Interest in water polo at Central Oregon high schools has been on the rise in recent years. And while it clearly has grown stronger in some areas, it appears to be waning in others.
Forming girls varsity teams has been a challenge for nearly all area high schools. Three years ago, one girl turned out for water polo at Mountain View High. Instead of turning her away for a lack of enough girls to form a team, the Cougars added her to the boys varsity roster. This season, three girls are playing at Mountain View, all on the boys team.
“The girls show up every day and work on getting playing time and practice time,” Cougars head coach Ryan Duffy says. “A lot of the boys are great about accepting them on the team.”
Mountain View placed fourth in the state at the Oregon High School Water Polo Committee's 5A/4A level last season, and Duffy is confident that his team will contend for the state championship this year.
“We just have to stay focused and not be selfish,” Duffy says. “We've got more talent than anyone out there. I'm pretty cocky about that.”
Mountain View's primary rival in the 5A/4A Central Valley League is Summit. Turnout has not been a problem for the boys team at Summit in recent years; this season, the Storm's roster includes 27 players.
“The boys' strengths are flat-out strength and size,” says Summit head coach Jay Soles. “We have a few guys that are 6 (feet) 5 and 6-6.”
The Storm girls squad did not lose a single player to graduation after last season and currently boasts 13 players. According to girls head coach Heather Brenda, Summit has a shot at the state title this fall after placing second in the state last season.
Soles says with the help of his assistant coaches, Matt Wood, Dave Naftalin and Tom Nichols, both Storm teams have the skills to win the state championship.
“From my perspective, my goal is to compete for a championship,” Soles says. “In my mind, my goal is to do well in districts and win state.”
Water polo continues to be a popular sport at Madras High. The White Buffaloes have been able to put together complete boys and girls teams and have excelled both in their league and at the state level.
However, according to head coach Bobby DeRoest, Madras suffered some notable losses to graduation after last season, particularly on the girls side.
“The girls will compete (to win) in every game,” DeRoest says. “Our biggest weakness is our depth on the girls team.”
Although the White Buffalo girls team is made up primarily of new players, the boys have several key returners. According to DeRoest, many of the Madras boys come from the more individualized sport of swimming and may struggle to adjust to a team concept.
“We're pretty quick in the water, so speed is our strength,” DeRoest says. “We have quite a big group of talented boys who are swimmers and aren't used to team sports.”
Eric Cardone has stepped in as head coach for the Bend High teams this year. Cardone has coached with the Bend Waves Water Polo Club since 2010, and going into his first year as a high school head coach he has his squads focusing on fundamentals.
“Since this is my first year as a high school coach,” Cardone says, “I've had to change the fundamentals that were taught (at Bend High) over the years.”
Turnout has been low for the Bend High girls, but Cardone is hopeful that the start of school will help increase the numbers.
Cardone says he holds his high school players to the same standard as the club players, and he hopes that the intensity will lead to better results in the pool.
“I think our greatest strength,” says Cardone, “is that both the boys and the girls have been super receptive to a higher level of play.”
The Redmond School District currently does not sponsor water polo, so high school water polo in Redmond is coordinated by the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. While Redmond High did not have enough of a turnout to create a team for the 2013 season, crosstown Ridgeview was able to form both a boys and a girls team.
Ridgeview head coach Joseph DeLeone, who directs both the girls and boys squads, is focusing on defense for the girls. He says the team is strong offensively and could do well at the 5A/4A state level if its defense improves. He adds that he is optimistic that the Raven boys will post a winning record this season. (Ridgeview, which plays in Class 4A in most Oregon School Activities Association sports, plays in a combined 5A/4A classification system of the Oregon High School Water Polo Committee, the state's governing body for prep water polo.)
“We have a lot of speed,” DeLeone says. “There are quite a few girls from the swim team, and the boys are big and strong.”
Prep water polo at a glance
A look at the Central Oregon teams for the upcoming season:
Head coach: Eric Cardone
Boys 2012 record: 2-4 overall; 1-1 Central Valley; lost in first round of playoffs.
Girls 2012 record: 0-5 overall; 0-2 Central Valley; lost in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: In Cardone's first season, he is focusing on the fundamentals and stressing a higher level of play.
Head coach: Bobby DeRoest
Boys 2012 record: 4-3 overall; 3-2 Central Valley; lost in second round of playoffs.
Girls 2012 record: 9-5 overall; 4-1 Central Valley; lost in third round of playoffs.
Outlook: After three girls graduated last season, the girls team is in a rebuilding year. The boys boast players with swimming backgrounds, and DeRoest says he is focusing on developing the team concept.
Head coach: Ryan Duffy
Boys 2012 record: 2-3 overall; 1-1 Central Valley; lost in fourth round of playoffs.
Outlook: With top players returning from last season, Duffy says that his team has a chance to win the 5A/4A state championship.
Head coach: Joseph DeLeone
Outlook: The Ridgeview boys and girls teams both have a shot at making it to the 5A/4A state tournament. DeLeone says he is working on strength and defense.
Head coaches: Jay Soles (boys), Heather Brenda (girls)
Boys 2012 record: 10-8 overall; 1-1 Central Valley; placed third in state.
Girls 2012 record: 2-2 overall; 0-1 Central Valley; lost in the state championship game.
Outlook: The boys team features some good-sized players with both swimming and water polo backgrounds and should do well in state. The entire team from last season is returning for the 2013 campaign.