Girls water polo: Wessel, Tarantino lead Naperville North to state semifinals
Taylor Wessel is the unquestionable star on Naperville North's girls water polo team.
The Indiana recruit scored 89 goals last season to lead the Huskies to a third-place finish at the state tournament.
This season Wessel, a senior, leads the Huskies in goals -- by a wide margin -- with 171 entering Thursday's state quarterfinal against Lincoln-Way Central. But sophomore Anna Tarantino is making a big impact this season.
Tarantino led the Huskies with 5 goals and added 2 assists in a 16-6 win over Lincoln-Way Central at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. The Huskies (31-3) play New Trier at 10:15 a.m. Saturday in a state semifinal.
Wessel was also a multiple-goal scorer, finishing with 3 goals and 3 assists to raise her season total to 174 goals. Junior Lainey Eckholom scored 4 goals and Mary Crossett tallied 2 goals. Goalie Grace Raquel had 14 saves in the win.
Wessel, the only senior on the roster, said Tarantino's development is a key factor in the Huskies' run to the state tournament.
"Anna has improved much from last year," she said. "She was still great in her freshman year, but she learned the ropes on varsity and now is taking more of a leadership role and being a strong player."
Tarantino helped the Huskies jump out to a fast start with her offense. The Huskies led 4-1 after the first period and 6-2 at halftime before breaking open the game with 10 second-half goals.
"This win is great for our team and gave us motivation to take into our next game on Saturday," Tarantino said. "I was mainly focusing on defense a lot and trying to get up on offense as much as I could to help the team."
Tarantino, who ranks second on the team with 90 goals, said she gained valuable experience playing on a senior-dominated team last year. Tarantino said Wessel taught her to communicate more with her teammates in the pool to keep the ball moving swiftly.
"My freshman year was very stressful to me because I was the new person on a team with a lot of seniors," she said. "But they made me feel welcome and comfortable and I learned a lot that has helped me this year. Taylor has helped me so much this year. She has taught me so much, just every day in practice helping me. Taylor is where I want to be. I have to keep working hard."
Naperville North coach Andy McWhirter said Wessel's leadership and Tarantino's rapid emergence are part of the team's success.
"Taylor is the only senior we have on the team," he said. "It's a huge responsibility. She's done a very good job of pulling the team together. We had a lot of people step up today. It was an all-around effort. (Lincoln-Way Central) had a great defensive plan on double-teaming Taylor, so it made other people have to step up. It was also an outstanding job by our goalie. Everybody played well."