Girls water polo: It's game on for Naperville North
Naperville North learned recently that it helps to play a girls water polo game before the girls water polo game.
That warmup scrimmage aided the Huskies on Saturday. Often a slow-starting team, the Huskies scored the first four goals in the Neuqua Valley sectional final and defeated archrival Naperville Central 10-6 to advance to the state quarterfinals next week at Stevenson High School.
The Redhawks never got closer than three goals after the Huskies' hot start.
"We want to get ahead in the first quarter. We did a pretty good job of that today," said Huskies junior Meg Sparacino.
Sparacino got the Huskies off to that good start with the first goal of the game. Taylor Wessel scored the next two.
"That was super important for us," Huskies coach Andy McWhirter said. "The last couple of times that we played against Central we were a little slow getting off. We finished strong. It was important for us to get out there and set the tone right away."
The pregame scrimmage helped also.
"We just started doing that when sectionals started, and I think that helped us get ready to go and get excited," Sparacino said, adding that playing archrival Naperville Central also helped get the Huskies energized for the game. Naperville North beat Naperville Central for the third time this season.
Wessel scored 5 goals for the Huskies, Anna Tarantino scored 3 and Sparacino finished with 2.
"She's been our star this entire season," McWhirter said of Wessel, who entered sectional play with 156 goals. "She's one of the top players if not the top player in the state of Illinois, and we look forward to that leadership as we go into next week at state."
Maddie Jannusch's goal launched from mid-pool got the Redhawks' scoring started, cutting the Huskies' lead to 4-1 in the second quarter. But by halftime Naperville North led 7-2.
The Redhawks scored a couple of times from distance but struggled to convert near the net.
"We like to drop on the center," Sparacino said. "We like to drop on the hole because that's where a lot of the shots come from."
"We focused all week on trying to take away that," McWhirter added. "Captain Taylor (Wessel) in the water, directing people where to go. It's super hard to communicate across the pool, so she was able to do that 1-on-1. So awesome job on Taylor."
The Redhawks scored consecutive goals only once, getting two in a row when they trailed 9-3 in the fourth quarter.
"We were 0 for 5 on our man-ups in the first half," Redhawks coach Jeff Plackett said. "We ran that at one point to 0 for 7 on our man-ups. When you've got an extra player in the pool, you've got to convert."
Jodie Nelson and Emma Guccione each scored twice for the Redhawks, Jannusch, Emily Wagner added 1 apiece.
Guccione also broke her own school single-season record for steals, finishing with 134.
But it's the Huskies going back to the state quarterfinals, their second straight trip to state.
"I'm super excited, if you can't tell," Sparacino said with a broad smile.