By: Jessica Lin, Athletics Editor and Chief of Media
Mills Boys Varsity Water Polo team dominated their 2018 season, making CCS for the second time in the team’s history. Captained by Bryan Chan (12), Michael Fearon (11) and Rhys Girouard (12), and coached by Polly Wiard (Staff), the boys won every League match in their Ocean Division, a stellar accomplishment that resulted from utmost dedication to the sport. The League record is 12-0, and Mills will be moving up to Bay Division next season, joining schools such as Burlingame High and Menlo-Atherton High.
This year’s success has been long-awaited, especially for the seniors on the team who are thrilled for their record-breaking season. Girouard, who started water polo eight years ago after watching his older brother excel at the sport, was the only freshman to make the Varsity team four years ago. Although he has remained on Varsity, he is no longer the same player that he was, commenting that he has “improved a lot … I started out defensive, but now, I’ve taken on more of an offensive role.” Astoundingly, during their Senior Night match against Terra Nova High on October 16th, Girouard scored a buzzer-beater half-court goal, ending the match 15-2 to Mills. Co-Captain Chan seconds Girouard’s statement, recalling his first ever season of water polo on the Junior Varsity team four years ago, which ignited his passion for the sport. He attended every practice and match, furiously learning the basics of the game. His dedication to the team and his eight years of club swimming at Burlingame Aquatics Club easily earned him a call-up to Varsity late Freshman year and guarantee his spot the following season. However, senior Viking Nathaniel Chu (12) was arguably the most exhilarated by the team’s success due to his shoulder injury last year that kept him from competing alongside his teammates. Chu had to endure a lot of physical therapy, relearning the most fundamental skills such as swimming and holding the ball properly.
This year’s success is also “a lot more of last year’s hard work” as Girouard notes. Since there were no senior players on the team last season, the year’s team essentially consists of the same players, with the exception of a handful of new underclassmen. Even though they did not go undefeated last year, it did not matter to the team because they knew that it was simply a build-up to this year, a chance to build a strong, solid foundation for the future. Many of their practices were focused on individual and team techniques and skills, while this season’s practices gave the team a chance to fine-tune any weaknesses that were prevalent last year and perfect their collaborative skills in the pool. The familiarity and comradery between the teammates gave the team a heavy advantage. While most teams spent half of their season attempting to figure out the most effective and efficient team dynamic, the boys already knew which combination of plays and athletes would reap in the most success.
Every Varsity player contributed to their team’s overall success, from the starters to the substitutes. Although “substitute” generally has a negative connotation, Chan stressed the importance of their presence on the team. The season prior, the Varsity team composed of a mere seven boys, the usual number of players in the pool at one time. Without substitutes, the boys were forced to play the entire game. It did not matter if they were more skilled than their opponents; their speed and fresh energy off the bench was, as Chan commented “… very difficult to contend against, especially knowing there wasn’t someone to replace you.” Even though it was especially difficult for the non-swimmers on the team, the club swimmers struggled as well, exhaustion playing a factor in their losses. On the other hand, not having substitutes did have its benefits as the team was coerced into rapidly building up their endurance in order to stay in the game.
Although the team quickly established the fact that Mills was the school to beat in the first few weeks, the second half of the season was when the Vikings really hit their stride. Against Aragon on October 9th, the goal difference held strong at fifteen, a six-goal addition from their previous meeting a few weeks prior. On October 11th, during the match against San Mateo High, the audience was treated to an offensive clinic, with every single Mills player scoring; the final score was 19-1. Their closest match during the season was their first game against Sequoia High, where Mills barely pulled out the win with the final score of 9-8. However, the second time the two teams faced off on October 18th, Mills easily came out on top, defeating their rival 10-3. The successes continued into playoffs, Mills placing fourth overall against Bay Division schools and securing their spot in the Championship Bracket.
Co-Captain Fearon, who averages five goals each match according to Coach Wiard, commends his team for a great season and is hopeful that the momentum of this year’s success will propel the team forward next year. Although he is feeling sad about not being able to play with the four senior players next season (Joey Borges (12) played for Mills, but attends middle college), Fearon does not believe that it will “…affect the power level of team,” especially if the boys continue to condition during the off-season. Strength training is the main area Fearon would like to focus on next season, reflecting that the losses this season in CCS Championships and non-League matches were primarily due to the overwhelming strength of their opponents, though the boys definitely put up their strongest fight and shocked their opponents with their goals. Defensive tactics will also need to be heavily addressed next season as Girouard, Chan, and Chu are “…the best defensive players I know.” Finally, his choice for the star players goes to Girouard, whom he has played water polo for five years. Fearon praises his co-captain as “a model team player” whose work ethic, communication skills, and consistency were of utmost value to the team.
Coach Wiard encourages students who “ … love to swim and especially learn a new sport …” to try out for the team next year, both the Boys and Girls team. Athletes should not be discouraged by the triumphs of this season and feeling the pressure to uphold their record. Though challenging, water polo is a great sport for students that are looking to play a team sport, comfortable in the water, and enjoy the physicality of contact sports such as water polo. Disclaimer: you do not have to be a swimmer to play!
Congratulations, Vikings, on your prosperous season! The Thunderbolt proudly acknowledges your tenacious and passionate spirit, and wish you the best of luck next season, whether you will be representing Mills again or competing for a spot on a college team!