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Poloists poised for title defense
"New girls' water polo coach Jeff Clark hopes to work the same magic on this year's varsity as he did with last year's JV squad, which won the state championship.Nine girls from that JV squad, which finished 13-2, join five returning varsity players for what should be a very competitive season.The varsity finished second in the state tournament to a strong Mercer Island squad, losing the championship game to conclude a 17-4 season.Clark, who replaces long-time coach Steve Killpack, is himself a former Spartan player.He's working with a turnout of 42 girls, which provides three teams: two at the varsity level - blue and gold - and JVs.Heading the returning blue players is all-state selection Sarah Weigle, who had 71 steals last year. Others are goalkeeper Jasmine DuPont (who gave up just 46 goals in 45 quarters last year), Erin Russell, Helen Silver and Allison Stover.JV players moving up are Natalie Berry, Cassie Callan, Sarah Dean, Alex DuPont, Brook Faltermeier, Meghan Lockwood, Samantha Olson, Michelle Purdom and Jamie Fleischfresser.I think everybody will contribute to the team chemistry, Clark says. That's better than a team with just a couple of outstanding players.This year's team will be defensive-minded, Clark says. If we shut down our opponents, we'll score naturally. Sometimes scoring gets out of hand and you'll have 15-12 games, but that's not what we want.Citing the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens as an example, Clark hopes for a conservative ball-control offense that doesn't make mistakes. With most of last year's big goal-scorers gone via graduation, Clark sees Russell and Stover as the chief offensive threats. They'll be augmented by Purdom, who had 21 goals for the JVs. And opponents can't overlook Helen Silver (19 goals last year) and Weigle (18) either.They're super-fast, says Clark of the two girls, both members of the Spartan state champion swim team.The team doesn't shy away from challenges, opening with away games against Curtis on Tuesday and Mercer Island next Saturday. The home opener isn't until March 25 against Newport.We want to get the tough road games out of the way, Clark says.State tournament qualifying is somewhat different this year. The two dozen teams that play water polo are divided into four leagues. Bainbridge's league includes Wilson, Peninsula, Foss, Clover Park, and Central Kitsap's first-year team. The top two teams automatically qualify for State, with a wild card tournament qualifying four more teams from a pool of the next three finishers in each league.With a team boasting twelve seniors, Clark doesn't foresee the Spartans needing the wild card route to make the state tournament.Nor does he foresee any clear-cut favorites there. Both Mercer Island and Curtis, the other perennial powers, had major losses via graduation.It should be a really competitive tournament, he says. And I think we'll be really strong. "