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Fenwick tries sleight of hand at state tournament

LINCOLNSHIRE — On its march to a state title, the most important stretch for the Fenwick girls water polo team proved to be the third quarter of its state championship game against St. Ignatius.

The Wolfpack led 2-1 at halftime. They created the better offensive chances during the second quarter and outscored the Friars 1-0 during that period.

But then the third quarter began. The Wolfpack had fruitless offensive possession after fruitless offensive possession during the opening minutes. They were unable to even attempt a shot until sophomore Diana Fernandez’s try clanged off the post with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Fenwick shut out St. Ignatius and led 5-2 entering the fourth quarter en route to a 6-3 victory.

Defensively, the game unfolded exactly how Fenwick coach Jack Wagner had hoped.

“We go into the game with a plan,” Wagner said. “At the beginning of the game, we try to execute the plan, but we try to give them a look that we’re not going to give them later in the game. So if we can get them to buy that look, which we did, they think they’re in control. And when they think they’re in control, we spring what we really want to do on them. And then we shut them down for four or five minutes and take control of the game.”

The Friars prefer to crash from the point on the two-meter player, Wagner said, but they didn’t do that in the first half. Instead, they crashed from the side with their deep wings, which Wagner said provided the illusion that St. Ignatius would be able to make similar passes in the second half.

They weren’t.

“They felt comfortable putting the ball inside,” Wagner said. “Every time they put the ball inside, we came from the other side up on top and pretty much stole the ball every time.”

Wagner’s defensive strategy proved to be immaculate, and so too was the defensive execution. The Friars communicated well throughout the game and held a high-powered St. Ignatius team to its lowest scoring output of the season.

“This is the first time we’ve ever been held to less than six goals this year,” St. Ignatius coach Mike Cashman said.

Part of the reason for that is talent, but it’s also about the conditioning that the Friars did in the weeks and months leading up to the state championship game.

Fenwick water polo practices typically last three hours, senior goalie Lexi Buglio said. The Friars’ field players spend an hour doing swim sets — depending on the day it’s either distance, individual medley, heavy sprint or a combination of the three — and then the team spends two hours playing water polo.

“I think we’re more of a third quarter and fourth quarter team because of the way we practice,” said Buglio, a Chicago resident. “We build up our endurance so we can keep on going. If the other team gets tired, that’s good for us.”

Doing those types of swim sets isn’t just for endurance. It’s about staying mentally sharp; being able to make the right pass, follow the game plan when fatigued and come through in games’ critical junctures.

“When I played, none of us could swim and my coach made us swim for an hour each day because when you were tired, you make bad decisions,” Wagner said. “In the fourth quarter (against St. Ignatius), we didn’t make a bad decision. We were tired, but we didn’t make a bad decision.”