Boys water polo: Stevenson trusts in its teamwork
There's no questioning the physicality, talent and hard work the Stevenson boys water polo team exhibits.
Less apparent is the main ingredient the players hope will produce a deep postseason run, if not a state title: the mental approach.
The Pats are ranked third in the state and are the top seed in the Buffalo Grove sectional that kicks off Wednesday. Stevenson will meet either Lake Forest or Vernon Hills before competing in Friday's sectional semifinals and likely Saturday's championship matchup.
It was a tough pill to swallow a year ago when Stevenson narrowly missed winning it all after falling to Lyons 9-6 in the state title game.
"I think the huge difference this season is that we're functioning as a real team, and at the right time," said junior center and defender Andrew Shashin, who led the Pats with 4 goals in a 15-7 win over Neuqua Valley in the finale of the Stevenson tourney on Saturday afternoon. "Since last year and the beginning of the season, we played more as individuals and that was great because we have so much talent. But now we're a well-oiled machine and just know where each other is at in the pool at all times.
"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and that mindset has helped motivate us each and every day we show up for practice or a game or whatever."
And speaking of crisp passing, Shashin was the third leg of a beautiful 4-pass sequence that resulted in senior utility player Cris Tomassetti finding the back of the net and putting the hosts up 5-2 in the first period against Neuqua Valley.
"When we're playing on our legs and not turning the ball over is when we play our best. And we're doing that at the right time," said Pats coach Sean Wimer, whose team heads to the postseason 23-6 after finishing 2-1 in the event Saturday.
In the opening game earlier in the day, Stevenson defeated Lincoln-Way Central 12-4 as sophomore attacker Collin Kapecki netted 5 goals.
The Pats then ran into a hiccup when it fell to top-ranked and unbeaten Naperville Central 9-4. Collin Kapecki, Tomassetti, junior attacker Rahul Arun, and junior center Dan Maleski scored a goal apiece in the losing effort. It's the second straight weekend Stevenson has fallen short against the Redhawks.
"Today we just played straight up and very vanilla," said Pats coach Sean Wimer. "We just need to clean up a couple of small things. But overall we're rounding into form at the right time and it will be a different story when the playoffs start."
Against Neuqua Valley, Stevenson jumped to a 5-2 lead after the opening period.
Besides Tomassetti, Collin Kapecki, Maleski, Shashin, and senior attacker Kurt Holzer each scored a goal.
The Pats put the game out of reach in the second, scoring 6 unanswered goals to take an 11-2 lead at halftime.
Shashin scored the hat trick in the period, while Maleski and Tomassetti each scored their seconds of the game. Senior attacker Alex Kapecki also got into the scoring frenzy with a single goal.
In the third stanza, both Kapecki brothers scored their second goals of the game, while Maleski punched in his third of the afternoon as the Pats were well in command 14-4 heading into the final six minutes.
The lone Stevenson goal in the fourth came from freshman attacker Topher Stensby, who blasted one past the out-stretched arms of the Neuqua Valley keeper.
And as for keepers, sophomore Charlie Day stopped 4 Wildcats shots and was very disruptive in three periods of action.
With the game well at hand, freshman keeper Nick Ebling played the fourth quarter and held his own in stopping 3 shots in relief of Day.