PREP WATER POLO : HEMET ON CUSP OF TITLE
IT MAY BE BANNER DAY
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A board hangs above the Hemet High School pool, displaying the years of triumph its aquatics teams have enjoyed. But a scan of the girls water polo section brings a realization — the Bulldogs have gone too long without a league title.
Hemet was one of the better teams in the Inland Empire as it collected five straight league championships (1998-2002). Outside of their last league title in 2007, the Bulldogs have seen a dramatic drop-off in the success they’ve had in league play. First-year head coach Travis Henderson plans to rectify the situation.
“We’re not judged by what we’ve done in the past,” Henderson said during Friday’s practice. “We’re measured by what we’ve done lately. Until this year, it hasn’t been much.”
Now Hemet (16-7) is off to one of its hottest starts as it carries a 5-0 league record into today’s match against Mountain Pass League foe Hemet Tahquitz. The Bulldogs will secure their first league title in five years if they can beat Tahquitz for the third time this season.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard to see ‘2012’ posted above our pool,” senior captain Megan Richardson said, who leads the team with 106 goals. “It will be an emotional moment for a lot of the players since we’ve put so much effort in to improving as a team.”
For many of the girls, team philosophy was not something they were entirely accustomed to. Though the Bulldogs had an impressive year in 2011 (second place at 6-3 in league), once coach Henderson took the helm, he knew that changes needed to be made if they were going to make any improvements.
“A lot of the girls on the team last year were firstyear players,” Henderson said. “Many of them had never even played water polo before . We had to go back to the basics.”
Before the season started, Henderson initiated a new plan for the Bulldogs — hard work. They now hold morning practices every day and wear weight belts during afternoon practices, something none of the players were used to.
“We had too much talent on the team to not play better than we have,” Henderson said. “I don’t even have to tell them what to do anymore, they just go to work.”
But waking up early and strapping on belts weren’t the only things Henderson knew his team would have to work on.
Heading into the new season, the team put together a short list of goals. The most important of which was to beat Beaumont — a team it lost to three times last year.
“We knew we were going to have to get over that hump if we wanted to have a good year,” junior Shelbi Skinner said. “It was a great moment for the team when we were able to beat them.”
Hemet has beaten the Cougars twice this season, including a 10-3 win behind six goal from Richardson in the teams’ second meeting of the season.
“It’s been a turnaround season for us,” Richardson said. “But we won’t settle on just beating Beaumont. We’re going to be league champs this year, and that’s a big deal for the girls and our school.”