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Islander water polo returns with a vengeance
This is the second week of a look at MIHS fall sports. Each week a new team will be featured. Next week: girls soccer.
In most programs, three coaches in four years signals a program isn’t as dominant as it could be, and usually under a first-year head coach, expectations may be lower. If there was ever an exception to the rule, it would be the Mercer Island boys water polo team. Despite three new coaches in the last four years, the program is about as far away from ‘rebuilding’ as it can be.
The defending state champions return in 2010 under the helm of Ryan Hall. The coach, who grew up in Bellevue, graduated from Newport High School, before playing water polo for the University of Redlands in California, where he was an assistant coach last year.
“I’ve been playing for the last 15 years, so I’m stepping into the coaching role, and it’s a bit new to me, but it’s kind of a learning experience for us all,” he said. “It’s a little bit weird coming over to the rival high school.”
It might be a new face standing next to the pool this fall, but Islanders aren’t looking to lose any of the momentum that the team has gained over the last decade.
“The team has been adapting pretty well to having a new coach,” said Henry Fox, a senior on the team. “We’ve been working pretty hard. We have a big turnout this year — that’s really exciting to have that kind of depth. That will definitely be helpful.”
The big turnout will ensure that the program keeps its continuity. Hall said there are about 21 returning from the 2009 team, and a large group of underclassmen entering.
“We have a lot of seniors,” said Hall. “Some haven’t played in a couple years, but most are returning. It’s nice; we’ve got a good group of guys, some who have played all year round; some just for the high school for the past couple of years.”
Those seniors may just be the secret to why, despite coaching changes, the program has continued to win.
“The program always looks to the seniors for a lot of direction and leadership. That’s always been helpful,” said Fox. “Ever since I was a freshman, the senior and upperclassmen have always been there to step up and fill those leadership roles. I think all the coaches we’ve had are really talented. They’ve been a huge asset, so it’s not been a huge burden adjusted all these times.”
Which is precisely why Hall thinks the team has been strong.
“These guys are really close,” he said. “Most of them seem like they’ve been friends for a while. I think our leadership, top to bottom, is pretty outstanding for the first part of the season. I think these guy’s work ethic seems to be pretty good so far. I know just from being in the are and being around water polo that some of these guys are capable of being the best players in the state.”
The trick for Hall will be to find new ways to challenge the Islanders in the pool. Challenges will likely abound when the team heads to San Diego for the San Diego Open tournament, which features some of the best water polo teams in the country.
“I think it’s important that we all set goals for each other,” said Hall. “It’s nice for us to have this trip to San Diego kind of close to the end of the season because it’s a good barometer for us to see how we’re doing outside the state. These guys have been very successful in the state of Washington, for what the last seven, eight, 10 years. I think that trip, aside from the state tournament, is a perfect chance for us to prove ourselves outside of the state. It’s pretty much the best high school competition that we’ll be playing against down there. For these guys to get geared up for that is great.”
The Islanders finished fifth at the tournament last year, a finish Fox said the team wants to improve this year.
“The entire varsity team is really anticipating the San Diego trip. We’re hoping to improve our fifth place finish from last year,” said Fox who plays attacker for the team.
Besides the trip south the team is ready to face off with Bellevue in the pool. The two squads met last year in the state championship final, which Mercer Island won.
“I think our games against Bellevue are going to be big. I know they are returning a lot of guys, most of their team played together in the last little Midlakes league and they actually beat one of the Mercer Island teams, so I know some of these guys are looking for a little revenge against that,” said Hall. Another challenge for the team will come in the form of CPA, a club made up of kids from a variety of schools.
“They’ve got some kids that play all year round, and their coach Tim Reed, he used to coach here, he was my coach and mentor,” said Hall. “It would be nice to beat him.”
One area Hall said he’s still figuring out is who will be between the nets for MI.
“We have guys that play goalie, but it’s not a clear decision right now who’s going to play,” said the coach. “It would be nice if we had a couple more left handers, but we’re extremely deep as it is right now.”
Filling out that team will be players like Fox, and senior brothers Evan and Kyle Moline, along with newer talent like freshman Buddy Hopkins.
“He’s (Hopkins) probably going to be able to help us out as a freshman,” said Hall. “We’ve got the Moline brothers, who as seniors have been stepping into a leadership role. Both are big guys who will help us out size wise on defense. It’s hard to tell right now where everyone is at. I’d say our senior class I’m very excited about.”
Hall is joined by Johnny Muir as his assistant. Muir, who swam and played water polo at the University of Washington, will be a big asset to the team, said Hall.
No matter how the season goes, winning or losing, Hall said what is important to him is playing the game with pride.
“I’m trying to stress to these guys the important of playing with pride and respect for the game of water polo in general,” he said. “I want these guys to be gracious in winning and defeat, so hopefully that’s expressed in how these guys play.”
2010 Schedule (all games played at KCAC)
Sept. 14 8:30 p.m. vs. Shorewood
Sept. 18-19 United Water Polo Club Fall Invitational
Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. vs. Newport
Sept. 28 8:30 p.m. vs. CPA
Oct. 12 8:30 p.m. vs. Roosevelt
Oct. 26 8:30 p.m. vs. Bellevue
Oct. 28-30 San Diego Open Water Polo Tournament
Week of Oct. 31 League and State Tournaments