It has turned out to be an Arab Spring at, of all places, Conant High School.
Conant's boys water polo team is featuring goalie Aly Ahmed, an Egyptian native who transferred into the school this year, bringing with him way more than your average skill set to the high school game here in the midwest.
Ahmed been playing the game for more than six years and rose to the sport's highest levels in Egypt, as he played for the national team.
While Egypt isn't yet regarded as an international power in the sport, there's no doubt about Ahmed's ability.
He's been a key to Conant's fast start. The Cougars are 4-1 overall and tied for first place with Palatine and Fremd at 3-1 in what figures to be tight Mid-Suburban West race.
Coach Tim Daniel, who is also the Cadet boys team coach for the Olympic Development Program's Midwest region, was thrilled to hear someone with Ahmed's skill set would be joining Conant.
"Being a top-level water polo goalie is a pretty specific skill, so to have someone like him join us was pretty unlikely," Daniel said. "He's making a difference."
That's clear from his play. Ahmed has great side-to-side agility, wingspan and elevation as he patrols the goal. To go with that, he has an advanced understanding of how defending the goal is truly a team responsibility, as positioning and collective awareness make a big difference in how frequently the opposition will score.
Daniel says Ahmed, a senior, will help not only with his play this year, as the Cougars try to assemble their most successful season yet, but also with grooming some of the younger candidates for varsity action in the future.
For Ahmed, the transition from international play to what is still in some senses a developing high school sport hasn't always been easy.
Following a 1-goal loss to defending conference champ Fremd in mid-March, Ahmed was asked to compare the two very different levels of water polo he's experienced.
"It's not even the same game," he said. "I'm trying to help by pointing out where our defenders should be, how we can be better. But it's frustrating.
"We are trying -- I can see that. I think we need to try harder."
The most recent results are encouraging, as Conant dealt Palatine its first divisional loss of the season in a decisive 15-9 decision last week. In the game before that, Conant held on for a 6-5 decision against a Hoffman Estates team that also has high hopes, and Ahmed made 12 saves.
Opponents are taking notice, too. The website illpolo.com featured Ahmed as one of its Players to Watch and mentioned his 7-steal performance against Fremd as evidence that he's among the state's elite goalies.
By season's end, and with more experience, Daniel hopes Ahmed and capable players such as Devin Schmitz, Kyle Bradberry, Jon Burke, Jake Nelson, Matt Engebretson and Jake Lawson could be looking at this season as the one where everything neatly fell into place.
Daniel has arranged Conant's schedule so virtually of its touranment games are in the latter half of the season.
"We hope this approach helps us maximize training in the early season and gain plenty of game experience as the season progresses," Daniel said. "The focus as always is to get better as the season progresses."