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updated: 3/15/2014 11:05 PM

Girls water polo: Scouting DuPage County

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Top local teams: Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley.

Top games: New Trier at Naperville Central, March 18; Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley, March 20; Naperville Central at Naperville North, April 10; Neuqua Valley at St. Charles North, April 10; Hinsdale Central at Hinsdale South, April 14; Hinsdale Central at Naperville North, April 22; Metea Valley at Waubonsie Valley, April 24; Mother McAuley at Naperville Central, April 29.

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Top players: Katie Anderson (Naperville North, Sr.); Sarah Anderson (Waubonsie Valley, Jr.); Kristina Altuve (Naperville Central, Sr.); Lauren Backe (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Kaela Codo (Naperville Central, So.); Dani DiMatteo (Naperville North, Sr.); Gracie Dunn (Hinsdale Central, Jr.); Brittney Effner (Metea Valley, Sr.); Jillian Eiken (Naperville North, Jr.); Frances Gibson (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Sophia Glomb (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Kaitlyn Gorski (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Molly Gstes (Hinsdale Central, Jr.); Samantha Holzschu (Waubonsie Valley, Sr.); Leah Hummel (Metea Valley, Jr.); Kristina James (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Briana Kirin (Hinsdale South, Sr.); Jean Kiwiet (Hinsdale South, Jr.); Kate MacDuff (Naperville North, Sr.); Caroline Oakum (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Morgan Miller (Neuqua Valley, Jr.); Nina Relias (Hinsdale Central, Jr.); Michelle Spaits (Naperville Central, Sr.); Kimela Srey (Waubonsie Valley, So.); Helen Wei (Naperville North, Sr.).

Outlook: Naperville Central enters the 2014 season trying for its ninth trip to the state finals in the last 10 seasons. The team finished 22-12 overall and lost to eventual state champ St. Ignatius in the state quarterfinals. The Redhawks will do it with a young squad, but plenty of experience returns. The experience includes senior center defender Kristina Altuve. She was the Redhawks' second-leading scorer with 51 goals, 99 steals and 25 assists, earning all-state and all-sectional honors. Senior utility Michelle Spaits also earned all-state and all-sectional awards with 50 goals, 44 steals and 30 assists. Sophomore attacker Kaela Codo's performance in last season's sectional final was crucial to Central winning and advancing to state. For the season, she finished with 34 goals, 39 steals and 22 assists after moving to the varsity lineup 14 games into the season. Top newcomers include senior attacker Jessica Fox, junior attacker Nikki Kolbe and sophomore goalie Faith Vandercar. "There's a lot of talent on this squad; they'll just look to find the right combination of people before May's sectional tournament," said coach Jeff Plackett.

Naperville North finished 24-6 in 2013, falling to Naperville Central in the sectional final. The Huskies return plenty of experience to be an area power again. Top returning players are senior goalie Kate MacDuff along with senior field players Katie Anderson, Helen Wei and Dani DiMatteo and junior field player Jillian Eiken. Also expected to make crucial contributions are sophomore field players Katie Horn, Caitlin Holzer and Taylor Stoner.

"We should have a good run all season and are looking for another key matchup with Naperville Central at sectionals," coach Andy McWhirter said.

Neuqua Valley finished just 9-18 in 2013 but earned a postseason victory when it beat Hinsdale Central in a sectional quarterfinal before falling to Naperville North. Senior Kaitlyn Gorski, last season's leading scorer, returns along with seniors Lauren Backe and Kristina James and junior Morgan Miller. Sophomore Issi French will make her varsity debut as goalie. "We have a great defensive instinct as a team and this year that will be complemented by Issi French," said Neuqua coach Lucy Tiffin. "Morgan Miller is proving to be a strong leader all-around. Kaitlyn Gorski, Lauren Backe and Kristina James are leading our team in a major way for some incoming talent. We hope to improve upon our finish in sectionals last season."

Waubonsie Valley coach Diana Mehl believes the key to the Warriors improving upon last season's two-win result is defense. "Our team has been rebuilding for the past few years, and hopefully we can get back the strength we have lost. Our girls are dedicated to learning the game and making the most of every practice," she said. The Warriors lost just three seniors from last season's squad. Top players this spring are sophomore Kimela Srey, senior Samantha Holzchu and junior Sarah Anderson. Mehl said freshman Juliette Ansberry shows promise.

First-year Metea Valley coach Wyatt Jansen believes the Mustangs can achieve despite a lack of experience. "We are a well-rounded team and have good depth, just inexperienced. The more games we play the better we will get," he said. Jansen said about 12 seniors graduated from last season's team that finished the spring at the sectional semifinals. The only two returning varsity players are junior Leah Hummel and senior Brittney Effner. Juniors Abigail Chamberlain and Grace Rathje will provide speed and senior Cassidy Frank has a good outside shot.

First-year Hinsdale Central coach Christopher Ortiz likes the balance of experience that the Red Devils will show this season as they try to improve upon last year's 20-9 record and sectional quarterfinal appearance. Top players returning are seniors Frances Gibson, Sophia Glomb and Caroline Oakum along with juniors Gracie Dunn, Molly Gstes and Nina Relias. "We have a great opportunity to gel and play as a unit," Ortiz said. "There are seven returning seniors as well as seven juniors on varsity that are ready to contribute. They all know how to play together and understand each other's strengths."

Hinsdale South is looking to improve its mobility as it sets out to improve upon last year's 2-26 record and sectional first-round appearance. Top players Briana Kirin, a senior, and Jean Kiwiet, a junior, return. "My outlook for this season is that of movement. We are looking at having more success with being a more mobile team in the water and hope that it can translate over to more success," said first-year coach Douglas Junius.

-- D.J. Wanberg

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