Water polo team ‘crushed’ following playoff elimination


Jake Pfeiffer

Senior Dawson Strong scores Central’s 11th point of the game in their 17-3 sectional quarterfinal win over Neuqua Valley on May 10.

Jake Pfeiffer, Staff Writer

Naperville Central High School’s boys water polo team lost their IHSA sectional finals to Naperville North, held at Neuqua Valley, by a score of 10-9, ending their 2022 season.

Central beat Neuqua Valley High School in the quarterfinals of the sectional and Waubonsie Valley High School in the sectional semifinals. Central finished 22-6 on the season.

Senior and varsity driver Nate Lueken led the team to a hot start in the quarterfinals, where the team took a 12-2 lead at half time in a 17-3 victory.

“We wanted to make a statement that we were there to play,” Lueken said. “They beat us last year in the sectional championship, so we wanted to prove that this year we were the better team.”

The team carried the momentum from their first win into the sectional semifinals, jumping out to another early lead on the way to a 16-6 win.

In the finals, the trend of early leads continued. However, Central was unable to put this game away.

“We came out really hot,” Lueken said. “We were up 4-1, but as we tried to get more subs in, people started getting ejected and North slowly made their way back. We ended up losing 10-9 on a last second shot.”

North was able to come back due to several fouls committed by Central players, leading to a few ejections.

“We gave them four penalty shots which they converted (scored on),” Lueken said. “If we just kept our hands up and didn’t slash them, maybe we would’ve had a different outcome.”

Instead, the team was eliminated from the 2022 IHSA State Tournament.

“I’m crushed,” Lueken said. “We all are.”

With the win, North advanced to play Lyons Township High School in the IHSA State Quarterfinals, hosted by Stevenson High School. 

Eight members of Central’s varsity team graduated after the season, leaving big shoes to fill under head coach William Salentine. 

“This is one of my favorite groups of seniors, simply because I think they’re good kids,” Salentine said. “I enjoy being around them. They work hard, they do everything I ask, they’re good people. They’re going to be missed.”

Despite the end to the season, Lueken has many positive memories of the year, and the rest of his time as a water polo player at Central.

“This team has been a huge part of my life,” Lueken said. “Having those four years to play with the amazing group of guys on the team, I know I’ve made some friendships that are gonna last a lifetime. At the end of the day I’ll remember those friendships I’ve made, rather than the loss at the end.”