Top local teams: Naperville North, Naperville Central, Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley, Hinsdale Central
Top games: Neuqua Valley at Hinsdale Central, March 11; Oak Park-River Forest at York, March 13; Fenwick Classic, March 15-16; Naperville Central at Naperville North, April 4; Neuqua Valley at Naperville North, April 9; Naperville Central at Neuqua Valley, April 11; Lyons Township at Naperville North, April 23; Naperville Central at Homewood-Flossmoor, April 24; Hinsdale Central at York, April 27; Sandburg at Naperville Central, May 2.
Top players: Mitch Courtney (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Eric Curia (Naperville North, Sr.); Matt Dejewski (Hinsdale South, Sr.); Brian DePuy (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Steve Ernst (Waubonsie Valley, Sr.); George Koulouris (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Eric Lullo (Naperville Central, Sr.); Patrick McKenna (York, Sr.); Mike McWhirter (Waubonsie Valley, Sr.); Nathan Morris (Waubonsie Valley, Jr.); Adam Nyland (Naperville North, Sr.); Brogan O'Doherty (Hinsdale Central, Sr.); Ryan O'Toole (Hinsdale South, Sr.); Matt Prestinario (Naperville Central, Sr.); Luke Ryan (Naperville Central, Sr.); Will Russell (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Michael Shabel (Naperville North, Sr.); Kyle Stablein (Naperville Central, Sr.); Alex Thoele (Neuqua Valley, Sr.); Alex Waldherr (York, Sr.); Alex Walter (Metea Valley, Jr.).
Outlook: How close was Naperville North to reaching the state semifinals in 2012? The Huskies were tied at halftime 4-4 before falling to defeat to eventual state champion Lyons Twp. 8-4. Coach John Blumthal said the Huskies have the capability for another run at state. "We return six of seven starters and 12 total players from our 2012 state team who gained a tremendous amount of big-game experience last year. We look to enter the Naperville sectional as the top seed and earn another trip to the state tournament," he said. "We have a group of young men who work hard every day, every practice and who understand what it takes to be one of the final teams playing water polo in May. If we execute as I believe we can, I think this is going to be a special season for our boys. Our ultimate hope is to end this season with trophy of some sort from the state tournament." Top seniors returning from the 30-4 squad include Eric Curia, who earned all-state honors and scored a school-record 162 goals. He will be joined by senior teammates Michael Shabel, the team's goalie, who made 216 saves and earned 56 assists, along with Adam Nyland. Junior Nolan Roberts' 105 steals set a school record, as did junior Gianmarco Duin's 97 assists. Another strong defender is junior Luke Landiak.
It was another big season for Naperville Central in 2012 with a 22-11 record and sectional final appearance. Coach Bill Salentine is optimistic that the Redhawks can be a factor in the postseason this spring. Top returnees are senior goalie Matt Prestinario and seniors Kyle Stablein, Eric Lullo and Luke Ryan. Salentine expects juniors Joe Bigenwald, Connor Lamb, Adam Hunter and Matt Laboe to make an impact. "I think that we should be competing for the sectional title and possibly make it to state. We have the tools and the talent, now we just have to execute," Salentine said.
Neuqua Valley coach Adam Hoffer likes the Wildcats' mixture of seniors and experienced underclassmen who will strive to improve upon last spring's 15-14-1 record. Top seniors are Will Russell, Brian DePuy and Alex Thoele, with the lineup boosted by junior goalie John Hedderman and junior Drew Dvorchak and sophomore Simon Shatinsky. "I'm looking forward to strong leadership from my seniors and first-time varsity goalie Hedderman. We have the potential to surprise some teams that aren't expecting it and look to win some close games," Hoffer said.
Metea Valley looks to its depth to help it make its mark this season. Although only four players return from last season's 15-14 varsity squad, the team has doubled in size from 2012. Top player returning for the Mustangs is junior Alex Walter. "We will win more games than we should based on our players' experience and talent," said coach Tom Musch.
Waubonsie Valley looks to more experience returning this season to help it improve upon last spring's seventh seed in its sectional. "We have more returning starters. Going into last season, we had just one returning starter from the previous year," coach Matt Niemeier said. "We have a strong lineup and depth." The Warriors will look to senior Mike McWhirter (captain), senior Steve Ernst and junior Nathan Morris (captain) for leadership. Niemeier expects sophomores Cameron Steele and Bradin Krug to make an impact as well.
Hinsdale Central's Martin Bell is pleased to have plenty of senior experience coming back from last season's 18-10 squad. That includes seniors George Koulouris and Brogan O'Doherty, two of the team's leading scorers and senior goalie Mitch Courtney. Bell is anticipating production from seniors Alex Cruz and Dan Ciciora; juniors Pat Mis, Wade Kinney and Jake Sprong in addition to sophomores Brian Portland and Adam Pircon. "Every team will have challenges to overcome and Hinsdale Central will be no different. Ultimately, it is which team can best handle those challenges and move forward after them," Bell said.
York hopes to make strides this season with the help of key players returning. The Dukes are aiming to improve upon last season's 10-18 mark with the services of all-conference senior players Patrick McKenna and Alex Waldherr along with all-sectional honorable mention picks of senior Nick Salek, and juniors Wil Hubert and Joe Kesslering. "We are returning five regulars, so we'll have a lot of experience in the water for us this year. Also, this is my second year at York, so the boys are much more familiar with our system. We are hoping to take a big step forward as a program," coach Brian Drumm said.
Hinsdale South is confident it can improve upon last season's ninth sectional seed. "We're really looking forward to this season. We are enjoying being the underdog. The boys are motivated and ready to play," coach Beth Walker said. Leading the Hornets are offensive threat Ryan O'Toole and defensive threat Matt Dejewski, both seniors. Dejewski led the team in steals. Senior Gunnar Wagner is coming off an active boys swimming state meet. Austin Hultmark, also a senior, returns as a sprint specialist and Cameron Harris, also back for his final season, is in goal. Freshman Danny Milosevich enters the program with extensive experience.
-- D.J. Wanberg