Sports

Changes continue for Mercer Island girls water polo

Islander Hayley March goes for a block against a Newport player during last year’s state final at the King County Aquatic Center. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Islander Hayley March goes for a block against a Newport player during last year’s state final at the King County Aquatic Center.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

For the third time in as many years, the Mercer Island girls water polo team has a new head coach.

But the instability at the top of the program has not kept Mercer Island from the state title game, as the team has faced archrival Newport each of the last two years.

“I think we can beat them,” said Mercer Island junior Hayley March. “We have a lot of changes, but we can do it.”

The team’s new coach, Matt Jones, is returning to the basics this season and relying on the athleticism of his team.

“Overall, the entire league is rebuilding this year,” said Jones, whose team graduated seven seniors in 2008. “A lot of players graduated last year, so we are not alone. But my goal is to get back to the fundamentals.”

The Islanders return with one of the most dynamic players in the state, with March.

“[Jones] has simplified things, and I think that is a good thing,” said March. “But he is supportive of the entire team.”

Support has been hard to come by with the team playing all of its games at Edgebrook in Bellevue.

“Getting new athletes has kind of been an issue, being so far from the Island,” said Jones. “We would get more of a crowd if we played on the Island. It hurts the development of the program.”

The impact is seen the most as the team has just one freshman. But the impact hasn’t come every year, as the sophomore class is 12 players strong.

“We want to get that entire group up to varsity,” said Jones, who played water polo and coached at the University of California at Davis and coached the boys water polo team with CPA last season. “But overall, we are not very experienced.”

Many girls played their first water polo games last weekend during a tournament at the King County Aquatic Center. But the future is bright, as the Islanders lost to Newport, 4-3, with most of the big-name players for both teams out of action.

“We are just trying to get everyone on the same page and try to progress each day,” said Jones.

One player that is having to make the biggest change this season is new goalkeeper junior Caitlin Russell, who moved to Mercer Island this year from California.

“It is hard to be a goalie ... and she is really good,” said March.

Another player who Jones is looking to for a big impact is senior Veronica Bone.

“She has this urgency to get better,” said Jones. “And she hustles her heart out.”

Mercer Island has a long tradition of winning in girls water polo. The team won eight state titles in nine years. The biggest challenges this year will come not only from Newport, but also CPA.

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