The South Pasadena High School girls varsity water polo team is setting its sights on the postseason, of course, but also is looking at getting the younger players the necessary experience to execute as a single unit, which – even if winning is not part of the scenario – if accomplished will be considered a worthwhile season.
First-year head coach of the varsity squad, Sean Grab, explained.
“I think we have a really good group,” Grab said last week prior to a preseason game against La Serna, which they lost, 9-8. “We have a close-knit group that comes with a wide variety of experience. We have three new varsity players out of nine. We only have nine girls on varsity right now. The rest are returning from last year…I think the biggest thing we need to work on is really filling in the holes that these younger girls lack in experience in terms of game-play and then level of physicality against opponents that are bigger than us.”
Last year, as a Division 3 squad they lost in the first round of CIF, which was disappointing, but the fact that they made CIF postseason is a benchmark this year’s team can use for motivation. They were tied for second place in league play and, after a coin toss, were relegated to third place. All of which is motivation for the upcoming season.
“We do really well with maturity in terms of buckling down to practice and train to get done things we need to get done,” Grab said. “Emotional maturity is also one of our strengths this year in terms of really being able to just maintain our composure during games and not panic when things get out of our control. I actually think that’s one of our strengths thus far.”
The squad has an uneven preseason record so far at 4-4. In some games the squad is hitting on all cylinders while in others it is clear there is work to be done.
The La Serna match saw the Tigers start slow but mount a furious comeback before falling just short.
The biggest challenge for the Tigers is the limited number of girls on the team.
“Everybody has to play because our numbers are small,” Grab said. “We don’t go very deep. We condition almost every day. We have to. We have to maintain our condition at this level. Honestly, we are really doing a very good job of that.”
Moreover, half the squad is still learning the game and is in need of more experience, game-play experience, Grab said.
“I think in order for us to be complete and actually find success this year, we have to foster and nurture that growth in that younger group,” he said. “I would say about half, four to five of our players, even some returners need just a little more game-play experience against higher-level teams. Division 3 is a strong division. We face groups that are, in terms of numbers, a lot bigger than us, as well as in terms of just size and physicality.”
Because of the limited numbers of players, Grab said, the squad has to excel in every area of the game. He believes they can accomplish that.
“What I want to accomplish this year is what the girls see as success,” Grab said. “I think making playoffs, having a winning record in league are all great things but I think as a group being able to establish a culture with a great work ethic, foster an environment for learning and for these girls to really grow and progress as players will make me the happiest. Obviously winning is great. I love that but in order to do that we need to continue to build our culture as a group.”