Girls water polo: Naperville North caps state championship run by ending Stevenson's reign
Anna Tarantino started the countdown at the beginning of the season.
The Naperville North senior clearly had a rich knowledge of the school's girls water polo history, which included several devastating losses to Stevenson in the state tournament.
Tarantino, a Loyola Marymount recruit, watched her team deal with frustrating season-ending losses to Stevenson in her freshman and sophomore years. The Huskies lost to the Patriots in the state semifinals in her freshman year, then watched their dreams of the program's first state title disappear in a crushing defeat in the state title game.
The Patriots entered Saturday's state title game with three straight titles after last season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We knew we had a huge target on our backs and this was in the long time running," Tarantino said. "We wanted to make history, especially against Stevenson and break their streak. Two years ago, we lost to them in the title game, so we wanted revenge. We had a perfect countdown to this game."
Tarantino scored 3 goals in the first quarter to lead Naperville North to a 15-6 victory over Stevenson in the state title game to win the program's first state championship.
Longtime Naperville North coach Andy McWhirter celebrated his first state title by jumping in the pool, splashing around with his players for pictures and hugs. For his career, McWhirter has a claimed a fourth place, a third place, a second place and now, after taking over the program in 1994, a coveted first-place trophy. The Huskies (29-0) defeated the Patriots for the second time this season.
"These girls played big-time water polo in the state title game today," McWhirter said. "We've lost to Stevenson before, but we came out super strong in that first half and dominated it to set them on their heels. I've been doing this a long time. We've come close a couple of times, so it's nice and sweet to finally be able to hold that trophy in the end."
Tarantino played lights-out from the opening whistle, sparking the Huskies in the first quarter with her aggressive play en route to a game-high 5 goals. The Huskies built a 7-1 lead after the first quarter and extended the advantage to 9-1 early in the second.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," Tarantino said. "We like to get out really fast at the start and that leads up to the anticipation and builds our energy and gets the other team kind of low because we scored three goals early on. One of the main reasons we won was because we got off to a good start."
Naperville North goalie Grace Raquel, who played in the net in the title-game loss to the Patriots in her sophomore season, called it the ideal way to conclude her career.
"The last three years this has been in the making and buildup to this championship," she said. "Two years ago, we lost to Stevenson in the state championship. Maybe this is poetic justice to beat them. I really wanted to play Stevenson (again) and to win. Getting to finish off my senior year undefeated and with a state title and to play with my sister, Sophie, is a great way to end."
Mary Crossett added 3 goals and teammates Kelsey Wessel and Sarah Crossett both netted 2 goals each for the Huskies.
The Patriots (28-3) missed a chance to extend their streak to four-straight state titles due to a slow start and a dominating effort by Tarantino.
"They are a great team," Stevenson coach Jeff Wimer said. "We have a lot of character. I'm so proud of what our girls accomplished. Hats off to Naperville North. They have one of the best players in the state in Anna Tarantino. She's a stud. She's like a college woman playing against high school kids. She's very advanced. We had our hands full, but our seniors are leaving with two state titles. I'm so proud of them."
Stevenson goalie Maggie Bauwens said the loss doesn't tarnish her team's stellar season. Maria Mossakowski scored 2 goals to lead the Patriots in the loss. Stevenson managed just 2 goals in the second half.
"We were excited to just have a season," Bauwens said. "We're really happy, just by making history to go through the quarantine and still do so well. Naperville North is a really great team."