Pictured: Thomas Nordmann looks to move the ball against Ladue at the St. Peters Rec-Plex on May 13, 2017. Photo by Michael Gulledge (STLhighschoolsports.com)
Story by Steve Oberbey (STLToday.com)
Joe Jellinek said he was a "supporting player" on last year's St. Louis University High water polo team.
"I scored every once in a while," he said. "But, I wasn't the main guy."
Jellinek was definitely the main guy on Saturday night.
The junior scored a match-high three goals to lead the Junior Billikens to a 9-4 win over Ladue in the Missouri Water Polo District tournament championship match at Rec-Plex.
SLUH won its third successive area title and claimed its record 19th overall championship.
The Jr. Bills (23-4) have claimed nine first-place trophies in the last 12 years.
Jellinek kick-started a 3-1 blitz in the second quarter and a 3-0 burst in the third period that put SLUH in control. Senior Brandon Trusler also scored twice — once in each run.
"We knew there was an X on our backs and we'd already beat them twice, so we figured they'd be ready and they were," Jellinek said.
Thomas Nordmann, John Burke, Jacob Fields and Nick Mattingly also scored for the winners.
Senior Cedrick Everaert scored twice for Ladue (19-7-1).
Jellinek stepped up from his supporting role to lead SLUH with 79 goals this season. His ability to produce, along with steady play from a talented senior class, helped the team overcome the loss of 66 percent of its scoring from last year's 24-1 club.
"He's somewhat like a barracuda," Nordmann said. "He's vicious in the water and I would be afraid to guard him."
SLUH coach Paul Baudendistel said Jellinek's rapid progress played a key role in the three-peat.
"He's gotten a lot better and there's still another level in his game," Baudendistel said.
The triumph was particularly satisfying for Baudendistel, who returned only one starter from last season.
"We lost a lot more than we're used to," Baudendistel said. "There were concerns about leadership and talent. All the credit to our seniors, they did a good job of pulling everybody in the right direction."
Nordmann and Trusler, the team captains, led the charge among the veterans.
"We knew this wasn't going to be easy," Nordmann said. "It was a battle all year — but we finally got there."
SLUH used a rock-ribbed defensive effort to stave off Ladue, which came out aggressively.
The Jr. Billikens held the Rams off the board for a stretch of 14 minutes and 17 seconds from the last minute of the second period to the final seconds of the match.
SLUH won the two regular-season matches between the teams 15-4 and 11-6, but Rams did not back down, especially in the first half.
"I thought we played well, we really did," Ladue coach Michael Clay said.
Jellinek and Burke scored back-to-back goals late in the first period to put SLUH up for good 3-1. Everaert answered for Ladue before Mattingly and Jellinek tallied to pump the lead to 5-2.
Trusler's tally from close range with 56 seconds left, right after an Everaert goal, gave the Jr. Bills a 6-3 lead at the break.
SLUH then clamped down on the defensive end holding Ladue scoreless most of the second half. Trusler, Jellinek and Fields all scored in a span of 4:32 in the third quarter to put the contest away.
Goalie Mike Harris made several fine saves in the first half when the game was up for grabs.
"We had the mindset that we were going to play our hardest and this would be our hardest game all year," Jellinek said. "It certainly was. But, thanks to our seniors, we pulled through."
The SLUH dynasty doesn't appear to be coming to an end soon.
"It gets harder, but we keep working harder, too," Jellinek said.