The Sobrato High boys and girls water polo teams might as well be called the Road Warriors this season.
Due to lingering issues at their home pool, the Bulldogs won’t have a single home match this year. While it’s far from an ideal situation, neither squad is going to use that as an excuse.
“We don’t have a choice. It is what it is and we have to do what we have to do,” Sobrato boys coach Dale Dowd said. “We’re water polo players, water is water and the cage is the same size. So win or lose, we’re not going to use anything like that as an excuse.”
Both Sobrato teams played with a no-nonsense mentality against their Evergreen Valley High counterparts on Sept. 20. The boys won 14-13 and the girls 16-12 in their Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa Division openers.
Alex Portera led the boys team with six goals, Matthew Primeau had four and goalie JT Gerrity made several tremendous saves as the Bulldogs won a riveting contest. Sobrato (2-1) outscored Evergreen Valley 5-1 in the second quarter to take a 7-4 lead at halftime.
The lead stayed at three goals entering the final period, but Evergreen Valley got to within 12-11 with 3 minutes, 2 seconds remaining. However, the Bulldogs took all of 17 seconds to answer as Ethan Wells scored from two meters out with two defenders draped all over him, displaying strength and willpower in the process.
Evergreen Valley cut its deficit to one again with 2:31 left only to see Sobrato answer on the ensuing possession, this time on Primeau’s penalty shot. David Rangel drew the penalty shot moments earlier after he collected his own rebound and was fouled from inside two meters.
Sobrato scored several goals on long, laser-accurate outlet passes. Portera, Primeau and Wells delivered a couple of great passes that led to goals throughout, and Gerrity twice unleashed length of the pool passes that led to scores.
“We’ve kind of shifted our philosophy this year into countering using our speed, using our drives and using our anticipation,” Dowd said. “And Alex is one of the faster players on our team. He has really good awareness, he gets good position on players and can hold that position and really make those counters matter. In a close game like today we were separated by one goal multiple times and we needed those goals every single time.”
Portera displayed a vast array of skills with his shotmaking, delivering powerful one-timers, backhanders and shots from distance. Colby Nigh, Alex Olsen, Vander Katz scored one goal each. Dowd was proud of the team for holding on for the victory against a hard-charging Evergreen squad.
“They showed their grit today,” Dowd said. “They didn’t let Evergreen’s comeback and momentum roll them over. I know we can play better, we have another gear, and we have another level we can hit and I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
Sobrato girls coach Kyle Edgar feels the same way about his team. The Bulldogs (2-2) showed their depth against Evergreen Valley, going up 6-0 after the first quarter before Edgar took out the starters in the second period so players for the “future team” could get valuable pool time.
The Cougars scored six straight goals to tie the game at 6-6 and even took their only lead at 8-7 before the teams went into halftime tied at 8-8. With Sobrato’s starters back in for the third quarter, the Bulldogs dominated, outscoring the Cougars 8-1 to pull away.
“We really have a split team right now of people who have a lot of experience and other people who are brand new to the game, so it was awesome we were able to get the less experienced players the opportunity to play in the game,” Edgar said. “They kept it together pretty well.”
Sobrato has two prolific goal-scorers in Melina Kwarcinski (seven goals) and Abby Humphrey (six goals), and the dynamic duo managed to outscore Evergreen by themselves. Time and again both players either got out on a breakaway and were simply too physically strong for whoever was defending them.
“Melina was popping off today and definitely stepped up,” Edgar said. “She’s ready to finish off her senior year strong.”
The Bulldogs don’t have a No. 1 goalie so they rotate in a couple during every match. Maile Ryan, though, has spent the most time of any player in the cage. She played the first half and Zoe Childers and Humphrey played goalie in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
Anneliese Blatt, Julia Primeau, Leah Grifall and Ryan also scored goals for the Bulldogs, who received some stellar passing from Eileen Tran that led to third-period goals. Edgar is excited about what this season will bring and the future of the program as well.
“I just want our newer players to learn from our more experienced players as they have been already,” he said. “The improvement has been huge and if we can keep that up through the whole season, we’re going to have a really strong team by the end.”
The Bulldogs have had to adjust their practice schedule due to the school’s lingering pool issues.
“It’s just unreliable with pool chemicals,” Edgar said. “They go up and down and sometimes the pool is not in the right spot chemical-wise, and we can’t practice in it. It’s easier to cancel a practice than cancel a game so we didn’t want to take that risk. We won’t be in our pool for a home match which is disappointing.”
Despite not having a home match for 2022, the Sobrato water polo program looks to be in a good place, with Dowd and Edgar both optimistic because of their players’ grit and determination.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]