By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s girls water polo team won the school’s first-ever CIF water polo championship in February, and Head Coach Donnie Williams believes that the championship is a building point for the 2013-14 team even though the CIF title makes this season’s Bulldogs a target for other teams.
“Looking forward to them repeating, and they’re ready to do so,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of good talent.”
Tryouts and practice for girls water polo began Nov. 16. A total of 39 girls signed up, although some have dropped out and Williams also received interest from Ramona cross country runners whose season didn’t end until Nov. 23. The expected three dozen players will allow Ramona to field varsity, junior varsity, and novice teams.
In addition to returning players, Ramona has new players from all four grade levels.
“We have a good blend,” Williams said. “They have some skill sets that they can fall back and draw from.”
Kati Sundberg will coach Ramona’s junior varsity and novice teams and will be assisted by Natalie Walters. A handful of managers from Ramona’s boys water polo program will also be involved. Some of Ramona’s girls had been managers during the boys season.
“That’s really helped out on the girls side and the boys side both,” Williams said.
Williams will likely keep 14 to 16 players on the varsity, and he will also have a taxi squad to allow for greater depth at tournaments.
“It’s still about getting playing time,” he said.
The 2012-13 team had five seniors, including starters Tiffany Larson and Rachel Hogervorst. Holly Fletcher, a senior who has spent the previous two seasons on the varsity, will be out for the first part of the 2013-14 season due to a knee injury.
“That’s going to hurt us in a big way,” said William.
Some pre-league games have playoff seeding implications, but most early-season games are used to prepare the squad for league and CIF competition, so Fletcher’s injury will also mean more early-season playing time for other players.
Larson and Hogervorst both earned first-team Valley League honors for 2012-13, as did current seniors Cassie Bernas and Holly Smith. Current seniors Paulina Bernd and Jocelyn Schwegler were second-team selections last year while Fletcher earned honorable mention distinction.
Larson, the 2012-13 Valley League’s Most Valuable Player, was Ramona’s starting goalie. This year senior Morgan Wallace moves from backup varsity goalie to first-string netkeeper.
“She’s got a stronger arm, and she’s very aggressive in cage as well,” Williams said of Wallace.
Hogervorst played attacker for the Bulldogs; Williams is considering several players to take her place.
“Every year it’s starting off from scratch and trying to figure out where the best placement is for different players,” Williams said.
Last year Ramona posted a 22-9 overall record, including three CIF playoff wins which gave the Bulldogs the Division II championship. Ramona also won its first-ever league title due to a 4-0 record in Valley League play.
Williams noted that last year the younger Bulldogs team didn’t have as much confidence to start the season.
“They’ll start the season with confidence,” Williams said of this year’s team.
He sees another advantage over the 2012-13 champions.
“I think our bench is going to be a little bit deeper,” he said.
A varsity scrimmage Dec. 3 at Rancho Bernardo will give Williams and his team some indication of how opponents will play the Bulldogs this year. Ramona’s actual season begins Dec. 5-7 with the Benson Tournament in Orange County.
“They’re ready to defend it,” Williams said of the CIF championship. “They’ve had a good attitude coming together.”