle [Wright] and Bella [Recker] don’t usually play center defense and they did really well to help fill that spot.” 

Lauren Jablonski had four goals, three in the second period, and Mladjan had three. Jablonski’s goal gave the Lions a 7-5 lead with 6:11 left in the third period but McAuley answered with five unanswered goals. 

LTHS closed to 12-11 on Recker’s goal with 1:02 left. McAuley called a timeout and scored with 43 seconds to go.