Girls Water Polo exceeds expectations

Coming in as underdogs, team achieves third top 4 state finish in three years


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Girls Water Polo team after their fourth place finish at State on May 21

On May 20 and 21, New Trier’s Girls Water Polo team placed fourth of eight teams at the IHSA Girls Water Polo State Championship.

It was definitely my favorite season out of the ones I’ve played, because all the people on the team are so wonderful.

— Cate Regan

Before the team had the opportunity to attend the state tournament, they were tasked with beating Evanston in the Sectional Finals. This proved a challenge, having already lost to Evanston multiple times this season.

“Things weren’t really looking good for us, considering we lost to Evanston three or four times before (sectionals), so we weren’t even expected to go to state. We were the underdogs,” said Junior Sydney Kailanov.

Junior Nina Flanagan described their response against Evanston as “on fire.”

“What’s special about our team is that we normally don’t do so well in the first half of the game, and bring it up in the second half, but with the Evanston game, we were actually ahead of them the whole time. We shut them out in the first two quarters, and we were playing amazing defense.”

Junior Charlize Escasa believes the Evanston game was more a mental challenge than a physical one.

“There was no miracle. We cleaned everything up. That game, we were in our own headspace, made fewer mistakes, and I wouldn’t say it was a perfect game, but a better game.”

After their Sectionals win, the girls progressed to the State tournament. Finally able to play in front of crowds, the players found it a unique experience.

“Every game had the stands packed. It was electrifying,” said Flanagan. “Especially for our games, the crowds were huge. You could hear everyone in the stands.”

Escasa enjoyed this year’s atmosphere, after the fanless tournament last year.

“I didn’t get to experience the atmosphere of state last year, because it was just a single photographer and you and the other team, but it was cool getting the vibe from the crowd (this year); scoring a goal and the crowd going wild. You’re playing for people other than your team, having your parents and your friends back you up.”

In their first quarterfinal match, the team pulled out a victory against Lane Tech 9-6. 

“We had half of our starting lineup missing, and we still won, which was so surprising,” said Kailanov. 

Escasa was unable to attend the match, but she watched the game live on television from home.

“I was nervous because the team was losing, but they managed to score seven goals in the last quarter, which was crazy.”

After winning the quarterfinal, New Trier lost to Stevenson and Lyons 6-9 and 11-12, respectively, to end their tournament.

Throughout the season, the team had trouble with having fewer varsity players than other years, Escasa says.

“I always hear from officials that New Trier would have so many people that they’d fill up the bench with players, but this year must’ve been hardly recognizable. Given the lesser number of people on varsity, we still managed to end on a great note. It’s not really the quantity, but the quality of the players, and the time you spend with them.”

Despite this, the team culture stayed positive, according to Senior Cate Regan, a captain of the team.

“It was definitely my favorite season out of the ones I’ve played, because all the people on the team are so wonderful. I feel like there was a great community, and we all worked hard together. Everybody got along.”

Kailanov agreed with this sentiment.

“We have a new locker room ritual where we all power pose to the Marvel anthem before each game for two minutes… I feel above winning and losing, our team culture is really good.”

Coach Matt Wendt said he was proud of the group and their season’s results.

Everyone counted this team out and they never quit.  Just a great group who finished with an incredible 4th place State finish.”