If there was just one instrument on which to play the soundtrack of Homewood-Flossmoor's girls water polo season, it might well be the cello — the sight of it suggesting a certain classic breeding, the sound of it suggesting something sorrowful.
Fitting, then, that one of the Vikings' co-captains is Annie Schloen, a cellist in the school orchestra whose water polo career is seemingly heading to an end not at all like its beginnings.
When Schloen was a freshman, she watched from the sidelines as her sister, Sophie, was the goaltender on an H-F squad that finished fourth in state. As a sophomore, she played in the state quarterfinals, and a year later played for a conference co-champ that reached the sectional title game.
This year? The 9-20 Vikings head into Wednesday's opening of the Lincoln-Way North Sectional as the eighth seed, taking on No. 1 Lincoln-Way Central.
"I'm really glad I got both experiences," Schloen said. "I really gained confidence from having that kind of success. … And now, being on a team that's not as successful, it has been kind of frustrating at times, but I think it was a really interesting experience."
H-F coach Pat Duignan chuckled when those thoughts were relayed to him.
"I'm not surprised Annie is saying those kinds of things," he said, "because that's the way she is.
"She's a smart kid. She's intellectually curious. You love having her, as a coach, because it actually feels like it matters what you're doing.
"She makes eye contact, she smiles and nods, then she actually does it."
Wednesday, Schloen will be the primary defender against Lincoln-Way Central's Stanford-bound Danijela Jackovich, an Olympic hopeful. Though Schloen will have plenty of help, Duignan said she's perfect for the assignment.
"With this kind of season for this kind of program, if the wrong personality was the team captain, it could have gone very badly very quickly," he said. "Our chemistry has been very good on this team despite our record. I give her full credit for that.
"She has never once gotten down, and she genuinely believes we can win Wednesday."
It would be an upset only slightly more unexpected than the notion of a classically trained cellist becoming a top-flight water polo player. The genteel former seems not at all like the occasionally vicious latter, though Schloen says her musical training — particularly the mental focus required to perform despite nerves and the rush of adrenaline —has actually helped her in the pool.
"They're not completely different," she said.
"Some girls, if they get elbowed in the face, they get mad about it," Schloen said. "I can keep a hold of myself, not get angry, and find a way to reciprocate.
"My orchestra friends are like, 'Wow, I can't imagine you doing that to other people.' But I just enjoy the physicality of water polo. It's a chance to be more aggressive and outgoing and have fun and be active."
No matter what happens Wednesday, those chances are dwindling.
In the fall, Schloen will be off to UCLA, where her father, a professor at the University of Chicago, taught for a few months when Schloen was in sixth grade. Though she considered a degree in music, she now plans to study psychobiology, which considers biological influences on psychological function.
But, for at least one more time, Schloen will get in the pool for the Vikings, for who she has scored 21 goals and posted 17 assists this season. Most impressively, Duignan said, she also has 41 steals.
"But," he added, "A lot of the things she does don't show up in the stat line. She prevents plays from even happening."
Under the leadership of Schloen and co-captain Claire Duncan, the Vikings have improved. They've won five of their last nine games, and an 1-9 loss to Lincoln-Way Central in that span represented a marked improvement over a 13-3 loss to the Knights early in the season.
Perhaps the tide turns if Schloen can lead a big effort against Jackovich.
"Last time, we had like three or four girls piling all over her, there's all this white water everywhere, and she just pops up and scores," Schloen said.
There was no trace of frustration in her voice, only appreciation — one artist to another.