Water Polo: St. Charles Cardinals cruise to third consecutive state championship
Despite having a new coach, the St. Charles water polo team continued to dominate opponents, winning its third consecutive state championship.
Andrew Hoffman took over in January when Geoff Gear resigned after 13 seasons, but the 2014 St. Charles graduate helped keep the tradition alive as the Cardinals rolled past host Cincinnati Princeton 20-8 on May 22 in the state final.
Hoffman said the credit went to his seniors.
“The seniors have been playing together for four years and they are an extremely tight group,” said Hoffman, whose team also defeated Cincinnati St. Xavier 11-8 in a state semifinal earlier May 22 and finished 18-4. “They have been playing together for so long that they know what their strengths are, they know their weaknesses and they have all kind of carved out their separate area of the team. Some are better shooters, some are better down low, some are better on defense and the class as whole has come together.”
The seniors weren’t sure they would get their chance at a third consecutive title after the fall season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But soon after the cancellation, the season was rescheduled for the spring, and the Cardinals wanted to make the most of the chance.
“It was obviously something we didn’t know about,” said senior Donnie Richardson, a first-team all-state performer who scored three of his four goals in the first quarter of the state title game. “We didn’t know if we would even have a season.
“We talked all fall about how much we wanted to play and win that third state championship. When they announced that the season would be in the spring we got ready, and even worked during swim season (in the winter). Getting to raise that (championship) trophy showed that it really paid off.”
Senior Will Elsrod scored seven goals and senior Wil Borchers had five in the state final. Senior Lukas Rakowsky had three goals, senior Austin Grzybicki scored one and senior goalie Chase Bateman had 15 saves.
“The seniors definitely were bummed because we weren’t sure if we were going to have a season or not and our coaches were gone,” Elsrod said. “We wanted to step up and put on a show for our old coaches and our teammates.
“It was definitely worth the wait. I think this is one of our best performances as a team because we were able to get outside shots, looks in center, counter attacks, we got a little bit of everything. This game was a lot of fun.”
Elsrod (first-team all-state) led the Cardinals with 66 goals and 49 assists and had 47 steals. Grzybicki (first-team all-state) had 51 goals, 26 assists and 53 steals, and Richardson had 48 goals, 49 assists and a team-high 63 steals. Grzybicki and Richardson will play club water polo at Ohio State, and Elsrod will compete on the Indiana club team.
Junior Ryan Alfred (second-team all state) had 48 goals, 24 assists and 49 steals, and Borchers (third-team all-state) had 37 goals, 24 assists and 35 steals. Borchers also will play club at OSU.
Bateman finished with 137 saves and 21 steals. He also had six goals and three assists.
“I have so much confidence in this team,” Richardson said. “We came out with a lot of confidence and a lot of speed (in the semifinal) and I knew if we came out and played our game (in the final) we would end up being state champions.
“The seniors all know each other well and they all play together and work together all of the time. We’re just perfect together. I couldn’t explain it any other way.”
In addition to Alfred, top players expected to return are juniors Adam Fellows (25 goals, 18 assists, 22 steals) and Aidan Miller (20 goals, 8 assists, 23 steals).
“Ryan Alfred, Adam Fellows and Aidan Miller are expected to be coming back for us,” Hoffman said. “That gives us a nice solid corps coming back.”
•Record: 18-4 overall
•Seniors lost: Chase Bateman, Wil Borchers, Will Elsrod, Austin Grzybicki, John Hummel, Matthew Kravitz, Lukas Rakowsky and Donnie Richardson
•Key returnees: Ryan Alfred, Adam Fellows and Aidan Miller
•Postseason: Defeated Worthington Kilbourne 28-2; def. Napoleon 13-2; lost to Upper Arlington 16-13; def. Cincinnati St. Xavier 11-8; def. Cincinnati Princeton 20-8 in state final