Lady Ray always in the hunt for state title

Spartan Anne Scott warms up. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Spartan Anne Scott warms up.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Nine players with at least two years’ experience in the pool anchor the squad.

With the success of the Bainbridge water polo team in past years, anything less than an appearance in the state championship game is a surprise.

“I always like our chances,” sixth year head coach Jeff Clark said. “They don’t always pan out, but I always like them.”

He likes what he sees in his team so far, as Lady Ray fields a strong squad to compete for a title in the 2006 prep season.

The team won the title in 2004, and made it to the state title game at the King County Aquatic Center last year but lost to Mercer Island 5-4.

They lost five seniors from the team, most notably Erin Clune, one of their top scorers and Valerie MacKinnon, their all-star goalkeeper.

But nine players with at least two years of experience on varsity are back, with seniors Anne Scott, Christie Russell and Katie Hallett all in their third year of playing for Lady Ray.

Scott, the state MVP last season and a co-captain this season, is the main focus on offense for Ray, as Clark feels she and only one other player in the state have the ability to take over a game at any time.

“She’s the main scorer,” Clark said. “She’ll be the focus of the other team’s defense.”

If she is contained, Russell and senior Chelsea Croxford, the two starting centers, should get plenty of scoring opportunities as well.

Other returners include junior center defender Heather Schuler – who should be another goal-scorer thanks to her all-around talent and being a lefty – senior goalkeeper and co-captain Emily Lewis, senior co-captain Molly Carroll, senior Diane Lubovich and junior Jennifer Heinlen.

“We have a lot of depth on the team,” Scott said. “A lot of teams have been doing tournaments over the summer and playing longer than us, but the (recent) invite we were in and playing against Mercer and Shorewood (shows) we’re pretty close to where we should be.”

Russell likes the all-around talent of the team.

“We do have a lot of seniors, but we have the younger players that are just as good as the seniors,” she said. “We have those options of trading out and we’ll always be able to have a set of six good players out there.”

Those six newcomers – senior Caroline Clark, juniors Elisa Morris, Mary Masala and Phoebe Lentz and sophomores Martha Slichter and Gabi Goodlin – can bring something to the team, Russell said.

“Whenever you’re new, you have that energy to go wherever you’re needed, you’re willing to sub in or just be supportive.

Scott agreed.

“For the first-year players, things will change for them from the beginning of the season to the end of the season,” she said. “They’ll just become completely different players and add more to the team. They’ll learn a lot and carry it over to the next year.”

But this year is the focus, and Clark likes their chances – and they have the talent to make good on those chances.

“We’re pretty darn good,” Clark said. “One of the things to think about girls water polo is that we’re expected to be in the top two or three in the state. And we have a great shot to win it this year. It’ll come down to Mercer Island, Shorewood, Newport and us. We’re all really close (talent-wise), and it’ll come down to who’s probably in the best shape at the end of the season.”

Lady Ray plays at home April 13 against Eastside Catholic.

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