Mathews earns SouthtownStar’s Girls Water Polo Player of YearFenwick's Maggie Carey (6) attempts to gain possession from Homewood-Flossmoor's Rebecca Mathews.| Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 3, 2011 8:48PM
Homewood-Flossmoor’s Rebecca Mathews took a huge blow to the head early in a state quarterfinal against Fenwick last month. She kept playing and scored a team-best three goals in the match. Later, it was discovered the junior had been battling against the eventual state champions with a concussion.
Toughness is a requirement when you play the hole position in water polo. That’s especially true when you’re on a team everyone is out to get, a position the highly ranked Vikings found themselves in all year.
That was never a problem for Mathews, who in addition to the concussion played through severely bruised ribs and, often times, utter exhaustion.
“You get used to being beat up a lot when you play that position,” Mathews said. “I just try to play through all that stuff, stay out there and do my best all the time.”
Mathews’ best helped H-F to a 29-4 season and was good enough to make her the first SouthtownStar Girls Water Polo Player of the Year.
“It means a lot that people think that highly of me,” Mathews said.
Mathews credits her teammates, especially senior standouts Michelle Mayer, Hannah Ongman and Sophie Schloen, for a good deal of her success.
“They’re all incredible,” Mathews said. “I’m really going to miss them. It’s kind of weird thinking about them not being there next season. I can’t imagine it.”
Indeed, Mathews’ toughest competition for the honor may have been from her teammates in H-F’s “big four.”
Still, on a team full of stars, it was Mathews who gave opposing coaches the most headaches.
She scored 131 goals and added 38 assists. Perhaps most impressive, she drew 41 ejections in the team’s 29 regular-season games, consistently giving her team power plays.
“She’s able to draw ejections just by being in a good position,” H-F coach Pat Duignan said. “She’s a bit undersized to play the hole, but she’s very strong. She’s tremendously accurate with her shooting and one of the best pure scorers I’ve seen play.”
Outside of being nearly unstoppable when she gets the ball in the hole, Mathews has some overlooked skills.
“She’s a very smart player and a good passer,” Duignan said. “She often doesn’t get credit for her defense, but she is a very strong one-on-one defender as well.”
Mathews has often played her best in big games. Perhaps her greatest performance came in likely the biggest win in H-F water polo history. As a sophomore, she poured in seven goals in the Vikings’ 9-6 state quarterfinal shocker over Fenwick. She called that game “a surreal experience.”
As scary as it may sound for the opposition, Mathews, a First-Team All-State selection, still may have her best days ahead of her. She has sometimes played a bit passively, but that’s becoming a more infrequent issue.
“I’ve begun asserting myself more, as Duignan likes to say,” Mathews said. “When he yells it every game, you start to do it.”
Next year, Mathews will be counted on to carry an even heavier load with H-F’s most successful senior class ever moving on.
“It’s going to be different,” she said. “I’m anxious to see how it goes.”
Duignan doesn’t envision many problems with Mathews becoming the team leader. After all, she’s never backed down from a challenge.