Lyons capture second water polo state title in four years
A full day of celebration was cut short for Stevenson High School Saturday night as the boy’s water polo team failed to complete a state championship sweep against Lyons Township High School.
Instead, it was the scene of Lions’ chants roaring from the stands and a frustrated Stevenson assistant coach ripping down a blue and gold flag waved in the face of the Patriots’ bench.
Lyons beat the Patriots 9-6 to win the IHSA title at Stevenson natatorium only a few hours after Stevenson fans watched their girl’s team dominate New Trier 11-3 for their first state title.
“We felt like we had a legitimate shot at winning the state championship,” said Lyons head coach Doug Eichstaedt about the season. “We were just kind of clicking, the team came together and played great on both ends of the pool.”
In its 14th year as an official IHSA State Series sport, Lyons became just the second team to win multiple state titles, having also won in 2012. Stevenson, seeking its first championship, has now lost two straight title games.
The Lions frustrated the Patriots with a mix of defense, which forced turnovers and counterattacks for easy goal opportunities.
The Patriots struck first, but the Lions answered with four straight goals to end the first quarter with juniors Sam Szczepaniak and George Lundgren netting two each.
The teams traded goals briefly before the Lions pulled away with a 7-3 advantage halfway through the third quarter behind more scores from Szczepaniak and Lundgren.
The battle-tested Patriots, which earned a gritty win over 10-time state champion Fenwick earlier in the day, charged back with three straight goals.
Cheers finally erupted from the sea of green Patriots shirts when Stevenson junior Cristiano Tomassetti’s catch-and-shoot goal into the net’s left corner made it 7-6 with 2:50 remaining.
But that was the last goal the Patriots scored.
“We just put ourselves in a hole that we couldn’t get out of, we started fighting back too late,” Tomassetti said. “I don’t think we let it get to our heads that we were in the state title game, but when it came down to it they wanted it more than us. They were the better team tonight.”
Missed opportunities, including a blocked penalty shot, resulted in turnovers that Lyons senior Nathan Henderson converted into two straight goals to seal the win.
“We always joked after the game about how unfortunate it would be if we woke up [and] it was a dream,” Henderson said. “I was really, really concerned that I was going to wake up because if I was going to end the game, it would be with me scoring two goals [like this].”
Stevenson’s girls’ title was the third state team championship for the Patriots this school year with the football and basketball teams both accomplishing the feat. But Stevenson fans could only watch in silence as Lyons players fist pumped to cheers from their large contingent of raucous supporters.
Both teams should be back in the title fold next year with young leading scorers Lundgren (102 goals) and Andrew Shashin (64 goals) returning to the Lions and Patriots respectively.
“We have a strong junior class, we have a strong sophomore group that’s ready and got a little taste of what this is like,” Eichstaedt said. “We’ll get back to work this summer.”
Photos at top: Lyons wins boys water polo state title. (Sam Fiske/Medill)