Big defensive finish key for Conant
Conant, the top seed in the Fremd boys water polo sectional, was getting all it wanted from Hoffman Estates on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 3 seed Hawks, after springing an upset on No. 2 Fremd the previous night, went to the half tied at 2-2 with Conant and were within 7-5 late in the third quarter.
It seemed like Hoffman Estates had every chance to stay in the game, and perhaps even pull a stunner.
Conant had other ideas.
Senior Jon Burke scored on a man-up possession at the end of the third quarter, and the Cougars didn't allow another goal the rest of the way in an 11-5 victory.
Conant (30-3) earned its first state tournament trip since 2007 and will face Stevenson at 7 p.m. Friday in the Elite Eight at Stevenson. The Patriots (21-9) edged Palatine 9-7 in the Mundelein sectional final.
"We do some good things offensively," said Conant coach Tim Daniel, "but I think our strength is what we're able to do defensively. We hope that, over time, we're able to wear people down, frustrate them."
Players such as senior Devin Schmitz are key in that effort.
"There's no stat for things like 'shots not taken,' " said Daniel, "but players like Devin are so important to winning. I tell him, 'Your younger brother scores the goals, but you're the one preventing them for the other guys.' "
That was the pattern again Saturday, as junior Connor Schmitz had 2 goals and Devin Schmitz 1. Burke finished with 4 to lead all scorers.
Burke, bound for a swimming future at Michigan State, usually initiates Conant's offense. Just as important is his knack for drawing ejections; his edge in pure velocity certainly helps in that regard, but it's much more than swimming ability that has the Cougars bound for state.
"Our saying is, 'Position, not speed,' " said Burke, smiling. "But speed sure helps.
"I feel like I've come a long way as a player. When I was freshman, I couldn't even pick up the ball. Water polo is about so much more than swimming."
The loss finishes what turned out to be a terrific season for coach Chris Fetterman and Hoffman Estates, who were making the program's first appearance in a sectional final.
Fetterman coached seniors Adam Pasnicki, Sang Han, Nick Jessee and goalie Logan Gizel as varsity players from the time they were freshmen. Gizel was an inspiration in the sectional, playing with a torn meniscus in a knee; his stellar performance against Fremd in the semis in man-up situations was probably the main reason the Hawks (14-15) were able to break new ground.
"Nobody gave us a chance," Fetterman said. "All season, it seemed like we got no respect.
"Our kids fought as hard as they could, as I knew they would. They're great."
Pasnicki, who will play collegiately at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., and Han finished with 2 goals apiece.
But it wasn't quite enough against a Conant team which excels in limiting scoring chances, and has a standout goalie of its own, Aly Ahmed, as the last line of defense.
"Honestly," explained Devin Schmitz, "in my opinion, things played out pretty much like we hoped they would. We tried really hard to do as much as we could do to make it turn out this way, so it feels great."
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