IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Mary Kate Lopez, a standout volleyball player at Loyola Academy, wanted to be as transparent as possible with her water polo coaches at the school.
So the 6-foot-3 junior from Mount Prospect — a right-side hitter and an Oregon State University volleyball recruit — handed her spring club volleyball schedule to her polo coaches early this spring, essentially saying, I will be available for you and my water polo teammates as often as possible.
Ramblers water polo coach Kim Przekota appreciated Lopez’s upfront approach.
So did Ramblers goalkeepers coach Austin Travers.
“You should see her in practice,” said Travers, a former water polo goalie at St. Patrick High School in Chicago and at the University of Illinois (club). “Steam comes out of her ears if a ball gets past her. Such a competitor.
“When Mary Kate was able to practice with us,” Przekota added, “she was all in, super competitive.”
In goal, for top-seeded LA, in the Glenbrook South Sectional final against second-seeded New Trier May 12: Lopez. She killed Trevians scoring chances with her saves; you couldn’t help but dig her right-on outlet passes to sprinting field players; and now, thanks to her team’s 5-3 victory, she’s all set to help LA accomplish something special at the state tournament this weekend at Stevenson.
Kill, dig, set … volleyball terms, yes, but Lopez had nothing but water polo on her mind last weekend in Glenview.
“You only have to tell her to do something once; she pick things up quickly,” Travers said. “How about her passing? She’s Tom Brady in the pool — passes it exactly where she wants to pass it, every time.”
The last time LA reached the Elite Eight in girls water polo was 2013, when it lost 12-11 to eventual runner-up Lincoln-Way Central in a state quarterfinal.
LA (19-12) faces Conant in a state quarterfinal May 18 at 8:15 p.m.
“All weekend our girls played with a lot of heart,” said Przekota, whose girls defeated Maine South 21-7 in a sectional quarterfinal May 10 and downed Glenbrook North 13-3 in a semifinal May 11. “We played great team offense, great team defense.”
Ramblers senior tri-captain and Santa Clara University recruit Lauren Voss scored the game’s first two goals, including a five-meter penalty shot, against New Trier (23-10). Battling illness for a second day, she also provided an assist on the first of Nicole Kielba’s two first-half goals.
“Lauren,” Przekota said, “sometimes wills the team to a win.”
LA, which had lost two of three regular-season games to NT, led 2-0 after one quarter and 5-2 at the half in the sectional final. The teams combined for five goals in a 4:14 span in the second frame. Allie Larkin and Megan Frentzel scored for New Trier.
LA’s Aidan Koconis-O’Malley capped the quarter’s scoring at the 1:45 mark, shortly after her stifling defense at the other end of the pool triggered a fast break.
“We had really good momentum from our quarterfinal and semifinal wins,” said fourth-year varsity member Voss, who received a nice lead pass from Kielba before tallying her first goal in the sectional final at 3:21 in the first quarter. “Then, after going up 2-0 against New Trier, we got our swagger and kept playing hard, despite being kind of tired in the fourth quarter.
“New Trier,” she added, “adjusted well in the second half, played better defensively.”
Neither team scored in the second half until NT’s Emily McKenzie cut the deficit to 5-3 with 2:21 remaining in the final quarter.
Intelligent efforts from the Ramblers sealed the big victory.
“Loyola came out with high energy and put us down early,” said Trevians coach Matt Wendt, whose club blanked LA in the final 15:45, or for two-plus quarters. “Its press defense was so good; we couldn’t get anything done on the offensive end to catch up. We didn’t have enough movement or driving to help break the press and make good passes.
“Congratulations to Loyola’s girls,” he added. “They played very well.”
They had played often in between regular-season games as well, though keeping score was never a priority, and the gatherings had little to do with water polo.
“We all got together for a scavenger hunt,” Voss said. “But I’m not sure who won. Team bonding has been important to us from the start of the season. We hang out at teammates’ houses, eat some food and drink some water together.”
Polo is a grueling sport in the water. Przekota conducts drills at practice that mimic the quarters of games. She typically saves the most exhausting ones for the end, hoping her girls are able to summon their resolve up when their legs and arms feel like anvils.
“At that point in a practice,” Voss said, “we’re all shouting, ‘Fourth quarter, fourth quarter, fourth quarter.’ ”