St. Charles North girls water polo coach Nick Engel has a great deal of faith in his team's defense.
"We are a defensive-minded team," said Engel. "We will be successful because of our defense which will lead our offense."
Based on the results from the opening week of the water polo campaign, Engel's preseason comments appear to be spot-on.
Through their first 2 games, the North Stars (2-0) have outscored opponents by a staggering 33-10 margin.
After beginning the season with a 14-4 victory over Schaumburg, the North Stars exploded for a 19-6 triumph over Barrington Thursday night.
Senior Nicole Guyett and sophomore sister Monica Guyett each tallied 6 goals in the win over Barrington, while junior Katie Quinn had 5 goals and senior Angellica Villa added 3 goals.
Nicole Guyett and Villa are the returning starters from last year's team that finished 20-8 and earned the No. 3 seed in the sectional tournament before losing a 10-6 semifinal decision to eventual state quarterfinalist Naperville Central.
"Nicole figures to lead the way offensively from the hole position," said Engel, "and Angellica looks to build on a great year last season."
Junior goalie Allyson Foor, who made 6 saves against Barrington, expects support from teammates Kennedi Norris, Katie Difiglio, Brittany Veto, Lucy Tykal and Katie Steele.
"I have seen a lot of growth over the summer," said Engel. "I believe our reserves from last year and the players that moved up from JV are ready for the varsity game and will have a real impact this year."
After making a 5-game improvement last season, Engel holds high expectations for this year's squad.
"We plan on building on last year's great performance by competing and winning a sectional championship," said the coach. "We can achieve this through good defense, team play and continued growth on both ends of the pool."
What will push the North Stars over the top?
"Great team play," said Engel, whose team faces Waubonsie Valley Tuesday in its home opener. "We are not the biggest or fastest team but if we play team defense and trust each other we can be successful this year."
At St. Charles East, first-year head coach Tori Shields is looking for improved team unity this season.
"The girls want to win more games this season," said Shields. "I'm interested more about getting the team to work well together."
Shields welcomed more than 30 girls to preseason tryouts -- a significant jump from previous years.
"A lot more girls showed up which is never a bad thing," said Shields. "You can never have too many girls."
The Saints (1-1) opened the season with a 10-5 victory over Rolling Meadows last Tuesday before losing to Metea Valley on Wednesday.
"We've had a great start to the season," said Shields. "The team has looked really good."
Seniors Maya Heath, Sarah Ditch, Kaitlyn Johnsen and Lexy Kos form a solid nucleus of returnees for the Saints.
"Maya is doing a great job in the defensive hole shutting down the offense from the middle," said Shields, who played water polo at Prospect High School before moving on to the collegiate ranks at Michigan State. "Sarah is at the offensive hole while Lexy is our top scorer so far. She isn't afraid to drive. The girls look to her for her strong shot."
Shields also expects significant contributions from seniors Mia Scott, Megan Zbinden, Maryssa DeNardo, MacKenzie Kos, Sarah Beyer, junior goalie December Fagen, Julie Jezek, and sophomores Haley Salveson, MacKenzie Kos, Erin Sastre and Sofie Peltier.
"The returning senior class is our strong point," said Shields, who also plans to call up freshman Julie Saunders. "She has shown promise with a strong shot."
On the boys' side, St. Charles North features 4 returning seniors, including all-sectional goalie Collin Bawolek.
"Collin is a phenomenal goalie," said North Stars coach Chris Cloy.
The other senior veterans are Ross Davis, Nick Traxler and Tim Steele.
"They're all third-year varsity level performers," said Cloy. "They've dedicated themselves to being quality water polo players and they've done a great job buying into the program. Those 4 seniors were the 4 varsity captains on the swim team."
Junior John Pretet will occupy the all-important hole position.
"John is a very passionate, energetic player," said Cloy. "We expect him to have an even bigger impact on our team. He has made a huge amount of growth through his three years on varsity."
Pretet is a 3-sport athlete at St. Charles North (football, swimming, water polo).
"He has an idea of what it takes to play against certain kids," said Cloy.
Junior Ryan Helfers and sophomore Nathan Bawolek complete the list of returning players.
"Ryan was a role player last year but we expect him to take on an increased role on varsity this year," said Cloy. "He has come in ready to go."
"Last year was a learning year on varsity for Nathan," added the coach. "He has done a great job preparing over the summer and fall and we expect him to make an impact as a sophomore."
The varsity roster also includes seniors Rafael Jabbar, Raheem Kahn, junior Chris Stanek and sophomore John Quinn.
"I look for this team to have a very good year," said Cloy, whose squad won a 9-2 sectional play-in game against Hinsdale South before falling 17-6 to sectional champion and third-place state finisher Naperville North.
"We've set our sights on reaching the sectional semifinals -- something that has not been done before at St. Charles North."
The North Stars visit Waubonsie Valley Tuesday before Thursday's home debut against Lockport.
"We've had great success getting swimmers to come out for water polo," said Cloy, who also serves as an assistant for long-time St. Charles North swim coach Rob Rooney. "The support for water polo has been growing in my six years here. That is also a credit to Rob (Rooney)."
At St. Charles East, the Saints have a new coach for the third straight year as Tim O'Grady takes over the helm.
O'Grady inherits a group of returnees that includes seniors Scott Rogman, George Premo, Matt Hinds, Tyler VanGyseghem and goalie Peter Roach.
VanGyseghem is the top goal scorer amongst the returnees.
Juniors Sean Sweeney, Dustin Differding, sophomore Nick Milosch and newcomer Ethan Sellers complete the varsity lineup.
The Saints, who host McHenry Monday, earned a 9-5 sectional play-in victory over Metea Valley last season before losing 12-4 to second-seeded Naperville Central in the sectional semifinals.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org