By Carleen Surrena
The sun was bright on this October afternoon, creating a glare off the pool at the Las Positas College swim complex. It may be fall, but no clouds were among the powder-blue sky backdrop highlighting the rolling vineyards on the horizon. The women strapped on their caps and got the equipment out for another day at practice competing with the humming of water pumps and the smell of chlorine periodically whisked away by the gentle breeze.
In a t-shirt, shorts, sandals and sunglasses, coach Trevor Rose was not worried about the weather; his concern was the players preparing to take to the water.
“We need to get going ladies!” Rose said.
Rose is tough on them, but as the first-ever water polo team at LPC, the women are in a position to set the foundation for the program. It is a battle not only against their opponent but their own inexperience as well. Chemistry is developed as they go. One player, Gina Moeller, is learning the game, she’s never played water polo before.
Twelve women make up the first year roster of the Las Positas women’s water polo team. They are all taking growing pains one game at a time. There are no previous years to gauge how “good” the team may be. There is no chemistry established amongst the players to know each other’s moves in the water. It’s a brand new team. The team practices five times a week, unless there is a game, and sometimes those games take place on the weekends. The coast conference includes teams that have already established their women’s water polo teams and Las Positas will be joining the ranks to compete.
“It takes a strong desire to succeed,” said Rose, who played at University of California-Davis. “These girls come out every day, work hard and that’s what it takes. You have to respect these kids.”
The progress has been evident. The Hawks made their debut in the American River tournament in early September. They lost all three games, by a combined score of 46-11. In their next 10 games, though, they won four times.
The Hawks won their first game September 18, against Sacramento City 12-1 and have been able to beat a strong Deanza team twice and beat San Mateo 17-7. Leading goal scorers for the women’s team includes Charissa Taylor and Jillian Eicher.
On the surface, water polo appears graceful. It may even seem simple. But what many people don’t know is that’s not shallow water the players are standing in.
They are either swimming or treading water the entire game, which lasts on average about an hour and a half. But that’s too simple an explanation. They are constantly propelling their bodies, racing ahead to lead out of water to make a pass or shot and hustle for a loose ball. This is happening with lots of grabbing and holding under water, which the referee is supposed to be watching for from outside the water.
The water polo program was established by swim and dive coach Jason Craighead. Through a tumultuous process to get the program approved, Craighead approached 5 different committees in 6 weeks to inform them of what the program would entail.
“The main hurdles were funding,” said Craighead.
Fast-forward to today and those hurdles have been jumped. Funding was budgeted. The water polo teams have made their way onto the intercollegiate scene and are taking their first steps to build upon the foundation of the sport at Las Positas.
Water polo is not new to the high schools in the area. The schools consistently produce successful water polo teams each year. Instead of having to reach out to other community colleges like Ohlone or Diablo Valley, players can now look to Las Positas and take the opportunity to be a part of something new.
Several of the women played water polo in high school, but they’ve never played together. That matters because they are competing against programs that have been around for years. The Hawks are the new kids on the block.
Their stiffest test will come October 28. That’s when they travel to play Foothill College. That program is in its 15th season and features seven returning players. It’s ranked No. 3 in Northern California.
The playoffs are a long shot for the Hawks. But, again, the mission this season isn’t all about winning.
The Tri-Valley is a hotbed for water polo. Roses sees an opportunity for Las Positas to build into an attractive option for prep players looking to extend their athletic careers.
Rose said that he wants the environment to be simultaneously competitive, aggressive and friendly. This season could be the foundation of a quality, championship-level program in the future.
Las Positas athletic director Dyan Miller is extremely positive about the water polo program.
“I envision the water polo teams having lots of success going forward,” she said.