Expectations high for Naperville Central water polo
Naperville – Coaches for both the boys and girls water polo teams at Naperville Central High School are hoping for encore performances after strong seasons last year.
The girls team starts out ranked no. 2 in the state.
“It’s fun to get recognized at the start of the season, but we prefer the recognition at the end of the season,” Girls Head Coach Jeff Plackett said.
Plackett said he divides the season into three phases. In phase one, the team is focused on training. In April, the team moves into phase two, which involves more strategy and new plays. Plackett said phase three is when his players set goals for the end of the season.
Nine of Plackett’s 10 varsity players have state tournament experience. The one who doesn’t, Emily Wagner, proved herself to Coach Plackett in the offseason with strong work ethic.
“Her polo awareness has really come a long way,” Plackett said.
Another player to watch out for is Emily Westlove, who is coming off all-state selections her sophomore and junior year. Plackett said Westlove is poised for a big year.
Plackett said his team’s experience will go a long way in achieving its postseason goals.
“If I’m having this conversation a few years ago, we’re going, hey we’re young, but we’re excited because we have skill, but now those girls who were young a couple years ago are coming back to us with experience having started in last year’s state championship.”
On the boys’ side, the team is ranked number no. 3, despite coming off an undefeated state champion season.
“In the big picture, it’s just a benchmark,” Boys Head Coach Bill Salentine said.
Six of the team's championship starting seven graduated. The one starter who remains from that team is goalie Kent Emden.
“Any great offense starts with a great defense,” Salentine said in reference to Emden’s play.
The players replacing the ones lost from last year have a lot to live up to, but Coach Salentine said they learned a lot being “tackling dummies” to those players in practice.
“They’ve earned their stripes," Salentine said. "Now it’s their turn to step up and lead the way."
The player taking on most of the scoring load is Matt Reagan, who Salentine said scored 13 goals in his first four games.
Sophomore Benjamin Russo also will have to play a big part for the team to be successful according to Salentine, who said Russo’s defensive prowess will be relied on.
“He scored a lot of goals for us, but he led the team in steals,” Salentine said.
Going another year without a loss is a tall task for a young team, but Salentine has confidence in his group.
“Last year was kind of a special season. In a perfect world they’d like to repeat that. Is it possible? Sure. Is it probably? I don’t know,” Salentine said.
While he’d like to go back-to-back, Salentine said success is more than wins and losses. He said success is about developing his team.
“Talk to the kids and they’ll tell you the same thing,” Salentine said.