The 20th annual De Smet Jesuit Invitational will provide top-notch competition for water polo fans.
The action begins Thursday afternoon at Lindbergh High. Matches on Friday and Saturday will be played at the Rec-Plex in St. Peters.
New teams to the tournament this year include Parkway Central, Strake Jesuit High of Houston, Texas; and Sycamore High of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Taylor Swyers is in his first year as the head coach at De Smet. He is excited about the tournament.
“We have a great field this year,” Swyers said. “This includes six of the top seven ranked teams in Missouri and two of the top four teams in Illinois. Strake Jesuit and Sycamore High School, and De La Salle Institute (Chicago) are all traveling from their respective states to be here this weekend.”
Having so many good teams helps the St. Louis teams, Swyers said. That also gives teams new opponents to play.
“We like to field around half of our teams from out of state,” Swyers said. “It’s very important that our athletes get exposure to competitive teams from outside of our area in order to improve. We feel that this year, the field is as strong as ever.
“Fenwick High (Oak Park, Ill.), Aldai Stevenson High (Lincolnshire, Ill.), and SLUH (St. Louis University High) look to be very strong.”
The other local teams in the event are Parkway West, Parkway South, St. Louis Area Water Polo, and Lindbergh.
This invitational is not a traditional tournament where teams are seeded and play through a bracket to reach a championship game.
It began last year and is was so well received, it will be done that way again this weekend.
“Last year, coach Miguel (Figueras) tried out simply matching up competitive games and there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the tournament and format,” Swyers said. “In my first year of planning the tournament, I decided to keep the format the same and continue with great matchups. Each team gets five games over three days.
“Strake Jesuit will be properly fed and will need as much sleep as possible, as they will have six games.
Here is a look at some of the best matchups, according to Swyers.
4:50 p.m. Thursday: De Smet vs. Lindbergh at Lindbergh.
9 p.m. Thursday: SLUH vs. Strake Jesuit at Lindbergh.
3:50 p.m. Friday: De Smet vs. De La Salle at the Rec Plex. This will be the Senior Night game for DeSmet.
5:30 p.m. Stevenson vs. SLUH at the Rec Plex.
2:40 p.m. Saturday: Stevenson vs. Parkway West at the Rec Plex.
7:40 p.m. Saturday: SLUH vs Fenwick at the Rec Plex.
An all-tournament team will be named when the action ends Saturday evening.
Swyers is happy with how his Spartans have been performing. De Smet is 9-5 heading into the meet.
“We have been playing very well of late,” Swyers said. “DeSmet Jesuit recently took third place in the Founder’s Cup with a close (6-3) loss to our friends at Ladue.”
Senior captain Thomas Larson is the top offensive threat for the Spartans. Larson leads the area in goals scored with 52. Junior captain Teagan Thomas and junior Alex Pollmann also provide “much of our additional offensive firepower,” Swyers said.
“We are led defensively by our center defender sophomore Nick Miller and junior goalie Jay Dolan,” Swyers said.
In the meet, Swyers wants to see his squad “compete defensively and get after it on the counter attack” in its matches.
“Our offense works best when we have room to operate, and the venues that we are able to use for this tournament will provide just that,” Swyers said.
The invitational is a point of pride for the program, Swyers said.
“Since De Smet Jesuit does not have our own pool and we do not host home games, we look forward each year to showing our hospitality and love for the sport in the best way we can,” Swyers said. “Our boys take much pride in being able to put together this tournament each year.”
Swyers said Figueras has assisted him in getting ready for the tournament.
“Since this is my first year in taking over the De Smet water polo program, former De Smet head coach Miguel Figueras has helped us tremendously in putting this even on,” Swyers said. “We truly would not be able to continue with such a competitive event without his continued guidance. Our athlete’s parents have also been amazing in their work.
“There are too many to name, but they can not be thanked enough for all of the time volunteered in helping get this event off the ground as it has for the last 20 years.”