PORT ORCHARD — Just a few years into its existence, the South Kitsap girls water polo team is making a push for the postseason.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a team that continually takes in players with no experience in the sport. And no one would have blamed the program for taking a small step back with only 12 of the 23 players being returners from the previous season — in which it missed out on the playoffs by just one game — and losing players at the most important positions.
But with league wins over Foss and Mount Tahoma earlier this year, the Wolves are in the hunt once again. They have to beat out Lincoln for the fourth and final playoff spot from their league and have two matches remaining against them — at Lincoln on April 25 and at home on May 1, according to the SKHS Athletics Calendar.
“They’re learning; we’ve got a lot of new players,” head coach Zack Fogel said. “Even our returning players are fairly new. Even experienced players don’t have the same experience other teams have. We’re competing with teams that play year-round.”
Water polo is still a relatively new high school sport for many teams in the area, but some receive a leg up from having a year-round program. That is something Fogel is hoping will be built as the sport’s popularity grows. But in the meantime, the more experienced players don’t seem to mind coaching up the greenhorns.
“By the end of the year, the girls will be extremely improved,” said junior Miranda Lynam, one of the team’s captains. “We’ve seen that every year that I’ve been here. It makes me happy to see the girls improve and how happy they are about it.”
Lynam herself was once in that position. Although she had extensive experience as a swimmer, she had never played until her freshman year at South Kitsap. It was a perfect opportunity for Lynam as she had grown a little “bored” of swim meets. After a stint playing in Gig Harbor in the offseason, she is now one of the team’s more experienced players.
“I remember where I was when I started, so I’m able to help the girls who don’t really know how to swim or are not as confident,” Lynam said.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t growing pains. Against a much more experienced Tahoma team on April 16, the Wolves fell 11-2. Lynam opened the game with a goal in the first few minutes, but the Bears soon took over. Tahoma had an experienced hole-set player — the primary offense position — in Iliana Hammerstrom, who was able to get good position in front of the South Kitsap net. She scored eight of her team’s 11 goals.
Hana Marks also scored for South Kitsap in the second period on a penalty shot.
Some of the younger and less experienced players then got a chance to shine in the junior varsity game, which South Kitsap won 3-2. Sarah Fontenot scored twice for the Wolves and Sofia Davila netted the eventual game-winner in the second period.
Plenty of time remains for South Kitsap to be ready for its two important league games. The Wolves have an April 23 matchup at Wilson before the first of two games against Lincoln. They will also take part in the Emerald Ridge Tournament April 27-28.
“We’ve got time to keep improving,” Fogel said.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.