The Spartans battled back from an early deficit Tuesday to score a 13-11 win against their visiting rivals from Mercer Island in a tense and scrappy Senior Night boys water polo match.
The varsity squad has handily bested most challengers this season (glaring at you, Curtis) but this latest win meant more than just an elevated season record. It being Mercer made the Senior Night victory all the sweeter.
“We always get up for Mercer,” said BHS Head Coach Kristin Gellert. “There’s just something there.”
What is there, of course, is a longtime, multifaceted and multi-sport rivalry.
“They have been top in the state, we’ve been top in the state, it’s always a good game,” Gellert said.
“It’s a fun rivalry now because the Mercer Island coach [Calvin White] is a Bainbridge alum. His parents were here [tonight], they still live on the island. He was on the first Bainbridge team, he coached for JV Bainbridge long ago, and I played club team for him over in Seattle when I was in high school. It’s fun to get to see him and coach against him.”
As intertwined as their leaders may be, the two squads are decidedly different animals in the pool.
“They play a very different game than we do,” Gellert said. “We try to be fast and creative and they’re much more physical and they focus on that style, so it’s always a sweet victory.”
Sweet it was, but that was the aftertaste remaining after a sour start.
The visitors blasted off the bench and got ahead fast Tuesday, catching BHS by surprise and leading 6-2 at the end of the first quarter.
The Spartans had closed the gap to trail by just one goal (7-6) at halftime, and though the third saw them playing better (they tied it up 7-all with about five minutes left, and left things 9-all going into the fourth) it was in the final minutes of the game the home team really poured on the gas.
Goals were scored by Jacques Defawe (four), Gabe Nathan (three), Nate Lapin (two), Oskar Bannister (two), Harrison Villella (one) and Thomas Defawe (one).
Perhaps the fine finale wasn’t a surprise, actually. Everybody knows this particular batch of Spartans are closers.
“We’re a fourth-quarter team, always have been,” Gellert said.
“We train really hard to keep our endurance up. In bigger pools, it’s better for us because we get to tire them out faster. So we just know that we do the work in the first three quarters to reap the benefits in the fourth. And they know it; the fourth quarter is where we thrive, so they have the confidence going into it.”
That endurance also helped the Spartans regroup a bit and implement a plan.
“We picked up on their game plan and were able to capitalize on that, and I think we woke up a little bit,” Gellert said. “We came out pretty slow and unaware, but they snapped into the game that we wanted to play.
“We started shutting down their players that we’d talked about shutting down and then we actually did our game plan.”
It was, in a way, the most tense game of the year, the coach said, though perhaps not the most beneficial overall.
“At the PSP invite we lost to Curtis by one, which was really fun,” she said. “This game was different, because we had to battle back from a very weak first quarter.
“There was one Newport loss [on Oct. 7] that we had, but I feel like it was the best thing to happen to our season,” the coach added, “because it woke us up. No one can be overlooked and we have to come to every game. That loss, we had a really intentional shift in our energy after that.”
Things will come to a head quickly for the Spartans now, with the state tournament bracket getting more set all the time. They traveled to replay Curtis on Thursday, having been bested by the perennial championship contenders on Sept. 17, and will then play Ingraham, also on the road, Monday, Oct. 28.
Finally, a non-league outing at Gig Harbor on Oct. 29 will close the season, and then there is a short break before the championship tourney is set to begin on Thursday, Nov. 14 at Curtis High School.
“It feels like we were just in preseason and then all of a sudden we’re staring state in the face,” Gellert said Tuesday. “I think we’ll face Roosevelt in the semis again, if seeding shakes out. This has been a really weird season of wins and losses across the board. One team beats another team by a lot and then loses to a team they should beat, so it’s been kind of crazy. State can be anyone’s game.”
Tuesday also saw the squad’s four upperclassmen — Jack Williams, Clay Jablonski, Marshall Whittlesey, and Thomas Defawe — recognized.
“They’re an amazing group of guys,” Gellert said of the seniors. “I had asked them each how long they’d been playing … 28 years of experience between the four of them; it’s crazy.
“They bring a lot of knowledge, a lot of passion, a lot of hard work,” she added. “They’re great leaders. None of them are super loud, like rah-rah macho guys, but they all lead the team in hard work, dedication, motivation, and passion for the sport, passion for their teammates.
“These guys are all such good friends it does feel like a family.”