After four long weeks of practice, SLUH was prepared for their season opener against long-time rival Parkway West on March 25. As the runner-up in last year’s State Championship, the Longhorns were eager to stampede over the team, but for every rally West brought to the pool, the Jr. Bills responded with increased fervor. Junior captain Michael Kreienkamp carried the Jr. Bill offense with five goals, and the squad was grounded by the unyielding goaltending from senior captain John McCabe, who racked up 12 saves and six steals. The final score was 10-8.
“Two goals is not a lot, and they are a good team,” said McCabe. “They are a force to be reckoned with, but we are a pack of piranhas preparing for a big attack as a team.”
Just two days later, the team looked to capitalize on their energizing opening win in a game against Parkway Central. Unfortunately, the passion that had driven the squad to its win against the Longhorns was absent in the first half against the Colts until Kreienkamp and senior Luke Brawer rejuvenated the Jr. Bills with three goals each. McCabe notched 12 saves for the second game in a row, and senior captain Garrett Baldes ran a tight defense, corralling the Colts 11-4.
“We came into the game thinking that stuff was just gonna happen for us and we would win easily, so we made careless errors,” said Baldes.
After two wins against St. Louis teams, the varsity squad headed north to test its skill against the more physical teams of Chicago.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to see some different teams and to get some good competitive games, and it’s also a bit of a team bonding experience,” said varsity head coach John Penilla.
After a long bus ride, SLUH, accompanied by JV coach Paul Baudendistal and team dad Dan Schulte, rushed into York High School for an 8:30 game against St. Ignatius Prep.
It was a routine game for the Jr. Bills, who treaded their way to a comfortable 11-5 win. The junior duo of Andrew Zimmerman and Kreienkamp combined for seven goals, leaving the team confident as they headed to the hotel to rest before a long Saturday of polo.
“We pushed through our fatigue, and that gave us all of the confidence and energy that we carried with us to the next three games,” said Zimmerman.
The next morning, the team faced off against York in their first of three games.
Sloppy play plagued the Jr. Bills, as they allowed a total of 22 turnovers throughout the game, nine of which came in the second quarter. Early goals from Baldes and Kreienkamp were enough to keep the team even with their hosts through the first quarter, but they fell behind in the second, 4-3. After the half, the squad returned to form, rallying for a 9-7 victory.
Just over one hour later, the whistle blew, signaling the swim-off of SLUH’s second game of the day, against Fenwick.
The team fell behind early, with a goal from Luke Brawer serving as the only mark of the SLUH offense in the first quarter. The squad seemed unable to capitalize on any of its offensive opportunities, leaving 16 missed shots in the water. Early on in the third quarter, Zimmerman was ejected from the game for amassing three personal fouls, and the Jr. Bills were handed their first loss of the season, 14-6.
While many teams may have been discouraged after such a loss, SLUH found another gear for their final game of the tournament, against Mundelein, where they played their best game of the tournament.
It was a call-and-response game. Each offensive gain made by one team was matched by the other. The Jr. Bills prevailed, due largely to magnificent work from McCabe, who recorded 12 saves, including a save at the buzzer to secure the win, and a well-rounded offense, with junior Kevin Flack picking up two goals. The 8-7 victory and third place finish in the York Tournament was most certainly a team effort.
“It was dread and utter suspense up to (the final save),” said Brawer. “But after McCabe blocked that shot, I knew he would protect the ball.”
After a pit stop at Culver’s for a post-tournament dinner and several naps on the trek home, an exhausted WoPo team arrived back at SLUH just 29 hours after they had left on Friday afternoon. But there was no rest for the weary, as the team prepared for its home opener against Parkway South on Monday, April 1.
Clearly tired from the physically demanding games of Chicago, the Jr. Bills were unable to make quick work of the Patriots as they had expected, but confident play from veteran seniors Jarrett Schneider and Justin Surber and a no-nonsense performance from Kreienkamp, who notched seven goals on nine shots, led to a 10-5 victory on April Fools Day.
Due to their long preseason, SLUH has been challenged by their relentless schedule, as they must fit each of their games and tournaments into an abbreviated season. Naturally, the squad was ready to take two days to focus on their skills before facing the No. 2-ranked Lindbergh Flyers.
Despite being well-rested for the game against Lindbergh, the Jr. Bills had great difficulty finding the back of the net, amassing 18 missed shots through the game. Overall, the team’s performance was lackluster, missing several easy goals on offense and allowing the Flyers to slip through the defense to keep the game tied at 6-6 in the third quarter. A beautiful game-winning shot—a fake from the perimeter shot into the upper corner—from Schneider saved the Jr. Bills heading into the final quarter, and seven more goals for Kreienkamp were enough to win the day to the tune of 8-6.
“Our defense was really sloppy in the beginning, but we started to pull away, which was huge for us to finish strong,” said Kreienkamp.
The most important play of the game, however, came from McCabe, who defended his status as one of the best goalies in the state, saving a flurry of four shots from the Flyers late in the fourth.
After a long weekend, it was time for SLUH to go speedo-to-speedo with their Jesuit rivals from De Smet, but the game was not the battle that the Spartans had hoped for.
A goal during the first possession of the game from junior Will Fox set the tone for the game, and De Smet could not find an answer to Kreienkamp, who tallied six goals. McCabe only added to the Spartans frustration, proving to be a granite wall with 13 saves and five steals, holding his opponents to a shutout until the final 27 seconds.
“Seeing the team learn what it means to prepare and to execute on every possession and what it means to play at a high level has definitely been the biggest area of growth,” said Penilla.
Unfortunately, the game was not perfect for the Jr. Bills, as Zimmerman again found himself in foul trouble as he was “rolled” from his second game of the season. The game also kicked off a barbarous stretch of nine games in ten days for the team.
The SLUH-CBC game was canceled due to unsafe water temperatures at Forest Park this past Tuesday. The Jr. Bills will compete at the De Smet Invitational, where they will face off against Parkway West for the second time, and look for redemption in a rematch against Fenwick.