There was nothing easy about Naperville North's boys water polo state quarterfinal victory Friday afternoon in Lincolnshire.
The Huskies overcame a halftime deficit and some third-quarter bad luck, then withstood a late New Trier rally to win 10-9 and advance to today's semifinal against Fenwick at Stevenson High School.
"It was so exciting," said Huskies senior Eric Curia. "Tons of adrenaline, rushing back and forth. It was crazy. The last time we played them (a 14-4 Huskies win April 20) there was a lot more separation in the game. It was fun to play a game that close, also scary. But we got it done. We had good teamwork and put it away."
"That just was a game of heart, really," said Huskies assistant coach Ryan Stanley. "I think we did really well. I think (the Trevians) did really well. They came out hot, and we came out kind of weak but then we picked it up."
The Huskies (29-2) trailed 7-5 at halftime, then pulled to within 1 on a Curia goal with 5:46 left in the third period. More than four minutes passed -- during which the Huskies hit the right post four times and had a penalty shot saved -- before they finally solved New Trier goalie John Friesen again to tie the game.
"He's a very good goalie," Curia said of Friesen. "He was blocking all of our shots. I thought I had those ones too, to be honest, but it shows especially later in the tournament you can't be lazy with your shots. You have to know to finish them, and you have to be confident in your finish. It's the only way to get a goal."
"The last time we played them, their goalie, he had just started," Stanley said. "He wasn't as good as he should be. This game he came out and he was stopping everything. We made him look really good, but the way he stepped up from last game was amazing. He was stopping great shots, close shots, everything."
Another Curia goal, his fifth of the game, gave the Huskies the lead for good, and goals by Drake McClure and Luke Landiak added some much-needed breathing room.
While the Huskies were finding goals hard to come by, the Trevians found scoring impossible for most of the second half. Goalie Michael Shabel and the Huskies defense shut out the Trevians (30-4) in the second half until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The Trevians scored twice to cut into a 3-goal Naperville North lead, then ran out of time.
"It was 10-7 and we were feeling confident," Curia said. "Two quick goals and we were like, all right, we need to conserve the ball. Do not let them touch the ball. We managed to get a few kickouts, add a little time to our shot clock, and when we did that's when we had to separate, that's when we took control of the ball, play keepaway. ... But it was an exciting game. It was fun."
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz