Giselle Figueroa gave up swimming when she was in middle school in Evanston. But Figueroa never stopped swimming Friday night, and because she didn’t, Evanston’s girls water polo team stayed alive in the Illinois High School Association sectional tournament at Glenbrook South.
Figueroa’s hustle on defense helped prevent Loyola star Claire Voss from getting off a shot in the final seconds and the Wildkits edged Loyola 8-7 in a nail-biter.
With the win, Evanston established a new single season school record for victories as the defense delivered once again in the clutch. Coach Andy Miner’s team will take a 25-6 record into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. championship game against New Trier with a berth in the Elite Eight on the line for the two rivals.
Becca Schumm’s goal with 91 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter turned out to be the game-winner as ETHS defeated the Ramblers for the 2nd time this season. The Kits eclipsed the previous single season mark of 24 wins set by the 2004 team that finished 3rd in the state tournament.
Figueroa isn’t the fastest girl Miner can put in the pool and she’s a rarity, a polo player who doesn’t swim competitively. “But she swam like a 23-second sprinter on that last play,” the coach praised. “We made a mistake there at the end, when Iana Wolff got caught going deep, but thank God Giselle hustled back, flew down and got in position to save us because I know how bad Voss wanted that last shot.”
Figueroa led a swarm of Evanston defenders, along with goalie Olivia Everhart, who forced Voss into a turnover without a shot on goal. The winners then played keep-away for the final 23 seconds to secure the hard-earned victory.
“I noticed her on the other side of the pool. I noticed someone coming back, and I knew they had some fast swimmers,” Figueroa recalled. “I don’t swim very fast, and that’s probably the fastest I ever got back in my life.
“I stopped swimming because I like team sports like water polo better. Even when we got down by two goals in the 3rd quarter, everyone said we’ve got this, and we pulled it together.”
Evanston’s gutsy performance after Loyola grabbed a 6-4 advantage just 25 seconds after halftime. Another goal by the Ramblers might have made it too steep of an uphill climb for the Wildkits, but the defense stood firm and ETHS pulled even on goals by Schumm and Emily Mohrenweiser.
Wolff’s backhand sweep shot tied the game at 7-7 with 2:36 to play, and Schumm’s lob over the head of Loyola goalie Meg Dixon hit the back of the cage to end the No. 3 seeded Ramblers’ season.
Schumm led the winners with 3 goals, Riley Hughes added 2 and Mohrenweiser, Lauren Hays and Wolff tallied 1 apiece.
“We had a big momentum swing there when we got down by 2 goals,” Miner pointed out. “Olivia (Everhart) kept saying it’s our game, and her teammates believed in her. She said let’s go out and take control and that’s when that momentum swing happened. It’s a testament to who Olivia is that they all believed in her. We just had so many top-notch efforts tonight it’s hard to single anyone out. All year we’ve been in close games like this, and they always believed they’d pull it out.
“We were down one with 4 minutes left, and that was when we pushed and didn’t let up. Somehow our girls found fresh legs and pulled through.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.