Conant tunes up for postseason with MSL title
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Quality play has been a hallmark of coach Tim Daniel's boys water polo teams at Conant in recent seasons.
So have heartbreaking losses, such as in the sectional semifinals last season against Schaumburg, and close calls that came up short in the Mid-Suburban West divisional races the previous two seasons.
All of which made Thursday's 14-3 victory over Hersey in the MSL championship game hosted by the Cougars just a little bit sweeter.
"I feel like we redeemed ourselves a little bit," said Conant senior Kyle Bradberry, a varsity player the last three seasons and a co-captain along with Jake Nelson and Jon Burke this spring. "That loss last year to Schaumburg . . . we felt that definitely wasn't our best effort, and we're trying to avoid that this year."
Conant (24-3) only seems to be gaining momentum as the postseason approaches this season.
Against Hersey, the Cougars were in command the whole way. They scored 4 goals in each of the first three periods and led 12-1 before Daniel got the whole roster some playing time in the fourth quarter.
Burke led the scoring effort with 4 goals. Matt Engebretson had 3 goals, Bradberry and Connor Schmitz had 2 each and Devin Schmitz, Brennen Nagorzanski and Kazuki Morita also scored.
Cougars senior standout Aly Ahmed (7 saves, 3 steals) was sharp in goal, but Hersey had trouble getting the shots it wanted.
Jack Carroll suffered his third ejection midway through the second quarter, a big loss as he's one of Hersey's top players. The good news for first-time MSL East champ Hersey (13-15) is that Carroll and the Huskies' other all-conference selections, George Vladimirov and Connor Reynolds, are all juniors.
"Our long-term focus is fine, but we've got to work on the short term," said Hersey coach Dick Mortensen. "Our guys didn't give in, and we kept battling — but we've got to be smarter."
For both teams, the game marked an opportunity to prepare for next week's Fremd sectional. Conant earned the top seed but understands it will take its best effort get past teams such as the No. 2 seed Vikings, No. 3 Hoffman Estates and No. 4 Hersey.
"We'll enjoy this one today," said Daniel, "but then, we feel like there are always things we can work on, areas where we can be better.
"We've always tried to play like everything in the regular season is practice for sectional. That was our goal tonight — to play like it was a sectional game."
Jose Carvajal, Sean Prior and Vladimirov scored the goals for Hersey.
Conant and Hersey would meet again in a sectional semifinal matchup if the seeds hold up through the first round.
"Conant does a great job with isolation," said Mortensen. "They're going to make you send your best defender at Burke, but he still finds ways to hurt you.
"And they're really good at pressuring the ball with more than one defender from time to time. We didn't handle that very well."
Bradberry said there's one main area he personally intends to help Conant improve upon before next week.
"Communication," he said. "We need to help each other a little bit more by calling out ball position so our defenders can stay locked in without having to look for the ball.
"The way I look at it, we haven't won anything yet. There's still no sectional title here. That's what we're after."
Mid-Suburban League all-conference selections:
Barrington — Chase Lesniak (So.)
Buffalo Grove — Dan Boukas (Jr.)
Conant — Aly Ahmed (Sr.), Jon Burke (Sr.), Kyle Bradberry (Sr.)
Elk Grove — Kyle Phillips (Sr.)
Fremd — John Patrick French (Sr.), Dillon Heinlein (Sr.), Luke Stark (Jr.)
Hersey — Connor Reynolds (Jr.), Geroge Vladimirov (Jr.), Jack Carroll (Jr.)
Hoffman Estates — San Han (Sr.), Adam Pasnicki (Sr.)
Palatine — Christian Kalfas (Sr.), Peter Blackham (Jr.)
Prospect — Liam Hansen (Sr.), Cameron Mauer (Jr.)
Rolling Meadodws — Mark Schmid (Sr.)
Schaumburg — Marty Faleni (Sr.)
Wheeling — Lukasz Szczepaniec (Sr.)
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