By CAROL GULLSTAD
Special to the Reporter
With a fifth-place spot in the state tournament on the line, the Mercer Island Islanders came through in the clutch against one of their biggest rivals.
Mercer Island defeated Bellevue, 3-1, earning fifth place in the Washington water polo state tournament on Nov. 9 at the Curtis Aquatic Center in University Place. Islanders’ sophomore Max Vacca had nine steals, five blocks and scored two goals in the win.
“Max put the team on his back,” Islanders head coach Calvin White said.
Vacca, Nate Robinson and Leif Gullstad earned all-state honors for their play during the state tournament.
The Islanders lost earlier in the state tournament, 19-4, to the Curtis Vikings in the state semifinals. Following the setback against Curtis, the Islanders lost to Newport, 11-2.
“In the Curtis and Newport games our big downfall was 10 percent shooting, we typically shoot in the 45 percent range, so it was brutal,” White said.
Prior to the start of the final game of the season against Bellevue, White gave his team a spirited pep talk.
“We still had one more game to play. In the locker room, I separated out our nine seniors on one side and told our younger guys that we have to put in 100 percent right now. Giving up is not an option. They (seniors) have been here for you and we need to go out and win for them,” he said.
The Islanders accomplished the mission courtesy of a 3-1 triumph against the Wolverines.
“I’m proud the boys rallied after their loss to Newport. Newport came out and blitzed us and we couldn’t recover,” White said. “But, we ended the season on a win. Being a top five in the state is something to be really proud of.”
White said the Islanders water polo program will be led by newly named captains Oliver Schaaf and Jacob Swerland during the 2019 season.
“We have a strong foundation to build on,” White said.