Sports

‘This year there are no excuses’

The 11 seniors on the Bainbridge varsity water polo team: T.J Bell, Brian Burns, Russell Carroll, Matt Colley, Drew Keller, Alex Morris, Jon Rochelle, Nate Rooks, Tristan Stringer, Pete Wagner and Jacob Whitmore. - JIM MEYERS photo
The 11 seniors on the Bainbridge varsity water polo team: T.J Bell, Brian Burns, Russell Carroll, Matt Colley, Drew Keller, Alex Morris, Jon Rochelle, Nate Rooks, Tristan Stringer, Pete Wagner and Jacob Whitmore.
— image credit: JIM MEYERS photo

High school sports teams aren’t planned – they happen.

In fact, the only given in high school sports is that each year will be a new challenge, the equivalent of waving a magic wand over a boiling cauldron of unknown ingredients, hoping to hit that perfect mix of a winning team.

For coach Mead Trick and the BHS boys water polo team, who played their first two games at the state championships yesterday, this year has been more like going to Baskin-Robbins.

While there aren’t 52 seniors to work with, there are 11 of them: T.J Bell, Brian Burns, Russell Carroll, Matt Colley, Drew Keller, Alex Morris, Jon Rochelle, Nate Rooks, Tristan Stringer, Pete Wagner and Jacob Whitmore.

That impressive depth, along with juniors Jake Christensen and Josh Johnson, has made this season one of the Spartans’ smoothest and most successful.

The team’s bond has stretched far beyond the edge of the pool.

“In a way we’ve been sort of forced together as best friends,” Keller said. “We practice 21 hours a week, we eat lunch together, we hang out together…It’s just a great group of guys.

“We’re really close, and we play like that in the pool, too.”

Adding to their experience and simpatico spirit is a feeling of urgency that drives them to success, Rooks said.

“For three years…you’ve always thought to yourself, ‘I’ve always got next year’ or ‘maybe next year I’ll do this,’” he said.

“This year there are no excuses. There’s nothing past this…you can’t redeem yourself after this.”

Perhaps the most critical factor has been the seniors’ ethic: The age-old idea of winning not being everything is at the core of their game, and being able to enjoy themselves remains paramount.

“Water polo is a big part of all our lives, but it’s not all that we do,” Carroll said.

Added Rochelle: “We’re all about competitiveness, but the fun comes from being able to compete with a bunch of guys that you like.”

Third in the state

At first glance, Team Ray’s record – peppered as it is with no-shows and mixed-roster play – is difficult to decipher.

A closer look reveals that the full-strength varsity team has only lost to two opponents – Mercer and Newport, ranked first and second in the state.

“ What a fabulous season they have had, as you can see by all the wins,” said the team’s unofficial statistician, Lee Johnson. “And notice the large margins.”

A case in point was the team’s last match-up, in which they swamped Mount Rainier, 15-1.

With the dominant Mercer classified by most of Team Ray as “not really a Washington team” (their program involves heavy recruiting, big budgets and more out-of-state play), Newport remains a thorn in their side.

This weekend’s tournament presents one last opportunity to remove that thorn.

Along with their ritually dyed and cut hair, the seniors have slightly altered their goal for the season, but are hoping for the same end result – a much-anticipated match-up with Mercer in the finals.

“The goal is still to get into that final championship game, it’s just that beating Newport has been added on our way to that game,” said Stringer.

“It’s a step we didn’t realize we’d have to take on the way there.”

The boys varsity water polo team faced Bellevue and Curtis yesterday afternoon and continues play this weekend.

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