Four of the state's top girls water polo teams will dive into action this weekend for Naperville North's annual Kickoff Tournament.
Naperville Central, which lost a 10-7 nailbiter to Fenwick in last year's state championship match, enters the season ranked seventh in Illinois by illpolo.com (usual suspect Fenwick is No. 1, of course). Naperville North is No. 15, Neuqua Valley is No. 22 and Metea Valley is ranked No. 24. The Kickoff Tournament also includes Waubonsie Valley, the No. 6 seed last season in the talent-laden Metea Valley sectional. The Warriors enter the season at No. 53.
"Our main focus right now is on that North game Friday night," said Naperville Central coach Jeff Plackett, "but the entire tournament is a great chance for everyone in the (school district) 203 and 204 programs to size each other up for the year."
Naperville Central graduated the standout trio of Emily Sejna, Abbey Kerth and goaltender Julia Campbell, but Aaron Brown of Illpolo.com predicts the Redhawks will be fine offensively with Erin Reagan and all-state honorable mention Madison Nervig combining for more than 75 goals last season.
Other standouts on hand on Brown's list Friday and Saturday at Naperville North include Naperville North's Taylor Bridgman, Kim Lechowicz and junior keeper Kate MacDuff, Neuqua's Brooke Bedford and Kaitlyn Gorski and Metea's Lindsay Raczak and Natalie Carothers.
Plackett noted that in girls water polo, it's always 78 degrees and humid. That sounds nice about now. Still, he mentioned that even in an indoor sport recent weather cancellations have caused local teams to scramble to make up for lost time.
On that angle Naperville North coach Andy McWhirter already lost his season opener against York to a cancellation. The Huskies enter the Kickoff, as he said, "young and untested."
"It will take the entire tournament this weekend for us to develop our pacing," he said.
The Kickoff has been held since before IHSA sanctioned girls water polo as a sport and originally included only the two Napervilles and Waubonsie.
This year's two-day event starts with three games played in rapid succession on Friday, beginning with Naperville North-Naperville Central at 6 p.m. Saturday there will be seven matches starting at 9 a.m. Plackett is interested in the game pitting Naperville North and Metea Valley at 11:30 a.m.
"They had an overtime battle in last year's sectional semifinal (Metea winning 8-6), and I'm sure North is excited to get in the pool with them again," he said.
Redhawks good news, bad news
On the good side of soccer concerning Naperville Central, forward Alissa Gorzak was invited to the United States Under-17 Women's National Team Camp in Chula Vista, Calif. It's a weeklong deal March 2-9.
Gorzak, who plays for Eclipse Select Soccer Club, is rated the No. 59 girls player to watch in the country within her age group. She's one of 26 players nationwide practicing with the U-17 group in Chula Vista.
On the bad side, former Naperville Central superstar Casey Short, playing for the U.S. women's Under-23 team in Spain, sustained both a torn ACL and MCL in a collision during the first half of a 3-1 USA win over Norway.
Short, a defender with the Boston Breakers in the National Women's Soccer League, has both her Naperville Central soccer and track uniforms retired.
As a sophomore at Florida State she missed games due to injury. She also sustained a season-ending injury in the preseason of what would have been her senior season. She returned for a redshirt year in 2012, moved to defense from midfield and played the most minutes of her collegiate career to help set program records for goals against and shutouts. Hopefully that pattern will continue.
Calling all matmen
A group of former Wheaton Central Tigers wrestlers is planning a reunion scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Marriott Hotel in Naperville at Diehl and Naperville roads.
Steve Ewoldt, who along with brothers Kurt and Eric are sons of the legendary former Tigers wrestling coach and athletic director and state wrestling historian Ed Ewoldt, is one of the organizers. He said it's not just a Wheaton Central-Wheaton Warrenville South thing. Wrestlers from long-departed Wheaton Warrenville High School, the Wolverines, are invited as well.
"We've got some guys from a long ways away. It's going to be awesome," Steve Ewoldt said.
Wheaton Central Class of '84 and a 132-pounder as a senior, Ewoldt said the reunion idea stemmed from a conversation with former Tigers wrestlers Thayron Byrd and Steve Knippen, who is helping Ewoldt plan the event. Instead of a high-five, rumor has it they clinched the agreement with a double-arm chicken wing.
Ewoldt said there's been great interest from matmen who competed as far back as the 1950s.
"Almost everyone we spoke to seems genuinely excited about the event and the chance to see old teammates and coaches who helped shape their lives," Ewoldt noted.
Incidentally one of them, Al Sears, Tigers heavyweight out of the Class of '81 and known as the Pin King after setting the NCAA falls record of 110 at Southern Illinois, recently produced his first individual state champion as head coach at Belleville West. At 138 pounds Mech Spraggins defeated Hinsdale Central's Juwan Edmond, 7-2.
Sears, who has expressed interest in attending as has the program's lone state champion, Sparty Chino, livens up any party. Spread the word and get in touch with Steve Ewoldt at email@example.com.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1