The Los Banos girls water polo team won the Western Athletic Conference last year under the hands-off coaching of Nathan Hansen. Now the Tigers are looking to repeat, this time under the direction of former Central Catholic coach Bo Halpin.
"I'd say we're a young team, but a young team with good veteran leadership," Halpin said. "Our seniors that we do have out, they're good, they're experienced, and they're great leaders on the team."
Halpin, whose father Bill Halpin was the long-time water polo and swim coach at Merced College, said he fully expects the Tigers to win league again. Halpin took the Los Banos job to be closer to his girlfriend, who grew up in and works in LB.
"The highlight of my year last year was beating Los Banos," the 28-year-old said about LB's only league loss. "And so this year, not only do I want to win league, but the highlight will be beating Central Catholic."
The Tigers lost several players to graduation, including WAC MVP Alyssa Luna and all-league hole set Taylor Brooks. But returning to the team are all-league players Sydney Gerstenberg (75 saves last year) and Mackenzie Hurley (19 goals, 9 assists and 6 steals). Halpin said Cheyenne Ritchey and Kaylin Burke also provide leadership for the team.
"Sydney Gerstenberg is in goal, and Kaylin Burke is our 2-meter defender," Halpin said. "Those two will be the centerpiece for our defense."
But one of the biggest keys to LB's gameplan this year is speed, which will fuel a vicious counterattack. To that end, it helps to have players like Alex Marquez, who qualified for the section swim meet last spring, and Hurley, also an accomplished swimmer.
"We started off the beginning of the season where practice is all swimming, and as we're getting closer to the league, it's tailing off where maybe 20 or 30 minutes is swimming, and then we're incorporating swimming into drills and things like that," Halpin said. "I think we'll be the fastest team in league.
"We have a big group of swimmers, we have smart girls and with those two things, that goes a long way in our league."
But Halpin is also thinking about the future of the sport in Los Banos.
"I plan on being here for a couple of years, and starting a summer program, possibly a youth program so we get some of these sixth, seventh, eighth graders introduced to the game of water polo," he said. "That's really what makes a good program is when you get a good foundation from a youth level."
The Tigers will get a taste of the league competition on Saturday at the WAC Jamboree, a series of short scrimmages against the teams from the league, at Pacheco High. Games start at 9 a.m.
Enterprise reporter David Witte can be reached by phone at 388-6565 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org