Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

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Rebuilding the Squad

This past season, the Palo Alto High School boys’ varsity water polo team jump-started its new program with a squad of 14 athletes; nearly half of which were underclassmen. Given the circumstances and an understanding of the lack of size, skill and experience in the roster, the team came together to learn the ropes. With the future in mind, the team set off to rebuild the program that placed as finalists in the Central Coast Section (CCS) for the last two years. Luckily, alongside a strong and experienced coaching staff, the team had the opportunity to learn from four-year returning player, leading scorer and captain, Bobby Abbott (’10). Beyond tactical skills that could simply be taught to the young squad, Abbott had what the team needed most to find their way to success ( experience at the varsity level.

Coming out of consecutive winning seasons with a hefty senior-dominated team, Abbott naturally mastered the ropes of the game after putting away goals one after another alongside Paly All-League MVP Tim Wenzlau (’09)

“Tim [Wenzlau] and I played together for a while so we knew how to get the job done,” Abbott said. “We were kind of a dynamic duo because of the way the game played through us in front of the goal.”

After reflecting upon last year’s squad, Abbott acknowledged how having a tightly-knit core group of seniors helped to frame the team’s style of play and kept the team close together in and out of the pool. Given that, Abbott stepped up to lead the team as captain this year, passing on his experience to strengthen the team chemistry and skill set. Through building the team, Abbott will leave the program with yet another rising core group of seniors; an aspect that next year’s squad will greatly benefit from.

“This year, we are going to continue to try and strengthen our younger players so by next year we’ll have a bigger fleet of seniors, and then the following year we’ll have those players lead the team,” varsity water polo player Josh Rapperport (’11) said. “It’s just a building process in making sure that the younger players have the time to get their skills up and gain experience.”

Abbott, as well as many other players, recognizes that the team this year came together quickly and had to see beyond the grade differences to develop into more of a unit by the end of the season. From day one, Abbott helped rebuild the team chemistry and gained the players’ respect through his ability to communicate productively and positively, both in and out of the water.

“We listen to him [Abbott] when he has something to say,” returning player Jack Smale (’11) said. “He always knows what he’s talking about and keeps the team’s best interest in mind. Bobby understands when it’s time to mess around and when it’s time to be serious and get to work.”

The 2009 Vikings approached the season with a clear understanding that this year would be unique in Paly’s water-polo history. Under the circumstances, the team accepted that they simply could not match the skill and experience of last year’s lineup but nevertheless making it into CCS was still possible.

“First and foremost we want to rebuild the program but I expect that we will make our way into CCS this year,” head coach Giovanni Napolitanno said. “We have the potential to make it [into CCS].”

Coming into the season, the squad felt that the lack of unity compared to last year was largely due to grade differences between the players. Although off to an awkward start, the team came together quickly in the games and focused more on their common grounds rather than age differences to strengthen the team chemistry.

“In the beginning of the school year, the freshman knew each other from 8th grade and naturally stuck together,” assistant varsity coach Craig Rockhold said. “Then they played, became part of the team and their the relationships have built because of that. So, it’s pretty cool when you consider that 14 year olds and near 18 year olds getting along and playing together. I have not once seen players getting down on each other.”

In the pool, the team has felt the shift in its physical presence from last year’s starting squad of six seniors and a junior to this year’s variety line-up of players from each grade. Notably, the team had to adjust to the loss of 6’4″, two-year varsity goalkeeper George Kadifa (’09) and recognize rising sophomore Daniel Armitano (’12). Armitano had to quickly fill in the large shoes Kadifa left behind.

“George was obviously a consistent goalie all of last year largely in part to his size and experience at the varsity level,” Smale said. “But Daniel has also done a great job showing constant improvement in front of the cage.”

Beyond the physical size of the team, Abbott sees the lack of experience amongst the players as the biggest hindrance in the team’s ability to close out games and secure wins. This season Abbott tried to pass on his understanding of the game to the squad by approaching players individually and leading by example.

“Last season [Wenzlau] and Jeremy [Kim] (’09) directed traffic in the pool but now I have to,” Abbott said. “Defensively, I help the team by telling players where to be on counters and how to adjust to different offensive attacks. I try and lead by example a lot of the time, and usually the team figures it out.”

The team has grown with experience throughout the course of the season by learning from their mistakes in close-call losses. While struggling to snap out of a losing streak early in the season, the players began to lose confidence in themselves, but understood that at some point enough was enough. At Los Gatos, the team fell apart after giving up weak goals early in the match and surrendered a 17-7 loss. When push came to shove, the young team simply did not return the favor after teams like Los Gatos began to build momentum and mentally break them apart.

“We didn’t come prepared to play a full 28 minutes of water polo and they shut us down for the start,” Rapperport said. “We had nothing to say back.”

After the loss at Los Gatos, the team assessed their losses and identified their weaknesses: attitude and focus.

“We needed to restore the confidence in the team and have more focus and preparation before games so that we can put away teams who aren’t better than us and only win easy unchallenged matches,” Rapperport said.

Specifically, the team solidified its defensive presence in the pool and worked to build up offensive attacks that structured less around Abbott, the go-to man, and more towards a unified front.

“I think [the offense] is more spread out [this year],” Abbott said. “Last year it was a two man wrecking team [Abbott and Wenzlau], but this year it’s mainly focused around me. Usually, when the team is shutting me down though, everyone will step up, come together and score.”

Although Abbott did not meet his goal to reach 100 personal goals this season, he has unquestionably remained the leading scorer for the team as the starting driver utility-man. After the last match of the season against Mountain View at Gunn High School in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League tournament to qualify for CCS, Abbott put away his last goal of his 85 this season. Regardless of the team’s consistent progress throughout the season, they couldn’t manage to pull through, losing 10-6 after failing to keep it’s composure in the fourth quarter

“We came out weak and didn’t seem like we really wanted to play,” varsity water polo player Michael Kori (’13) said.

Despite the tough loss and overall losing record, the squad managed to close out the season with accomplished goals and high hopes for 2010. Now, with strong rising seniors and a further developed lineup, the boys will take advantage of their experience from this season to come out fired-up and ready to lead the program back to the top.

“We all have expirience playing with eachother at a very competitive level now and we are going to convert that team chemistry into a great season,” Smale said. “I can’t wait for next year to see what we’ll be able to do.”

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About the Contributor
Sam Greene
Sam Greene, Copy Editor
Sam Greene studies at the Univesity of California, Berkeley. He joined the journalism program at Palo Alto High School in 2008  and has been writing for himself and professional publications ever since.   While working with the Viking Magazine he enjoyed polishing and buffing up its array of award-winning pieces. With his free time he follows artists, practices medicine, blends smoothies and climbs mountains. In his soccer career he played for Palo Alto Blue 93B State Champion team and Nationally renowned soccer club. With his free time he familiarizes himself with stringed instruments and trains for triathlons.  A dedicated Sharks fan, Sam bleeds and teal and sees his team clinching the playoff in his lifetime.

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