Last-minute surge propels Conant past Hersey for MSL girls water polo championship

By Dick Quagliano
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 5/5/2022 9:21 PM

With the score tied and the clock winding down, Conant's Ananya Deepak knew what she had to do.

The senior fired a shot into the Hersey goal with 5.46 seconds to play to lift the Cougars past Hersey 7-6 Thursday to win the Mid-Suburban League girls water polo championship in Hoffman Estates.


"You always want to shoot," Deepak said.

"It is always scary when you get the ball. But in the moment, you know what you have to do. It is the biggest goal I have ever got."

Deepak's goal culminated a momentous comeback by Conant (20-5), which trailed 6-2 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter. The Cougars would then score 5 consecutive goals.

"You could see in our girls' eyes that they didn't think it would happen like this," Conant coach Justin Bickus said. "We play hard front to back and we aren't going to give up. We had girls step up that don't lead the team in goals. It was great win for us."

Hersey (20-6), which beat Conant earlier this season, built a 4-2 lead at the half.

After Conant's Kayla Wong scored on a rebound in the first quarter, the Huskies rattled off 4 consecutive goals.

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Grace Steinberg scored twice in the first quarter, including a goal as time expired. Tea Lang scored on a pass from Annika Lindbergh and Steinberg picked up her third goal to make it 4-1.

Conant's Jackie Windbiel kept the Cougars close, scoring on a pass from Lily Litwicki with 2:35 left in the half to make it 4-2.

Hersey appeared to have to the game in command late in the third quarter.

Hersey goalie Anastasia Smirnova, who was starting in place of all-conference goalie Alexa Knutson, was excellent in turning away 10 shots while forcing Conant to miss the goal on other attempts.

Hersey was able to score off a rebound and Sally Bornhorst tallied on a long shot to make it 6-2 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.

Conant goalie Rylee McGee started the comeback when she fired a shot from half a pool away that found the back of the goal with 33 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 6-3.


"It's not a normal play for me," McGee said, "I knew we needed something to get us going so I took the shot."

Buoyed by that play, Conant closed to 6-5 on a pair of goals by Windbiel, one on a penalty shot with 3:25 to play.

Litwicki then had the craziest goal of the season to tie it.

The junior was wide open on the right side. Hesitant to shoot but pressured, she fired a shot just before the shot clock expired.

The shot hit the crossbar and bounced off the back of the goalie, deflected back off the post and then off the back of the goalie's hand to make it 6-6 with 38.79 seconds left.

"I am not the best shooter," Litwicki said. "It is one of my weaker points. But it was a lucky shot. It is redemption for a shot I missed before."

Hersey turned the ball over after that, setting the stage for Deepak's game-winner.

"A couple things went their way and a couple things didn't go our way," Hersey coach Megan Brownley said. "We had some chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter (but) we couldn't convert our man ups and that hurt us."

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