Even after graduating 13 seniors combined from the boys and girls teams, Gilroy High water polo coach Doug Pickford has a solid group of players who have already shown the ability to compete at a high level.
Entering this week’s action, the girls were 4-2 and the boys 3-2. The girls team is coming off three straight Central Coast Section playoff appearances (not counting the Covid spring season, which did not contest a postseason for fall sports teams).
“Yet again we have a nucleus of girls who are solid,” Pickford said. “We’re so blessed to always have a crop of really good girls with a strong supporting cast.”
The team is anchored defensively by goalie Bella Romero and center defender Hannah Stelzner. Romero couldn’t have shined brighter in last weekend’s Aptos tournament, which saw her stop a half-dozen point-blank shots, including three stuff saves in a 10-second span during one incredible sequence.
“By my estimation, it is unlikely there is another goalie out there in our league as good as she is,” Pickford said. “Those breakaways she stopped where it’s usually a one on nobody, usually 95 percent of the time it’s a goal. But when she makes those saves, it injects so much energy into the team for obvious reasons. She is good, on the verge of becoming great.”
Pickford said Stelzner is a strong swimmer, smart in the pool and has a lot of success shutting down the opposing team’s hole-set.
“She does such a phenomenal job of shutting down the center of the pool,” he said.
If Stelzner and the rest of her teammates do a good job of controlling the center of the pool, that makes it harder for opponents to score because Romero is adept at blocking shots not only from close range but long distance as well.
“Most teams don’t have someone with a cannon shot that can score from seven or eight meters and get it past Bella,” Pickford said.
Returning senior Giana Bozzo possesses tremendous movement where she can go from one spot to the next on a moment’s notice, which helps her play tremendous defense and come away with steals that lead to breakaway goals.
“She also sets the hole for us a lot and is figuring out how to use those long arms of hers to her advantage,” Pickford said.
Senior Kim Ortiz is co-captain with Stelzner and has developed a tremendous amount since she got into the program, Pickford said. The longtime Gilroy coach said Ortiz possesses a rocket for a shot and can score from seven or eight meters away.
“She can throw the ball harder than half the players on the boys team,” Pickford said. “If they don’t guard her out there, she will make them pay. She’s had a couple of double bars this season, which is just a pristine shot. When you throw it by a goalie from seven meters and it goes double bar and in, you’re thinking, ‘That is a real water polo shot.’ She is definitely a force to be reckoned with.”
Pickford said senior Makayla Elias is smaller in stature but competes with a zeal that makes her play imposing.
“She is pesky, relentless and will drive you crazy on defense and then surprise you when she takes that shot and scores,” he said.
GHS boys solid as well
Similar to the girls team, the boys squad is anchored by a tremendous goalie in Emmitt Silva.
“He’s as good as it gets,” Pickford said. “He’s truly a physical specimen, is smart, quick and hard to score on. He keeps us in games almost by himself sometimes.”
Fellow senior Jacob Harden is another vital piece in Gilroy’s rock-solid defense. Pickford said Harden is a relentless worker, knowledgeable about the game and a solid hole-set.
“He goes in and battles and is figuring out how to leverage himself in the water and turn inside,” Pickford said.
Junior Frank Sunseri has also come on strong to excel in several facets of the game. Pickford said Sunseri is fast and strong and can unleash a shot on a moment’s notice.
“You can’t take your eyes off this guy or he’ll definitely score every game he plays in,” Pickford said.
Seniors Derek Lam and Finn Bingham have come a long way since entering the program. Lamb has become the team’s de facto quarterback.
“He makes sure everyone is in the right place, talking it up and rotating,” Pickford said. “His knowledge of water polo is off the charts. I remember two years ago and telling him after one play, ‘What are you doing out there?’ He was just wandering around. Now he’s directing traffic. He’s incredible.”
Bingham combines physical play with an attitude to match, which has resulted in him being able to score a couple of goals a game, Pickford said.
“He’s one of those kids that is a testimony that if you just commit and swim in the off-season and work your tail off, you can become a good water polo player,” Pickford said.
For the last several years, both Gilroy teams have been characterized by solid, fundamental defense.