Friars boast best pool players

Dynastic water polo program annually produces wins, entertaining style of play

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Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

On May 19, I was browsing online to see how the Fenwick High School boys and girls water polo teams were doing at the IHSA state tournament. When I saw that the Friars had advanced to the championship game in both divisions, I felt that if it was possible to go to Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire (the tournament site), I would do so. 

I mentioned the water polo title games in a group text messaging thread I'm in, and one of the participants decided to go. I went with him and covered the matches for the Wednesday Journal. Unfortunately, the Friars lost both matches - the boys losing 13-5 to Naperville Central and the girls 12-7 to Stevenson.

I'm glad I went. Watching the Friars compete in the pool so admirably served as the impetus for this latest installment of "Tate's Take."

Last year, I headed out to Stevenson to see the Fenwick boys play in a state semifinal against New Trier. That was my first time seeing a water polo match in person.

Although the Friars lost to the Trevians in the closing seconds, I was impressed with the fast-paced action. If you haven't seen water polo, you may assume it's not a physical sport. Nothing could be further from the truth as the sport is very physical and intense. 

While Fenwick has excelled in multiple sports over the years, the water polo program is the standard of excellence.

The coaches pay attention to detail and the players do a great job of executing the game plans. A combined 30 state titles (20 for the boys, 10 for the girls) speaks volumes. The Friars' successful run compares favorably to historical professional sports dynasties like the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots and Montreal Canadiens.

The late, great Dave Perry deserves much of the credit for Fenwick water polo's dominance. He built the program from scratch and led it to many state titles - many which came before the IHSA officially recognized the sport in 2002. Today, his son Kyle has done a great job maintaining the program's stellar results.

Led by Jack Wagner, the girls program has also enjoyed considerable success. Like Perry, Wagner is a knowledgeable coach that always gets the most from his players.

Given the rich tradition of success, expectations are always high for the Friars in the pool. The annual goal is to snag pair of state titles. When both the boys and girls came up short this season, I noticed a few tears from some of the players on each team. They truly care which is characteristic of any great champion.

And yet, success can be a double-edged sword. When you're as dominant as the Friars have been, a heavy target comes with the territory. Opponents give Fenwick their best shot. Suddenly, winning championships isn't as automatic as it used to be. 

That's the challenge both Perry and Wagner face as teams like Lyons Township and Naperville Central in the boys competition and Loyola and Stevenson on the girls side continue to get better each year.

Regardless of other teams' development, Fenwick should remain a state contender every season.

I recommend you go to the O'Brien Aquatics Center on campus and check out Fenwick water polo. You'll be treated to exciting action that will leave a lasting impression. 

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