Like a sprinter out of the starting blocks, the Neuqua Valley girls water polo team used its speed to its advantage at the start of Thursday's match at Naperville Central.
And the Wildcats went neck-and-neck with the Redhawks, ranked eighth in a state poll, and trailed just 5-4 after the first quarter. Naperville Central's defense tightened up after that, however, and the Redhawks scored eight unanswered goals to win 13-4.
"Neuqua is always a fast team and always comes out strong," said Naperville Central junior Michelle Spaits, who led the Redhawks (11-5) with 4 goals. "It was hard to keep up, but we did a good job of that."
Neuqua (5-10) was coming off a tough double-digit loss to Naperville North on Tuesday. Coach Lucy Tiffin said the team, which she considers a work in progress, put that game behind them and continues to make progress as the season advances.
"It was a new day," she said. "And I think finally in our younger girls, they are gaining confidence and playing physical and up to their level."
Naperville Central's Kristina Altuve, who tallied 3 goals, put the Redhawks on the scoreboard first 1:02 into the game. Just 19 seconds later, Neuqua's Morgan Miller, who led her team with 3 goals, tied the game on a lob shot.
Just more than a minute later, she converted a pass from Kaitlyn Gorski to give the Wildcats their only lead of the night at 2-1.
Madison Nervig also enjoyed a 3-goal day, and she and Altuve each had a role in the Redhawks' next three goals.
Nervig scored at 3:11 and then Altuve set up Nervig at 2:30. Nervig returned the favor for Altuve with 1:58 remaining and Naperville Central led 4-2.
Miller's third goal, a half-pool shot, cut the lead to one, and then Altuve, assisted by Erin Reagan, made it 5-3. With just 24 seconds left, Abbie Teeling scored for Neuqua to make it 5-4.
"We just tried to pick things up and have a strong defense and make sure no more scores happened," said Redhawks senior Leslie Calabrese.
From then on it was all Naperville Central as Calabrese, Spaits and Jenny Doyle scored in the second to make it an 8-4 contest at intermission.
The Redhawks scored twice in the third period thanks to Spaits and Nervig, with Spaits scoring twice and Beth Ryan once to wrap things up in the final quarter.
Jessica Fox and Erin Reagan shared time in goal for Naperville Central.
"At the start of the season, we had a whole new lineup," Spaits said. "Over the past couple of weeks we've tried to become one team and see who plays best in one position and I think that's happened."