For Jenna Wolf and her Oakville High girls water polo teammates, the desire for redemption began the moment they stepped out of the MICDS pool one final time last May.
The Tigers had just fallen to Marquette in the inaugural Missouri Water Polo girls district final and knew they didn't want to feel that feeling again the next time they played at districts.
“We probably think about it every day,” Wolf said. “It's probably the best fuel. We're fired up. We dream about winning state when we go to sleep because of last year.”
The top-seeded Tigers (12-4) will have their chance in a rematch with the No. 2 seed Mustangs (12-2) in the district final at noon Saturday at MICDS.
Oakville is 11-0 this season against area teams, including 2-0 against Marquette, although both games were decided by three goals or less.
“Last year after we lost to them in the state championship, we showed class by clapping for the other girls as my girls were crying and I just told them to remember this moment and give me the best eight months of your life as far as preparation leading up to next year,” Oakville coach Brett Walters said. “We didn't lose anybody from that team, so we fully reloaded. They all played club and they all got after it. So, now it's just our time and it's so exciting.”
People are also reading…
After girls water polo kicked off its initial organized campaign last season, Oakville and Marquette have quickly established themselves as the top two programs. The Tigers lost just two games last season, both to the Mustangs.
Wolf is excited about the growth of the sport for area student-athletes.
“It's been a lot different than last year, actually. I didn't think it would be, but so much has improved since last year,” she said. “We've got a few more teams, there's more tournaments, we even got to go to Chicago. It's just expanding very fast and it's been very nice because I feel like the girls are finally getting the recognition and this could grow into something very big.”
Wolf has been a main component to the early success of area girls water polo and the key player in the Tigers' success.
She had an outstanding junior campaign a year ago, leading the area in goals (41) and points (102). She capped it off by scoring eight of Oakville's 11 goals in the district final loss.
This season, Wolf has stepped up her game even more, leading the area in assists (50) and points (206), while also pouring in 78 goals.
“A lot of it is coaching. I had Miguel (Figueras) and Nicki (Borella) with SLAP (St. Louis Area Polo) and they've been fantastic. I have Walters, obviously,” Wolf said. “They're very good at what they do and very good at directing me, so I've just learned a lot. I've been focusing more on the sport here the last year and have put a lot of hard work into it.”
That hard work is one of the main reasons Walters feels Wolf will be a slam-dunk choice for the season-ending MWP female player of the year award.
“What I love the most — and I think this is why she's gonna be the female player of the year this year — everybody sees she is the hardest-working person,” Walters said. “The other coaches come and tell me. You can just tell every goal is grinded out and everything is so earned. At the end of the game, you can see her face is purple because she's just been working so hard.”
Wolf has swam almost all of her life, but her involvement in water polo has been more recent.
“I've been swimming since I was three, but for water polo. it's actually only been about two-and-a-half, almost three years. I started the summer of my sophomore year,” she said. “I just love the feeling. I have a ginormous pool across the street from my house and I would just spend all summer in the pool, so it's just always been natural to be in the water.”
Wolf also has been able to hone her game while competing with and against boys players while a member of the Oakville squad. She scored 15 goals and 51 points with the Tigers boys team this season after tallying 14 goals and 43 points last season.
“The past two years, she was a starter on varsity with the boys and she would score like two goals a game, and we're in one of the hardest conference in the league, so she would score against Lindbergh or De Smet,” Walters said. “She's an incredible player and we're gonna miss her big time. She's that kind of player that just elevates a whole team.”
Wolf will continue to work to improve her game at the next level when she plays college water polo at McKendree University.
“It's close to home, McKendree has computer science, which is the field I'm interested in, and then part of it is just the coaching,” she said. “I've had Colleen (Lischwe) as a coach before and she's absolutely fantastic. And when I visited, I saw the girls are a very close team.”
But before that time comes, Wolf and her teammates feel like they have some unfinished business they'd like to tend to Saturday.
“We feel confident, but we don't feel cocky,” Wolf said. “We're ready. We focused hard on this last week of practice and we did what we needed to do.”