Boys water polo: Scouting Northwest

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent

BarringtonCoach: Rob Emary

2018 record: 20-7 (13-0, 1st place MSL West, 1st place MSL championship)

Top returning players: Seniors Steve Fischer (2-meter offense), Wyatt Lindquist (goalie), Josh Robinson (2-meter defender), Liam Rorison (driver), junior Aidan Roth (driver)

Key newcomers: Sophomores Lincoln Mohr (driver), Dan Langlois (driver), freshman Joey Edstrom (driver)

Outlook: Emary returns a trio of award-winning players from last year in all-state, all-sectional and all-conference performer Fischer, all-sectional honoree Robinson and all-conference pick Lindquist. Emary points to an overall fitness level and swimming ability as key assets for the Broncos. "I also think the fact our guys have been playing together for the past three years will really help our team chemistry," he said. Fischer is expected to be the team's main scorer, "but to be successful the other five guys around him will need to step up and put the ball in the net," the coach implored. Athleticism on defense also will be a calling card, "along with everyone's willingness to play the game and not just a man or one position," Emary said. The coach also spoke of adaptability and flexibility throughout the season as determining factors "of how far we can go this season. Can we see what is going to work best offensively and defensively in each situation and execute effectively? We will face some really tough competition this season and every game will be the most important one."

Buffalo GroveCoach: Scott Kopecky

2018 record: MSL East champions, sectional runner-up

Top returning players: Seniors Daniel Verdico, Andy Gontko, Carlos Salgado, junior Michael Goubine

Outlook: "Continue our successes from last year, we are working to be a team that has multiple opportunities on offense," explained Kopecky. "We stress strong defense and capitalizing on the opportunities as they present themselves on offense. We try to be a patient group that works to put ourselves in a position to win at the end of the game." Kopecky said the team's goals are the same each year. "We look at our season chronologically," he said. "Our first goal is the East, followed by the MSL After that, we are looking to sectionals. Last year was the first year that we made the sectional finals. We got there with a close win over Mundelein, which we had split with during the regular season. We had a dedicated group of seniors that graduated last year, but left the program with a sense that hard work will be rewarded. I feel this message has been taken up by the current varsity team."

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ConantCoach: Tim Daniel

2018 record: 23-13-1 (2nd place MSL, sectional champion, 4th place state)

Top returning players: Seniors Alex Hirjoi (attacker), Bryan Cho (center), Justin Lim (attacker), Jake Lydon (center defender), Mikey Bland (utility), Carson Jess (attacker), Christian Snopek (attacker), junior Spencer Urban (attacker), sophomore Noah Lawson (center)

Key newcomers: Juniors Aaron Nagorzanski (goalie), Sam Gosche (attacker), Konrad Sak (center defender)

Outlook: The Cougars are fresh off a fourth-place state finish and return all-stater Hirjoi (all-sectional and all-conference as well), along with all-sectional picks Cho and Lydon (Cho also was all-MSL). Hirjoi is headed to Air Force next year. With all field players returning, Daniel said experience and chemistry are in abundance. The coach likes the multiple options he has for goal scoring as well as the group's strong concept of team defense where it can be "very opportunistic" on that side of the pool. "We need to continue to create leaders within our team culture and make sure our team standards are continuously pursued," said Daniel. "Our standards always are the same at Conant. We expect to be competing for a sectional championship at the end of the season."

Elk GroveCoach: Mike Nauert

2018 record: 8-17, 4-9 (4th MSL East)

Top returning players: Senior Christian Tchilikov (utility), juniors Paolo Losacco (driver), Joe Mizialko (driver), sophomore Gavin McCorry (utility)

Key newcomers: Sophomores Stefan Jevtic (utility), Christian Krawec (utility)

Outlook: Nauert is good in the experience department this season. "We have a lot of tenured players so we should be able to create movement on the perimeter," he said. Defense was a focus a year ago and will continue to be this season. "We will continue to do so this year," Nauert said. "We really want to pressure the other teams with their ball control and create turnovers on defense. The keys to a successful season will be to limit our turnovers. We are hoping some of the newcomers will step up and be ready to play within the next few games." Nauert would like to see team get into a top 3 position in the MSL East.


FremdCoach: Brian Newby

2018 record: 17-11 (7-5 MSL)

Top returning players: Seniors Sebastian Lekas (center), Christian Zukowski (goalie), juniors Sean Warner (utility), James Steininger (utility), Russel Beaupre (utility),

Key newcomers: Juniors Rigden Atsatsang (utility), Shashwat Viswanath (goalie), Brandon Vera (utility), Kyle Martin (utility), Kevin Han (utility), Andrew Kini (utility)

Outlook: Lekas, Warner and Zukowski are Fremd's top returning scorers from a year ago. "We are a young team that has worked the past year in and offseason to create a team culture and goal to push to be one of the top teams in the future," said Newby. "We know we have work to do with some of the top teams in the area returning a lot of their players, but it always is our goal to be competitive and continue to improve ourselves to compete at a high level against them." Newby noted players have worked at the NWC water polo club in Palatine in the offseason to improve their skills "and transition to help our team with their goal of being more competitive," he said. "With five out of seven returning players from last year's team, we are heading in the right direction." Zukowski and six teammates traveled with NWC to the Junior Olympics in California this past summer. "A strong showing in the offseason by the players has helped set us on a path to hopefully be competitive with the teams in our area," said Newby. "We must play team water polo on offense and especially defense. I have preached that it's not just one of us affected by mistakes, it is the team. Defense is not a player, it's a position and it's a team effort." Newby sees Conant, Barrington and Palatine as teams to keep an eye on in the MSL West, while Buffalo Grove, Prospect and Hersey as teams working to be competitive on the other side. "The MSL is heading in the right direction. I look forward to a competitive season," said Newby. "The quicker we work together we will start to accomplish our goals as a team. I am looking forward to a strong showing."

HerseyCoach: Marc Popovici

2018 record: 20-9 (2nd MSL East, 4th MSL championship)

Top returning players: Seniors Jack Casey (set), Jack Blumenfeld (wing), junior Misha Nikiforov (driver)


Key newcomers: Junior Scott Kaiser (goalie)

Outlook: Casey is 71 goals away from the all-time goals record. "Both Jack Casey and Jack Blumenfeld are team captains and they should lead us to an exciting year," said Popovici. Casey and Nikiforov are returning postseason award winners and also were the team's leading scorers last season. Popovici has high hopes for junior goalie Kaiser. "We are really excited to see what Scott will do between the pipes," he said. "He was an exceptional goalie at the JV level and we are really excited to see what he's going to do for us at the varsity level. We feel very confident about our defense's job to help Scott, but at the same time we have all the confidence in the world that Scott will stop anything." Team chemistry is strong for the Huskies. "They are excited to come off a great season to work hard and push themselves," said Popovici. Hersey excelled last season on counter attacks. "I think the offense is going to be fun to watch this year," the coach said. Popovici is urging his players to focus on a quote from the late Rob Lingdren. "If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot." "We expect all our players to all do the little things to find success," said Popovici. Hersey has its sights set on an MSL East crown. "Like every year we are looking forward to a tough MSL East race," the coach said. "Losing to Buffalo Grove twice last season did not sit well with the guys, so we are pretty hungry for an MSL East title." Hersey starts the season with contests against Conant (fourth in state), Stevenson (fifth in state) and Lyons Township (third in state). "Seems daunting to some, but we are up to the challenge," said Popovici.

Hoffman EstatesCoach: Jeff Skalon

2018 record: 2-23 (1-11 MSL)

Top returning players: Juniors EJ Merza (hole set), Marco Pineda (wing)

Key newcomers: Sophomore Richard Le (wing, driver), freshman Antonio Arias (goalie)

Outlook: Skalon, who also coaches girls swimming at York, is in his second season leading the Hawks' program. "We have a lot of returning guys," he said. "This is my second year with them, which is nice because a lot of them are coming in with that knowledge they learned from last year. We have a pretty good idea and a good foundation of guys who understand how to play the game, which is allowing us to build their skills right now." Team chemistry, Skalon added, will also help going forward. "All these guys are invested in each other from being friends or being on teams together whether that's Hoffman boys swimming or water polo," he noted. "They all are pretty connected and are continuing those relationships and commitments to each other." Skalon sees his team taking a step forward this season. "I think we can be better than last year. What that looks like? I'm not sure yet," he said. "We've changed the schedule a little bit and picked up a tournament with Vernon Hills and we're playing some other teams that we match up a little better with. We play in a difficult conference. We're going to be young and raw, but hopefully we can add on some more wins."

PalatineCoach: Joe Grzybek

2018 record: 7-25 (2-8 MSL)

Top returning players: Juniors Sam Adame, Mike Ingebritson, Nathan Allen (goalie), sophomore Alex Antoniv

Key newcomers: Juniors Will Hamilton, Kevin Ehrenstrom, Luke Hedstrom, Christian Snyder, sophomores Jack O'Connel, Dmytro Khomyak, Henry Gabriel, freshman Max Adame

Outlook: Adame, the team's top scorer and driver, was an all-sectional honorable-mention selection in 2018. "Our team athleticism has improved dramatically," Grzybek said. "Most guys are versatile and can play anywhere. Our polo IQ and speed will be solid." Grzybek noted he hopes to have a three-layered offense that will give his group plenty of good scoring options. The coach also has high hopes on defense. "We have the ability to have a good defense," he said. "We need to be patient and work together and see what we can do." Palatine has only one senior on the team (the senior class came to Palatine the year the school's pool was under construction). "We are one year away from a return to complete normalcy," said Grzybek. "We have a lot of younger guys who put in offseason work and are eager to show what they have learned. This season will be about how quickly our other classes step up." Gryzybek paints Barrington and Conant as the favorites out of the gates after conference and sectional wins last year respectively. "We still are on the younger side, but we want to get the results of a veteran group," he said. "These guys are hungry, but we have a lot of improvements to make."

ProspectCoach: Steve Grzybek

2018 record: 13-16 (7-6 MSL, 6th place finish)

Top returning players: Seniors Nick LeComte (center), Ethan Fransen (center defender), Edin Ramovic (utility), Michael Guenard (utility), junior Caleb Kosinski (goalie)

Outlook: Grzybek has a roster mixed with returning veterans and newcomers. "There is an immense amount of enthusiasm on the team," he said. "While there are a lot of newcomers trying the sport for the first time, the returning players are hungry for a better record. We have some guys who can play multiple positions, which will be effective in creating mismatches. It will be nice to not have a single-minded kind of offense." Quickness and effectiveness are two buzzwords on defense for the Knights. "Trying to have our goalies and defense to communicate and work together is going to be essential to keeping us in the game," said Grzybek, who also is stressing discipline in the pool. "With so many aspects of the game to account for, it's going to take a great amount of repeatedly doing techniques and drills correctly to play well and have a chance." Grzybek said Hersey and Buffalo Grove will be two teams to keep an eye on in the MSL East, as well as Conant in the West. "The biggest hurdle will be Conant as they make another attempt at state," he said.

Rolling MeadowsCoach: Dan Christian

2018 record: 2-13 (2-6 MSL)

Top returning players: Seniors Will Schwarting, Victor Petrov, junior Boris Jevtic, Marty Davis, sophomores Matt Schappert, Jack Schappert

Key newcomers: Lloyd Quadros, Alec Rebsamen, Eric Anfenson, Connor Cooley

Outlook: Schwarting is the team's top returning scorer from 2018. "We have a lot more depth than last season and we are hoping to build on that foundation," said Christian, who noted he has multiple scoring threats in the pool with the likes of Schwarting, Quadros, Cooley and Davis. Jevtic leads the Mustangs' defense. "Boris is a team leader and brings a lot to the defensive side," said Christian. "We graduated our goalie last year, but have some new talent excited to fill that spot." Christian said focusing on game fundamentals and building a strong program are cornerstones to a successful season.

SchaumburgCoach: Adam Koschnitzke

2018 record: 12-18-2 (6-7 MSL)

Top returning player: Senior Mike Batbold

Key newcomer: Sophomore Caleb Whelan (driver)

Outlook: Koschnitzke labels this year's Saxons squad as very young, but one that is hardworking and looking to rebuild the polo program. "It's a group that is not scared of taking on challenges and putting forth effort and commitment to become a successful program. They are eager to learn," he said. Koschnitzke lists a pair of keys to the season as team commitment and growing together as a team.

WheelingCoach: Bob Savitt

Top returning players: Seniors Giadan Haflman (goalie), Vasyl Pavlyuk (driver), Patrick Shami (center), sophomores Leo Monaxios (driver), Fernando Andrade (center defender)

Key newcomers: Junior Sebastian Krol (goalie), freshmen Artur Demyanyk (driver), Mason Hergert (driver), John Papaioannou (driver), Jackson Schmitt (driver), Timur Lysykh (center defender), Al Pakrosnis (driver), Danny Chavez (center), Rene Delgado (driver), Shrey Thakkar (driver)

Outlook: Halfman, a three-year starter in goal, anchors a strong defense, while the offense is led by three-year starter Pavluyuk, Shami and sophomore standout Leo Monaxios. "We hope to play lockdown defense, which in turn will lead to our counter attack," said Savitt. Savitt noted Wheeling will be young this year with nine new freshmen with Demyanyk, Hergert, Papaioannou and Schmitt leading the way.

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