Girls water polo looks to keep up Freeway League success


Junior goalkeeper Lauren Gruber passes the ball to a teammate during practice Nov. 14 at the Sunny Hills pool. Photo taken by Accolade photographer Paul Yasutake

Coach: Keith Nighswonger (head coach), Jordan Jaime (assistant coach)

Top Returning Players:  Kristima Aryal (10), Sarah Bankhead (12), Amanda Flewellen (12), Riley Godfrey (11), Kaya Hart (12), Rachel Loomis (12), Leoni Nyguen (11), Sydney Sereg (11), Cecilia Smith (12) and Kelly Wert (11)  

Top new players:  Alexandra De La Hoya (11), Lauren Gruber (11) and Kayla McCuen (10) and Mary-Grace Rovira (10)

Outlook: The girls water polo team heads into this season determined to keep its 17 Freeway League game winning streak going.

The girls finished with a 24-8 record and 8-0 record in the Freeway League last season. They reached the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoff semifinals before losing Feb. 13 to La Quinta High School at the Troy High School pool.

Because of its past success, Nighswonger expects each of his team’s opponents to be a challenge.

“We have a different kind of pressure this year,” he said. “Everybody wants to be the team that beats us.”

The team won 17 straight Freeway League games, the last loss occurring in 2016, and is hoping to add to the streak this season.

“They’re like professional players,” Nighswonger said. “They train hard, and they just do all the things the right way.”

The team started its extended workouts on Nov. 5 with ball handling drills, swim conditioning and defense practice. 

“We work at a very high pace because if you practice slow you’ll probably play that way,” Nighswonger said. “We go from one drill to the other moving fast because it creates urgency, and I like to keep things going that way.”

Although practices are demanding, the players keep in condition for the approaching season. 

“It is tiring, but coach [Nighswonger] always says that ‘pain is just weakness leaving the body,’” set player Sereg said. “I think practicing over Thanksgiving and Chistamas is the reason why our team is so put together and well-prepared for this season.” 

Nighswonger emphasized the strong résumé of the team, including the four players who won Freeway League titles. 

“I think we have a really strong lineup this year and an equally strong bench,” Sereg said. “The phenomenal leadership we have on this team makes up a great deal of why we play the way we do.”

Sereg is already predicting a successful season for the girls. Being part of the No. 1 team in the district, she is confident that her team will keep the long winning streak.

The team will play its first home non-league game on Nov. 19 against Woodbridge at 4 p.m.

“I’m looking forward to a challenging season that I believe we will come out on top,” Sereg said.