By Marty Farmer
The Fenwick High School boys water polo team earned a measure of revenge against defending state champion Naperville Central in the title game of the 20th annual Dan Lynch Classic on Saturday, March 16 in Oak Park.
The Lynch Classic featured 16 teams, including six IHSA state finals qualifiers from 2018 and out-of-state powers Dr. Phillips from Orlando, Florida and Parkway West from Ballwin, Missouri. Thirty games were played during the largest water polo tournament in Illinois.
"The Lynch Classic went really well," Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said. "There was a lot of planning to get this event done the right way. I am thankful for my coaching staff as well as the boys and their parents who volunteered to help with this weekend. I'm also thankful for my family who let me spend way too much time at the pool this past weekend."
In the championship game, Fenwick scored four goals in the first quarter en route to an 8-5 win over Naperville Central. The victory secured the Friars' first Lynch Classic title since 2015.
"This is a very focused and dedicated group," Perry said. "They want to succeed and know what it takes to find success. I'm hopeful we'll continue this as we head through the rest of the season."
Last season, Naperville Central defeated Fenwick 13-5 in the IHSA state final, hosted by Stevenson.
"I think the boys were fired up to play Naperville Central," Perry said. "During our first week of practice, we took time out of the pool to watch our final game of the  season when we lost to Central 13-5. Watching the film, I felt that we were actually in that game up until a few minutes left in the third quarter, but that final score still hurts."
In Saturday's rematch, Payton Comstock led Fenwick with three goals, while Nate Fisher and Dan Bajda scored two goals apiece. Ramses Flores contributed three assists and goalie Manny Ruiz had eight saves.
Cam Dougherty paced the Redhawks with a pair of goals.
Fenwick opened its annual tourney by crushing crosstown opponent OPRF, 20-3. The Friars dominated the action with six unanswered goals in both the first and third quarters to cruise past the Huskies. Fisher (5 goals, 5 assists), Comstock (3 goals, 3 assists) and Dan (no relation) Lynch (3 goals, assist) powered the Friars' relentless attack. Alex Figus (2 goals, 3 assists), Flores (2 goals, 2 assists), Pete Buinauskas (2 goals, 1 assist) and Caden Gierstorf (2 goals) also contributed for the victors.
In other games at the Lynch Classic, Fenwick defeated Neuqua Valley 12-9 and Dr. Phillips 17-12.
"I thought that our team played well for the third week of the season," Perry said. "Winning the Lynch Tournament is exciting for us. I would be hard pressed to find a year where a team participating in the Dan Lynch Championship game did not also go on to compete in the IHSA State Championship game.
"Last year, Naperville Central won the Dan Lynch and we finished second. Two months later, the outcome was the same at the IHSA State Tournament. That being said the Lynch is just the first step towards the bigger goals that we have set for our team."
Fenwick excels in own pool
While the Friars can win in any venue, several homes games have fostered a fast start this spring.
"I think the atmosphere at our pool is one of the best atmospheres for high school water polo," Perry said. "The fans are right on top of the benches and right off the pool deck. It can get really loud.
"We had several alumni stopping in throughout the weekend which was fun for me and the boys as well. You always want to win at home and get experience playing in big games against great competition."
The Friars opened the season with a pair of home victories against St. Viator 19-6 and Loyola Academy12-9.
In the latter, Fenwick dominated the Ramblers until a slight mental lapse late.
"We were up 11-3 but let up our intensity in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter," Perry said. "It was a great early-season matchup. We are both poised to be among the top teams in the MCAC (Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference) this season."
Comstock finished with four goals and two assists, with Fisher and Lynch adding three goals apiece. Ruiz had five saves, including a penalty shot, in goal against the Ramblers.
Last season, Fenwick won the MCAC regular season title and Loyola claimed the conference tournament title.
Since claiming the Lynch Classic title, the Friars have extended their unbeaten streak to eight games with victories against St. Ignatius and Brother Rice. Fisher (5 goals, 3 assists), Figus (3 goals, 2 assists) and Bajda (3 goals) led Fenwick against St. Ignatius, while eight Friars scored in a 15-13 comeback win against Brother Rice. Fenwick outscored the Crusaders 8-1 in the second quarter to change the momentum of the game.
Other notable contributors during the team's stellar start include senior Nathan Krippner, juniors Diego Sahagun and Johnny Wagner, and sophomores Wil Gurski and Brian Moore.
"I like the amount of work these guys are willing to do," Perry said. "We're training a lot and guys are still asking about getting in the pool a little more. I also like the willingness to work with our younger guys. Our team is a little smaller this year when compared to past years, and our upperclassmen have been very supportive of our freshmen."
Fenwick (8-0, 4-0 MCAC) hosts three upcoming opponents, Winter Park from Florida (3/23), Mount Carmel (3/25) and De La Salle (3/27). The game against Winter Park starts at 6 p.m., while the other two begin at 5:30 p.m.
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