Water polo second at San Diego - Kelly Sterling

The Mercer Island boys water polo team traveled to San Diego last weekend and came back with a second-place trophy from the most prestigous high school water polo tournament in the United States.

The first-round game of the tournament matched the Islanders against the Falcons from Granite Hills, Calif. The Falcons were no match for the Islanders' speed and ball handling skills as the Islanders won in a rout, 14-3.

The second match of preliminary play pitted Mercer Island against the No. 1 ranked Southwestern League team, Bonita Vista, a team formerly coached by Islander coach Tim Reed. This game was punctuated with physical play and included several player ejections. The Islanders won 14-8.

The first game of the elimination rounds found Mercer Island facing a vastly undermanned team from Santa Fe Christian High School. The Islanders ran to a 10-2 half time lead and finished with a 15-2 win.

In the quarterfinals, Mercer Island found themselves in a rematch with highly regarded Bonita Vista. Fortunately for the Islanders, this game was played in the larger new pool at Bishops High School. The Islanders used their superior speed and counter-attack to ensure that the game would not be as close as their first match-up, putting the game away early en route to a 10-3 victory.

During the semi-finals Tustin proved to be no match for the Islanders who scored early and often in a convincing 12-2 win.

The semi-final win set up a championship showdown with tournament favorite Bishops, a team which includes two players from the U.S. Junior National team and the winner of three consecutive California Interscholastic Federation championships.

While Mercer Island was warming up for the championship game, the Bishops team was viewing game film of the two previous Islander wins to figure out a way to stop the team from Washington state. Through the first half, their game plan appeared to be perfect. Bishops opened the game with a drop defense, designed to stop Islander Jeff Welch from scoring at the 2-meter position. In addition, opening quarter jitters in front of the hostile crowd led to uncharacteristic defensive lapses by the Islanders. By the end of the opening half, Mercer Island found itself down to the California powerhouse by a 7-1 margin.

However, halftime adjustments made by Reed led to a furious comeback by the Islanders that silenced the hometown crowd. Pressure defense led to seven steals and three goals by Kyle Sterling and two each by Thomas Stowell and Blake VanHartesvelt during the third quarter. VanHartesvelt's outside shot with one second left cut Bishops' lead to 9-8 at the end of the third stanza.

The fourth quarter saw the two teams swimming up and down the pool, attacking and counter attacking, like two heavyweights in the last round of a prize fight. Unfortunately for the Islanders, Bishops was able to strike first when an errant Islander pass from point led to a counter attack goal. Then Bishops' two-meter player made a strong move and scored to stretch Bishops' lead to three goals. The lead allowed Bishops to use the shot clock to their advantage, and lead to their eventual 11-8 victory. The loss dashed the hopes of Islander players for the biggest victory in school history, but the second place finish solidifies their place amongst the top teams in the country.

The Islanders finish their season with the state tournament held at the King County Aquatics Center November 2-4.

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