By Jason Maholy
Few water polo programs in the southwest suburbs are deep enough that they can lose some of their better players and still compete a t a high level.
Even the more successful schools would be rendered average without their top talent and experience in the pool.
A shorthanded District 218 girls co-op team is taking its lumps early in the season, but coach Joel Staszewski is optimistic the experience his younger players are getting will pay dividends later in the season.
The Muttdogs are playing without multiple seniors who are sidelined for various reasons, and the squad’s inexperience was evident in an 8-3 setback to Bradley-Bourbonnais on March.
After a goal by 218’s Savannah Martin knotted the score 1-1 early in the first quarter, the Boilermakers rattled off five consecutive goals before halftime to build a commanding lead. A tally with 31 seconds left in the half was a backbreaker that all but put the game out of reach.
“The effort was there, the execution not so much,” Staszewski said. “That will come with experience, but right now with the freshmen and sophomores playing, they don’t have the experience in games or practice. But we’ll clean that up.”
The Muttdogs, however, never quit, and played the visitors to a draw in the second half, with each team scoring twice.
“They didn’t give up,” Staszewski said. “The second half, they seemed to pick it up, and in fact in the fourth quarter had we executed we’re still in the game. Being down 6-1 they could have easily given up, and they didn’t, so I’m proud they kept fighting.”
Junior Savannah Martin, the team’s starting goalie who but who was playing her first varsity game in the field, scored twice. Sophomore Jacqueline Ballesteros scored the other goal.
The Muttdogs came out strong after the halftime break. They were more aggressive on offense and the defense was solid, and they had opportunities to creep back into the game. Three open shots in that didn’t go in – two hit the crossbar and one sailed wide of the net – stood out.
“We had a lot of missed shots and a lot of poor passing,” Staszewski said. “And, similarly to basketball, when you have a turnovers it usually leads to them having a fast break. That’s a big issue, to take care of the ball.”
The co-op was 0-for-5 on the power play.
“If we execute four of the five we’re in the game,” Staszewski said.
Underclassmen got the bulk of the playing time. Seniors Rebecca Martin and Sara Dziadkowiec were joined by freshmen Alison Zemeckis and Andie Hindhaugh, sophomores Ballesteros and Francesca Serdar, and Martin. Sophomore Angelique Clark, who usually plays in the field on junior varsity, pulled time in goal and made several nice saves while being barraged with shots during a challenging first half.
“Come April and May, we should be better off because the seniors will be back, but right now we’re really young,” Staszewski said.
Staszewski was encouraged by Martin’s performance, but he said that as the team’s best goalie she will likely be back in the net once the Muttdogs return to full strength.
“Unless someone steps up in goal,” he added. “Things can change goalie-wise, so maybe we’ll see.”
Martin hadn’t played in the field since her freshman season. She enjoyed the physicality of battling other players for position and for the ball, something she doesn’t get to do when playing in goal.
Martin, who swims for Richards, got into water polo two years ago after being encouraged by a former water polo coach who saw her potential and athleticism.
“I don’t know what I like so much about it,” he said. “I like I can be physical and I like swimming.
“I’m starting to get better at field, so they put me out there. I enjoyed it.”