Water splashes as a shot rockets at the goalie treading at the end of the pool. The shot flies past the goalie’s outstretched arms and into the back net, initiating a roar from the crowd and the coach and players on the bench. The scene of the ball reaching the back netting was a common spectacle for players and fans at both the PHS men’s and women’s water polo games this year, as both clinched NCS berths.
The women’s water polo team last competed in NCS two years ago, captain, senior Olivia Bott said.
“We had some key, strong players on that team,” Bott said.
After the departure of those players, the team was required to make major adjustments, such as playing new positions and hiring a new coach, Bott said.
“Everyone had to play a bigger role and step up,” captain, senior Alisha Lewis said.
Another challenge the team faced this year was adapting to the physicality of the game, Lewis said.
“You have to be aggressive, and our team is naturally happy-go-lucky,” Lewis said. “A lot of [the challenge] was getting the team to a point where they were competitive and riled up.”
The team learned the importance of the competitive mentality after a devastating loss to Encinal earlier in the season, Bott said.
In becoming closer as a team, that game posed as a turning point for the rest of the season, Bott said.
“Players started asking themselves, ‘What can I do to help others and myself,’” Lewis said.
Even while making strides to have a more aggressive mindset in the pool, the team made certain to hold onto the joy of the game, Lewis said.
“Our team’s name brand is that we have a lot of fun while trying to play well,” Lewis said.
The fun atmosphere is carried over to the PHS men’s water polo team as well, as they enjoyed their first NCS victory in the history of the program.
“We have a lot of the same players [as last year], which makes us more mature,” player, senior Blake Meyers said.
All six of their starters returned from last season, captain, senior Lane Manalo-LeClair said.
“The biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s is the extra year of experience,” Manalo-LeClair said.
The experience became prevalent in Piedmont’s second match-up with Alameda.
“We lost to [Alameda] earlier in the season, but beat them by six later, in our most recent match-up,” captain, senior Adam Low said.
The win did not come as a surprise for Piedmont, as they had some confidence heading into their anticipated rematch, Manalo-LeClair said.
“We knew deep down that we could beat these really good teams,” Manalo-LeClair said.
One of the challenges Piedmont faces in beating the good teams in their league is the size of their team, Low said.
“[We] play with a really small team, which is different than previous years,” Low said.
One of the benefits to carrying a small team is the ability to quickly develop chemistry, Manalo-LeClair said.
“We’ve grown closer both in and out of the pool,” Manalo-LeClair said.
The men’s team’s chemistry and experience led them to an appearance in the semi-finals of NCS following two victories, including a nail-biting one-goal game in the quarterfinals.
“[My favorite part of the team] is the bond we have,” Manalo-LeClair said. “[Everyone is] really nice and we work really well together.”