Every summer, thousands of residents in the Naperville area spend their time outside in an aquatic environment. Some swim for recreation, some are more competitive, while others are in the water for a different challenge. For the past 20 years, the Naperville Summer Suburban Water Polo League has given local kids ages 14 and under the chance to show off their water polo skills prior to playing the sport at one of the five area high schools.
“The competitiveness that they have, it builds those skills when they start early on for teamship. It’s a team game so they have to play the ball and pass that around so they can be successful,” said Club Coordinator Andy McWhirter.
Naperville North girls water polo head coach Andy McWhirter has been in charge of the tournament for several years. The league went from four teams twenty years ago to twelve total as interest in the game has grown. Whether it’s 11 U Boys, 14 U Girls, or 14 U Co Ed, he knows that anyone in the pool has potential to succeed once they hit the high school level.
“It’s always great to see that talent develop over the eight to nine years they might have started. So when they get to be seniors in high school and when we get to the State Tournament and see some of those kids who are playing as high school seniors and remember when they started here as 11-year olds,” said McWhirter.
There is always great competition throughout the year from the 12 different teams. However the suburb that was the most dominant on all levels this summer was the Saybrook Sharks, who won all three championships.
“Saybrook has always been a very good team. They’re very large teams so they have a lot of numbers to draw from over the years and all of their teams have worked hard to develop their program based on the time they have. It’s been nice over the years to see all the different teams in the five high schools they represent,” said McWhirter.
At the Helm
Each team and level is coached by past or present high school water polo players from either the boys or girls side. They too bring excitement to the game especially after winning the championship.
“We’re a powerhouse, I mean we’re excited for the U 11’s to move up and still have a pretty good team and we’re sad that our U 14’s are leaving but we’re excited for those young guys,” said Saybrook Sharks Co-Head Coach Patrick Horn.
“A lot of them started really young so a lot of these U 14’s started back when they were U 11 so they just kinda move and they cycle through and we just get more and more players,” said Sharks Co-Head Coach Bethany Towers.
Many of these kids have been playing since they were old enough to compete. It wasn’t until later that they knew building friendships would help the team reach the championship level.
“Everyone in Saybrook is such a community and we all come together and we have such chemistry when we we play in the water and we just all know like where we’re supposed to be, where were suppose to go and it’s amazing,” said 14 U Girls Rugy Stackevicious.
“We were able to build trust in everyone so we don’t have to worry about anyone in the starting lineup messing up because we played with them for so long we know what they can do,” said 14 U Co Ed Sam O’Mally.
Friends and Competition
While being friends in the pool is fun, it was the teamwork that was pivotal to help these kids succeed.
“We definitely improved a lot. I’m really happy with how we have improved because we improved a lot and I’m really happy that we won this,” said 14 U Girls Ava Podkasik.
With the season complete, the polo players on the 11U side will move on up to the 14U spots with future 11 U kids to come. Even with the 14U kids moving on to the high school level with sectionals and state. With leagues like this training the next generation of talent every year, it’s no surprise that Naperville is well established as a water polo powerhouse at the high school level.
“Through this program over the twenty years, Naperville Water polo of the five high schools has really been dominant in the suburban water polo league because these kids have started this young.”
Naperville News 17 Patrick Codo Reports.