Water polo’s new era uses past success as blueprint

Mercer Island High School boys water polo team captains David Bowman, left, and Peter Zajac will lead the team as they play home games at the Mercer Island Country Club. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Mercer Island High School boys water polo team captains David Bowman, left, and Peter Zajac will lead the team as they play home games at the Mercer Island Country Club.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Most high school teams change from year to year. That change can sometimes include a new coach, an extra non-league tournament, transition of talent and sometimes a new place to play home games. For the Mercer Island boys water polo team, change means all of the above.

New head coach Adam Massmann is no stranger to Mercer Island water polo, and he wants to bring back the culture that surrounded the team when he played.

“When I played, it took more work to play varsity water polo,” said Massmann. “We have some talented athletes, and they are willing to put the work in.”

That work included a more difficult “hell week” as part of the preseason. The week came to an end with a swim from Mercer Island to Seattle alongside the I-90 floating bridge and then a run back across the bridge. “Hell week” this year resulted in two of the team’s most talented up-and-coming athletes quitting the squad.

“We will do fine without them,” said Islander Kenan Adams. “We all work well together, and our coach motivates us well.”

Motivation and hard work is the root of Massmann’s approach.

“The underclassmen are buying into my philosophy a bit easier than the upperclassmen,” said Massmann. “This year we will have some strong competition.”

The specter of competition is not something that the program has always dealt with from Washington state teams. Massmann said that he expects a good challenge from Roosevelt and Bellevue.

The Islanders will also return to the San Diego Invitational water polo tournament after a year away.

“It gives us extra to work for and another opportunity,” said Massmann. “We have to take care of business, and it doesn’t matter who we are playing.”

The tournament is one of the toughest for high school teams in the United States.

“It is a great way to get your name out to [college] coaches and see some great competition,” said Adams.

Most of the Islanders play water polo all year round, but Massmann said that the only thing he cares about is how they play on the high school team.

The Islanders will also return to the Island for home games after three years of play at the King County Aquatic Center. But home games will not take place at Mary Wayte pool. The team has opted for home games at the Mercer Island Country Club.

“It is a shallow pool, but we will work around it,” said Adams. “The commute is obviously better, but we will see what the trade-offs are.”

Massmann said that his team is concentrating on improving its defensive play and playing in a more cohesive manner.

“We have nine guys who are all equal,” stressed Massmann.

With all the changes and increased emphasis on work ethic, it might be hard to remember that the Islanders have dominated the state tournament during the last decade, including a state championship in 2007. That team was led by Lauren Ayers, and Massmann was an assistant coach.

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” said Massmann. “This is the first time I have coached at a higher level, but the experience has been great so far.”

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