What kind of game was it?
"I came here with a voice," Hersey coach Dick Mortensen managed to croak afterward, "but I'm not leaving with one."
Nor was he leaving with a victory, after a tense Mid-Suburban League boys water polo championship game at Palatine on Wednesday.
The host Pirates managed to protect a slim lead most of the way before finally getting some breathing room in the fourth quarter.
Palatine won 18-13 to get a fifth MSL crown under coach Joe Grzybek and denied a Hersey program making its second straight title game appearance.
Senior Omar El Hoffi scored a game-high 7 goals to lead the way for Palatine. He also had 4 assists and generated 3 Hersey exclusions, which ended up being a little bit too much for the Huskies to overcome.
"We had the burn going today," El Hoffi said. "Everybody was ready to do."
Especially El Hoffi, whose wing play was a constant threat as his possession skills, leverage and creative shooting added up to a constant headache for the Huskies.
"Omar kind of ate us up today," Mortensen said.
Still, for much of the game, it was very even. Hersey's Jack Caroll (5 goals) scored in the final seconds of the first quarter to keep his team close at 4-2.
Palatine (21-9) led 6-2 in the second quarter, but Hersey outscored the Pirates 4-2 the rest of the period, getting a pair of goals from Connor Reynolds in that spurt to trail 8-6 at the half.
Palatine's Kristiyan Kalev (5 goals) had a pair of scores in the third quarter, and Hersey 2-meter set George Vladimirov scored twice, once on a crisp backhand.
To start the fourth quarter, Vladimirov scored again with a backhand and Hersey was with 1 goal at 12-11.
But just like that, El Hoffi drew an ejection, and Kalev finished the chance. That started a run of four consecutive possessions that ended with goals, and this time Palatine stayed in command.
If these teams end up meeting again in sectional play next week, Carroll knows where Hersey needs to improve.
"Better 'D' on No. 7," Carroll said, referring to El Hoffi. "And just better defense overall. We gave up way too many chances to them."
Down the stretch, El Hoffi drew attention on the wing and twice found another senior, Wally Kleinfeldt, free near the goal mouth. Kleinfieldt converted both times, and El Hoffi added a final goal on a breakaway to finish the scoring for Palatine.
Grzybek was pleased with the victory, but only half-pleased with the way it played out.
"Offensively, yes -- we had a lot of good things happening," he said. "Defensively, we've got a lot of room for improvement."
Reynolds finished with 4 goals for Hersey (19-6), and Vladimirov had 3. Ryan Schlaiss had 3 big goals from the perimeter for Palatine, mainly the result of heavy defensive attention paid to El Hoffi and Kalev. Palatine starting keeper Colin White stopped 11 Hersey shots while junior 2-meter defender Jacob Baran was steady throughout against Vladimirov.
"He'd never even played 2-meter defense before this season," El Hoffi said of Baran. "Without him, we don't win."
Kleinfeldt summed up the postgame mood nicely for a Palatine team now focused on living up to its No. 1 sectional seed and earning a trip to the state's Elite Eight.
"Happy, but not satisfied," said Kleinfeldt as he cradled the MSL championship hardware. "We're hoping there's another trophy still to come for us."
• The Mid-Suburban League all-conference choices were announced Wednesday at Palatine. They are:
Barrington: Chase Lesniak (jr.), Sam Miseyka (sr.)
Buffalo Grove: Kevin Lotzer (sr.), Brandon Hausfeld (sr.)
Conant: Connor Schmidt (jr.), Jacob Lawson (jr.)
Elk Grove: Chris Doruff (jr.)
Fremd: Dylan Assmann (soph.), Connor Helsdingen (sr.)
Hersey: Jack Caroll (sr.), George Vladimirov (sr.), J Maxwell (Sr.)
Palatine: Omar El Hoffi (sr.), Wally Kleinfeldt (sr.), Kristiyan Kalev (sr.), Jacob Baran (jr.)
Prospect: Nathanael Ginnodo (sr.), Cameron Mauer (sr.)
Schaumburg: James Birriel (jr.)
Wheeling: Nate Rieff (soph.), Noah Ihde (sr.)