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PAUL RODRIGUEZ, , PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Troy water polo players Claire Schade, left, and Ava Mattis are cousins and close friends. Their relationship is part of the strong bond that has helped the Warriors win the Freeway League title five years in a row. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Girls water polo preview 2016-17: Troy's strength is its bond

STAFF WRITER

Troy’s girls water polo team will turn to one of its prized resources to navigate multiple challenges this winter.

With a move up in playoff divisions and another season away from their home pool, the Warriors plan to rely more than ever on strong team chemistry, a hallmark of their rise as a Freeway League powerhouse.

“Team bonding is the No. 1 thing that really helps us succeed every year, especially in league,” said Claire Schade, a four-year varsity player. “I think we’re going to do really well this season.”

From team meals to other group activities, Troy strives to be close-knit.

Those activities will be even more important as the Warriors aim for a sixth consecutive undefeated Freeway League title.

Because of construction of a 45-meter pool at Troy, the Warriors weren’t able to practice in the fall as much as past seasons. The players instead focused on dry land training, chalk talks and “fun Fridays” featuring team-bonding activities.

The returning players also planned a team sleepover that was a surprise for the first-time varsity players.

“It’s really fun every year,” senior Ava Mattis said. “Some (parents) record it.”

Troy hopes its experience will help soften the blow of lost pool time.

Jason Wilson, 42, enters his seventh year as Troy’s coach, and he knows how to win in the league. He has won a CIF-SS title and league titles at Troy and Sonora.

The Warriors also return several players with club experience. Field players Schade, Mattis, Elle Jack, Thea Elkhouri and Megan O’Malley play club, and Karly Feenstra is a former club player.

Senior Annie Patton is another experienced player.

Schade is a left-hander who has made official recruiting trips to San Diego State, Fresno State, Loyola Marymount and Whittier, and she is planning a visit to Long Beach State. She led the team in goals (101) and assists (68) last season.

The team’s question mark is in goal, but the Warriors have candidates in Kathleen Gross and Vendela Jors.

Mattis has already seen her squad respond in practice to the pool challenge, which it has faced since April 2015. The team practices and plays in the winter at Fullerton College.

“Not having a pool (in the fall) made us want to work a lot harder,” she said.

The Warriors also face a challenge as new members of Division 2. After a run to the Division 3 quarterfinals and semifinals the past two seasons, Troy has moved to Division 2, the highest perch for any teams in the Freeway League.

“I take it as a compliment,” Wilson said of the division switch.

The Warriors know Division 2 will be difficult but will lean on some extra special chemistry. Mattis and Schade, for example, are cousins.

“Usually people don’t believe us because we look so different,” Schade said with a laugh. “We spend every second together. … We live three minutes from each other. I’m at her house or she’s at my house probably five out of the seven days of the week. We basically live together.”

The relationship continues in the pool.

“I know I can trust her on every single play,” Schade said of Mattis, who scored 56 goals last season. “If Ava is in the pool with me, I know we’re going to be fine.”

SUNNY HILLS UPDATE

A new pool at Sunny Hills is expected to debut this winter and could host matches in the Freeway League tournament, Lancers coach Keith Nighswonger said.

PLAYING FOR TEAM USA

Five county players and Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato will represent the United States at the third FINA World Women’s Water Polo Championships in New Zealand.

The 18-and-under tournament runs Dec. 12-18 in Auckland.

The U.S. roster includes Laguna Beach senior and Olympic gold medalist Aria Fischer, Laguna Beach junior goalie Thea Walsh, Los Alamitos' junior Bayley Weber, Foothill junior attacker Val Ayala and former Corona del Mar All-County goalie Heidi Ritner, now at Michigan.

Damato will serve as an assistant coach on the U.S. team, which departs for the tournament Dec. 1.

Contact the writer: dalbano@scng.com


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