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updated: 3/11/2013 8:40 PM

Tri-Cities water polo season preview

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St. Charles North girls water polo coach Nick Engel is starting to see the benefits to also coaching the North Stars' swimmers as an assistant.

"We've had a better turnout from our varsity swim team so that's good," Engel said. "That shouldn't have a big impact on our varsity team but hopefully it will help our JV team and in our future it will help our varsity team.

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"Me and my assistant coach being assistant swim coaches and being around, and some of the girls their older siblings play as well, so just getting that idea that 'Hey we swim, we also play polo for St. Charles North.'"

St. Charles North opened its season last week with a 12-2 win over Schaumburg and 8-7 victory against Hinsdale Central. The North Stars are coming of a 15-9 season a year ago and have three starters back.

In Engel's first two years the North Stars lost the sectional play-in game, so making it to the sectional last year and losing to Metea Valley represented a big step.

The North Stars hope to make another this season.

"Hopefully now we've seen it and done it and win a couple games there," Engel said. "We want to have a winning record and we have talked about improving on last year's record. We want to make a deep run into the sectional tournament."

Engel points to Hannah Horsfall returning at goalie as a team strength, plus Sarah Stern and Maddie Jones back in the starting line. Stern led the team with 3 goals and 3 assists against Hinsdale Central while Jones is moving to driver this year.

Kelsey Theile also will play driver this year while Lauren Gonsalves will see a bigger role after being one of the key JV players last year. Nicole Guyett scored 2 goals against Hinsdale Central.

"Lauren will play everywhere," Engel said. "She has a lot of skills we can use at multiple spots."

Engel likes how his team plays defense and sees the offense coming around this spring.

"The big things for us is we put a lot of time and effort in the off-season and we are hoping to see that pay off," Engel said. "This is the first year I've had girls for multiple years come through the program so to see that growth as players and student-athletes is really important to me. We've kind of established a system of defense and that's how we are going to win our games. The girls have all bought in. To see that is huge. I'm confident we can play defense, let's play some offense and I think the girls are growing into that and learning from last year. It's really improved."

At St. Charles East, second-year coach Stephanie McClure's team is coming off a 2-26 season but was the only ninth seed at sectionals to win their play-in game.

"The girls have stepped up and played in the off-season and filled in positions," McClure said.

The Saints graduate three seniors and welcome back numerous returnees including: Aimee Eisenstein, Sarah DiLillo, Jeneva Newman, Sarah Ditch, Shannon Anderson, Maya Heath, Kaitlyn Johnsen, Lexy Kos, Megan Zbinden, Eryca Regner, Diemante Butkute, Laura Crocker, Kaylee Riegler, Mia Scott and Alexis Chacon.

"We as a team are looking to improve on last year's record," McClure said. "The girls have worked so hard to come together as a team. I expect a completely different outcome this season. The girls love this game like I do and we will play with passion."

McClure also expects the following newcomers to contribute: Kenzie Kuzmanic, Maryssa DeNardo, Alyssa Evertsen, December Fagen, Sophie Peltier, Haley Salveson, Erin Sastre, Julie Jezek and Mackenzie Kos.

Boys water polo

Jaclyn Weber, the new coach at St. Charles East, played water polo and swam for York High School before starting the club water polo team at Illinois State University in 2004.

The Saints are off to a 4-1 start including a 3-0 record and tournament championship last week at Hoffman Estates. St. Charles East beat Elk Grove 8-5, Vernon Hills 18-3 and Hinsdale South 14-12.

Seniors Nick Fagen, Mitch Phelps, Ian Salveson, Austin Muehlschlegl, TJ Binsdeil, Max Schmitt, Jason Obrecht, Mark Homann and Ryan O'Reilly join juniors Scott Rogman, George Premo, Matt Hinds and Tyler Vangyseghem to make up the core of the Saints' roster.

St. Charles East does have some younger players including three freshmen -- Ethan Braham, John Ortlund and Jack Sweeney -- along with sophomores Dustin Differding, Randy Stubbs, Sean Sweeney, Jake Fernandez, Amaar Baig and Devin Neises.

"The team has gotten off to a terrific start this season," Weber said. "Our strengths are our speed, endurance and our strong defense. We have our eyes on making it through sectionals and qualifying for state this year."

St. Charles North opened its season going 2-2 Saturday at the Stagg tournament.

The North Stars, 9-23 a year ago, won their first sectional game over Hinsdale South last season and notched their first win over a top-25 team when they beat Stagg at the Naperville North tournament.

Senior Justin Simmonds (driver/hole) scored 39 goals and had 28 assists last year and leads St. Charles North's returners. The team's captain, Simmonds is a great piece to build around said North Stars coach Chris Cloy.

"Hard-working, can play anywhere in the pool," Cloy said. "Great leader and role model for the younger players."

Sophomore John Pretet (hole) also scored 39 goals and drew 37 ejections last year as a freshman.

"Huge growth from last year to this year and looking for even bigger things with his second year on the varsity team," Cloy said.

Junior driver Nick Traxler finished with 28 goals and 11 assists last year.

"Great shooter and one that will have a huge impact on our offensive production," Cloy said.

Junior Collin Bawolek takes over full-time at goalie after playing there for small portions of the last two years on the varsity level. He made 74 saves in 15 games on the varsity while mostly serving as the JV goalie the last two years.

"Had an outstanding swim season and I'm looking for that to carry over to a great water polo season," Cloy said.

Cloy also is looking for junior driver Ross Davis to step into a larger role after playing a little varsity last year.

"Energetic player that has a motor that does not stop. He will be a great addition to our team this season," Cloy said.

"Overall, we are excited about this season," Cloy continued. "We have a large group of returning players that are hungry to prove how good they can be. We have talked about three things needed for us to be successful this year: disciplined defense, make teams play good polo to beat us and the team is the ultimate champion. If we can work throughout the season on these three concepts we have the potential to play with some of the top teams in the state."

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