Spartan water polo team learning what it’s like to win | SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW

Spartan Coach Drew Keller talks to his team during a break in action against the Wolverines. The team has already notched more wins than it did last year.  - Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review
Spartan Coach Drew Keller talks to his team during a break in action against the Wolverines. The team has already notched more wins than it did last year.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review

Last year, the Bainbridge girls water polo team admitted they were in a rebuilding year.

The assessment looks pretty spot on, considering how strong the Spartans are looking at the start of this year’s season.

Just three games into the 2013 campaign and the Spartans are 2-1, with wins against Shorewood and Bellevue. That’s double the victories than the team had last season.

“It’s all new terrain for us,” said Bainbridge Coach Drew Keller. “For me as a coach, and the girls, we’ve never been a winning team.”

“I’m so glad it’s coming together for them. Especially for the six seniors, they deserve it,” he said.

Keller said things started off with a shine this season, with turnout for the team was great that the Spartans started a junior varsity team.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a JV team in five years,” Keller said.

“It’s been really nice to have that, and have some of these younger players get a chance to play with people closer to their experience level, and also have some of these less experienced players be able to step up into leadership roles and lead the JV team.”

The results are showing quickly, he said.

“They get better and better; you see it every day,” he said.

Putting 10 players on the JV side has left just nine for varsity. That means a lean team where substitutions will be less frequent and more will be asked of the Spartans’ varsity players.

“The girls knew, in order to be competitive this year with the numbers we have, they are really going to have to step it up with their conditioning. They have taken that on,” Keller said.

“My nine varsity have been working super, super hard. It’s probably the hardest working group I’ve ever been around,” he said.

The team lost only one senior to graduation, and Bainbridge’s top scorer — senior Emily Carson — is back and already creating havoc for the Spartans’ opponents.

Keller noted the team has plenty of other assets, such as Kay Sterner, a league-level club swimmer known for her endurance.

“She’s a great athlete and learning really quickly. She’s one of the most fit swimmers I’ve ever seen,” Keller said. “She’s new and picking up really quickly.”

Both of the team’s goalies are also new.

Kayla Estes, a senior, will be the team’s shallow-end goalie.

“She’s a first-year player and another natural athlete,” Keller said. “She has a really good sense of positioning, and just scary arms. She can huck the ball.”

Senior Julia Griffiths is the Spartans’ deep-end goalie. Though new, she continues to impress, Keller said.

“She’s got to be one of best goalies that we’ve had for Bainbridge, period. She’s phenomenal. She can leg up and practically hit her head on the bar, accidentally,” he said.

Keller noted that Griffiths trains regularly with a weight vest in practice.

“She’s getting her whole rib cage out of the water with that weight vest on. The drive is crazy; she is just really, really driven,” Keller added. “She holds herself to a really high standard.”

Evelyn Newman, a sophomore, is the team’s two-meter defender. She’s tasked with taking on the other team’s biggest scoring threat.

“She’s a sophomore and you’d never know it. She looks as fit and experienced as the seniors out there,” Keller said. “She’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen and a really passionate player.”

The team expects to hit a bit of choppy water later this season. Roosevelt will pose a challenge for the Spartans this year, but that will be a late-season hurdle for Bainbridge.

Mercer Island will also be tough.

Newport has graduated some key seniors, so that team remains a bit of a mystery.

“That Bellevue team shows a lot of potential,” Keller added. “We definitely can’t take them lightly, even after a pretty solid victory. To play at that level for a first-year team — they are not to be overlooked, for sure.”

That said, Keller noted that the team’s promise this year is based on last year’s progress.

The players knew, despite their many losses, that they were improving, even if it didn’t show on the scoreboard.

“I never had to convince them that they were getting better. They knew it. They knew they were getting better. They knew that we were almost there,” he recalled.

Now, all the essentials are lining up.

“We’re learning how to manage the clock, learning how to finish out a game. Building patience. All the little things are becoming automatic,” Keller said.

“We’re playing a completely different game than we were last year. It’s just awesome to see,” he said. “They really deserve it.” It’s relay nice to see them win some games.”



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