Top local teams: Naperville Central, Naperville North, Metea Valley
Top games: Naperville Central Invitational, March 15-16; York at Mundelein, April 1; Naperville Central at Naperville North, April 3; Hinsdale Central at Metea Valley, April 4; Hinsdale South at Hinsdale Central, April 8; Naperville North at Neuqua Valley, April 9; Neuqua Valley at Naperville Central, April 11; Metea Valley at Naperville North, April 11; Loyola at York, April 16; Valley Varsity Tournament, April 20;
Top players: Kristina Altuve (Naperville Central, Jr.); Ann Kathrin Becker (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Brooke Bedford (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Taylor Bridgman (Naperville North, Sr.); Molly Devine (Waubonsie Valley, Jr.); Jenny Doyle (Naperville Central, Sr.); Jillian Eiken (Naperville North, So.); Deanna Hoff (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Samantha Holzchu (Waubonsie Valley, Jr.); Leah Hummel (Metea Valley, So.); Jess Kellerstrass (York, Sr.); Neha Khann (Waubonsie Valley, Sr.); Zoe Krey (Metea Valley, Sr.); Rebecca Laughman (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Alden Leader (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Kate MacDuff (Naperville North, Jr.); Monique Martin (Metea Valley, Sr.); Madison Nervig (Naperville Central, Sr.); Devon Olson (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Sarah Pircon (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Lindsay Raczak (Metea Valley, Sr.); Erin Reagan (Naperville Central, Sr.); Carly Redmond (York, Sr.); Jess Sacksteder (York, Sr.); Michelle Spaits (Naperville Central, Jr.); Kimela Srey (Waubonsie Valley, Fr.).
Outlook: Last May, Naperville Central left the state finals with a second-place trophy and a 33-3 record. A group of players crucial to that success return this season. Senior Madison Nervig was named all-state last season and enters her fourth varsity campaign with 2012 totals of 44 goals, 66 steals and 27 assists. Another senior, Erin Reagan, earned all-sectional honors with 35 goals, 55 steals and 47 assists. The Redhawks' depth continues with juniors Kristina Altuve and Michelle Spaits and senior Jenny Doyle. "The looming question this season is how long it will take for the team to jell with an entirely new offensive system that accounts for some great team speed," said Naperville Central coach Jeff Plackett.
It was a big season for Metea Valley last year being just one win from the state finals a 20-7-2 record. A lot of players who contributed to the memorable spring have graduated, but coach Lenny DePasquale believes those coming in to take their place and four returning veterans will keep the Mustangs in the forefront of area water polo. The four veterans are seniors Zoe Krey, Monique Martin and Lindsay Raczak and sophomore Leah Hummel. "We're looking to rebuild this year after losing several seniors who were key assets in our offense and defense. These (four) girls along with several other strong, emerging players will help make us very competitive this season, " he said.
All high school teams' most desired destination is Stevenson High School and the state finals in May. Naperville North is no exception and returns this season with a strong core of experience and young potential. The team finished 21-9. "We're looking to work our way into the championship game at sectionals and move on to state. The girls will have to work hard to achieve their goal," coach Andy McWhirter said. Top veterans back are senior Taylor Bridgman, who scored 47 goals and made 51 steals along with junior goalie Kate MacDuff, who made more than 200 saves last spring. Sophomore Jillian Eiken is also back after racking up 45 goals in 2012. Freshman Caitlyn Holzer and Katie Horn are expected to make an immediate impact.
There's confidence in the Neuqua Valley camp that the Wildcats can improve upon last year's 11-15-2 campaign with the help of defense and speed. "This varsity squad is motivated to win and we have very specific goals in mind. There is talent across the board from seniors to sophomores," coach Lucy Tiffin said. "Captains Brooke Bedford and Deanna Hoff (both seniors) have already set a high standard for our team. Sophomore Morgan Miller is in a position to make a stunning debut on varsity," Tiffin said. Other players to watch are seniors Ann-Kathrin Becker and Devon Olson along with junior Kaitlyn Gorski.
Waubonsie Valley is working hard toward moving several steps forward after a tough 3-20 campaign in 2013. Coach Diana Mehl said the team will receive a boost from senior goalie Neha Khann, juniors Molly Devine and Samantha Holzchu and freshman Kimela Srey. "This season looks promising. Our team is still young, but they have the determination to succeed and improve in every practice. Our girls have a passion for the game and are motivated to do their best. There has been a definite increase in skill and performance since last year, and the girls are working well together to help improve their game," Mehl said.
The York Dukes earned a winning season last spring with a 14-11 record, and first-year coach Mark Giuliani is confident the team has the talent in 2013 to stay successful. He said the Dukes will rely on senior leadership from Carly Redmond, Jess Sacksteder and Jess Kellerstrass. The depth continues with juniors Perri Brinkmeier, Lauren Tamm, Kirsten Rasnic and freshman Grace Achepohl. "Our team has great chemistry and is ready to put in the time and work to be great," Giuliani said.
Hinsdale Central coach Chris Wilbur speaks of the potential of the Red Devils to improve upon last year's 13-16 record. Three seniors return to play key roles starting with Sarah Pircon, who is coming off a 78-goal, 20-assist junior season, along with Rebecca Laughman and Alden Leader. "I am very excited about our season. We have a young team with a lot of potential, and a strong senior class looking to finish their high school water polo careers on a high note. Our girls show tremendous leadership both in and out of the pool," Wilbur said.
-- D.J. Wanberg