Naperville North and Naperville Central high schools are powerhouses in the state of Illinois when it comes to water polo. The two schools and have combined for 18 top three finishes in the IHSA state series between the boys and girls teams. A key to their success? The feeder programs, such as West Suburban water polo.
Mike: My dad, he coaches her at Naperville North, he coached me from when I was four all the way to when I was 20. My dad’s a huge part of this program.. and water polo.
Mike McWhirter is the son of Andy McWhirter, the head girls water polo coach at North. After his playing days, Mike quickly jumped into coaching, joining Waubonsie Valley and West Suburban.
Mike: Especially the 11U to 14U transition, seeing them go from just floating around the pool to seeing the stroke, seeing the ability to play polo – throw the ball, learn to tread. That’s a huge experience for me because I get to see them from floating to an experienced athlete.
One of those athletes excelling is Megan Roberts – and she was rewarded with a trip to Nationals to play with other top players.
Megan: It’s awesome. My favorite tournament was going to California for Nationals. It was an awesome experience, playing against awesome people and meeting cool people and be coaches by awesome coaches.
In fact, her trip to California isn’t all that rare… the West Suburban team has also traveled to Arizona… and will soon embark on a trip to Michigan.
Peter: We get beat up a lot, it is really hard outside the state but it’s really fun because we get to play against water polo players that are better than us and stronger than us and we get to learn from them. It’s a really great experience.
Of course, “beat up” isn’t literal. But water polo also isn’t without it’s more physical moments. Something that is actually attractive to players.
Charlie: Really aggressive, I like it more than swim but I do love being in the water, I’ve always loved being in the water a lot.
Megan: It really reaches you how to work together as a team. But it also teaches you how to be tough. There’s a lot of stuff going on but you have to deal with it and be tough and really accomplish your goal – putting the ball in the goal.
Mike: We have a trip going to Michigan here in a month or so. Just trying to get us around the Chicagoland area, plus outside. We had one of our U14 teams go out to Arizona for the Champions Cup. So we’re trying to travel the nation with these guys to work into high school. Because they travel in high school and throughout their high school team.
The goal for the program is to prepare players for the rigors of high school water polo. But that’s not where the train stops for some players.
Megan: I want to get into a division one college, that’s kind of my main goal. More short term goals, I’d like to go to regionals and nationals this year and Jos.
And with the recent success of both the feeder programs, as well as the high school teams – those aren’t pipe dreams. Not if the McWhirters have something to say about it.
Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman