Click here to view and purchase additional photos of the Evanston boys water polo team in the Glenbrook South Sectional quarterfinal.
GLENVIEW — The Evanston boys water polo team listed 20 players on its roster for its final game of the season, a 16-8 loss to Glenbrook South in the quarterfinals of the Glenbrook South Sectional.
The Wildkits’ bench for that May 14 game was their deepest of the season, but junior Liam O’Connor’s responsibilities remained the same.
O’Connor had to try to carry the offense against the Titans, despite Glenbrook South knowing that he’s Evanston’s most skilled offensive player. He scored four times that night. He also had to guard Glenbrook South’s toughest offensive players effectively while avoiding major fouls.
O’Connor was exhausted afterward.
“I’m really tired, yeah,” O’Connor said. “I really haven’t felt this tired” after a game this season.
Without much depth on the squad during the year, O’Connor rarely came out for a break. That type of workload is physically demanding — especially in a pool with two deep ends like Glenbrook South’s, and against teams that play press defense like the Titans — and it also requires the intellect to make sure he doesn’t get into foul trouble.
Three exclusion fouls in one game results in a player fouling out. O’Connor — the younger brother of former Wildkits standout Ellis O’Connor, a two-time All-American who graduated in 2011 — has become better at not being whistled for kick-out fouls this season, according to Evanston coach Kevin Auger.
“Over the season, we learned how to play aggressively without fouling out,” said Auger, whose team was 10-17 this year. “We’ve learned what the referees are going to call, what they’re not going to call. That’s helped us a lot, in terms of managing that.”
This offseason, O’Connor said he plans on returning to his club team, North Beach Water Polo. He added that he wants to improve his strength, swim more and, if he’s allowed, practice with the masters teams at Glenbrook Aquatics in order to compete against older, better competition.
Another way in which Auger said he hopes to see O’Connor develop between now and the opening weeks of his senior campaign is by becoming an even better leader, one who helps fuse the team’s new and established players together quickly.
“He’s going to have to take on an even greater leadership role so that the team comes together a little sooner in the season — [so that] we’re able to get the passes a little bit more crisp, learn each others’ tendencies a little bit more,” Auger said. “That’s kind of been our issue pretty much throughout the year.”