* Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a nine-part series previewing the Davis High fall sports.
Relative to recent squads who have made deep playoff runs, the 2014 Davis High boys water polo team is young and inexperienced.
But that doesn’t mean that the Blue Devils don’t have the talent or drive to win their third consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section title.
“Over the last few years, there was no question, everyone knew that our team was the team to beat. We didn’t lose to any team in our section,” explained longtime DHS head coach Tracy Stapleton. “It was competitive, we had a few close games, but we were the favorite. This year, it’s wide open.”
The Devils should once again be one of the best teams in the section, thanks to returning seniors Jeff Stark, Bradley Nicholson and Conrad McCarthy, along with sophomore Cameron Wright, who is fresh off an outstanding performance as part of the U.S. Men’s National Cadet team in an international tournament contested in Serbia. Stark, a four-year starter at goalie, and McCarthy (40 goals in 2013), were named to the All-SJS first team last season, while Wright (47 goals) and Nicholson (36) each earned honorable mention.
While that quartet will be the local core, the rest of the players expected to contribute are just a bit green.
“This team is 16 players and nine are sophomores so we’re going to take some lumps at the beginning of the season, but this is not my first time coaching a group like this,” Stapleton said. “From my experience, when you have the dynamic of athletes who are willing to work hard and willing to compete and not afraid to make mistakes, they make a lot of progress. So that’s really the challenge for us is, what kind of progress can we make? We have a good foundation.”
Two pieces of that foundation that should play well right away are sophomores Daniel Alvarez and Nick Masson, who have both worked their way into the Davis starting lineup. Stapleton also noted that reserve Jensen Geist could play a key role.
With that trio in mind, along with several others, Stapleton knows his team has the talent — now it’s a matter of getting the game reps.
“Expectation-wise, I approach it the way I approach any season, it’s about how do we grow over the season? How to we coalesce as a team? We have some great building blocks with this team,” Stapleton said. “There’s some young players that have worked very hard that are very dedicated that are ready to step up in bigger roles.
“Quite honestly, they just need to gain experience, more experience. They gained experience during the club season in the summer, but they need to get more and be willing to play without the fear of making mistakes.”
After pounding the ball inside to some physically dominant players was the key to the Blue Devil offense the past few seasons, DHS plans to open up its attack in 2014. Stapleton compared it to a football team going from a power running game to a more wide-open passing attack.
But despite the changing of the guard in terms of both personnel and style of play, Stapleton remains confident about his the Devils’ chances once they get in the pool. Davis opens the regular season at home on Thursday, when Vintage is at Arroyo Pool for a 4 p.m. match, with one eye on the section players, set to begin Nov. 7.
“As the coach, I need to be patient with these athletes, but these athletes in particular, they need to be patient with themselves,” Stapleton said. “They want it now and there’s a process, a learning process that has to take place. There’s no pressure at all, it’s about how will we grow? And I feel like we’ll grow over the course of this season.”
— Reach Evan Ream at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam