Oak Park’s Windy City Water Polo sets standard in Midwest
Maine South's Makai DeNeve-Arnam looks to score against Elk Grove during their match at Maine South High School in Park Ridge. | Kevin Tanaka~for Sun-Times Media.
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:16PM
OAK PARK — Maine South’s Makai DeNeve-Arnam spends three hours a week driving to and from water polo practice. But the rising junior said his thrice-a-week journey to Oak Park is well worth it.
For the second straight summer, DeNeve-Arnam joined Windy City Water Polo, an elite club based out of Fenwick High School. The organization, which has been around since 1999, is routinely home to many of the state’s best players. Many of them come from Fenwick, a program that saw it streak of eight straight state titles snapped this spring.
Windy City’s top team includes Fenwick incoming senior Matt Farmer, a member of the U20 National Team, and recent Latin graduate Jacob Himmel, who plays for the U20 National B Team.
While DeNeve-Arnam, a member of Windy City’s second team, may not yet be considered an elite player, he appears to be heading in that direction.
As a sophomore this past spring, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder scored 119 goals for a Hawks’ squad that finished 23-7.
“He’s a big, physical kid who played well for Maine South and he’s going to be a good addition to our Philly trip this month,” Windy City coach Kyle Perry said.
Windy City’s second team, which actually is a 16U squad, heads to Pennsylvania on July 20 to compete in the AWP State Challenge. The tournament is an 18U event, but expectations still run high for Windy City’s youngsters.
“We’re sending the 16U team to play there as an 18U team, to let them play against other varsity competition rather than having them play against freshmen and sophomores,” Perry said. “We’ll see how they do against good teams from the East Coast.”
DeNeve-Arnam said former high school teammate Mike Dobben convinced him to join Windy City last summer and his game instantly improved. DeNeve-Arnam said he got better simply by watching the program’s top players practice.
“Having kids who were first-team, second-team and third-team all-state playing in front of you, you can’t help but get better,” said DeNeve-Arnam, who played on the program’s third team last season. “Just watching them skill-wise, you see what to do. Also, their work ethic.”
Now on the second team, DeNeve-Arnam matches up against the first team in practice on a regular basis. His education continues.
“I try to hold my own against them. Right now, I feel like if I’m guarding them, even for a second, it helps my game for the future,” said DeNeve-Arnam, who also is an accomplished swimmer and narrowly missed qualifying for the state in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
One player on Windy City’s top team who DeNeve-Arnam often faces in practice is recent Loyola Academy graduate Jordan Hodur. The Chicago native will play collegiately at Mercyhurst College (Penn.) in the fall.
Prior to that, Hodur will join Windy City’s top team at the Junior Olympics in Palo Alto and San Jose, Calif., from July 27-Aug. 1.
Windy City finished 23rd out of 96 teams at last year’s event, even more impressive considering the tournament features the best talent in the country, much of it from the West Coast.
Rich Mueller, a 2012 Fenwick graduate, said Windy City’s top squad will be heading out to California looking to turn a few heads.
“We have something to prove,” he said. “When teams play us, they might think we are from Chicago or Oak Park, but we want them to say, ‘Wow, these kids are pretty good.’ I think we do surprise a lot of teams. We don’t come in looking like the best team in the world, but we surprise them with our talent and skill.”
Maine South incoming sophomore Phillip Wachowski also belongs to the Windy City program, competing mostly for the club’s younger teams.
“(The young group) is the same one (DeNeve-Arnam) played with last year, and now he’s with the middle group,” Perry said. “There is no reason why (Wachowski) can’t continue to work and continue to move up the ranks.”