Palatine boys water polo coach Joe Grzybek sets up his Pirates Invitational at the start of the year for the opportunity to play some top-notch competition from outside the immediate area.
The long-term goal is to prepare his team for the eventual state-qualifing sectional matches that are still a couple of months away.
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"With a lot of the games in our tournament, you look at the matchup and say, 'That might end up being a sectional final,' " he said.
Getting back to a sectional final and playing for a conference championship are among the goals for a Palatine program that is typically one of the Mid-Suburban League's strongest but went through a rebuilding year last season. From the early returns in Friday's tournament, it sure looks like Palatine can hope for a return to form with a finish near the top of the MSL.
In their tournament opener Friday, Palatine handled St. Ignatius 13-3. The Wolfpack had been ranked No. 15 in the state preseason rankings by illpolo.com, while Palatine was No. 24.
Grzybek is counting on the steadying presence of senior co-captains Christian Kalfas and Wally Kleinfeldt to help lead the team this year. They had 2 goals apiece Friday, while Krystian Kalev (4 goals) and Omar El Hoffi (3) led the scoring effort.
Kalfas is a four-year varsity contributor and had a key role on the teams of 2010 and 2011, both of which won MSL West and overall league titles. He likes the results so far, which include a 15-6 victory over Wheeling on Wednesday in the season opener.
"I was a little concerned coming into the season because we're still kind of a young team," Kalfas said. "But I'm really happy with the way we played today. We had some stretches where we weren't real sharp, but then when we needed to, we were able to turn up the heat."
Especially defensively, as in the second half Palatine didn't allow a goal. Peter Blackham made 7 saves in goal for Palatine and also had 2 steals.
Play continues Saturday as Palatine meets perennial sectional finalist McHenry at 8 a.m. Two more rounds of competition follow to determine final tournament placement.
Among the top teams competing in the tournament, with their illpolo.com preseason ranking included, are New Trier (4), Homewood-Flossmoor (9), Curie (10), Loyola (14) and Latin (16).
Winners in Friday's games were Loyola (7-6 over H-F), New Trier (14-9 over Mundelein and 14-3 over Latin), St. Ignatius (18-10 over McHenry) and Curie (7-6 over H-F).
"I think most of the coaches here are more concerned with how they play and figuring out what they need to work on than they are with how they finish," said Grzybek. "That's part of why we like this tournament."