The Fenwick High School boys water polo team ended last season in a familiar spot.
The Friars begin this season in the same place.
A year after their eight-year run as state champions ended with a sectional final loss to Lyons Township, the Friars took back the crown with a 10-4 win over Stevenson in the state title game. It was Fenwick's 10th state championship in the 12 years since the IHSA sanctioned water polo in 2002.
To no one's surprise, the Friars began the 2014 campaign ranked No. 1 in the state by Illpolo.com.
"Preseason polls don't mean much," Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. "It will be better one we get a few wins. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."
The Friars, who were 31-5 last year, must replace seven starters and have one of their youngest teams in recent memory with just three seniors in Paul Deveruex, Omar Calderon and David Durkin. Calderon is the captain after scoring 24 goals and 29 assists last year.
"We're going to take our lumps early but as the season goes on we'll see how these juniors step up," Perry said. "The juniors want to make their mark."
Two of those juniors are known commodities in Danny Farmer and Andrew Bertschy. Farmer is the top returning scorer, having tallied 56 goals and 15 assists in 2013, while Bertschy had 27 goals and 44 assists, including two goals and two assists in the state title game win over Stevenson.
Others are less experienced, though Perry is high on Ryan Masi and Bailey Wendt. Another junior is goalie Mike Hill, who moves into a starting role after appearing in five games last year.
"Mike Hill is developing into a strong goalie," Perry said. "He's one of our fastest guys. We have a fast team because our swimming team had a really strong year."
The Friars have a lot of good two-way players, including Masi, Farmer and junior DJ Perez, all of whom play defense while looking to get forward.
"Defense is our strong suit, but we have some guys who can score goals," Perry said. "Our focus must be on defense early."
Perry is keeping the Friars focused on the short term and not the big picture.
"First we want to win the Catholic League," Perry said. "That would be nice. We had our nine-year run snapped by Loyola last year. Then we'll focus on sectionals and state."
The Friars took a big step in that direction by knocking off Loyola 13-9 in their season opener on Mar. 10 as Farmer scored four goals and Calderon had three. Bertschy, Durkin, Perez, Wendt and Jack Mahoney added a goal apiece and Hill finished with eight saves.
"The boys talked about how last year they came to our place and beat us," Perry said. "We didn't want that to happen again."
Fenwick (2-0, 1-0 Metro Catholic Aquatics Conference) consolidated its noteworthy victory over the Ramblers by cruising past host Schaumburg 19-7 on Saturday. Farmer scored a match-high seven goals, with Bertschy, Durkin and Colin Daly chipping in two goals apiece. Hill finished with eight saves against the Saxons.
The Friars host the Dan Lynch tournament this week (Mar. 20 thru Mar. 22), featuring nine of the top 10 teams in the state, according to Illpolo.com