Polo Kits fall short in bid to return to Elite Eight

No one --- certainly not Evanston head coach Kevin Auger --- expected a matchup in the sectional championship water polo game between the Wildkits and New Trier at the start of the season.

But the Wildkits put it all together despite some heavy graduation losses, finishing another memorable spring campaign with a 7-3 loss to the Trevians in the title match at the Glenbrook North Sectional tournament Saturday.

The Kits, who finished 23-8-2, fell short in their bid to reach the sport’s Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons. They couldn’t generate much of an offense on Saturday after advancing with a heart-stopping 8-7 double overtime upset win over top-seeded Loyola Academy in Friday’s semifinals.

ETHS mustered only 1 goal --- by Rafael De Gouvea --- in the second half and fell to their arch-rivals for the third time this year.

“New Trier’s had our number all season, for some reason,” admitted Auger. “I think it’s because other teams have star players we can key in on with our defense, and shut them down. New Trier just has a bunch of solid water polo players and it’s hard to play defense against them. We played really well for three quarters today, and then it kinda got away from us in the fourth quarter.

“I didn’t figure on us making it this far this season. Coming into the season I felt like New Trier was the best team in our sectional, but I wouldn’t have picked us as No. 2. I’m glad we landed there.”

Senior goalie Henry Goodman was credited with 17 saves, but the offense could only crank up goals by Brendan Long in the first quarter, Nate Perkoski in the second quarter, and De Gouvea.

Perkoski’s left-handed rocket shot with 42 seconds left in the first half pulled Evanston into a 2-2 tie, but he didn’t play in the third quarter (due to too many kickouts) and the Trevians pulled ahead for good on a pair of goals by Matt Ghiselli and one by Will Clark.

Clark’s  tally was the back-breaker as he slipped behind the ETHS defense and beat Goodman with a short shot with just 50 seconds left in the period.

Evanston had no answers on offense.

“New Trier pressured us and we weren’t able to drive to the goal like we did last night (against Loyola),” Auger explained. “And when we did drive through, we missed some passes. All our guys gave their whole hearts today, but New Trier is a little faster than we are and they were able to catch us off-guard on defense a couple of times, too.”

Goodman’s brilliance in the net was a big part of the Kits’ success again this spring. His 7 saves in the first period forced the winners to attempt more perimeter shots that weren’t even on net most of the time.

“Henry has really been the backbone of this team for 2 years,” Auger said. “He did a great job. He just can’t score for us, too. He had as good, or better, a season than last year, but we didn’t have the horsepower up front to help him.

“That Loyola win was huge for us and it was a really exciting game. It’s always nice when you have a team that exceeds expectations, and I feel we did that this year. Coming into that game I felt like we could hang with them, and beat them, but it was a really tough win.”

Defense ruled that semifinal showdown. Neither team scored in the third quarter and Ben Coleman’s goal for Evanston with 5:21 left in regulation marked the only score of the fourth quarter, which ended in a 6-6 draw.

In the second OT, ETHS netted the first two goals --- by Grant King and Coleman --- and held off the Ramblers after that. Loyola had the final possession with 8 seconds remaining, but Evanston’s defense didn’t let the losers get off a shot.

Coleman led the Wildkit attack with 3 goals and King, Jeremy Sherpa, Patrick Hughes, Brendan Long and Perkoski scored one apiece.        

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