The Naperville Central girls water polo team defeated Naperville North 10-6 in the Neuqua Valley sectional championship match Saturday and is going to the state finals for the sixth straight year with the help of going to class.
The name of that class was Naperville North Girls Water Polo 101. Redhawks coach Jeff Plackett and his staff reviewed again everything there was to know about the Huskies, the sectional's top seed, before the teams squared off. Each squad won a contest during the regular season with the Redhawks winning 7-5 and Naperville North winning 12-11.
"(The Redhawks) worked hard this morning. The players were at school three hours earlier than usual," said Plackett, who had a complete scouting report ready for them. "Naperville North is a great team, a young team, and I look forward to facing them in the future."
Naperville Central, the sectional's No. 2 seed and ranked 10th in the state in one poll, will face St. Ignatius in a state quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
The Redhawks finished second at state last season, and seven players from that team returned for this season. But getting back to the state finals was not automatic for Naperville Central as the current squad had to form its own identity.
"We lost three Division I players from last season. But from the beginning of the season until now, we've improved as a team," said freshman Kaela Codo, who with Leslie Calabrese led Naperville Central with 3 goals each.
"I'm so happy. It's just a great experience to be part of it my first year with the team."
The teams turned up the pressure on each other right from the start in the opening quarter and collected several shots just an inch or two over the net and two that hit the crossbar.
The Redhawks and the Huskies did convert on one chance each during the first seven minutes. Codo took a pass from Sarah Borton and deposited the ball into half an open net with 4:03 remaining. Taylor Bridgman tied the game at 1-1 with just 21 seconds left.
Naperville Central dominated the first four minutes of the second quarter, grabbing a 4-1 lead with Codo striking two more times and Kristina Altuve scoring the other goal.
But the Huskies responded with two goals in the final 2:32 of the quarter to make it a 4-3 halftime score. Kim Lechowicz scored the first of her 3 goals and Katie Horn tallied her first of 2.
The Redhawks hit for 4 goals in the third quarter to take an 8-4 lead and essentially control of the game.
"Naperville Central had a great second half and did a great job of moving the ball around," said Naperville North coach Andy McWhirter, who praised the efforts of his seniors Bridgman and Lechowicz in their last high school game.
The rest of the Redhawks' scoring was Jenny Doyle with 2 goals and Michelle Spaits with 1.
"We knew this was going to be a tough game. We stayed focused on what we needed to do, where we needed to be and who to guard," Doyle said. "State was our goal all season and we made it. Now we're taking it game-by-game."