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December 7, 2022

Gilroy boys water polo exemplifies the value of team work in winning BVAL Santa Teresa Division championship

Doug Pickford has had some talented teams in his nine seasons as the Gilroy High boys water polo coach, but he said this year’s squad was his best in terms of playing as a unit. 

That made Pickford’s experience this season all the more enjoyable. Of course, winning never hurts either, and the Mustangs did plenty of that, finishing 18-5. They went a perfect 10-0 to win the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Santa Teresa Division championship before earning the No. 7 seed and winning two matches in the league tournament, ultimately falling to No. 3 seed Leigh 17-11 in the quarterfinals on Oct. 27. 

“These guys, while they have solid athleticism, they have spectacular teamwork and they are so cohesive,” Pickford said moments after Gilroy’s 18-6 win over Yerba Buena in the BVAL tournament opener at Santa Teresa High on Oct. 25. “They’re so supportive of one another and I haven’t for the entire season heard anyone ever bark at a teammate for a crappy pass or something else.

“It’s never happened and in the past we’ve had teams which had great athletes and I mean just special athletes, but didn’t have quite the teamwork. There was more of a ‘I want to be a hero’ type of thing. We don’t have that on this team which to me as a coach is the ultimate testimony of success.”

Senior captains Frank Sunseri and Alex Muncy powered the team to success. Sunseri was a load to handle for opponents because of his strength and game awareness, Pickford said, which made him a prolific goal scorer.

“Frank gets the ball inside, he’s probably going to score on you,” Pickford said. “He’s that strong. He gets his hand on the ball and you can’t get it away from him. He’s our leading scorer by a lot, and he goes into the center a lot but he also takes a lot of outside shots. He becomes someone extremely difficult to guard.”

Pickford raved about Muncy’s water polo IQ. 

“Alex is such a smart player, clearly the smartest kid out there,” Pickford said. “His vision is great, his quarterbacking skills are good. You watch him on defense and he’ll be directing traffic, and he’s a big, long kid. He’s one of those kids where his wingspan is greater than his height and you watch him out there and he can just spider over, reach over and grab that ball. Alex and Frank are our anchors.”

Fellow senior Ayden Reed utilized his speed to help the team and has made dramatic strides since his initial year of playing water polo as a sophomore. 

“Ayden has evolved tremendously,” Pickford said. “His first year out, he was afraid to shoot the ball, and really didn’t know how to catch and throw. And now he’s very proactive, very much an attacker, and we try to teach him when you get the ball down on the wings you have to attack the cage to make the defense pay attention to you. That opens up something else, and he’s done a great job at that.”

Sophomore goalie Sawyer Rogers also earned rave reviews from Pickford. Rogers is a first-year goalie but came on strong fast. 

“He’s the league’s best goalie, he’s going to get Goalie of the Year for sure,” Pickford said. “I mean, he’s that good, he’s that smart. He’s an amazing shotblocker so I’m very pleased with him.”

The longtime Gilroy coach also praised the junior class, including Matt Stelzner and Joey Lepe. 

“Matthew was another one of those kids who was a peewee when he first came out,” Pickford said. “And now he is as tall as I am. His skill level has improved so dramatically, and when you tell him to look at something, he genuinely sees the opportunity as opposed to taking things the wrong way. 

“He really embodies being a student of the sport, he’s smart, a really solid player and he’s just the nicest kid you’ll ever meet. And Joey is a big, strong kid who comes from a water polo family. He’s really smart, really strong and someone who is intimidating with his size and strength.”

Brady Reed also impressed with his aggression and swimming ability. 

“He came out reluctantly to play for that first summer session and maybe had thoughts of, ‘I don’t think I want to do this,’” Pickford said. “And now that kid has water polo in his veins. He’s just an absolute attacker sometimes almost to the point of, ‘OK, don’t attack this time because we really weren’t open there.’ But I’m not going to complain. I’d love to have six players out there who are constantly looking for a way to attack.”

Pickford said it was a unique year for the GHS water polo program in that it couldn’t field a girls team due to a lack of numbers. So, the decision was made to go co-ed, giving the girls who did come out an opportunity to play on the boys junior varsity or varsity squads. 

“All seven girls stuck it out, which makes me happy,” Pickford said. 

The boys JV team went 6-0 to win its division, but Pickford said he was happier the varsity and JV players competed as cohesive teams and got better as the season went on. 

“For sure it was one of the more enjoyable seasons I’ve had coaching at Gilroy,” he said. 

Senior co-captain Alex Muncy made a lot of smart decisions which led to Gilroy’s strong play. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Joey Lepe used his size and strength to score on shots from inside five meters. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Mustangs goalie Sawyer Rogers stuffed the opposition throughout the season. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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