FRANKFORT – After missing out on a trip to the IHSA finals by only one goal a year ago, Lincoln-Way East’s girls water polo was determined that it would not be similarly denied when it hosted Sandburg in Saturday’s Lincoln-Way East Sectional finals.
The Griffins scored three straight goals late in the third quarter to overcome a 6-5 deficit and held the Eagles scoreless for 11:43 in the second half to capture a 9-7 victory that advances them to the quarterfinals at Stevenson in Lincolnshire against Naperville North, which beat Naperville Central, 5-3, in the Metea Valley finals. The match will be at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Second-seed East (24-8), which will make its first state appearance since 2014, denied the top-seeded Eagles (26-7) their first sectional title since 2002. Griffins coach Kendra Will takes her second team to state in three seasons, having led Lincoln-Way North there in 2016.
Although her squad beat rival Lincoln-Way Central, 10-4, in Friday’s semifinals in a rematch of last year’s sectional finals, Will was concerned about how well they would bounce back after that emotional matchup.
“Lincoln-Way Central really wore us out last night,” Will said. “That semifinal game was hard to the end, and it was a late game, and then we played this morning, and I could tell that we were tired. But the girls never gave up, and that’s kind of been our theme all season. I love this team, and they’ve been so coachable and awesome, and I couldn’t have asked for a better sectional championship game.
“Our offense was a little off in the beginning, so we had to make some adjustments. Our defense was awesome, but that also wears you out, and we still had to score some goals. We’re so young and are learning as we go. Our club program has really helped us since these girls are playing at an earlier age and are taking the time in the offseason to learn and to grow as a player and that speaks volumes. I’m just really proud of them.”
Eagles coach Jim Caliendo, who retired last year as Sandburg’s boys coach after taking five teams to state and winning four trophies from 2008 to 2014, was hoping to get the girls program back to state and things were looking good for the Eagles after they got a goal from Erin Falsey (three goals) with 4:58 left in the third quarter to take a 6-5 lead.
But East’s defense applied the clamps after that, and Sandburg only managed to get one more shot past Griffins keeper Grace Wilk, and that didn’t come until only 15 seconds were left when goalie Emma Crnich connected on a long-range attempt.
“We learned to adjust to their type of offense,” junior Reis Parkinson said. “They definitely came out to play today, and luckily our goalie knew how to get up in those high corners and was able to stop their shots. We were super nervous at first, but after the first quarter, we got all of our jitters out, relaxed and got into our mojo and were able to get things going. Sandburg played great defense against us and has so much to be proud of. Coach Will says that we listen very well, and we also connect well and work very well together.”
With 3:02 left in the third, Parkinson (three goals) tied things on a rebound goal. Emma Hernandez (three goals) converted a five-meter shot 16 seconds later to put her team up for good and then scored with 2:07 left in the half to make it 8-6, which is how things stayed until Parkinson connected with only 1:50 left in the contest.
After East got goals from Meghan Fisher and Tina Winter (two goals) in the final minute of the opening quarter to take a 4-3 lead, Sandburg limited it to only one goal in the second period to force a 5-5 halftime score.
“We were expecting Sandburg to come out real strong and gave us a good fight,” senior Fisher said. “I’m so proud of our girls since we pulled it together on defense, which was a real key. It was nice to have this game at home, which gave us an advantage. I like how well we’re able to adapt and change throughout games.”