Boys Water Polo Gears Up For an Irregular Spring Season


Amitis Tajallaei, Staff Writer 

 As Orange County has continued to remain in the purple tier, which has the most severe COVID restrictions, the chances of a season have seemed grim for many high-contact sports. However, with the distribution of vaccines and declining cases, the BoysWater Polo team is starting to prepare for the possibility of a season after a long year of uncertainty. 
Throughout the year, the team has continued to stay in shape with off-season practices. These practices follow strict guidelines such as staggering pool lanes, implementing no contact drills, and requiring students to wear masks while using the weight room. While these guidelines help ensure the players’ safety, they also pose a significant challenge to carrying out effective practices.
“The toughest setback of this season has been not being able to have full contact in practice,” senior Stewart Campbell said. “The practices have been less productive than previous years because we are not able to practice in-game scenarios or have scrimmages.”
Although the restrictions on practices have limited the types of drills that can be used to hone the players’ skills, the team has taken a new approach this offseason by modifying old exercises to comply with the guidelines.
“We have reworked the Shots on Movement drills to eliminate passing, so we can still work on fast-paced shooting,” junior Jaden Chen said. “We’ve also heavily focused the Six-on-Five drills, which allows us to work out game scenarios while still keeping our space.”
“Shots on Movement” is a drill where a player transitions between the five water polo positions, taking a shot at each post. The player has the ball passed to them when they arrive at their new position, and the balls are shagged (or retrieved) by teammates. With this year’s restrictions, players are responsible for shagging their balls, dribbling between positions, and shooting. The second drill mentioned is “Six-onive”, which occurs when one player is ejected on defense. This drill improves defensive skill and can be done from a distance.
In addition to off-season practices provided by Girls and Boys Water Polo coach Jesse Briggs, many players in more advanced levels have taken the initiative to refine their skills outside of the UHS team.
“On top of the high school practice, a few of my teammates and I have been playing club water polo to get prepared for our season,” Campbell said.
Although the team has been rapidly adapting to the new conditions and limits they have to work within, these challenges have served as a source of discouragement for many players who were under the impression that they would perform routine practices. Senior and Water Polo captain Matt Wallin expressed his frustration with the loss of motivation that has occurred as a result.
“The toughest setback of the off-season was watching Liam [Horan] let himself go,” Wallin said.
Many aspects contributed to the players’ discouraging outlook on this season. Some mentioned the disappointment of not being able to advance to CIFs, while others highlighted the impact of the constant postponements on team spirit. While most players felt that the practices effectively kept them in shape, Wallin offered a different perspective.
“Practices have been a pretty big waste of time due to not being able to do anything water polo-related,” Wallin said. “ Not being able to have defense makes it hard for the goalies to do anything.”
Though there is some disagreement on how worthwhile practices have been during the pandemic, the team collectively expressed their readiness for the upcoming season. Players applauded Coach Briggs for his efforts to provide them with the best possible instruction, considering this season’s circumstances.
“I feel like our coach has prepared us super well for the upcoming season,” freshman Oleg Shatskikh said. We all have been super supportive of one another. Each of us has been super hard-working during practice as well.” 
On top of feeling prepared, the players look forward to a possible season after many months of unpredictability, giving seniors in particular hope for the chance to play with their teammates again.
“It has been almost a year since I’ve last played a real game,” Campbell said. “I am also looking forward to being able to finish off my water polo career at UHS on a positive note.”