High hopes for water polo

Alex Watson, Staff Writer

The LBJ water polo season is about to come to a close, which means both the boys and girls teams are facing four days of tough competition. Skilled opponents and frigid pools stand between them and victory. According to LASA senior and team captain Bryce Yeazell, the last leg of the season is often an important factor in determining how the team finishes in rankings.
The two tournaments of the water polo championship season are regionals and state. While sports like swimming have a district competition to determine the seeding for regionals, water polo uses the games played throughout the season. The boys team was undefeated before regionals, so they were the No. 1 seed going into the tournament, and the girls team was the No. 3 seed.
There are seven other high schools in the west region, and the Jags will find out which teams they’ll be playing before the tournament begins. At regionals, they usually have to play two games, and the top four teams from regionals are able to advance to state. Yeazell said that there’s a lot of pressure in the first round because it’s the game that really determines whether or not you make state.
“Regionals is sort of double elimination and sort of single elimination,” Yeazel said. “If you win your first round, you move on to the best four teams, and if you lose the first game, you’re automatically out of state. Then you play another round to see what place you get, but either way, you’re still not going to state.”
The water polo team has been around for five years, and while the girls team hasn’t made state in the past, the boys have qualified twice. Last year, however, they came in fifth at regionals after being upset by Cedar Park. Sean Murray, who coaches the boys team, said they were seeded to win, but they were too confident. This year, he hoped to avoid the same mistake.
“We can beat any team at any given time, but any team can beat us if we’re not playing to our best,” Murray said. “It’s really easy for a team to just think, ‘Oh, this is an easy team we’ve beat before’ and then get surprised. That’s a big thing for us.”
This year, the team has made several changes to improve their playing ability. Yeazel said they’ve worked especially hard this season to bring the team together and improve their game.
“A lot of other years, we’ve had one top scorer,” Yeazel said. “We still definitely have our guys that score, but I’d say we have more like five or six guys scoring a lot of our goals. I think we’re a lot more balanced as a team.”
The team also welcomed LASA science teacher Allie Hill as a new coach this year. Murray said this has really helped the team and enhanced his own coaching ability.
“In years past, it’s only been me for both the guys and the girls teams,” Murray said. “This year, Coach Hill is helping out, and it’s been a lot easier because she likes to do a lot of the administrative stuff. She handles almost all the team planning, which is really cool, and then she coaches the girls, so I can just focus on the guys.”
Leading up to regionals and state, the team focused on training hard and being prepared. Hill said the most important factor in the team’s performance is attendance.
“Big emphasis on getting to practice, which is hard because we’re kind of in this whole testing thing right now,” Hill said. “Every practice we’re preparing for game situations, making sure we’re doing the little things right, working hard and just trying to prepare our overall game.”
Given that the teams were No. 1 seed and No. 3 seed, respectively, both teams were very confident in their ability to make state. Michael Wallace, another boys team captain, said their main goal was to do well at regionals and see what they could do at state.
“We hope to win the region,” Wallace said. “We’re seeded to win the region so far, and we hope to set a new record and be the first west region [team] to ever win a game at state.”