ST. CHARLES – Tread water. Lunge. Stay rinsed. Repeat.
Monday’s St. Charles North boys water polo practice ended with a sequence that’s hardly been seen during the team’s 11-4-1 start. Thanks to a veteran core pushing the younger players and themselves, there’s not much moving in place here outside of conditioning drills.
“We realize that we can play with some of the more elite teams, but we all have to be there fighting for the team, and we all have to sacrifice for that,” senior goaltender Collin Bawolek said. “But it’s a lot higher and a lot more confident.”
North stayed on track with Saturday’s runner-up finish at the Naperville North tournament. The North Stars’ 12-6 loss to the host Huskies in the title match marked the first time they’ve allowed double-digit goals this season.
It also was the program’s first encounter with a team ranked No. 1 by Illpolo.com.
Narrow victories against Stagg (8-7) and Schaumburg (9-5) braced the now 18th-ranked North Stars for a challenge that could resurface should they meet the Huskies in next month’s postseason.
“We have to absorb their pressure a little bit more,” Bawolek said. “We had a lot of turnovers that game. Just work on holding the ball, playing strong with that and holding our defense.”
Of course, North doesn’t just trap and win in an ultradefensive manner. Junior John Pretet (eight goals) and senior Nick Traxler (five goals, five assists) paced the attack during the tournament, with Pretet operating in the hole near the front of the goal and Traxler driving in from the perimeter.
The usual suspects struck in the program’s first victory Thursday against perennial power Neuqua Valley, although contributions from Ryan Helfers and senior defender Tim Steele helped put North in position.
Until last week, the only person in North’s huddles who had defeated the Wildcats was coach Chris Cloy, then a student-athlete at Sandburg.
“We put a lot of emotion into it and everyone got up and ready to go,” said Traxler, who scored twice in the final 4:10 to snap a late tie.
Last month, Bawolek claimed a personal milestone by recording his first career shutout in a 15-0 rout of visiting Hinsdale South. The team’s full-time goalie since 2013, Bawolek flirted with the feat last season before yielding a goal in the final quarter.
After “learning the ropes from the upperclassmen” as a freshman and sophomore, Bawolek, a longtime swimmer who was part of North’s 10th-place 200-yard freestyle relay at the state meet, hunkered down.
Swimming helped build Bawolek’s stamina for his first water polo experience in 2011, but it turns out he leaned on a short-lived stint as a freshman soccer goalie more than he fathomed.
“I feel like I just combined the two and it worked out,” Bawolek said.
Along with Bawolek, Steele and Traxler, North starts a fourth senior in Ross Davis, another swimming veteran. Classmates Raphael Jabbar and Raheem Khan are reserves.
Cloy, in his sixth season, calls this crop of seniors among the most dedicated he’s guided at North. Keep going, and the superlatives could keep flying.
The program is after its first state tournament berth, too, as the North Stars await next week’s postseason seedings.
“Kids are working really hard,” Cloy said. “They’re listening to what we’re asking them to do and they’re able to see some of the payoff in some of the games that we’ve been having, so it’s been exciting.”