The Fenwick High School boys water polo team strives to win its last match every season. With 20 state championships in the Friars’ trophy cases, the annual objective is to be the best.
Although Fenwick won its last game this spring, the 17-11 victory over Lincoln-Way East unfortunately occurred in the third-place game of the IHSA state finals at Stevenson High School on May 18.
“We set out to win the state championship and fell short of our goal,” Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. “Not achieving a goal is disappointing, but I would not want any other goal than the one we set four years ago. Only two teams win their final game of the season and we made sure that we were one of them.”
Naperville Central was the other team to claim a final victory, an 8-5 win over Lyons Township in the state final. The Redhawks, who won their second straight state championship, derailed the Friars’ run via a 10-6 decision over Fenwick in the semifinals.
“Despite the disappointing finish, I think the team has a lot to be proud of,” said Fenwick senior Nate Fisher, who will play water polo at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “For us seniors to leave without every bringing a state championship trophy home is tough, but we also know that we finished with our best season. We are leaving Fenwick water polo in a good place and in good hands.”
Fenwick (32-4) finished the season on a positive note in its aforementioned match against Lincoln-Way East. The Friars jumped on the Griffins early in the first quarter, leading 5-0 after the opening 10 minutes. Fenwick led 9-3 at halftime and cruised to victory the rest of the way.
Navy-bound Payton Comstock and Alex Figus went out in style as both seniors had four goals and an assist. Fisher (2 goals, 4 assists), senior Ramses Flores (goal, 4 assists) and junior Dan Bajda (3 goals, assist) also played well for the victors.
Against Naperville Central, the Friars started well when Comstock tallied the first score of the match via a penalty shot. However, the Redhawks scored the next two goals and took a 4-2 lead after the first quarter. Ramses Flores brought the Friars within one late in the first half, but Naperville Central’s Henry Mills scored at the buzzer to give the Redhawks a 5-3 halftime advantage.
Mills’ goal provided Naperville Central plenty of momentum entering the second half. After Dan Bajda cut Fenwick’s deficit to 6-4, Redhawks’ star Luke Klein-Collins scored back-to-back goals to raise Naperville Central’s lead to 8-4. Flores got one goal back late in the third, but the Friars trailed 8-5 entering the final quarter and could come no closer.
Klein-Collins and Cameron Dougherty finished with three goals apiece, while Mills and Brad Sanford added two goals each for the Redhawks.
Flores led Fenwick with two goals and an assist. Pete Buinauskas and Dan Lynch each recorded a goal. But Comstock, Figus and Fisher were the primary focus of the Naperville Central defense, and it showed as the trio was held to one goal (Comstock’s penalty shot) and one assist (Fisher).
“We were well prepared for the game against Naperville Central,” Figus said. “Unfortunately, we missed a lot of our shots that were vital to beating them. Overall, I believe my team played great and it was an honor to represent Fenwick in the pool.”
In the quarterfinals, the Friars pulled off a wild 17-13 victory over Conant. Comstock scored a match-high six goals, while Fisher added four goals and three assists.
Fenwick will lose nine seniors including six starters to graduation this year. After finishing with the worst record in school history during their freshman year, the 2019 seniors powered Fenwick to fourth, second, and third in the state the last three seasons.
“In each of the last three seasons, we’ve been one of the top teams in Illinois,” Perry said. “These seniors did not believe what anyone else was telling them about how Fenwick would never return to top form. They took that criticism as a challenge and have made me very proud with the mark they have left on our aquatics program.”
The Friars headed into their IHSA quarterfinals match against Mother McAuley feeling confident about making a run towards the program’s 11th state championship. Unfortunately, that pursuit will have to wait until next year as Fenwick fell to the Mighty Macs 9-8.
In the state championship match, Stevenson defeated Naperville North 11-5 as the Patriots claimed their second straight state title in their own pool.
Against Mother McAuley, Fenwick had an opportunity to tie the match in the closing seconds; however, a shot by senior Paulina Correa hit the post at the final buzzer.
“I’m obviously upset about the game because it wasn’t supposed to end that way,” Correa said. “We weren’t all there mentally as a team, but we played to the best of our ability. It just wasn’t our day and it was a life learning experience.
“I’ve been a part of this program for two years and it has been the best,” she added. “I will for sure miss my teammates and all the people I met because they became my family.”
Maddie Schultz opened the scoring with a goal for Mother McAuley, but the Friars countered with goals by Kassy Rodriguez and Correa to take a 2-1 lead after the opening quarter. Correa scored again early in the second quarter, but the Mighty Macs responded with two more Schultz goals and another by Becky Schofield to take a 4-3 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Mother McAuley tallied three more goals with two by Chloe Ryan and Schultz’s fourth of the match, while Correa scored her third for Fenwick. The Friars trailed 7-4 heading into the final quarter.
Fenwick cut its deficit to 8-7 midway through the fourth, but the Mighty Macs got a crucial score from Brigid Barkmeier off a rebound with 3:13 left to restore a two-goal lead.
With 1:02 remaining, Correa scored to bring the Friars back within one. The final minute was frenzied as Mother McAuley turned the ball over, giving the Friars a chance to tie the match. But goalkeeper Maura O’Grady came up with a huge save with :23 left to preserve the Mighty Macs’ lead.
Fenwick got the ball back with three seconds left and called timeout to set up its final chance to send the match into overtime. But Correa’s shot from five meters out hit the post and stayed out the net as time expired.
Schultz finished with a match-high five goals for the Mighty Macs.
Correa finished with four goals, while Kassy Rodriguez added three. Alyssa Sayatovic also scored for Fenwick, while Harper Daniels recorded three assists and Xonanae Medina two. Goalkeeper Samantha Rodriguez had 10 saves for the Friars.
The Friars say goodbye to a strong senior class led by Correa, Daniels and Samantha Rodriguez. Correa and Daniels will play water polo in college in California at Pomona-Pitzer and Santa Clara, respectively, next season.
Kassy Rodriguez, Medina and Sayatovic will lead a strong group of returnees in 2020.