Naperville North has used its depth all season to become the state's top-ranked boys water polo team.
Why should Saturday's 9-6 victory over Naperville Central in the Metea Valley sectional final that clinched the Huskies' third straight trip to state have been any different?
Contact information ( * required )
Nolan Roberts, Garrett Nash and Luke Landiak each scored 2 goals. Gianmarco Duin, Drake McClure and Ryan Towers each tallied one in a game that Naperville North coach Martin Bell said depth played an even bigger role because of the physical play.
"It was less physical than I thought. But everyone kept their cool," he said. "The best thing about our team is it's not a one-man show. Anytime you need someone to step up, they come through."
The Huskies (31-1), who finished third in state last season, face 11th-ranked Sandburg in this year's state quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
"We're right where we want to be, but there's always room for improvement," Roberts said. "I can't wait for state. We've all been playing together since we were 11 with the subdivision teams. We have one more week with each other. I can't wait."
While the game was physical, it was also tight defensively and scoring opportunities near the net happened, but they certainly weren't numerous.
The first score didn't come until 2:41 into the contest as Nolan Roberts hit net on a breakaway.
About a minute later Ryan Donahue put Naperville Central (24-7) on the scoreboard with a shot about 15 feet out and then teammate Christian May, who scored 2 goals, gave the second-seeded Redhawks a 2-1 lead at quarter's end.
Nash scored both of his goals in the second quarter. The first came on a lob shot at 6:09 and then with two minutes remaining off a Naperville Central ejection. The Huskies, the sectional's top seed, went up 4-2 when Duin's goal came with just four seconds on the clock until halftime.
"We've played with a lot more intensity the past three weeks. Some might say it's with more physicality," said Redhawks coach Bill Salentine. His team was playing tight defense with a crowd in front of the net, but so were the Huskies. And he said that was a big challenge.
"It's a major adjustment. It was poor execution on our part. We wanted to be inside the 5-meter line, but instead we were having to take improbable shots," he said.
Each team scored twice in the third quarter. With just 24 seconds left McClure scored to put Naperville North up 6-3. That lasted 12 seconds as Nick Walker scored to put Naperville Central to within 6-4 at quarter's conclusion. Walker led the Redhawks with 3 goals.
With just less than five minutes left in the game, Towers got up close for a shot that put the Huskies up 8-5. Walker struck again two minutes later to make it 8-6 before Landiak iced the victory with 20 seconds left.
The teams had met three times during the regular season with the Huskies winning all of them.
"With the postseason it was a whole new game, a different intensity," Roberts said. "Central is very sound and very physical and we had to keep up with that."