Water polo seems a bit like the platypus of sports, combining several sports into one – with the added challenge of doing it while suspended in water. And although it can resemble a fun frolic in the pool, especially on a triple-digit day, it can be serious business for the athletes.
“It’s a cross between soccer, basketball and rugby,” said Chris Rose, head coach of the Liberty High girls water polo team. “It’s one of the most demanding sports in terms of conditioning, because you’re not playing in your natural element. It’s a very physical game, both for the boys and girls. A lot of stuff is going on under the water that you don’t see – punching, kicking. You need to have a little bit of aggressiveness to be successful in this sport.”
The Lady Lions had a decent amount of success last season, winning five of their eight league games to come in second, and finishing 13-11 overall. “Anytime you have a winning season, that’s good,” said Rose, who helped start Liberty’s water polo program in 1997, played at San Jose State and played in high school under a coach who played on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team.
Liberty lost only two seniors to graduation, so Rose anticipates being competitive this season.
“In terms of league this year, there’s four teams that have a realistic chance of winning the division title on the girls side: Liberty, Freedom, Deer Valley and Heritage,” he said. “It’s one of those years where it’s actually pretty wide open. Deer Valley won last year – they went 8 and 0, but they lost a lot of their key players. They had a real good coach who decided he had enough. This year we are going to rise and fall with the leadership from basically five girls who I am counting on to be the leaders for this team.”
Those players are co-captains Elizabeth Day and Kaitlyn Homsten, who play the hole-defense and hole-set positions, respectively, as well as goalie Reyna Elemen, hole-defense Kianna Gendotti and hole-set Lindsey Hull.
“So far I’m impressed with everybody,” said Rose. “I’m stressing the team element this year. It’s more important to win and play as a team than having individual stars. Water polo is a team sport. If you’re going to have success you need to win as a team and have everybody on the team buy into that.”
Anyone who thinks water polo is just an excuse to splash and throw a ball around in a pool should try the Liberty team’s double-day practice schedule last week, which Rose dubbed “hell week.” The morning practice starts at 6 a.m. and consists of swimming 3,000 yards until 7 a.m. Afternoon practice is from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and consists of more lap swimming along with working on skills such as passing, shooting and defense.
“They’re just a good group of kids,” said Rose. “One thing I have noticed over the years, the kind of girls that gravitate to water polo and put up with the double-days and all of the swimming tend to be the high-achievers. It’s a demanding sport. It tends to attract the kind of girls who are driven and high-achieving.”
Liberty’s boys and girls water polo teams’ seasons started Wednesday against Freedom High, the results of which were not available at press time. Their next league game is at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at Deer Valley High.