The Jr. Bills faced off against the Kirkwood Pioneers last week. This wasn’t an ordinary matchup, the Bills wouldn’t be able to make them “feel despair” (the goal of each game). This was Kirkwood, the team that beat SLUH in the state semifinals last year. The Bills had nothing but revenge in their eyes.
Over the last few weeks the SLUH water polo team has faced rivals and foreigners, but nothing has seemed to slow down the Bills’ goal of reclaiming the throne. Although practice opportunities have been limited, the team has not slowed down.
“They were really good last year,” said junior captain Joe Zarilli. “We wanted to show them how we have changed.”
The Bills proved that change in the long awaited rematch. The Bills were dominant on both offense and defense, and by the end of the third quarter, SLUH was up 9-2.
“We had a very good third quarter against them,” said varsity head coach John Penilla. “We knew who we had to match up with, and for the most part we did that pretty well.”
“Playing well helps us improve our chemistry,” said senior captain Connor Buehring. “It helps prepare us for teams that are as good as us.”
The Bills won 11-6, nearly doubling the Pioneers goals.
The Bills also faced off against Parkway South. This had been the first time that the Bills had played them in three years. Even though these teams hadn’t dueled in many years, the Bills cleanly won the fight, 20-8.
“When we play as a team, there is almost nothing that they can do to stop us” said junior Brandon Harris. “Our most successful plays rely on us being aware and knowing what is going on in the pool.”
Almost every time the Bills run their plays well, the ball ends up in the net.
“When everyone knows what their role is and they play it well, that is when we play our best” said Penilla.
The Bills also clashed with teams from St. Louis, Chicago, and Cincinnati in the De Smet Jesuit Invite. After voyaging out to the St. Peters Rec Plex the opposing teams just scattered when they saw the Bills.
The first match of the tournament was against the Parkway Central Colts, the team that the Bills played for the third place title last year. However, they too were overwhelmed by this new and improved team. The speedy trio of senior Zach Brugnara, senior Cooper Scharff, and junior Harris led the Bills to a dominant first half. Scharff proved to be unstoppable, using his speed and quick play to score seven of the first eight goals of the game.
“Aggression plays a major role in our play,” said Buehring. “We need to have a good mindset going into every match.”
By the end of the first half the Bills were up 9-3. The Bills were like a pack of lions waiting to strike upon their prey, and scored five more times in the second half, winning the match 14-3.
“That was one of our best games,” said Penilla. “They have a really good goalie, but we were able to capitalize on our opportunities.”
After the strong start to the tournament the Bills went back to the Rec Plex on Friday for the second game. As they walked in, they were greeted by the longtime foe, Fenwick. St. Louis University High has had a long rivalry with Fenwick.
“They (Fenwick) had won state ten years in a row,” said JV head coach Paul Baudendistel. “They were the big dogs of Illinois while we were the big dogs of Missouri.”
Going into the match, the boys in blue were not hindered by another Chicago team. After having to trade blows from teams like Stevenson and York, the Bills would not be fooled so easily.
SLUH dominated on both sides of the pool. On offense the Bills would clear out, allowing other players to swim to that water and score. They would run plays and use counter attacks to confuse Fennwick’s defense. Thanks to Penilla’s ability to adapt on the fly, the Bills’ offense and defense was like an impossible puzzle. As the offense scored goal after goal, the defense remained unbreakable. Though Fenwick scored three times In the final minutes of the game, the Jr. Bills won 11-5.
“It is always nice to play Fenwick,” exclaimed Penilla.
“Our defense has come down to how well we play passing lane (playing in between the ball and a player to cut off a potential pass)” said Zarilli. “We have shut down the offense before they have a chance to set up and it has made it very hard for teams to work the ball.”
“We can’t underestimate our opponents” said Buehring. “We need to play our best every time so they can improve and we can improve.”
After the strong start to the tournament, the Bills went on to beat St. Xavier 17-3 and Sycamore. However, the tired and worn Bills fell to Whitney Young by a mere one goal, losing 9-8.
“It’s a learning opportunity for us,” said Penilla. “We don’t know how to improve our play when we aren’t playing our best yet, but hopefully we will by the end of the season.
Yesterday, the Bills began their last tournament of the regular season, the Lindbergh Invite. They will be playing teams like CBC, Ladue, and Parkway West, all of them being big competitors of SLUH. Out of all the games though, the Bills have their eyes sited on one game in particular, the Parkway West Longhorns.
“I am excited for the tournament, beating Parkway West will be a challenge,” said Zarilli. “We just need to keep working hard and continue to play well”.
“Parkway West is probably the game that everyone is excited for, but I am excited for all of them,” said Penilla. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing, every opportunity is a chance for us to play our best”.
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