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  MAY 12, 2012

  Sectional Final Previews






Dreams come true and seasons come to an end around this time of year. For the 32 teams seeking one more win in order to qualify for the 2012 state water polo tournament, Sectional Final Saturday is the biggest day on the season calendar. Here is your guide to all of the action on Saturday, May 12:


Four of the eight boys' contests begin at noon, with state qualifiers being decided LWC, Metea, Stagg, and York. Immediately following those four matches, the sectional finals at GBN, Palatine, Schaumburg, and UIC get started at 1:00. All told, the eight teams that will live to play for one more week in the 2012 state tournament will all know their fate at approximately 2:00pm. Here are the eight matchups/previews:




1:00pm (1) Loyola vs (2) New Trier

The Ramblers have advanced to the state tournament the past two seasons by beating New Trier in this spot. Can they repeat that feat for a third straight time, or will NT have something up their sleeve on Saturday at GBS? Loyola also won the lone contest between the two squads in convincing fashion (17-8) on April 4, but more than a month has passed and New Trier has several high-quality since that time. For example, the Trevians beat Naperville North at the GBS Tourney in Week 7, while the Ramblers lost to North the following week. What does that all mean? Probably nothing, since you can normally throw everything out the window when these two rivals meet with a state berth on the line. Expect a close one!




12:00pm (1) Lockport vs (3) Homewood-Flossmoor

It's amazing to think that Lockport is the one seed and H-F is the third seed when the Vikings beat the Porters on two occasions in 2012. Such are things in the Lincoln-Way Central Sectional, where everyone beat everyone during the regular season and some surprise quarterfinal results make this sectional final feel like a toss-up going into this intriguing fixture. The Porters do boast the better overall record (21-7) and finished one game better than the Vikings (19-12) in the SWSC Blue division. However, if they want to make their first-ever state tournament appearance, they will have to find a way to beat Tim Caldwell's battle-tested squad for the first time in three tries. Can Dave Hir, Dan Oldendorf, and company get over the hump and make a dramatic first appearance at state, or will Kevin Kuchta, Zack Peterson and the Vikings use the experience of their 2010 sectional title at this very site to qualify for state themselves.




12:00pm (1) Naperville North vs (2) Naperville Central

Can the Huskies end the Redhawks' four-year run of sectional titles and state tournament appearances at their expense in 2012? If things go according to plan for Aaron Katz, Eric Curia, and company, North will make their first appearance at state since 2007, a year in which the Huskies took second overall. To do so, however, they have to get past an experienced yet rebuilding team that still has plenty of talent to make things difficult in a single-elimination game with one more week of water polo on the line. Can Dennis Herron and Matt Reasons supply head coach Bill Salentine's squad with enough offense to make it five straight state berths, or will North head coach John Blumthal keep things going according to plan (i.e. state tournament) after such an impressive (27-3) season?




1:00pm (1) Stevenson vs (2) McHenry

It's quite amazing how much things can change in a year. While the Warriors qualified for state for the third straight year in 2011, the Patriots lost in the quarterfinal round of the same sectional as the sixth-seed. One rebuilding year later and head coach Sean Wimer has Stevenson just one game away from qualifying for the state tournament in 2012. To do that, the Patriots will have to get past an experienced Warriors team that always seems to peak at the right time no matter what sectional they are placed in. Can McHenry make it four in a row at the expense of the sectionals' top seed, or can the Patriots make their way back to state for the first time since 2008, a year in which (ironically) Stevenson beat McHenry in the semifinal round in overtime?




1:00pm (1) Fremd vs (2) Schaumburg

First, you have the Vikings, who rolled through the MSL with a perfect record and claimed the overall title last week by beating Buffalo Grove. Next, you have a Schaumburg team that finished third in the same division and lost to the Vikings twice in 2012. So why should the Vikings be worried? Because the Saxons have been in this position before, where they aren't expected to last this long in the playoffs and then somehow emerge as a state qualifier when all is said and done. Can Schaumburg repeat that feat again this year behind the offensive trio of Marty Kwiatkowski, Matt McMullen, and Randy Carr, or will Fremd head coach Brian Newby use his state tournament experience to get Andre Degla, JP French, and Ryan Helsdingen to the next level with a state berth in 2012?




12:00pm (1) Sandburg vs (3) Stagg

There's a pretty good chance that Sandburg wasn't thinking that their April 18 contest with Stagg would be a preview of Saturday's sectional final. After all, it took what was arguably the Chargers' biggest win in team history in order to make it this far, as they stunned Brother Rice 11-9 in Friday's semifinal round. Nonetheless, Stagg will be looking to pull off their second-straight upset against a Sandburg team that beat them 14-7 in a SWSC matchup as previously mentioned. For the Eagles, they have been building towards another strong postseason run after a bit of a mid-season slump, but they appear to be geared up and ready to better their fourth place finish at state in 2011. The Eagles just can't overlook the hosts if they hope to make it back to state...something tells me that they won't be doing that after last night's results.




1:00pm (1) Latin vs (2) St Ignatius

The tables have turned a bit in this year's contest between the Romans and Wolfpack. The hosts have gotten the better of Latin in this spot over the last few years, but the Jacob Himmel-led Romans come into this game as the heavy favorites to get to the state tournament. Latin won the only game between the two teams earlier this season and posted an impressive 22-6-1 record in 2012. Meanwhile, SICP had some early-season struggles when not playing at full strength, so they've been clawing their way back towards the .500 mark for the second half of the season (14-16). However, things appear to be clicking on all cylinders for head coach Luis Martinez' squad, so expect the hosts to make things difficult for the Romans to return to state for the first time since 2006.




12:00pm (1) Fenwick vs (2) Lyons

Maybe the logo and font for this preview should be bigger. There's just really no way to express how big this game will mean to the state title race. #1 Lyons and #2 Fenwick meet for the third and final time in 2012 after splitting the season series. The winner will be the odds-on favorite to hoist the state crown, so if there is a game to make sure to attend tomorrow, it's this one. There's no love loss between the two squads this year, with broken noses and bloodshed the norm in the first two contests. Fenwick won 16-8 at home back in Week 2, but the Lions edged the Friars 6-5 at a neutral site (Stevenson HS) on April 28. There are so many questions with this game, such as how will the narrow York pool affect the play of the teams, who previously met in eight-lane facilities both times? Will both teams be at full strength after a long and physical season? And so on. In the end, it boils down to who wants it more, which we will find out when the ball is dropped at noon on Saturday.


Since the girls' games follow the boys' contests, the start times vary a bit more later in the afternoon. The earliest games get underway at 1:15pm (Metea, Stagg, York); the LWC Sectional final begins at 2:00pm; Palatine and Schaumburg drop the ball at 2:15pm; GBS and UIC have the latest starts, as the teams begin play at 2:30pm. The eight state-qualifying teams should be known by around 3:30pm. Below are the game previews for today's sectional final games:




2:30pm (1) New Trier vs (2) Loyola

The Trevians and Ramblers have met in a sectional final for the past six seasons. Loyola has a 5-1 mark in these pressure situations, but New Trier will likely feel much more confident coming into this game than in years' past. The Trevians crushed the Ramblers 17-2 back in mid-March and earned an 11-2 win at the St Ignatius Tournament during Week 7. Loyola will hope that Evan Swenson and Marta Considine can generate more offense for Rich Schici's squad in this contest in order to keep up with the balanced offensive attack that New Trier promotes. New Trier's Matt Wendt can call on the likes of Alexana Astor, Erika Nothnagel, and Isabelle Baneaux to provide the scoring, while a Trevians' defense spearheaded by goalie Hannah Caywood will hope to limit Loyola like in this year's previous two meetings.




2:00pm (1) Lincoln-Way Central vs (3) Homewood-Flossmoor

Since LWC and H-F split the season series in the SWSC Blue division, it would be difficult to make a call on who will win the rubber match when a state berth is on the line. The Knights won a one-goal game at the tail-end of the March schedule, but the Vikings did the same in overtime on April 24. It is very likely that this will be a closely-contested defensive battle that will come down to the wire. In addition, which team's top scorer will be tougher to contain, LWC's Danijela Jackovich or H-F's Rebecca Mathews? The answer to that question might help determine the winner in New Lenox on Saturday.




1:15pm (1) Naperville Central vs (3) Metea Valley

Naperville Central expected to be in this position. They cruised to 18-1 and 16-2 wins in the opening two games of the sectional. They have plenty of experience, they just need to be able to turn it on when a return trip to the state tournament is on the line. On the other hand, Metea Valley should be riding high after stunning second-seed Naperville North 8-6 on Friday night. Lizzie Hollopeter's two late goals capped a 4-0 run in the fourth quarter that helped the Mustangs overtake the Huskies and led to a short-lived celebration, since they play again less than 24 hours later. Still, the Mustangs should be trying to think more about Friday's nights win more than, say, their 17-2 loss to Naperville Central back in Week 1. A lot has changed since then, plus Metea has momentum and the home pool advantage in this contest. Can the Mustangs ride their confidence and pull off another upset, or will the Redhawks keep their focus in their quest for their first-ever state title?




2:15pm (1) Stevenson vs (2) Wheeling

It's a bit tough to gauge how Stevenson and Wheeling will match up when they meet on Saturday; the two teams did not play in 2012, so the Leah-Malsom led Wildcats will be hoping to be the type of wild-card team that Patriots' head coach Jeff Wimer was hoping to avoid. Nonetheless, Stevenson closed the season with several brilliant wins, so their balanced lineup will likely feel confident they can handle the MSL East champions. The Wildcats boast a 20-8 record this season and controlled their contest with Mundelein en route to a solid 9-4 win on Friday night. Can they surprise a Stevenson team that might be looking ahead to playing at state in their home pool next week?




2:15pm (1) Fremd vs (2) Barrington

It feels like we should be saying "here we go again" when it comes to this matchup between the Vikings and Fillies. The two have met several times in a sectional final over the past several years, with Fremd getting the better of their MSL West rivals most recently. Will this game resemble last year's 14-0 Fremd shutout in the sectional finals, or this year's most recent game, where the Vikings won a 7-5 battle? Both teams have confidently advanced through the Schaumburg Sectional, so expect a tense game pitting the experience of Fillies' coach Mark Markwell against Fremd's new skipper Ray Roth.




1:15pm (1) Mother McAuley vs (3) Sandburg

The Mighty Macs ended Sandburg's state tournament dream in last year's sectional semifinals, so they will look to repeat that feat in 2012, this time in a sectional final at Stagg. McAuley also beat the Eagles 12-3 in the first month of this season, so Amy Kopale, Clare Bryar, Vicky Arciniega and company should be confident in a return trip to state. On the flip side, Sandburg has been playing their best polo of the season down the stretch, so they are riding a ton of momentum after sneaking up on H-F to share the SWSC Blue title. The Eagles also have the benefit of pressure-filled playoff game under their belts after beating Bremen 11-7 on Friday. The Mighty Macs, meanwhile, won both of their playoff games by double-digit margins, so head coach Vanessa Carroll will try to ensure her squad doesn't get off to a slow start in the most important game of the year for both teams.




2:30pm (1) St Ignatius vs (2) Lane

Since the Wolfpack and Indians did not meet during the regular season, we'll have to revert back to last year's sectional final game, where the hosts qualified for state with an 11-3 victory. Ignatius' head coach Mike Cashman will be hoping for more of the same when his team hits the water. They've only had one game to get playoff-tested after earning a forfeit win over Juarez in the quarterfinals, but did get a test from Northside in Friday's 15-10 win over the Mustangs. Meanwhile, Lane will be hoping they can play the same type of defense that helped them top Latin 5-2 in the semifinal round. Can the Cassidy O'Connell-led Indians surprise the home team, or will the balanced lineup of the Wolfpack be able to pack their bags for another trip to state next weekend?




1:15pm (1) Lyons vs (2) Fenwick

And here we go again with another battle between the state's top two teams in a sectional final instead of a state tournament game. Nonetheless, #2 Fenwick will be looking to avenge a 13-10 loss to the Lions in Week 6 in the only meeting between the two squads in 2012. Lyons will be looking for more of the same from that meeting, where Carrie Nacht, Kirby Kaptur, Lizzy Kosin, and company were able to keep the Fenwick offense at bay and outgun the defending champions. Both teams have impressed since the last meeting, as neither team lost a game to another Illinois team since the Fenwick Tournament. Can Friars' head coach Jack Wagner get the Barron sisters, Cara Borkovec, Haley Wickham, and the rest of a team ready to defend their title in the biggest game of the season, or will the previously-mentioned Lyons trio make their way back to the state tournament after missing out in 2011?













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