Girls water polo: Naperville North denies Stevenson to repeat as state champs
Naperville North and Stevenson.
In regards to high school girls water polo in Illinois, they have become the superpowers of the sport. Both squads emerged from their semifinal victories early Saturday afternoon to set up a third straight IHSA state title tilt between the schools Saturday night at Stevenson's pool.
Jeff Wimer's Patriots bested North three years ago to earn a third straight crown while Andy McWhirter's unit denied Stevenson a four-peat in last season's resumption of state tournament play at Fenwick with no spectators allowed.
The question to be answered was could the Huskies repeat their championship of a year ago in what was essentially a road game for them?
Thanks to a combination of strong goaltending and a disciplined offense, Naperville North successfully defended its state title with a 9-5 win over the host school before a capacity crowd in the 20th state championship game in Lincolnshire.
The victory put the Huskies in a special category as it joined three other schools in repeating as champs: Chicago Mother McAuley who won the first two titles in 2002 and 2003 followed by Fenwick who captured 7 titles in a 9-year span between 2004 and 2012, and Stevenson who had won three straight from 2017-2019.
Naperville North (32-1-1) broke free from a two-all tie with goals by senior Alex Mandel and sophomore Kelsey Wessel to give them a 4-2 advantage at the half. After a Stevenson score pulled the Patriots (33-2-1) within 6-4, Wessel's third and fourth goals and Mandel's fourth left them comfortably ahead 9-4 with 4:11 remaining.
One of the biggest reasons for the Huskies' success came courtesy of senior netminder Ella Selman. The Carthage-bound Selman stopped 21 of Stevenson's 27 shot attempts as she conquered a test of wills that she credits more to her teammates' defensive prowess.
"The whole thing is very nerve-wracking. But when you have a team like this and that you have girls you can count on it really makes it great," Selman said. "I'm so honored and so grateful to be a part of this team. This (win) was all of us, I love this team so much. It's such a dream. This whole thing. And we worked so hard for it."
Senior attacker Elizabeth White scored the Patriots' first two goals.
McWhirter lavished praise on the hard-work ethic that fueled his squad's second straight championship drive.
"They did awesome. They played as a team, they worked hard every morning (in) practice, every afternoon (in) practice to make sure this moment came," McWhirter said.
He also praised his eight seniors: Mia Sparacino, Cameron Berg, Cambria Swanson, Claire Jensen, Alivia Frommelt and Sarah Crossett who in addition to Selman and Mandel will graduate Sunday afternoon.
"They're an awesome group of girls who (have built) a tight family bond, I will miss each and every one of them."