Mother McAuley wasn’t playing the game it was expecting to be Saturday night, but the third-place state game still served as a chance for a special senior class to end with a win.
The Mighty Macs’ five senior starters — who were all part of three state-qualifying teams — all pitched in as McAuley earned its best finish since 2008 with an 11-9 win over Mundelein at Stevenson in Lincolnshire.
Earlier Saturday, McAuley (29-5) dropped an 8-7 heartbreaker to Metro Catholic Aquatics rival St. Ignatius in the semifinal.
“We really wanted to come out strong after the tough loss,” said senior Kristin Kleist, who led McAuley with five goals.
“Our seniors have been together awhile and we’re like family. It’s been awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
It was the first time the Mighty Macs’ seniors ended with a win at state. They lost in the quarterfinals last season and fell in the 2011 fourth-place game.
The state trophy is McAuley’s ninth in the 12 years water polo has been an IHSA-sanctioned sport.
“At the beginning of the game, I told [the seniors] that it was their last game, so play their hardest,” McAuley coach Vanessa Carroll said. “They played great as a group for four years. The last four years have flown by, and it’s going to be hard to lose all of them.”
Clare Bryar and Amy Kopale scored three times each for McAuley, and Sarah Abbott made nine saves.
Allie Boothe scored six goals and Karrie Kozokar two for the Mustangs (27-8).
The Mighty Macs took control in the third quarter, extending a 4-2 halftime lead to 8-4 as Kopale scored three times in the period.
“My teammates were behind me,” Kopale said. “I didn’t play a great game (in the semifinal). They got me good passes and got my confidence back up.”
McAuley pushed the lead to 11-5 before Mundelein scored four times in the final minute.
Mundelein nonetheless earned its first state trophy since 2003.
“At the beginning of the season, one of our biggest goals was to get to the final four and we did that,” Kozokar said. “It didn’t turn out how we would have liked, but I’m really proud.”
In the semifinal loss, McAuley held three one-goal leads, but Ignatius struck the final blow in the back-and-forth contest when Tammy Stelnicki scored on a penalty shot with 2:22 left.
The Mighty Macs came up empty offensively from there as Kleist, who scored four goals, had two shots saved and McAuley turned it over twice.
“We played Ignatius four times this year and split with them,” Kopale said. “Unfortunately, they outplayed us in the biggest game.”