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Fortune 500: the Blue Devils’ elite girls water polo program

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From page B1 | October 24, 2013 | Leave Comment

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DHS senior Heather Johnson looks for a clear shot in a game earlier this season. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

The Davis High girls water polo team won its last game 19-1, and the Blue Devils are working toward their fifth consecutive section title.

But hard as it may be to believe, the program passed an even more impressive milestone earlier this month — 500 victories. Actually, it’s more accurate to say DHS blew past that benchmark, as the Devils sit at 507-104 since the team’s inception.

The run started back in the mid-1990s, when brothers Doug and Jamey Wright started the program from scratch. Since then, it has been a model of consistent excellence.

Jamey Wright, a member of the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame, similarly pioneered the UC Davis women’s program and has manned the helm there since it was a club sport in the 1980s.

After a year of the brothers working together at Davis High, Doug Wright took over the program in 1995.

Since then, few high school programs can lay claim to the kind of success the Blue Devils have had. And according to many of the current and former players, Doug Wright is DHS’ secret weapon:

“It comes down to the coaching,” former Devil and Aggie standout Christi Raycraft told The Enterprise. “Doug was the rock of our team. … Having a coach that was always so passionate and positive really impacts the players.”

But as Wright knows, a coach is only as good as his players, and Raycraft was one of the very best. By the time she graduated in 2004, Raycraft had captured a devastating array of awards and accolades, including Sac-Joaquin Section Most Valuable Player, Sacramento Bee All-Metro Player of the Year and Monticello Empire League MVP. She was named to the all-section and all-league teams in each of her four prep seasons.

Raycraft then went on to a standout career at UCD, garnering the school’s 2008 Athlete of the Year award and finishing her career as the second-leading scorer in Aggie history. She also is fourth all-time in points, third in assists, second in shots, fifth in steals and third in exclusions drawn.

“She started on varsity for four years in a row, and every year she played we won a title,” Doug Wright said. “She never missed one game in 131 games and we won 127 of them.”

You read that right.

In fact, during Raycraft’s career, the club ripped off an incredible 95-game winning streak.

But numbers like that don’t just come because of one amazing player or one influential coach. The Blue Devil program’s history is filled with remarkable players like Raycraft who have helped Wright win 10 CIF titles and appear in the last 13 section championship games.

So many great players

DHS has seen a long line of talented water polo stars, including Dakota Sturla (née Mohr), who was an all-American in 2006 and 2007 and won the Delta Valley Conference MVP and Blue Devil Female Student-Athlete of the Year award in 2007.

Kris Koblik, who graduated from DHS in 1997, was a two-time prep all-American before winning that award another three more times during a great career at Stanford, where she scored 64 goals in three years.

Elena Cervantes’ Devil career ended in 2002, and that year she won the section MVP award, her third straight season earning all-section honors.

Another recent standout, Keelia Houston, is one of many DHS players to, like Raycraft and Sturla, stay with the Wright family and go on to a successful career at UCD. She made All-Sac-Joaquin Section and All-Delta Valley Conference first teams for four straight years before graduating in 2011.

Houston was selected as Davis High School’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2010-11 and won section MVP twice.

Hailey Wright, Jamey’s daughter and Doug’s niece, graduated in 2012 with three all-section team selections on her résumé and was picked as an All-American in 2012. She now plays for the Aggies alongside Houston and former Blue Devil teammates Elsie Fullerton and Haley Cameron.

Some more of the countless players who have helped DHS to success include Ligaya and Lisal Smith, Shaina Feldman and Heather West.

And, as Doug Wright said, “for each player named, there has been at least one more just as good who has played for us over the years. That’s how good and how deep our teams have been.”

One of those players is Ariel Feeney, a former captain who graduated from DHS in 2008 before joining the long list of Devils to play for UCD.

Not just a water polo coach

Feeney, like so many others in the sport, got her start swimming on one of the local youth teams. From there, she was introduced to water polo by her friends and siblings.

At DHS, Feeney went on to score 99 goals in her senior year. The last goal was a memorable section championship contest game-winner as the Blue Devils edged rival St. Francis 8-7 in the fall of 2007.

After starring at UCD, where she played in every game for a three-year stretch, Feeney came back to DHS to be an assistant coach to Wright.

“He runs a really great program there and he’s been doing it for so long and he’s so passionate,” Feeney said of Doug. “The (DHS) atmosphere has proven to be both a good experience for many players and valuable to the team. He made sure we knew what was expected of us, however, he was always appreciating players and telling them what they did right.

“It makes him a great coach and he feels like family to me.”

That’s because Wright doesn’t just care about his players when they are in the pool. Many of the Devils he has mentored view him not only as an athletic coach, but also as a life coach.

“Coach Wright was a part of all the decisions I made,” Feeney added. “He is a great coach and someone whose opinion I trust.”

When Feeney was considering moving to Houston to become a foster parent, she consulted Wright for advice. Feeney has now lived in Houston since June and works for a nonprofit organization called Casa de Esperanza de Los Niños, where she gives help to other foster parents and kids.

Raycraft also sees Wright as one of the biggest mentors in her life, even choosing him to officiate her wedding in 2012.

Current success

The 2013 DHS squad has a group of players who, mentored by Wright, are on their way to joining the all-time Blue Devil ranks. Among them are seniors Lauren Owens and Heather Johnson, and juniors Colby Stapleton and Mara Dominguez.

“It’s quite an honor being a captain on this team,” Johnson said. “There have been a lot of great water polo players on this team in the past and I am looking forward to continuing our success.”

Johnson — whose older sister Rachel graduated in 2012 and is now playing at Stanford — has won a section title in each of her first three varsity seasons. She also has helped win more than 70 games for the program, including the milestone 500th, a 15-2 victory at Woodcreek in which she scored two goals.

“It was a really cool feeling and it’s awesome to think that you’re a part of history,” Johnson said. “We were all pretty excited.”

Wright and the Blue Devils followed the big win up with four more victories at the prestigious Western States tournament, and notched a 19-1 league win over Monterey Trail on Tuesday. The work doesn’t stop, as least in the fall, as DHS hosts Rio Americano Thursday (5 p.m.) at Arroyo Pool.

“Not too many days go by that I’m not doing anything for the team,” Wright said “It’s a daily grind. The most important thing is being on deck at practices and having positive interactions with athletes. Turning these young athletes into women is something that I take a lot of pride in.

“Success leads to more success. People always assume, when they hear about our wins and our streak, that maybe water polo in this area is weak. It isn’t. We work hard to constantly have our program on top.”

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