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Poloists get two new coaches
The Bainbridge water polo program has seen better days, when founder and head coach Steve Killpack had both the boys and girls teams perennially contending for a state title.
Now, two ex-players have returned to lead the team back to prominence.
Forrest Wells and Kristin Swanson take over for Jeff Clark, another former Team Ray player who retired at the end of the girls’ season in May.
He’s the third coach in as many seasons to take the helm.
“This is something that I wanted to do,” he said. “When you see what something used to be and what it has become, when they become so opposing it’s hard for you to not get involved.”
Wells becomes the head coach of both the boys’ and the girls’ varsity teams, while Swanson is the assistant and the head coach of both junior varsity teams.
Wells played on Team Ray for two years, winning state titles both years.
He then moved on to the University of Washington club team, where he played for two years.
Swanson was a three-year member of Lady Ray, earning all-state defensive co-MVP and all-state first team honors her senior year as she helped Ray win the state title, earning defensive MVP honors for the tournament as well.
She then moved to the University of Hawaii water polo team, where she was part of a team that made it to the NCAA Final Four twice and consistently finished with a number four ranking in the polls.
Both Wells and Swanson say they took the job because they remember the heyday of the program – and they want other kids to experience that as well.
“I had a really good mentor and coach (in Killpack) and I want to do my best to provide that experience to the guys in the program now,” he said. “The island’s where I want to be, and I think we’ll be here for awhile.
“Bainbridge (water polo) made me into the player that I was going into college,” Swanson said. “So I’m always drawn back here and I want to see this (team) succeed.”
Wells, who was here for three years as an assistant to Clark when Killpack stepped down and coached the girls’ freshman team, acknowledges the team is in a rebuilding phase.
“(But) the biggest part of that (rebuilding phase) is having someone here for all the seasons and keep coming back year after year,” he said. “The program isn’t going to be built with three different coaches in three seasons. The goal of the coaching staff is to keep the same people involved.
Wells said he’s excited to take charge in his first head coaching job ever.
“I can do whatever I want with the program,” he said. “We’re starting from ground zero (but) we have the freedom to do things a lot differently. I like that aspect.”
He and Swanson will use that freedom to make changes to a team that took fifth at state last season, but lost several players, most notably long-time standouts Austin Hallett, Cheyne Clark, PJ Trimble, Cooper Ashley, Eli Jacobsen and Emile Stettler.
Wells got a good look at the returning and new players during a tournament this past weekend.
He also got a good look at Mercer Island, Newport and Bellevue, who all defeated Team Ray handily.
“They’re the three powerhouse programs in the state right now,” he said.
But Wells also liked how the kids handled themselves in the water.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “The kids learned a lot and they were all really, really positive about the whole thing.
“Even though we didn’t win any games, we had fun and there was a lot of progress made,” Wells continued. “They’re all really open to learning the game.
“That’s the biggest positive in my mind. They’re all really intelligent, so they pick the game up really fast... I draw something up and they pick it up really quickly.”
Several players that came back for another go-round include junior co-captain Sam Pollock, seniors Eric Schuler and Kevin Brooks and juniors David Ortyn, Bjorn Ostling and Matt Croxford.
Wells said he’s also happy to get six freshman on the team and to have several players on the team with older brothers who had played on the team before.
But with the new players and a new coach comes the learning of the new system – and Wells said they’re going over everything from terminology to how to run offensive sets.
“We’re trying to get everybody on the same page and speaking the same language,” he said.
He’s also trying to change several things from the practice schedule to where the team plays its games.
Team Ray practices from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with morning practices starting soon at 6:30 a.m.
Team Ray also plays most of its games at the Edgebrook Club in Bellevue, with just three games scheduled at Bainbridge, the first at 8 p.m. Sept. 30 against Shorewood.
Wells said the struggle to get teams over to Bainbridge stems from getting the pool so late – hence teams have to catch the ferry on time or else they won’t get home until late.
“I’m trying to get pool time switched for next year, but we’re locked where we are,” he said. “One of my main goals is to get out of the (late) times. It’s not ideal.”
But Wells said he’s ready to do what he can to get the program back to where it was.
Pollock is happy to have some consistency at the head coaching spots.
“Forrest is great and so is Kristen,” he said. “Both of them are good coaches... I’ve had a lot of coaches since I’ve been on the team and it’s great to know they’ll stick with us for a while.”
While Wells said he won’t make a state title a priority – he’s more concerned with getting people interested in water polo.
“I want to get both the kids and the community excited about the sport,” he said. “My goal here is to build a healthy program.”
Bainbridge opened league play against Roosevelt.