Mundelein junior Karrie Kozokar’s original plan called for her to play softball in the spring of her freshman year.
Instead, her swim teammates spent the winter encouraging her to give water polo a try. After much thought, Kozokar made the tough decision to stop playing softball and see why the girls were so convinced that water polo would be right for her.
Clearly, it was a case of teammates know best.
The 6-foot Kozokar — in part because of the strong arm she developed through softball — was an immediate contributor and impact player at Mundelein.
“She has the hardest shot on the team,” Mundelein junior Allie Boothe said. “It comes in handy.”
As she begins her third season, Kozokar has established herself as one of the North Suburban Conference’s best players. Water polo has become her favorite sport, and she is even more excited than usual for this season.
Why? Mundelein’s construction on its new pool is complete. Last year, Mundelein had to travel to Warren, Vernon Hills and Stevenson to practice, and every one of the Mustangs’ matches was played on the road.
Mundelein’s old pool was smaller, and as a result, each side would have to take a turn defending a goal in the shallow end. Now, the Mustangs have an all-deep pool that allows games to be played as intended. For the first time, Mundelein will host a sectional tournament.
“We’re all pumped up for that,” Kozokar said of the new pool. “We’ll save a lot of time each day since we won’t have (to travel) to practices. We’ll have an opportunity to get more quality practice in.”
As a freshman, Kozokar said her teammates helped her learn the nuances of a new sport.
“The hardest thing was getting used to all the different rules,” she said. “There were a lot of whistles being blown, so it could be confusing. But I liked the physical aspect of the game.”
Two years later, one of Kozokar’s primary roles is to mentor the younger players who are experiencing water polo for the first time. She is a tri-captain with Boothe and senior Michelle Barron on a team ranked No. 11 in the state by illpolo.com in the preseason.
The Mustangs will have to compete with area teams like No. 8 Stevenson, No. 12 Barrington, No. 25 Libertyville, No. 37 Buffalo Grove, No. 43 Vernon Hills and No. 45 Lake Forest.
When she was a freshman, Kozokar said it helped her to think of water polo as a sport that incorporates pieces of other sports.
“There is swimming, basketball and even a little bit of wrestling,” she said with a smile. “It’s a bunch of sports combined.”