Boys water polo: Perfect season for Naperville Central
After an early exit in the quarterfinals of last year's state tournament, the Naperville Central boys water polo team made up for it and then some by tripping up powerhouse Stevenson 8-5 for the program's first state title in water polo.
"This feels fantastic," a drenched Redhawks coach Bill Salentine said. "I knew we were going to be good but never thought we'd finish undefeated and with a state title."
As expected, this one was a good old-fashioned dogfight with both teams exhibiting aggressiveness and resiliency. Ranked first in the state most of the season, Naperville Central came out firing with three goals to take a 3-0 lead after the opening act.
Senior utility players Nick Walker and Kyle Jackson, along with senior 2-meter Philip Emden all scored in the first.
Defense was on display in the second as both teams scored once. Senior utility Brian Calabrese rifled a shot past Pats sophomore keeper Charlie Day, and all of a sudden it was 4-0 with 2:07 left in the half.
But after a runner-up finish in the state series last year, a hungry and determined Stevenson team wasn't going anywhere.
The Pats finally got on the board when senior attacker Alex Kapecki tipped in a rebound off a missed shot by senior attacker Kurt Holzer to make it 4-1 at intermission.
"This was one of (Naperville Central's) closest games," said Kapecki, who was one of only four seniors on the team. "We gave it all our all. I think we just fell apart in some cases with our execution. Overall, it's a little sad. But to graduate with four state trophies is pretty cool."
Both teams scored three goals in the third. Naperville Central went up 5-1 after a tally by Jackson, his second of the game, with 6:10 left in the third. Junior center Dan Maleski's backhand goal got Stevenson within 5-2 a minute later. Naperville Central would answer, though, with back-to-back goals by Walker and freshman utility Bender Russo to seemingly put the game on ice at 7-2.
But Stevenson answered right back with a pair of goals by Holzer, and it was a 7-4 game heading to the final 7 minutes of play.
The Pats drew within 7-5 on Holzer's third goal of the game with 3:17 left in regulation. But that was as close as it would get as it would get. Walker then scored his third goal of the game for a little insurance with 2:04 left.
"Our offense starts with defense and the goalkeeping," said Salentine, whose boys finished 35-0 on the year. "And we had good positioning. We finally broke through. This is special."
Redhawks freshman keeper Kent Emden was terrific in goal to the tune of 18 saves.
"I'm just thankful for my team and their support," Emden said. "My brother (Philip) has been my biggest influence. That, along with my training, helps me in goal."
Besides Walker, Jackson, Philip Emden and Calabrese, others lost to graduation include utility players Kyle Mallen and Eric Stablein and 2-meter Scott Piper.
Stevenson, which finished the campaign 27-7, loses only four to graduation in Holzer, Alex Kapecki, attacker Andrew Lefebvre and utility Cris Tomassetti.