Shannon Yancey

Press file photo

Heritage’s water polo coach Shannon Yancey, seen here with her former junior varsity squad, will move up to the head varsity position this season.

The Heritage girls’ water polo team didn’t have to look far to find its next varsity water polo coach — she was already a part of the program.

Shannon Yancey, the Patriots three-year junior varsity head coach, will rise to the varsity position, replacing the six-year head coach Jeff Lapum, who recently resigned.

“We are very excited about her connection with the girls, her connection to the program, and we are also excited to maintain the consistency to the strong tradition that we have built,” said Athletic Director Nate Smith.

Yancey, a 16-year Liberty Union High School District physical education teacher currently at Heritage, figures to make the team’s coaching transition as fluid as possible.

She’s currently a teacher at the school; she’s been a fixture on the varsity team’s bench for years; her daughter, Makeila, is a squad member; and the Yancey family lives in the same neighborhood with at least four current team members.

“(Jeff Lapum) called me over to his house and sat me down two separate times and said, ‘Shannon, you just need to go for the varsity position,’” Yancey said. “’You are the one to do it, you know the most, you know these girls, you know our program.’ It just seemed to be that natural fit.”

Yancey will inherit a perennial powerhouse squad, which, under Lapum, posted a winning record in all six league seasons by winning the program’s first league title in 2016; its first North Coast Section crown in 2018; and finished its league slate a combined 32-1, over the last four years.

Luckily for the Patriots, Yancey is no stranger to sustained success, herself.

During an eight-year stint on the USA wrestling team in the 1990s, she garnered one world championship, four national championships and four world silver medals. She also coached wrestling internationally for several years and won a live tour of hit TV series ‘American Gladiators.’

However, years later, fate, family and a coincidence have switched her focus toward the acclaimed water sport.

Yancey says district officials long urged her to enter the high school coaching ranks.

Water polo eventually won out when several of Yancey’s youth-water-polo-playing neighbors began persuading the family to have Yancey’s two soccer-loving daughters play polo.

Soccer and water polo had traditionally overlapped — preventing inclusion in the water sport — until Yancey’s oldest daughter reached high school, when by chance, Heritage’s junior varsity water polo coaching position had also opened up.  

Then varsity girls’ water polo head coach at the time, Jeff Lapum, just happened to live near the Yancey family, which sealed her entrance into the sport.

“Jeff said it would be the best fit ever,” Yancey said. “‘Your girls want to play; you and I live right next to each other. We could strategize, we could plan, we could be on the same page. I think you really should go for it.’ I took the job knowing Jeff and I could run the program well together.”

The duo saw the program soar to new heights, a trend Yancey hopes to continue.

Like many sports, the water polo team recently jumped into offseason work for about six weeks in county and district-approved small group camps. However, all such activities have since halted, after three district students tested positive for COVID-19, apparently contracted outside of their county health services-approved workout pods. 

While many Patriots are continuing non-school club water polo team activities, Yancey has resorted to group texting her players, in order to keep them apprised of developments and training individually.

The players, meanwhile, are elated to have Yancey at the helm.

“The whole varsity team is excited that Shannon is the new coach,” said rising senior Ella Simone. “She has always been a teacher on campus that students really connect with. She’s been a coach and athletic trainer in the past so she is bringing a lot of new aspects to the team. The team is just excited to have a positive coach that is going to push us in a way that is going to make up stronger in the water and better people overall.”

It’s unclear when district-approved outdoor sports camps will continue, but California’s high school sports governing body is hoping that the water polo season can commence near the end of the year, with official first-day of practice dates set for mid-December.

“Our girls were looking good and strong, and they were happy for the season,” Yancey said.” We are going to continue with that as soon as they give us the go-ahead to get back in there. We just have to follow protocol as to when we can begin passing balls and shooting balls and all that great stuff. Hopefully, that will come in the winter months.”

For now, the team’s future looks bright.

The squad is slated to return seven of eight all-league members from last year’s squad, including first-team members Kayla Longoria and Simone; second-teamers Caleigh Quist and Kylie Murphy and an honorable-mention to members Elly Longoria, Makeila Yancey and Kendall McCallum.

“We are just praying every day that it works out, because this is going to be a great year,” Yancey said.