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Mercer Island boys water polo reaches finals at Oregon tourney
By Carol Gullstad, Special to the Reporter
The Mercer Island boys water polo team drove south to Beaverton, Ore. last weekend, expecting to be competitive in the annual Tualatin Hills tournament and did not disappoint. The team entered the tournament with confidence created by an undefeated start to the regular season.
The Islanders, 4-0 going into the tournament, have beaten North league opponents Rain City, Roosevelt, Inglemoor and Bainbridge Island so far this year, but knew the Oregon teams represented a bigger challenge. Mercer Island showcased much improved skills during the tournament by dispatching Oregon teams Lincoln and Reynolds, as well as Washington State South league leader Curtis along the way.
The Islanders qualified for the title game against defending Oregon state champion Southridge after five intense games during the tournament.
The victories at Tualatin seemed symbolic of a major turnaround, after a tough 2011 season for the Islanders. Last year, the young team was winless during the league season, where nothing seemed to go right. In 2011, only one field player had played varsity-level high school water polo and the inexperience showed as they were routinely routed by opponents.
This season, the team returns, after only losing one player to graduation. All field starters returned, many having built their skills in the off-season with club water polo team Rain City based out of Bellevue.
The Tualatin tournament performance was buoyed by the return of senior Sam Peterson who was plagued by a back injury most of last season and a broken finger at the start of this season. A fully healthy Peterson was able to lead the Islanders in offensive output, scoring 19 goals over the six games played. On the defensive end, freshman goalie Matt LeProwse proved he is a fearless keeper blocking a total of 35 goals. Brothers Connor (16 steals) and Trevor Gullstad (nine steals) relentlessly tormented ball handlers for their combined 25 steals. In addition to the return of key starters, Sebastian Aron, Topher Le Crampe and David Rudokas, the Islanders have a very deep bench and were able to utilize that to their advantage.
While the Islanders ultimately fell to senior-loaded Southridge 12-8 coach Erik Grosshans said Oregon is full of teams with a high level of experience.
“I think that Oregon has been a great experience for the boys being able to play teams out of the area that you are not as familiar with. More of these teams here play year-round; there is a high level of water polo.”
Grosshans said the team benefits from playing a lot of games in a short amount of time, and learning to travel.
“Understanding that traveling out of the state will make us better,” said the coach. “It’s been great to get in six games in three days. We played more games this weekend than we have in the first part of the season … I think it’s great, the boys have learned a lot and it gets us closer to the goal of becoming a better team.”
The Islanders will take on Newport on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 5:30 p.m. at Newport Hills.