Splashing success

Jones-Payton girl’s water polo wins City Championship


Credit to Girls Varsity Water Polo team

On May 29, The Jones-Payton girls water polo team won the city championship 13-10 against rival Lane Tech to secure their first title in five years.

“It felt really great [to win City]. Our coach tells us we work harder than any other team in the city. We’re in the pool in the morning, or in the pool late at night,” said player Claudia Walvoord ‘25. “These are probably the most hardworking girls I’m ever going to play with.”

The dedication required for the matchup made the outcome even sweeter.

“I am very proud of my team for winning the city championship. It was an amazing feeling, especially being down 4-6 at halftime. We were resilient, persistent, and showcased our teamwork abilities in front of a packed UIC Natatorium Pool,” said Head Coach Mac Varilla.

Despite falling short early in the game, the team remained steady to pull out the victory.

“We were down by two in the first half and we brought it back and won by three. I think a lot of that was no one freaked out and no one got mad at each other, which I think is really important to see,” Walvoord said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can’t do well under pressure, or you turn your frustration towards other people, everything’s going to collapse.”

Rather than placing blame on each other, coaches and players looked inward at the half to change their approach to Lane’s impressive performance.

“I remember telling my team at halftime that we are still in this game and that we must fight for everything and make adjustments defensively. We were getting great opportunities on the offensive end, but not capitalizing and finishing our shots. I told them we need to play with urgency and this was going to be tough, but together we can do this. And we did,” Varilla said.

Positive yet motivating sentiments shared by Coach Varilla hold great influence on the team’s advance.

“The biggest contributor to our success this season has to be our coach, Mac. He has really pushed us and is continuing

to push us this season to reach our full potential,” player Nita Thaci ‘24 said.

Prompted by the words of their coach, Jones-Payton players kickstarted the second half with crucial offensive plays.

“In the second half, we came out attacking to tie the game 6-6 with two goals from Morgan Butney and Mya Garcia. It went back and forth until the last five minutes of the game. We were tied 10-10 and made key defensive stops which allowed us to use our speed in the counterattack and gain offensive advantages,” Varilla said.

Both physical and mental adjustments contributed to the sudden surge.

“Part of the reason we had such a successful second half of the game is because nobody gave up. Our coaches didn’t give up, the starters didn’t give up, the bench didn’t give up. We all looked at each other and said ‘We’ve worked so hard this season. We want to win. We’re not going down without a fight,’” Walvoord said.

The team demeanor at City culminated through the use of an aimed practicing program.

“This season’s focus for the team has been the concept of continuous improvement and that individual skills equal team success. The better you get as an individual, the more you can contribute and strengthen your team. Our training sessions cover different factors of being an all-around athlete,” Varilla said.

Although individual progress stands as a major goal for the team, they still find great value in creating a bond that stretches beyond the game.

“Our team’s chemistry is amazing. We are all friends, and I think that having that is so important because it creates trust between us,” said Thaci. “We can always count on each other in and outside of the pool, so it just creates such a nice community and team dynamic.”

The camaraderie of the group differs greatly from previous seasons, proving to be an important aspect of the team’s success.

“It’s kind of astronomical [the team’s growth]. We didn’t get nearly as far last year as we have this year. We just played a lot better as a team this year,” captain Teresa Tikoo ‘23 said.

Though still executing an impressive ’21-’22 season, the team knew their potential had yet to maximize going into this year.

“Last season, we contended for success but weren’t quite ready. We were city championship runners-up vs Lane Tech and eliminated by St. Ignatius in the Sectional Semifinals,” Varilla said.

The team has certainly changed the narrative in 2023, as they are ranked ninth in the nation and fifth in the state.

“I’d like to say we’ve had a very successful season. We’ve only lost one game so far, and we’re city champions for the first time in five years. Not only have we had success when playing games, we’ve also had success outside of the pool with team building and communication. We’ve all been able to grow as polo players but also as people,” Walvoord said.

Between physical talent, mental strength, and wonderful consistency, the win hardly came as a surprise.

“It never crossed my mind that we were going to lose because of the preparation and mentality I’ve seen all season long,” Varilla said. “I have a strong belief in [the team] based on our history, determination, and work ethic. The girls were on a mission.”