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Aloha means summer polo

The Hawaii tournament brings out the top teams worldwide.

The Team Ray and Lady Ray water polo teams learned a humbling lesson last week in Hawaii.

Perennial powerhouses at home, they faced much tougher competition in exhibition matches in the Aloha State.

“We got worked pretty good,” senior Michael Stephen-McRae said. “It has sort of been a tradition for water polo to go there and get beaten up.”

After training five days a week and earning thousands of dollars through fund-raising events and local business sponsorships this summer, nearly 30 Bainbridge High School boys and girls traveled to Hawaii to compete in the 36th Annual Hawaiian Invitational Water Polo Tournament.

The internationally renowned event attracts an average of 90 teams from around the U.S., Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. It also attracts some of the toughest competition the islanders will probably see in the entire year.

Despite facing taller opponents, the girls fared well in the tournament under head coach Jeff Clark.

After suffering a 16-1 and 10-3 defeats to teams from Coronado and Riverside, Calif., the girls bounced back in the final three matches of the tournament.

Their third game, a frustrating 5-4 loss against Silicon Valley, was vented on the Hawaiian team Kahuku the following day in a 7-4 victory, the only win Bainbridge would claim in the tournament.

In the final game, the girls held a 4-3 lead over Mission Viejo until the last three seconds of the game, when Mission responded to leave the game in a tie.

The boys went winless in their five-game series, shut out by teams from Stanford and Simi Valley, Calif. Their last game was their closest, a 9-4 loss against the year-round Hawaiian High School team, Anuenue.

Bainbridge has made the invitational for the past six years, and no matter what the rankings show, the event is the trial by fire that Team Ray uses to gel as a unit for the upcoming season.

“Whether we win or lose there is a lot of improvement,” boys head coach Mead Trick said. “At the end of the week we started clicking as a team and our defenses came together.”

There was a vast disparity in playing ability as the island teams were dwarfed by professionally coached year-round teams that had been brought up in a water polo culture.

“Most of these teams had been swimming together since they were little,” player Emma Mueller said. “Here, they throw us into the pool when we get into high school and expect us to compete.”

The young starting age of polo players in other areas has prompted Trick to start a junior water polo league for kids 13 and under on the island. The program hopes to garner interest in the sport and to feed the high school program.

Both teams returned to Seattle on Sunday looking forward to the upcoming season and the implications that became apparent in the tournament.

The Bainbridge girls varsity and JV teams won the state championship last year, and their expectations are no different.

“We’re hoping for state as always,” Mueller said. “Jeff has said he is going to push us so hard it will make us cry. But I think in the long run it will make us more able to compete with the people we saw in Hawaii.”

Last year the boys team finished eighth in the state tournament, but this year’s team will boast a large contingent of seniors and a lot of potential from incoming freshmen.

Team Ray will go through “Hell Week” starting Monday to get into peak condition, before heading to Lake Cushman for a team-building retreat with mile-long swims and endurance runs.

The boys season starts Aug. 23, and the goal is to be state contenders.

“We improved a ton over the Hawaiian tournament,” Stephen-McRae said. “If we go into the season with the same momentum we had when we left Hawaii, you’ll see us in the championships.”

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