By Marty Farmer
Aside from being perennial contenders to win a state championship, the Lyons Township and Fenwick High School boys water polo teams share another commonality, at least based on their collective experience over the weekend.
Neither team is a big fan of Naperville Central. While the Lions and Friars respect the Redhawks, the latter defeated both en route to their second straight state championship on Saturday, May 18 at Stevenson High School.
The Lions fell behind Naperville Central early en route to an 8-5 loss in the IHSA state finals.
LTHS trailed 3-0 after one period and 6-1 after three, while struggling to solve the Redhawks' stout defense. In the fourth, the Lions outscored Naperville Central 4-2 but ultimately fell short in their comeback attempt.
"I thought it was important for us to score early in the game to gain the momentum," LTHS coach Doug Eichstaedt said. "Naperville Central has really strong field players in front of a very talented goalie. They make it very difficult to score.
"We made some adjustments and the players started to execute our offensive game plan more effectively. The game was for the state championship so our players were never giving up. They worked too hard to not give their all at the end."
Senior star Victor Perez led LTHS with a match-high three goals, while Bobby Bolan and Liam Malas scored a goal each. Goalie Ray Berg finished with 10 saves.
Luke-Klein Collins, Bender Russo and Brad Sanford paced Naperville Central with two goals apiece. Sanford and Klein-Collins dished out three and two assists, respectively.
The Lions (30-5) edged Lincoln-Way East 12-11 in a see-saw battle in the semifinals. Bolan (5 goals, 4 assists), Perez (3 goals) and Ethan Wright (2 goals) powered the offense, while Berg tallied 10 saves in the cage.
LTHS only loses six players (notably Perez and Berg) to graduation. Bolan, Malas, Wright, Martin Brown, Eric Markey and Sebastian Perez return next season to lead an experienced group who should be one of the top teams in the state.
"Every year creates opportunities for other players to step up into different roles," Eichstaedt said. "We have a strong core group of varsity players returning and a very successful [frosh/soph] group that will compete for playing time. I am excited to see the development over the next 12 months."
The Friars strive to win their last match every season. With 20 state championships in the school's trophy cases, the perennial focus is to be the best.
Although Fenwick won its last game this spring, the 17-11 victory over Lincoln-Way East unfortunately occurred in the third-place game of the state finals.
"We set out to win the state championship and fell short of our goal," Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. "Not achieving a goal is disappointing, but I would not want any other goal than the one we set four years ago. Only two teams win their final game of the season and we made sure that we were one of those two teams."
Naperville Central was the other team to claim a final victory, the aforementioned 8-5 victory over Lyons Township in the state final. The Redhawks derailed the Friars' run with a 10-6 win in the semifinals.
"Despite the disappointing finish, I think the team has a lot to be proud of," said Fenwick senior Nate Fisher, who will play water polo at Occidental College in Los Angeles. "For us seniors to leave without every bringing a state championship trophy home is tough, but we also know that we finished with our best season. We are leaving Fenwick water polo in a good place and in good hands."
Fenwick (32-4) finished the season on a positive note against Lincoln-Way East. The Friars jumped on the Griffins early in the first quarter, leading 5-0 after the opening 10 minutes. Fenwick led 9-3 at halftime and cruised to victory the rest of the way.
Navy-bound Payton Comstock and Alex Figus went out in style as both players had four goals and an assist. Fisher (2 goals, 4 assists), senior Ramses Flores (goal, 4 assists), and junior Dan Bajda (3 goals, assist) also played well for the victors.
"In each of the last three seasons, we've been one of the top teams in Illinois," Perry said. "These seniors did not believe what anyone else was telling them about how Fenwick would never return to top form. They took that criticism as a challenge and have made me very proud with the mark they have left on our aquatics program."