The Bainbridge High varsity boys water polo team finished a fantastic season with a historic shot at the title in the state championship tournament, earning a place in the final match for the first time in 16 years.
Held once again at Curtis High, the tournament concluded Saturday when the Spartans were bested by the host school and thus claimed the second-place spot.
The Vikings, a notorious powerhouse program, have not been beaten by a Washington team in four years.
“This was their fourth state championship in a row,” Spartan Head Coach Kristin Gellert said.
“The train really hard, they’re fast,” she said. “They’re smart and precise, but I think that they are definitely beatable and in that championship game we played them the best that we played them all year.”
The Spartans departed for home content and gratified, Gellert said.
“We are so excited and proud and just ecstatic,” the coach added. “Any time that you reach the goal that you set for yourself is pretty incredible and we’re proud that we were able to do it this year.”
The action began Thursday, Nov. 8, as BHS breezily bested Kennedy Catholic High, of Burien, a relatively young team making their first appearance in the state bracket, 16-3.
Bainbridge goals were scored by Max Eyrich (five), Oskar Bannister (three), Gabe Nathan (two), Eamon Greathouse (two), David Burton (one), Jacques Defawe (one) and Jack Bullock (one).
Thomas Defawe managed four assists.
Though no win is easy, Gellert said the team was confident going into their first match of the tournament.
“[Kennedy is] a newer team and I’m so proud of them for making to state in one of their first years,” the coach said. “Having not seen them [play], we went into it knowing we would have to play really hard and it was a good chance for us to kind of brush off some of the nerves and settle into the whole state dynamic.”
Having so settled in, on Friday the Spartans once more faced off against familiar rival Roosevelt High, who they proceeded to beat for the fourth time this year, in game number two.
The island squad again emerged victorious, up 12-6.
Bainbridge goals were scored by Eyrich (four), Nathan (three), Bannister (two), Sam Chapman (one), Harrison Villella (one) and Defawe (one).
The Rough Riders were ranked highly going into the tournament (just behind Bainbridge, in fact) but were something of a known quantity for the Spartans, being the first team they played this year, way back on Sept. 6, when the island squad beat them by just one goal. They were again beaten by Bainbridge later during a tournament, and then again more recently in a heated home match on Oct. 23, after which Gellert predicted the teams would meet again the semi-finals — which they did.
“We knew that even if it was close in the first half we could beat them in the second half,” Gellert said. “They’re a strong team; they’re really good at scoring goals and we had to play our best game, which we did.”
Roosevelt actually claimed the second-place spot in the title match last year, and were most definitely looking for another shot at Curtis. All that stood in their way, too bad for them, were the Spartans.
“We knew that they had been in that position before and we had to go out really mentally strong in order to play every minute of the game and not let them back in,” Gellert said.
The Roosevelt win thus earned the Spartans their first shot at the title in more than a decade, and put them in the pool opposite the ever impressive Curtis on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Though they were ultimately bested 14-6, Gellert said it didn’t feel like a loss.
“I think they were all just so excited to be in that game, and knowing that it’s a great experience for next year, and the year after that,” the coach said. “So, getting second place feels like a state championship.
“That’s where we set our goal and just being in that game against Curtis, who we respect a lot and they have mutual respect for us and our program. It was a fun game to be a part of,” she added.
Bainbridge goals in the final match were scored by Nathan (two), Bannister (two), Villella (one), and Nathaniel Lapin (one).
Jack Williams came through with a stunning 10 blocks in the cage.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Gellert said.
“We had turnovers and stuff like that, that Curtis capitalized on, but the first time we played them they crushed us in the second half, the second time we played them we held them through the third quarter and then they ran away with it in the fourth quarter. But this time, it was the second quarter that got us, but then it was 5-7 in the second half, but we’d let them get up by enough in the first half that we couldn’t fight out way back.”
Still, a message was surely sent.
Gellert had spoken earlier in the season about the paradigm shift required of the Spartans, no longer league underdogs but instead coming into their own as a regular force to be reckoned with. For any doubters, she said, this season proved Bainbridge deserves its reputation.
“From the general consensus I’ve gotten from other coaches and programs, I think everyone sees us as a contender for the next year, definitely, and they don’t even know what we have beyond that,” she said. “But we do, and I don’t really see the fall of Bainbridge water polo anytime soon.”
The six goals scored against Curtis were, in fact, all scored by underclassmen.
“I think it shows sort of the dynamic of our team,” Gellert said.
“We’re not looking to just captains or just seniors or just ‘leaders’ to win things for us, but that the whole season has been dedicated to this team dynamic of, when we’re in a team talk, everyone has a voice, not just the upperclassmen or the captain.”
In addition to the second place spot overall, several Spartans were singled out for individual honors this season.
Chapman and Eyrich were named to the First Team All-State roster; Defawe and Williams to Second Team.
Bannister and Nathan, a freshman and sophomore respectively, were All-State Honorable Mentions.
Gellert herself was named Coach of the Year, for the second straight season.
“It’s such an honor,” the coach said. “To know that I had this system that I believed in and all the boys bought in and it’s proving successful, and that other teams around the state are seeing how successful that mentality is, of respect and support.”