Syd Hollingsworth led Evanston’s girls in scoring during the water polo season last spring.

But the senior captain knew she had to do even more this year when classmate Halley Seed was sidelined with an injury.

So Hollingsworth poured in a career-high 7 goals and led the Wildkits to a 16-4 rout of Whitney Young in Thursday’s 2019 season opener at the Burton Aquatic Center.

Watching Seed and Hollingsworth feed off of each other was a highlight for last year’s 18-14 squad. But Seed suffered a broken finger participating in a club tournament in Florida and will likely be out until at least after the ETHS spring break.

“I lost my partner in crime when Halley got hurt, so that’s pushed me to work even harder,” Hollingsworth said. “I knew I had to step up. I know I have to take on a lot more responsibility and there’s a lot more pressure on me this year.

“Halley and I have been playing together since freshman year, and when you play with someone that long you get to know when they want the ball and where they want the ball. We can just look at each other and we know what to do now.”

That’s the kind of experience that can make a big difference for a Wildkit program that ranks among the youngest squads in the state of Illinois for the second year in a row. Head coach Andy Miner has 4 returning starters in Seed, Hollingsworth, and juniors Grace King and Maya Weiss but has 2 freshmen — Ava Santos-Volpe and Hilda Arellano — on the varsity roster, with 4 other frosh playing at the junior varsity level.

“Coach promoted 6 sophomores to the varsity last year and that was really smart of him to move them up like that,” said Hollingsworth. “Because of that we already know how to play together, and then you add 2 really good freshman with experience to that. Having that experience that they have (both Santos-Volpe and Arellano have extensive pre-high school experience with the sport, compared to most incoming frosh) really helps because there are so many fundamental things to learn. They already know what to do — they didn’t have to go back to the basics.”

Evanston’s basics — speed and stout defense — were on display Thursday as Miner was able to clear his bench in the opening romp. Besides Hollingsworth’s eruption, which included 2 penalty shots for goals, the Wildkits counted a pair of goals apiece from King and Weiss and one each by Santos-Volpe, sophomore Natalie Long, junior Mimi Herrick, junior Mina Dizdarevic and junior Kate Friedman.

Junior goalie Rachel Lott stopped 9 Dolphin shots and backup Laurel O’Hare, another junior, added 1 save in the final quarter.

“I thought we did a really good job of focusing on our strengths tonight, our speed and our defense,” said Miner. “Whitney Young is a well-coached team, but we had the speed (advantage) on them and that was a card we played often against them. Once we got our bearings in the first quarter, we did a good job as a team.

“Right now it’s hard to evaluate what our expectations are for the season. The biggest thing for us is to focus on the fundamentals and on putting defense first. When I look at the skills we have, though, I think there’s tremendous potential here.”

To that end, Miner is starting the season with just 10 players listed on the varsity roster — 11 when Seed is healthy again. That will give the veteran ETHS coach room to maneuver and move players up and down between the varsity and lower levels, as he sees fit.

“We’ve got the varsity and junior varsity practicing together this year (for the first time),” he said. “And I’ve left some open spots on the varsity so we can develop them to move up from the JV team.

“Even though we won tonight, I thought we did a terrible job of communicating with each other. We were all over the place, so there’s still a lot that we can improve on.”

Turnovers limited the Kits to a 4-2 lead after the first quarter, but it was all Evanston after that. The hosts scored 6 straight goals in the second period — 2 by Hollingsworth — to seize a 10-3 halftime lead and boosted the margin to 15-3 after three quarters.

Miner wasn’t surprised to see Hollingsworth find the back of the net so many times.

“Syd has fully dedicated herself to water polo this year (she’ll play in the Macalaster College program next year) and she put in a lot of work in the off-season,” said the ETHS coach. “She really loves the sport now and she’d play every day if she could.”

Hollingsworth said she’s ready to embrace the leadership role necessary on a squad that only includes 3 seniors.

“I enjoy being a leader. I have an outgoing personality so it’s a very natural fit for me,” she added. ”It’s been an easy transition for me to become a captain this year.

“When Halley got hurt I was skeptical at first about how good we’d be this year. But we’ve looked really good in practice and now I feel really good about our chances to get to State this year.”  

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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