1978 Water Polo Team (2001)
If nothing else, the 1978 IHSA Water Polo champions were a study in fraternity, inspiration, and poise. Of course, they were also nothing short of spectacular. Beyond their unprecedented 22-1 season, the Ramblers took the two most important games of the season in storybook fashion, avenging and early-season defeat to arch-rival Fenwick by later stunning the Friars twice - 4-3 for the Chicago Catholic League championship and 13-8 for the state crown. For seniors Jose Ferrer, Jim Gomez, Paul Kilgallon, Sean Lannan, John Mech, Mark Menis, Tom Nash, and Larry Spatz, the 1978 campaign capped a brilliant four-year run. Bridesmaids in 1975 (4th place), 1976 (3rd place), and 1977 (2nd place), they broke from their shadows to take that final step - and in convincing fashion. Collective merits aside, the '78 roster yielded a litany of individual heroics. Menis, named the state's Most Valuable Player and later inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame, and junior Joe Jekot commanded First-Team All-State recognition, Nash and juniors Jim Reego and Tom Blaige garnered Second-Team All-State honors, and Gomez and Mech bagged All-State Honorable Mention. Not surprisingly, charismatic Head Coach Phil Stelnicki (duly assisted by the late Terry Townsend), arguably Loyola's most esteemed mentor in the eyes of his players, netted the IHSA Coach of the Year award. Of even greater import than the state championship, however, were the dynamics attending that success. Citing the spirit of discipline, painstaking effort, and sportsmanship he instilled in them, players speak with reverence of the man who held them responsible to give their absolute best and to act as gentlemen regardless of the game's outcome. Twenty-five year veteran Phil Stelnicki preached hard work and modesty, and his players responded in kind. His passion and probity effected a long-term influence over a championship team steeped as much in gratitude as in victory. The 1978 State Water Polo champions - intrepid, mettlesome, and principled - sustain Loyola's standard of excellence.