Steller defense from senior goalkeeper Michael Bannister combined with a steady offensive attack in the final three periods of the championship match against Newport sealed the biggest win of the season for Bainbridge Island Nov. 11, completing the Spartans’ return to the top as the 2023 water polo state champions.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect season for the club, who had found themselves on the losing end of the title match just last year. Head coach Kristen Gellert continued to credit the loss as the moment her team found the motivation to return to its winning ways once again.
“These boys put in so much, not just the last 12 weeks but over the last year,” she said. “Coming into this game last year and giving up the lead we had, it really lit a fire under us to come out and do what we just did.”
The Spartans came to the state bracket ready to play and win, flying by Sammamish 15-4 and doing the same against Mercer Island 13-3. The victories set up a championship date with Newport at Curtis High School, but early on, the final match had every appearance of turning into a shootout.
Bainbridge found itself clinging onto a narrow 5-3 lead after the first period. Senior Micah Webber kept Newport at bay with three goals of his own to lead his team, but it was clear the defense needed to be cleaned up.
Gellert admitted there was still some nervousness about the game turning into another 2022 incident, a blown lead to seat her team’s fate, but she knew her players could continue returning to form as they had all year long. “I think we just settled in, and we were able to rely on condition. Our team has focused on fundamentals every single day, so we knew that when we got tired, our go-to was going to be the right thing.”
Senior Rylan Hopp took over on the scoring front for Bainbridge in the second period, tallying three goals of his own while Bannister kept all shots out of the net. Just like that, the Spartans had a more comfortable 9-3 lead at the break.
It was the efforts of her three seniors that Gellert said brought them to where they were that night, men that she commended for their leadership and willingness to play the game. “They are incredible athletes, incredible teammates and leaders. I’m just so proud that I got to be a part of what we just did and how they led us there,” she said.
Any attempts to rally from Newport were quickly snuffed out by the Spartans, and in no time, Gellert found herself cannonballing into the pool to join her team in celebration of the 12-6 win. “It’s not something I really practiced,” she laughed. “It was just in the moment.”