LTHS senior Sean Gripp, of Brookfield, scored 3 goals against York in the third-place game at the IHSA state finals. He finished the season with 61 goals. | Steve Johnston

Senior Sean Gripp and his Lyons Township High School boys water polo teammates came into the third-place match at the state tournament on May 20 with something still to prove.

While guaranteed another top-four trophy, the Lions were facing West Suburban Conference rival York for the fifth time this season with a 1-3 record.

“Definitely [motivated] with a conference rival like that,” Gripp said. “They did get us in conference, but we got them for state.”

The Lions prevailed 8-6 at Stevenson to earn their fifth straight top-three state finish in their eighth straight state finals appearance. 

With a relatively young and inexperienced lineup for the Lions (22-11), just returning to state seemed at times a challenge.

“With our 10 [regular-season] losses, that’s what we were working for the whole season,” Gripp said. “We had a hard schedule but we ended the season with a win, especially against a rival like York. It felt awesome to win that.” 

LTHS reached the semifinals with a 10-7 quarterfinal win over Fremd on May 19 after trailing 7-6 entering the fourth period. In the next day’s semifinal, the Lions lost 9-6 to eventual champion New Trier, setting up the York rematch.

“For sure, there was some extra motivation knowing we lost to York in the conference championship game,” LTHS coach Doug Eichstaedt said. “We kind of went down early, 2-0 and 4-2, and then again our defense and [goalie Charlie Vlk] played great and we were kind of able to just keep chipping away. I’m just really proud of the way they kind of rallied at the end.” 

Gripp and fellow senior Louis Grib each had three goals. Brendan Whelton, Sami Rabah had one goal and one assist and Luke Jackson assisted. Vlk made nine saves.

Gripp finished the season with 61 goals, second on the team to Whelton’s 92.

“Normally I don’t take too many outside shots. This (York) game I felt another way, I guess, and I was hitting them,” Gripp said. “They were playing down on me. I had shots open or I’d give the ball to Louis in the set.” 

The comeback win over Fremd further displayed the Lions’ resiliency. Gripp had three goals, Grib and Rabah had two and Jackson had two assists. Whelton had three goals against New Trier, which led 5-0 at halftime. 

Gripp will continue playing water polo at the University of Toronto after being spotted by a coach during a camp. Gripp’s official visit last September was his first time in Canada.

“I was very proud to be a ‘pooligan.’ I feel like our team has a kind of interconnectedness more than a lot of other teams,” Gripp said. “We take it serious when we need to but it’s all about our friendships and everything like that.”