After their best season in a few years, the HRV boy’s water polo team finished a strong 13-3 season by fighting their way to the final four in the boys water polo state tournament, where they drew Bend for the first game.
The semifinal with Bend was a hard-fought game throughout and the Eagles would lead at the end of the first quarter, 6-2.
But in the second quarter, Bend fought back, and the lead seesawed from side to side until the end of the third quarter.
“Bend’s top player is a physical beast and was very difficult to defend without drawing a major foul,” said Head Coach David Robinson.
In water polo, after a player collects three major fouls, they are ejected, or “rolled” from the game.
“JJ Mears had the defensive assignment all game on Bend’s top player and was rolled part way through the third quarter; needless to say, a major loss,” said Robinson. “And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Chad Klaas moved in to defend and was rolled by the end of the third quarter.”
The upside was that the Eagles were able to still compete in the fourth, having played some of their younger and talented core group of players, including sophomores Saylor Sunby and Connor McElwee, and freshman Ethan Yoakum.
The intensity and level of play that was asked for from these young athletes will be invaluable experience moving forward to next season.
But, without two of their key starters in the game, the fourth quarter slowly slipped away, and the Eagles lost 19-15.
“The boys were pretty upset with the loss,” said Robinson. “However, the only consolation being that the number one seed, Mountain View, also lost in the semifinals so we got our one versus two matchups, but instead for the third-place title instead of the championship.
“It’s so tough for kids to bounce back and play hard after such a bummer defeat, so I told them they had the rest of the day to mope if needed, then to get over it. Our championship was now for third so let’s end the season on a winning note,” said Robinson.
And the Eagles didn’t disappoint.
“Getting rolled against Bend in the third was tough to handle,” said Mears. “But we came back strong against Mountain View.”
The boys’ play was focused and intense even though Mountain View jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first quarter.
But a 5-0 run led by Cole Rothman, Mears and Klaas would give the Eagles some momentum and they would carry that on throughout the second quarter, taking an 11-7 lead at half.
Jed Little continued his incredible play in the cage, racking up seven saves in the first half including a rare five-meter penalty shot save. “Jed’s play and his strong, accurate arm on outlets were invaluable this entire season,” said Robinson.
With Rothman already having four goals heading into the third quarter, Robinson and his team felt that continuing to focus on running the offensive through him until Mountain View could stop it would help them push out a win.
“We threw away our offensive playbook at half and went to a classic hole set, inside-out game. We knew Cole couldn’t be stopped one on one and Mountain View knew it as well,” said Robinson.
The hole set position is similar to the center position in basketball. When the hole set is double-teamed, an attacker will always be open.
“Our key was fast ball movement — all of our attackers can score so it didn’t matter who they doubled Cole with, we would find the open man to score,” said Robinson.
Even with the double teams, Rothman dominated in undoubtedly the best game of his high school career, rocking the cage with three more goals in the second half to finish with seven. Rothman’s scoring outburst in the final game of the season was in large part due to coach Robinson, Rothman explained.
“I’m really glad Coach Dave taught me two new shots this year in the hole set,” said Rothman. “It made a huge difference in my scoring and paid off at the end.”
The Eagles would wrap up the third quarter leading 16-8 and then close it out in the fourth quarter with a 19-12 victory.
“It was a tough end to a great season,” said Mears. “But I’m glad everything all came together for the last game.”
Said Pelle Bergstrom, a junior on the boys water polo team, “It was fun to play against a very difficult team in Mountain View and I’m really looking forward to playing next year with this group and accomplishing even more.”
“This was a great group of athletes in that the start of season and they showed the potential, but the belief in the team grew among the players and they peaked at our final game for the conference championship and in the state tournament,” said Robinson. “Regardless of the outcome, this was the best team overall in Eagles history and we’ll build on this new team-based culture in seasons to come.”
First Team: JJ Mears, Cole Rothman
Second Team: Chad Klaas
Honorable Mention: Javi Pico, Jed Little
Javi Pico, a senior exchange student at HRV, led the Eagles this season in goals with 80 while shooting 55 percent. Behind Pico was senior Cole Rothman, who finished the season with 64 goals. JJ Mears and Connor McElwee followed respectively with 60 and 48 goals. HRV juniors Chad Klaas (32) and Pelle Bergstorm (30) capped off the top-six scores for the Eagles.
Klaas, however, topped off HRV in assists this year with 48. Mears was a close second with 45 on the season. And on top of an impressive scoring season, Pico was also top-3 in assists for HRV with 38. Rounding out the top-five for the Eagles were McElwee and Bergstorm with 36 and 26.
On the defensive end of the pool, Klaas would also lead the Eagles as he brought in a team-high 69 steals this season. Pico and Mears followed with 55 and 31. Fourth on this Eagles roster in steals was McElwee with 23 then in fifth was Rothman with 16.
Goalie statistics: Jed Little recorded 167 saves on the season, an average of close to seven per game. The spectacular play at the net helped keep opposing teams scoring at a low as Little only allowed an average of seven goals per game, and with a dominant Eagles offense this was often enough to get them past their opponent.
Total points: The Eagles top-three point scorers this season were Pico (118), Mears (105) and McElwee (84).
HRVHS school records:
Pico’s 80 total goals this season, which was about three per game, put him in the HRV history books as he’s the all-time season leaders in goals for the Eagles. The 118-total scoring for Pico also is a HRV school record.
Averaging almost two assists a game and totaling 48 on the season, Klaas holds the school record for assists in a single season. Klaas with his 69 steals on the season also now holds the record for steals in the HRV record books.