Mustangs out to defend league title under guidance of new head
First-year Gilroy High varsity girls water polo head coach Travis Gamble proposed a seemingly straight forward deal to his team during practice Friday: Finish swimming’s version of liners in less than one minute, 45 seconds and that drill would be done for the day.
The players held up their end of the bargain, but coach Gamble pointed out the fine print and sneaked in an extra bullet point – a clear sign Gamble, though entering his inaugural coaching role, has the crafty and creative part of the job down pat.
Much to the chagrin of the 10 polo players, Gamble tossed a twist to the previous set of freestyle sprints, adding one extra there-and-back marker to the exercise.
“That’s water polo,” Gamble said. “It’s all legs and endurance.”
Hired earlier in the summer, the 2005 GHS graduate returns to his old stomping grounds to inherit a program on the heels of back-to-back Central Coast Section playoff appearances and also holds the designation of defending Tri-County Athletic League champs.
Taking the reins from the likeable Sean LaGuardia, the TCAL’s Coach of the Year in 2010, is a task Gamble said he knows holds a bit of extra pressure, but is also a challenge he is ready to accept.
“Sean brought a lot to the program. I want to maintain the program and make sure it continues to grow. I’m bringing a passion,” Gamble said. “We talked for half an hour on the first day about what I wanted from them and what they wanted from me. There is a mutual respect. They have high expectations and I want to meet those.”
Gamble didn’t wait long to make his first impression, carrying out an agenda for the team’s first week of organized practices that included an extensive conditioning regimen – in and out of the pool.
“We jumped right in with double days and have been going hard all week,” Gamble said. “In the mornings we workout two hours – about an hour, 15 minutes of running, a lot of core work. Then we jump into the pool and do 30 laps. Then we hit the pool again in the afternoon. Everything is still conditioning based. They have responded well.”
The Mustangs lose eight players from the 2010 team, which went undefeated in league and 23-3 overall, including the team’s leading scorer and TCAL Most Valuable Player Chelsea Hill (74 goals), First-Team goalie Devan Lauber and all-leaguers Lauren Rhodes, Nicole Nelsen and Leah Ailes.
“It’s going to be a learning year, but we are going to get out, be aggressive and be the most conditioned team out there,” Gamble said. “And hopefully everything else will come as we go.”
Gamble has already addressed the vacant positions, pointing toward junior Alexia Lussier as the frontrunner to patrol the cage this season.
“She did a little bit of goalie work last year. Alexia is super tall, lengthy arms,” Gamble said. “I’m hoping her reflexes get a little bit stronger, but her treading has already improved so much. I have a good feeling about her. She’s a junior which leaves me another year with her.”
Filling the void left behind by Hill, however, is a bit more daunting. But Gamble again sees potential in the pool.
“It’s going to be really hard to replace (Hill) but it’s definitely possible,” he said. “I’m thinking Corin (Keller) is just as strong but her intensity isn’t quite there. It’s something that I want to build, the confidence in her. You have to have a different personality to play that 2-meter position. It’s a very brutal position.
“Angiolina (Vanni) is another one of my stronger throwers. I want to definitely try to build the enthusiasm and the aggression in those two.”
Keller and Vanni are both seniors with experience at the varsity level.
Also with plenty of playing time with the varsity team under her cap is senior Michelle Shields, who finished second behind Hill with 69 goals last season.
Shields’ ability to turn defense into offense will be a key facet in the Mustangs’ attack.
“Michelle is probably one of the fastest in the league so I have her to rely on,” Gamble said. “With this team being a fairly fast team and well conditioned, our defense can lead to fast breaks and transition scoring.”
Francesca Comin, the fourth and final returning senior for the Mustangs this season, can add stability within the young Mustangs.
Katie Clark (sophomore), Deanna Keller (junior), Abby Kienle (sophomore), Thao Nguyen (junior) and Brittany Salcido round out the Mustangs’ preseason roster as of Friday.
GHS begins its defense of the TCAL title Sept. 1 at Carmel High School.