Water polo maintains positive outlook on upcoming season

Becca Raffel, Author

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Palo Alto High School’s boy’s varsity water polo team competes against Mountain View High School at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California on October 12, 2011.

Coming off of a successful season after which two key players transferred to Sacred Heart Preparatory, four seniors graduated and the entire coaching staff was dismissed, the Palo Alto High School boys’ varsity water polo team faces some major hurdles this preseason.

Senior varsity co-captain Bret Pinsker recognizes that the loss of key offensive players Nelson Ward and Will Connor to Sacred Heart will create a demand for new offensive starters.

“It has forced other guys to work hard and try to step up on offense,” Pinsker said.

These challenges come with motivation and goals to do even better this season.

Junior Will Mendenhall, who is enjoying his first season on the varsity squad, mirrors this thought.

“We used their loss as a motivation tool to try and do better than last year,” Mendenhall said.

The team also graduated four seniors: Aaron Zelinger, Peter Rockhold, Daniel Armitano and Ethan Melberg.

Coaches Giovanni Napolitano, Sasha Potulnytskyy, Scott Henderson and Craig Rockhold were dismissed for undisclosed reasons after the end last year’s season, and players went into this season without having an idea of who their coaches would be.

“Many of the players, including myself, were worried because our season was fast approaching and we didn’t have any coaches,” Mendenhall said.

The Paly administration hired Matt and Brandon Johnson last spring to replace last year’s staff. The 23-year-old twin brothers played water polo for Gunn High School and went on to play at the University of California at Irvine, graduating in 2011 before returning to Palo Alto.

Pinsker maintains a positive attitude toward the new coaches.

“Matt and Brandon [Johnson] are great,” Pinsker said. “They’ve done a really good job coaching the program so far and I’m sure they’ll continue to do a good job this upcoming season.”

Pinsker says he feels no pressure to meet expectations after the team made it to the Central Coast Section semifinals last year, after upsetting Menlo-Atherton High School in the quarterfinals. The semifinal cornerstone was as far as the team had made it in recent years.

“Everybody knows we’re not the same team from last year,” Pinsker said. “But even so everyone on this team wants to do well and we are going to do our best to live up to last year’s success.”

Starting with a fresh outlook on the season leaves Pinsker excited to achieve new goals this year.

“Everyone has the same mindset in the sense that we all want to do really well this season,” Pinsker said. “We’re hoping to make it to league finals and do well in CCS.”

The team will host Archbishop Mitty High School at 3:45 p.m. on Friday for it first scrimmage, with league matches to follow in September.