Girls water polo: Hersey takes MSL title over Conant
"You're playing Conant again!"
That was a sentence which was related to Hersey girls water polo coach Megan Brownley by a member of her family prior to her Huskies squad besting Conant in last spring's sectional final for the second straight season.
It marked the fourth time the two teams had battled in the first two campaigns post-COVID with Hersey having taken three of four decisions. Conant's lone triumph came in last year's MSL title match where it used a two-goal surge in the game's final minute.
Now at the Huskies' home waters at the Prospect High School Natatorium Wednesday both teams sought another piece of Mid-Suburban Championship Gold -- and perhaps a possible edge over the other in a potential rematch 10 days later in another sectional title clash. That would mark the sixth time the two teams (seeded No. 1 and No. 2 in the sectional complex) would duel in three years.
"Where else would you rather be," Conant coach Justin Bickus proclaimed as both teams were engaged in pregame warmups Wednesday.
As the sun went down on the Prospect pool window panes which overlooked the liquid playing surface, it would be Hersey shining the brightest. The Huskies retook the MSL championship it had lost a year ago with an 8-4 win in Mt. Prospect for its second league crown in the last three seasons.
"We graduated 11 seniors last year. To be here and win the (MSL) championship with one returning starter (and) 2 freshmen starting (along with) juniors and sophomores that didn't play varsity last year shows that they wanted to be back in this game this year very badly," Brownley said. "They put in the work and so they were."
It would be that lone returnee from last year's Elite Eight unit, senior Annika Lindberg, who keyed Hersey victory. She got Hersey (19-6) on the board with just two and a half minutes gone when a shot on goal got just enough of the crossbar to go in.
In period number two, she set up junior Avery Born with just 1.3 ticks left in the first half for a 2-0 advantage.
Conant (15-9-1) would respond with a three-goal third on scores by Nora Bestor, Jackie Windbiel and Danielle Akinosho to pull within 5-3 entering the final frame.
It was at that point Lindberg took over and put the game away with the final trio of goals that gave her six for the evening including a pair in just a 14-second span that gave Hersey a 7-3 lead with 5:31 left.
She credits her teammates' laser-like focus that propelled them to victory as she cradled the MSL trophy along the team's stuffed mascot, Nanook the Huskie, given to the player of the game by Brownley.
"We knew what we needed to do," Lindberg said. "Our teamwork has gotten so great this season that it's just amazing. We've been really focusing on practice and we've been meshing so well."