Goin" back to Cali. - Water polo will take on Nation"s best in San Diego

By Matt Phelps

The San Diego Invitational tournament is one of the most prestigious high school boys water polo tournaments in the nation.

The Mercer Island High School boys water polo team was forced to skip the event last year because of scheduling conflicts with the Washington State High School Tournament. This year the team is focused on the trip to San Diego and maintaining its dominance over Northwest teams.

``We are definitely working harder this year,'' said Islander Teddy Trowbridge. ``It was a bit of a let down to not play in San Diego last year. But we know that this year we will have lots of good competition down there.''

Part of that work included the annual preseason swim from Mercer Island to Seattle, following the I-90 bridge, and back. The team also gets up at 7 a.m. to workout and has scrimmages beginning at 9:30 p.m. at the Mercerwood Shore Club.

``We are working really hard this year,'' said Welch.

The team has been so dominant against teams from Washington that the state tournament has almost been an afterthought in years past. Last season the Islanders won their fifth state title in a row and eighth overall.

``Washington water polo teams are nowhere near where the California teams are,'' said Islander Jeff Welch. ``It is as big as football down there and people here can't really comprehend that. The level of competition here is getting stronger, but it still has a long way to go.''

The tournament in San Diego will be held Oct. 27-29 and also has a huge impact on whether some of the players compete in college.

``It is a good chance to get seen by some of the colleges and make a good impression,'' said Trowbridge.

The team also knows that a championship in San Diego does a lot for Washington water polo in general.

``Taking second or third doesn't feel good,'' said Welch. ``You want that No. 1 spot, and if you don't, you shouldn't be playing.''

The Islanders will also compete in the Newburg, Ore., tournament Oct. 7-8.

As with most years, this team has had a lot of turnover during the offseason with six players who graduated last spring.

``We still have four all-Americans on this team and all of us have played on a state team,'' said Welch. ``We have been playing together for four years.''

Welch said that he sees this year's squad as a cohesive team with many weapons.

``You can't just shut down one guy on this team and beat us,'' said Welch. ``We are really a team this year, not just one or two superstars.''

In Washington state competition, the Islanders admit that teams like Newport and Bellevue will be improved with some of the starting players on those teams beginning to play year round.

``Some of the players from those schools play with us on the Washington Water Polo team,'' said Welch.

Other senior starting players that will have a huge impact on the team are Kyle Sterling, Tom Stowell and Colin George.

Those three seniors, along with Welch, will give Mercer Island depth and experience that is unmatched in the state.

Depth is always a big concern in a sport of endurance such as water polo. Another way that depth will be obtained is through the underclassmen.

Some of the young players that are the future of the team will make big contributions this season. Blake vanHaretesvelt, Brian Chong, Charlie Horton and Willie Webster are the heirs apparent to this year's core of seniors.

``You really can't shut down just one player,'' said Welch. ``Any given day any player on this team can beat you for that last bucket.''

Head coach: Tim Reed (seventh year)

Last season's record and accomplishments: Record 28-0, dominated state tournament to take the fifth state title in a row and eighth overall, won Newburg tournament title.

Key athletes graduated: Mike Smith-Bronstein (driver), Adam Massmann (2mg), Colin Sterling (2ms), Joe Bruckner (driver), John Weissman (driver), Evan Howard (driver).

Key athletes returning: Teddy Trowbridge (goalie - Sr), Brian Chong (Jr), Kyle Sterling (Sr), Tom Stowell (Sr), Colin George (Sr) and Jeff Welch (Sr).

Athletes on the rise: Willie Webster (goalie - Jr), Blake vanHartesvelt (Jr) and Charlie Horton (Jr).

Strength: Depth and year-round play.

Weakness: Complacency

Big games on schedule: Bellevue, Newberg tournament and San Diego and Newburg invitationals.

Key to a good season: Staying focused, a good showing at San Diego Invite.

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