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Close-knit group of seniors led Loyola to boys water polo state championship

LINCOLNSHIRE — As most of Loyola’s senior class was preparing to graduate Saturday, the Loyola boys water polo team gathered at senior Matt Kearney’s house in Deerfield.

The senior-laden Ramblers had trounced Stevenson 13-6 in the state semifinals that morning using two of their staples: a balanced offensive attack in which all six field players are threats to score and suffocating defense.

Loyola had several hours until it played Fenwick for the state championship that night and, fittingly, its players chose to spend part of the afternoon with one another. They ate sub sandwiches and replenished their fluids with water and Gatorade at Kearney’s home to prepare for what would be the senior class’s final game together.

“They’re just best friends,” Loyola coach Dan Hengelmann said of the 2014 graduates. “It’s so tight-knit and that’s something you can’t break up.”

The ending to the seniors’ high school careers was like the final scene of a Hollywood movie. Loyola led 8-5 with 4 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but Fenwick stormed back with three unanswered goals to send the state title game to overtime.

Senior Cameron Shewchuck put the Ramblers ahead twice during overtime, but the Friars pulled even both times. Then, after a timeout, Loyola senior Tom Baker found junior Jack Schermerhorn cutting to the goal. Schermerhorn caught Baker’s pass and stuffed the game-winner into the back of the net with eight seconds remaining in the second overtime period. His goal gave the Ramblers an 11-10 victory and the program’s first IHSA state title.

“We’ve been dreaming about this since sophomore year,” Loyola senior George Finn said.

Shewchuck was the best player in the pool against Fenwick. The 2014 Player of the Year in Illinois scored six goals against the Friars and played outstanding defense, but “we knew that it wouldn’t be about one person, that it would always be about everybody in the pool,” Finn said.

That mentality was evident on offense — Loyola had eight players score at least 20 goals this year — and defense. Finn, senior Jack Nickele and Shewchuck were often given the toughest defensive assignments. They helped shut down Fenwick standouts Ryan Masi — the junior scored six goals against Naperville North in the state semifinals — and Danny Farmer. Masi and Farmer had one goal apiece in the state championship game.

In addition, Baker was adept at setting up his teammates all season and finished second on the team in assists. Kearney, who scored twice against Fenwick, was effective at getting position at hole set and creating goal-scoring chances for himself and his teammates.

Goalie Trevor Prince was another senior standout. He was a field player as a freshman and a sophomore, but switched to goalie as a junior when it became clear that the Ramblers wouldn’t have anybody to play the position in 2014. Prince developed rapidly over the last two years and he came up huge against Fenwick. He was in great position throughout the match and made 18 saves.

Prince, like Shewchuck and Finn, was a first-team all-state selection this year.

Hengelmann chose to withhold individual stats from his players during the regular season to help maintain the team-first attitude, and that mind-set also was cultivated by the seniors spending so much time together — both in the pool and out of it.

“We’ve played together since we were freshmen,” Prince said when asked what made the senior class special. “We play offseason in the summer, we do Gators (club water polo) at Glenbrook South, the masters program (at Glenbrook South), we did that together. We just did a lot of practice, a lot of prep. We all did swimming together (at Loyola). … We definitely have a lot of camaraderie, so that’s what sets us apart.”