Sports

Number nine in mind

Girls water polo take aim at another state title

By Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter

Mike Goldstein led the Islanders to the state title last season and this year can breathe. He was following one of the state’s great coaches — Jeff Lowell and the team’s seventh state championship.

“Last year I wasn’t sure we were going to win the state title until the buzzer went off (in the championship game),” said Goldstein. “This is the first year I have had to defend a state title I helped win (as a head coach).”

Last year the team had the school’s Athlete of the Year in Danielle Welch and one of the best clutch goalkeepers in the history of the program, Jane Billbe.

“Dani leaves a big hole but I feel like everyone is stepping up,” said senior and co-captain Georgia Gier. “The loss of Jane is a big deal but we have some good talent in goal.”

Goldstein said that he has not made up his mind on who will replace Billbe. Junior Ann Shay and senior Rosemarie Boos have battled it out during the preseason for the starting goalkeeper’s job.

“I am going to give both of them a shot and whoever does better will play,” said Goldstein.

Replacing the leadership of Welch is not always as easy as finding the right player.

Gier and Katie Stadius will anchor a team that has one thing on its collective mind — another state title.

“It’s a lot of pressure to try and be as good as the great players that have come before you,” said Stadius.

Two of those players are still on the team — they sit next to Goldstein every game. Assistant coaches Lauren Ayers, who joined the team this season, and Karen Aebersold, both played for Mercer Island in high school and have a special bond with the current players.

“They know exactly where we are and what we are going through,” said Gier. “They will get in the pool and push us around.”

The strength of the Islanders in girls water polo from year to year is evident with eight of the last nine state titles sitting in the trophy case. But one problem can be getting too relaxed.

“Sometimes our best competition is ourselves and our teammates,” said Stadius, who is a co-captain. “One of the biggest challenges (of the season) is to make (the) varsity (team).”

Stadius and Gier are secure in their varsity status, but being co-captains they will have different challenges during their final season in the program.

“We have great leadership and focus in Georgia and Katie,” said Goldstein. “We will focus on the game a head of us and that is it. That is what good teams do.”

The Islanders will face a big threat from just across the East Channel Bridge in Newport.

“Newport is a good team and they could give us some problems,” said Goldstein. “And we still have our rivalry with Bainbridge Island. There is just an aura about facing Bainbridge, they have a presence.”

Both Island teams have combined to win the majority of the state titles during the history of high school girls water polo in Washington state.

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