By Marty Farmer
After a one-year hiatus, the Fenwick boys water polo team regained its familiar designation as state champion. The Friars defeated state tournament host Stevenson 10-4 in Saturday's championship game.
Fenwick led 5-3 when Matt Farmer, Justin White and Trevor McLean scored a goal each to essentially put the title game away. Patriots goalie Rob O'Brien turned in a stellar defensive performance with over 20 saves to keep Stevenson (23-10-1) within striking distance most of the game.
"It was a crazy year, filled with a lot of adversity, so I'm really proud of the guys," Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. "We lost our star, Matt Farmer, to an injury [broken hand] for most of the season. At one point in the season, we had four sophomores in the pool at a tournament in St. Louis. Our players just decided no matter who's in the pool with us or against us, we can get this done."
In the state semifinals earlier Saturday, Fenwick edged Naperville North 12-10 as Farmer, McLean, White, Matt Bresnahan and Andrew Bertschy scored two goals apiece to tame the Huskies.
Since 1974, Fenwick has claimed 20 state titles in boys water polo, including 10 of the 12 state championships since water polo became an IHSA sport in 2002. The Friars were eight-time defending state champs last spring before Lyons Township High School dethroned them in a thrilling sectional final.
While the accumulation of state title trophies is unprecedented, Perry has always valued the journey more than the Friars' customary winner's circle destination.
"It's definitely the journey," Perry said. "I'm a big life-lessons kind of guy, whether it's in the classroom or in the pool. I don't think parents send their kids to win state titles. They send them to Fenwick to get a great education and develop as young adults.
"When I can help kids mature, make positive decisions and learn a bit about how to deal with adversity, it's a pretty cool feeling."
While the garlands of winning appear bright now, the Friars (31-5) had their share of rough patches this spring. UCLA-bound Matt Farmer missed most of the regular season with a broken hand but returned in the postseason to fuel the Friars' inspired postseason push.
"All the coaches and players realize an amazing opportunity awaits Matt at UCLA," Perry said. "We all would have totally understood if he decided to shut it down for the year and get ready for college water polo. His return looked doubtful until a few weeks ago and then his hand suddenly looked great [after removal of a soft cast]. He said, 'Coach, I think I can play.'"
The return of Farmer coupled with outstanding seasons from seniors Bresnahan, Tony Perez, McLean and Tommy McGuire and junior Omar Calderon provided Fenwick more than enough experience and talent to capture another state title.
In McLean's estimation, the turning point of the season came after a bitter 7-5 loss to Loyola in Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference competition on May 4.
"After the loss to Loyola, we had about a two-hour meeting," said McLean, who will attend Georgetown University in the fall. "We just got everything out in the open and talked about the season. After that meeting, we weren't afraid of any team. We all knew we could win state."
The Friars proved McLean right, reeling off six postseason victories post-Loyola to claim the state championship. During the playoffs, Fenwick knocked off the following teams: Riverside-Brookfield 23-6, Curie 10-4, Lyons 11-8, Homewood-Flossmoor 13-6, Naperville North 12-10 and Stevenson 10-4.
"There's no doubt in my mind that facing the adversity we had this season makes [winning the state title] much sweeter," McLean said. "We had some ups and downs, but we stayed together and found a way to get it done."
Led by Danny Farmer (Matt's younger brother), Andrew Bertschy, Ryan Masi and Bailey Wendt, the Friars' promising sophomore class also emerged over the course of the season.
Bresnahan led Fenwick with a team-high 95 goals, along with 50 steals and 28 assists. Danny Farmer (56 goals, 42 steals), Justin White (46 goals, 26 assists), McLean (36 goals, 50 steals) and McGuire (253 blocks, 50 steals) all played key roles for the Friars.
Despite playing in only 15 games, Matt Farmer still posted 47 goals, 38 steals and 17 assists.
Perry also offered effusive praise of his coaching staff Oscar Calderon, Luke McGuire and Mary Visteen.
"Oscar has been very helpful as a varsity assistant coach," Perry said. "Luke and Mary do a phenomenal job teaching our players at the lower levels of our program. All of them play instrumental roles in our success."
The Friars' championship marked the first state title won since the death of Fenwick's iconic coach, Dave Perry.
"He's always on my mind and I still miss him a ton," Kyle Perry said about his father. "Everybody around Fenwick misses him. I wish he could be here celebrating with us, but his spirit permeates the pool at Fenwick. I'm sure he's pretty stoked we brought the state title back to Fenwick."