Fremd's late bloomers spoiled things for Hersey's seasoned seniors.
The sixth-seeded Vikings used a nice balance of defense, sharp perimeter shooting and opportunistic play around the goal mouth to eliminate No. 2 seed Hersey in the Palatine boys water polo sectional semifinals Friday.
Fremd won 14-11 to advance into Saturday's noon championship matchup against sectional host Palatine.
It's been anything but a smooth season for coach Brian Newby's Vikings. Fremd had a couple of key players opt not to join the team this spring, and those absences combined with some key injuries made the regular season a challenge, as reflected by the team's 14-15 overall record.
But the beauty of the postseason is clear to a coach like Newby, who regularly made deep playoff runs with Fremd's girls program before switching to coach the boys team two seasons ago.
"I just old our guys, the lasting impression you'll make this season isn't what's happened up to this point -- it's what happens from this point forward. When the sectional started, our record was 0-0. Nothing else matters.
"And our guys really stepped up these last two games."
Hersey kept it close the whole way but never quite overcame being held scoreless in the first quarter as Fremd led 2-0.
The Huskies (20-7) did make it a 1-goal game with Jack Carroll scored on a man-up to make it 11-10 in favor of Fremd about midway through the fourth quarter.
But Luke Stark scored on a penalty shot, and Zach Starkey made a nice individual drive to the post and scored on a lob to put the Vikings back in command at 13-10 with two and half minutes left.
Stark and all-conference sophomore Dylan Assmann both finished with 5 goals, and Connor Helsdingen and Starkey each had 2.
Carroll scored 5 for Hersey (20-7), while Michael Buffa had 3, Connor Reynolds had 2 and George Vladimirov 1. Those seniors formed the core of the best-ever Hersey boys water polo team, and were keys to back-to-back Mid-Suburban East titles.
Carroll finishes as tops in program history in career goals, assists and steals and holds most of the single-season records as well. Vladimirov finishes just behind Carroll in career goals.
"We were fortunate to have a really good group of seniors," said Hersey coach Dick Mortensen. "You could see it when they were freshmen. I remember thinking, 'These guys have a chance to be really special.' And they really were."
But it's Fremd advancing -- and these Vikings are looking pretty special, too.
They ousted No. 3 seed Prospect handily on Wednesday, 17-7. Now they've beaten the No. 2 seed, which leaves No. 1 Palatine as the only hurdle between Fremd and a state berth.
"I always tell my guys, 'Use your head, and play with your heart,' " said Newby. "We do that, we'll be fine."
Palatine 16, Conant 10: On his birthday, Palatine's Kristiyan Kalev certainly came of age.
The left-handed senior known to teammates as Cannon boomed 10 goals past Conant as the Pirates earned a sectional final appearance in their own pool.
Kalev was pleased with his performance but wants to keep focused on getting one more victory before celebrating too much. The Pirates meet Fremd in Saturday's noon championship game.
"We've waited a long time for this," Kalev said. "Especially for us seniors, we've taken our lumps a little bit over the years. So we're excited about trying to make this our time."
Mihir Patel led Conant with 4 goals, but Palatine's success in extending straight-up defensive pressure made it difficult for Conant to establish much in the way of offensive rhythm. Cougars all-conference junior Connor Schmitz did not score; Cody Yeiser and Braden Lamore had 2 goals each.
"This is the youngest group I've ever coached," said Conant coach Tim Daniels. "We had a lot of guys who took some big steps this year, but it wasn't quite enough against Palatine."
Yet until a final fourth-quarter scoring spurt from the Pirates (22-9), Conant was still very much in the game. When a deflected shot found the net late in the third quarter, Conant trailed 9-8.
Top seed Palatine righted itself in the fourth quarter as Kalev scored 3 times and Ryan Schlaiss scored twice. Schlaiss finished with 3 goals and Omar El Hoffi, Wally Kleinfeldt and Jacob Baran had 1 each.
The difference in Kalev's play, according to Palatine coach Joe Grzybek, is an overall awareness of his skill set.
"His shooting ability has always been there," said Grzybek, whose program will be chasing its first Elite Eight state appearance against Fremd in the sectional final. "What's changed is that he's really looking for opportunities -- and then taking advantage of them."
Conant has much to look forward to, including excellent goalie play from Jake Lawson.
"He's probably one of the most improved players around," said Daniels. "We're going to go talk about 2015, starting right now."
Mundelein sectional: Top seed Stevenson eliminated No. 4 seed Barrington 12-4 to earn a spot in Saturday's 11 a.m. title game against No. 3 seed Mundelein.
Andrew Shashin led the Patriots with 5 goals, while Barrington got 1 apiece from Chase Lesniak, Pat Hogan, Marshall Mathias and Matt Gouskos.
Mundelein defeated No. 2 seed Libertyville 10-7 behind a game-best 4 goals from Mike Ward.
It took overtime to decide, but Palatine's girls water polo team is moving on.
The No. 2 seed Pirates edged Fremd 10-9 after a third overtime period to earn a spot in Saturday's sectional championship game against top seed Conant, scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start.
Fremd (13-17) was seeded third but had played extremely well leading up to the postseason.
Palatine (25-5) finished as the Mid-Suburban West runner-up. West champion Conant defeated Palatine twice in the regular season, most recently in a 6-4 decision April 28 at Conant in a game that clinched the MSL West title for Conant.
The winner of Saturday's sectional will be breaking new ground, as neither Palatine nor Conant have made the state's Elite Eight before.
Conant 14, Barrington 3: The top-seeded Cougars (26-6) rolled into the sectional final with a strong semifinal effort.
The MSL winners got a game-high 6 goals from senior Angie Skittone, while junior Carmen Rosas had 4 goals, 5 steals and drew 2 ejections.
Emily Weingart scored twice, and goalie Maddy Demaret stopped 8 shots and had 3 steals.
Mundelein sectional: The Mid-Suburban League champs nearly sprung an upset before ending up 1 goal short of making a sectional final appearance.
Third-seeded Wheeling fell 10-9 against the sectional host Mustangs, who will face Stevenson in Saturday's sectional championship matchup.
The top-seed Patriots rolled past Lake Forest 18-2 in the other semifinal.