Girls water polo: Defending state champ Stevenson sweeps quad to stay unbeaten

A water polo goalkeeper’s red badge of courage doesn’t bleed.

It stings.

Stings something fierce.

But not to Stevenson sophomore keeper Elsa Kusevskis.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” the varsity rookie said at Saturday’s Stevenson girls water polo quad, alluding to the “arm burn” that accompanies a stop on a blistering shot.

Awesome in her mind because a tough save buoys her team up and deflates the foe. The 5-foot-8 Kusevskis has a wingspan of 5-10. She used both wings to absorb most of her combined 27 saves, as the reigning state champion Patriots won the quad with a 3-0 record and improved to 8-0.

Coach Jeff Wimer’s water darts edged Evanston 5-4, downed Mother McAuley 15-4 — in a rematch of last spring’s state title game — and then topped New Trier 13-4.

“Elsa is long and quick,” said Wimer, whose volunteer goalkeepers coach, Mundelein graduate Mike Kusevskis, doubles as Elsa’s father. “You know what else I like about Elsa? Her work ethic. Elsa put in a lot of time in the offseason working on her game with NIPC (Northern Illinois Polo Club).”

Had the quad awarded an MVP plaque Saturday, Stevenson senior driver and karaoke superstar Sophia Berger would have hauled it home. One of two returning starters (with sophomore utility Olivia Spieth) from last year’s 35-1 crew, Berger amassed three-game totals of 9 goals, 7 assists and 13 steals. She notched 7 goals, 3 assists and 4 steals in the defeat of McAuley’s Mighty Macs and 40 percent of the Pats’ 5 goals in the rise-and-splash 8 a.m. contest vs. Evanston’s Wildkits.

Stevenson, which had last played two weeks ago, shot a somnolent 5-for-22 in its opener Saturday.

“We woke up against Mother McAuley, when we relied on our good team chemistry and trust in our teammates,” Berger, also an outstanding competitive swimmer, said. “We showed what we do well and what we like to do. We swam fast.

“We outswam them.”

Stevenson’s team speed, particularly in transition, exhausts opponents. Early in the fourth quarter of the McAuley game, Berger secured a steal at mid-pool and sprinted nearly 10 yards before whipping a pass to a wide-open Victoria Duncan.

Duncan, a junior, scored easily from 3 yards to up the host school’s advantage to 14-4. Stevenson had set a resounding tone early, with a 5-1 lead after one quarter.

Two hours later Stevenson entered the second quarter against NT with a 4-1 cushion.

“That’s how we like to start — fast and strong,” said Wimer, who has guided the program to five state championships since 2015. “Establishing pace is what we’re all about. I yell ‘Go’ a lot during games because I see opportunities to fast-break and I don’t want us to wait.”

Spieth poured in a game-high 4 goals against NT’s Trevians, including a 5-meter penalty shot in the first quarter; Duncan struck for 3 goals and junior Jillian Carlson (5 tourney steals) and freshman Caroline Bickoff had 2 apiece.

Stevenson senior Emily Headley — “She’s defense-minded, a very good passer, unsung,” Wimer said — contributed three-game totals of 2 goals, 5 assists and 4 steals; senior Sophia Brown finished with 3 goals, 2 assists and 5 steals; and freshman Dhanani Seneviratne collected 8 steals.

“We have a good mix of strong seniors and talented young players,” said Wimer, whose captains are Berger, Brown, Headley and senior Natalie Hooper. “We sub two freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and a senior, and we don’t lose much.

“We keep going.”

Evanston won 2 of 3 quad games to take runner-up honors ahead of McAuley (1-2) and New Trier (0-3).

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