Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review - The Bainbridge High School varsity boys water polo team works through a set of drills during a recent practice session.

Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review - The Bainbridge High School varsity boys water polo team works through a set of drills during a recent practice session.

Looking to lead: BHS boys set sights on sweeping D1 water polo season | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

Don’t accept less than you expect.

That’s been the guiding mantra of the Bainbridge High School varsity boys water polo team’s season so far. And even though official practices only just began, and not a match has been played yet, based on past performances and early indications the swift slippery Spartan squad has every reason expect a lot.

“I’m so excited for this season,” said returning longtime BHS Head Coach Kristin Gellert.

This is actually Gellert’s second dynasty within the program’s history. She previously put in four years before stepping away for a brief hiatus and then ultimately returning five seasons ago.

“Last year was the first year that I had the seniors who started with me as a freshman,” she said.

In that time, the Spartans have come to be known as regular state contenders and a nearly perpetual presence in the final bracket.

So far, this year is shaping up much the same.

“We have so much to work on, but the fact that there’s so much knowledge in the pool right now, it’s pretty incredible to be in your second week talking about team strategy and team defense and different things like that and not ‘Water Polo 101,’” the coach said.

The team is already focused on advanced technique, and practicing a shifting offensive strategy.

“To be talking about that sort of stuff this early on in the season is a pretty incredible thing,” Gellert said. “They have some incredible goals and they’re willing to work hard for them.”

This year’s robust roster includes some 30 Spartans from across the gamut of grades, including five seniors.

“We have a couple newbies; some upperclassmen. I’d say it’s fairly balanced,” Gellert said.

In the pool, the the squad is led by senior co-captains Marshall Whittlesey and goalie Jack Williams, both well known names among Spartan sports fans.

“We ask that they be the most of everything — the most dedicated, the most on time, the most supportive. And these guys are,” Gellert said. “They have been in the past and I have no doubt they will continue to be that for the team.”

Schedule-wise, the Spartans are slated for only two non-league matches this season and a whole slew of home outings up front — which is both good and bad, according to the coach.

“It’s a lot of long nights at the end of the season when they’re in school, deeper into school,” she said. “It is what it is, just like anything.”

Perhaps more critically, the Spartans are set to face their primary competition — Roosevelt and Curtis High School — twice each this season, and fairly soon, too.

“I think Curtis will be our biggest competitor; being a deep bench, they’re fast,” Gellert said. “No matter how things shape up, we want those [matches] at the beginning so you know exactly what you need to work on.”

Wish granted.

The island team will face Roosevelt in their second match of the year

(7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at home) and Curtis in their very next outing (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, also at home).

However, things won’t be a complete surprise for the Spartans by then, as they will also face both teams, among others, in the season kickoff jamboree — a kind of unofficial round robin-type of event — at Curtis on Saturday, Sept. 7.

“That’ll be good to see,” Gellert said.

It will also be a good chance to try out the team’s new offensive strategy.

“In the past, last year, we ran more of a movement offense to try to not be stagnant and not rely on one person, which worked out really well for us,” Gellert said. “Now, we’re going to more of a traditional setup. We have a lot of strength in the center of the cage.”

That’s like the center in basketball for you non-aquatic sports aficionados. The Spartans are beefing up their two-meter defense.

“If you can create a presence there it opens up your outside shooters more,” Gellert said. “We have a lot of strength there, guys who are willing to work hard in that position, so we’re going back to sort of a traditional offense — knowing that we can still switch it up and be a movement offense, too.”

Another thing that is working for the BHS squad this year: one heck of a summer training program.

“Most of these guys trained for the Junior Olympics this summer, so they’re in pretty good shape,” Gellert said.

Yes, indeed, there was little lounging by the pool this summer for these particular Spartans. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the club program took a pack of players to San Diego for some summertime competition.

“It was awesome,” Gellert said. “We took four teams this year, so they got some great experience down there and we’re going back to San Diego for a tournament in October, just a few weeks before State, so I think that’ll be a great test of skill against different opponents, different officials, different venues; sort of figure out some things we need to tighten up and just try to get out of our head a little bit.

“I think that will be clutch for us right there.”

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