Lyons Boys Water Polo Team Captures First State Title
The Lyons Township boys water polo team earned its first IHSA state championship by defeating Loyola Academy 14-6 Saturday. LT is the first public school to win an IHSA boys water polo state championship.
When 1996 Lyons Township alumnus Doug Eichstaedt became the LT boys water polo coach, an initial goal was to reach the IHSA state tournament for the first time.
On Saturday, the ultimate dream was finally realized.
The Lions captured their first state championship in the sport as they defeated Loyola Academy 14-6 in the final at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
LT (34-2) also became the first public school to win the boys state title since the IHSA-sanctioned state tournament began in 2002 and snapped a reported streak of state titles by Catholic League schools started in 1974.
The Lions thus also become the only public school to capture state titles in both tournaments. The LT girls water polo team was state champion in 2010.
“It was great to see our girls team do it a couple of years ago, and it’s something that these kids have been working on that can never be taken away. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Eichstaedt said.
“Being the first public school on the boys side to win the IHSA title is something special to me. When I came back and started coaching at LT, it’s something that didn’t seem like it was a possibility, but over the last six, eight, 10 years, we kept building and building. You heard all of those fans up there (in the stands), all of our former players. They’re all a part of it, and they kind of paved the way for these guys. They kept raising the bar every year, what the expectations were, and these guys finished it for everybody.”
Starting for the Lions in the final were senior co-captains Danny McGuinness and Kovas Zygas and juniors Peter Dore, Josh Hirt, Sean McMahon, Chris Sekula and Joe Shannon, who was credited with six goals. Other members of the state tournament roster were seniors Danny Mohler, Peter Perez-Tamayo, Rob Williams and Chris Withington, juniors James Bailey and Michael Dow, sophomores George Duffy, Nathan Kriha and Jack Patel and freshmen Matt Baldassare, Tommy Kaptur, Adam Kline and Jack Linden.
Eichstaedt became coach in 2002 after playing LT water polo for four seasons and club water polo at the University of Wisconsin. Under Eichstaedt, the Lions previously reached the state tournament three times, finishing as high as third in 2006. They were fourth in 2009 and last year lost 10-8 in the quarterfinals to Fenwick, which went on to win its eighth consecutive state championship.
This time, LT rallied to beat Fenwick 8-7 in the York Sectional final May 12 after splitting two matches during the regular season. LT’s only other loss was 12-11 to University High School (St. Louis, Mo.) at the York Invitational March 23.
LT already owned an 11-1 victory over Loyola (29-7) April 14 in the title match of LT’s Weber-Allen Classic. The Ramblers were third at state in 2011.
In the state championship match, the Lions jumped to a 3-0 lead less than three minutes into the match and led 5-1 after one quarter. They were ahead 6-3 at halftime and blew the game open by scoring the first three goals of the third quarter, again in less than three minutes.
“We just had a great group of kids that really came together, and everyone had their role,” Eichstaedt said.
“We knew that we were going to have to beat a lot of good teams to get here and we were just able to do it. The boys were real focused all week. We’ve played these teams before. We knew they were going to be tough games. It was one-game-at-a-time and staying focused on the end goal, and we achieved it.”
Shannon scored five of his six goals in the second half, including three of the Lions’ four fourth-quarter goals that increased a 10-6 lead. Hirt had three second-half goals, and Dore and Zygas each scored twice in the first half. Dore also had two assists and McGuinness one. Sekula made 12 saves.
For the season, Shannon led the team with 130 goals with 32 assists, followed by Zygas (89 goals, 31 assists), Hirt (76 goals, 55 assists), Dore (71 goals, 56 assists), Withington (29 goals, 16 assists), McMahon (23 goals, 18 assists), McGuinness (15 goals, 16 assists), Perez-Tamayo (12 goals, assist) and Mohler (10 goals, 10 assists). Sekula made 394 saves in 36 games (10.94 per game) with a 4.94 goals-against average.
Zygas and Sekula were named to the first team of the all-sectional team. Hirt and Shannon were named to the second team, and McGuinness and Dore received honorable mention. The all-state team has not been released.
“That’s the way our team is. We’ve got a bunch of different guys that can step up and make plays, depending on how the (opposing) defense wants to play,” Eichstaedt said.
“(This season) everyone played well together. We had a lot of different options on offense. We played real solid defense together. It’s just a great team. They made the big plays, and they worked extremely hard and we were able to finish.”
In Saturday morning’s semifinals, LT defeated Sandburg 12-11 after beating the Eagles 7-5 April 11. LT led 7-2 in the second quarter, 10-8 after three quarters and opened a 12-8 advantage before Sandburg (29-7) scored the final three goals, the final one just before time expired.
Zygas (5 goals), Shannon (4 goals), McMahon (2 goals) and Hirt (goal, assist) and Dore and McGuinness (assist each) accounted for the offense, and Sekula had 14 saves. Sandburg defeated Lockport 10-4 for third place.
In Thursday’s quarterfinals, LT defeated Naperville North for the third time this season, 8-4, with help from Shannon (4 goals, assist), Dore (2 goals, 2 assists), Zygas (2 goals, assist), Hirt (2 assists) and Sekula (11 saves). With a 4-4 halftime tie, great LT defense shut out the Huskies (30-4) the final 14 minutes while Shannon and Zygas each scored twice.
After losing their first meeting with Fenwick 16-8 March 17 in the championship match of the Friars’ Dan Lynch Memorial Tournament, LT had two memorable hard-fought victories over the Friars.
The Lions’ 6-5 victory April 28 on a last-second goal by Dore in the semifinals of Stevenson Tournament snapped the Friars’ incredible winning streak at 82.
In the sectional final, the Lions fell behind 6-3 late in the third quarter but got a goal seconds later by Shannon and two early fourth-quarter goals by Zygas for a 6-6 tie. Fenwick regained a one-goal lead with 3:44 remaining, but Shannon scored the final two goals, the game winner with about 90 seconds left.
It was arguably the greatest victory in LT boys water polo history.
“Well, second to this one (for sure),” Eichstaedt said Saturday night in sight of his celebrating players, fans and the state trophy.