One of the most memorable moments of the fall sports season took place at the Puget Sound water polo state tournament on Nov. 12 at the Curtis Aquatic Center in University Place.
I made the short 20-minute drive from my North Puyallup apartment to University Place to cover the Mercer Island Islanders/Roosevelt Roughriders third/fourth place game at 5 p.m. as well as the Bellevue Wolverines/Curtis Vikings state title matchup at 7:15 p.m.
While the title game was entertaining and enjoyable to cover, the third/fourth place game featuring the Islanders and Roughriders is the game I will never forget. Roosevelt dominated the first 14 minutes of play and appeared poised to nab a third-place finish.
It never happened.
Mercer Island got back on track, outscoring Roosevelt 5-2 in the third quarter cutting their lead to just 8-6. Roosevelt scored the first goal of the fourth quarter with 5:34 left in the game, extending the lead to 9-6.
The Islanders outscored the Roughriders 4-0 in the final 4:51 of the game en route to a 10-9 comeback victory. It was an epic triumph by a gritty Mercer Island squad.
Before the season kicked off in early September, Mercer Island head coach Andrew Smith-Jones said he hoped his team would peak toward the end of the season.
“We want to play competitively the whole way through and hopefully we peak at the right time and play the best water polo Mercer Island has to offer in early November,” Smith-Jones said in September.
The mission was undoubtedly accomplished.
The character of a team isn’t defined while its comfortably ahead on the scoreboard, its defined when a team sees itself trailing on the scoreboard in the face of unbridled adversity.
The Islanders didn’t flinch despite a sub-par first half where they scored a mere one goal. They simply rose to the occasion in the second half of play with a performance that no one can ever take away from them.
During pre-season practices, the Islanders raved about their team chemistry in the pool and outside of the pool.
“We are all very competitive people. We all want to win. Once a week we have team dinners and we hang out almost every day. The more you know each other, the more well you are going to play together because you are comfortable with each other and can trust each other,” Mercer Island player Jacob Guedel said in September. “It is going to be our teamwork that makes the difference. Other teams might be faster or stronger than us but we all trust each other and work well together.”
Guedel’s previous statements in September pertaining to team camaraderie rang true two months later at the state tournament.
The Islanders ended the 2016 season in the best possible way, with a victory and a third-place plaque for the trophy case.