Saturday, Nov. 10.
The events of that day still haven’t fully sunk in for Davis High boys water polo coach Tracy Stapleton.
Let’s see. What happened in the Stapleton household that day?
Oh, yeah. Stapleton’s Blue Devils won their 14th Sac-Joaquin Section title, eight of which have come under the coach who confirms he’ll return for a 26th season.
The subplot? Stapleton’s son Connor — one of the nation’s top prep players — capped off a brilliant senior year with four goals and his first CIF pennant.
The end of four high school years together was emotional for the elder Stapleton, who was wrestling with words immediately after DHS’ 13-5 victory over Granite Bay.
After a celebratory dunk in the pool (compliments of his team), Tracy Stapleton had just enough time to find dry clothes and sit in the stands to watch his sophomore daughter Colby score the game-winning goal over St. Francis with 14 seconds remaining, giving the Davis girls their 10th section crown.
The proud papa was asked: Just how big was Saturday?
“How high is Mount Everest?” came Stapleton’s still-numb reply.
The big day is just starting to register. The boys’ impressive 24-7 season is just reaching the coach’s radar …
“I haven’t really thought of the entire season per se,” Stapleton told The Enterprise. “I’ve definitely thought about the day. It was hard to decompress after our game. I was watching (Colby’s) game bit-by-bit, the way a coach would watch, analyzing.
“Looking back, it’s almost overwhelming. Words? Humility, gratitude come to mind.”
Stapleton says he looks at his son’s prep career-ending game and his daughter’s huge performance with different perspectives.
“It’s two-fold. I look at (Connor’s finale) more monumentally. This team was formed two years ago. (Saturday) went as scripted,” the coach explains. “For Connor, I thought ‘Wow. This is the mountain.’ (For Colby) it was more the moment — Saturday with her was all about that moment.”
Stapleton said because his squad had spent three consecutive years as CIF runners-up, this title was a little sweeter.
“It was pretty fantastic,” says the DHS teacher. “It was a major thing. The parents and players all bought in. We were really dialed in (in the) pool. I thought my wife (Tara) had a good observation about it, that we had such an appreciation for (the championship) because we had come so close previously.”
While both male Stapletons agree that their final prep outing together was pretty special, Tracy Stapleton said it wasn’t just Connor, but “where (all the players) came from with me constantly nipping at them. The way they played that final game was very rewarding.”
Stapleton frequently puts his Devils in harm’s way by entering tournaments of national stature in San Diego and the Bay Area. Playing the best teams, says the coach, prepares his athletes for challenges in the playoffs.
He was particularly proud of the way Davis handled red-hot St. Mary’s of Stockton in the semifinals on Thursday.
Winning 10-8, the Devils used wings Bradley Nicholson and Tyler Ujifusa to negate the Rams’ defense — which was designed to take DHS’ top four scorers out of the game.
“The St. Mary’s game was a key for us,” Stapleton recalls. “When they played to stop our Big Four, Tyler and Bradley were going to have to win this game. (The pair) was critical in us winning the title. St. Mary’s prepared us for the final. And to see Tyler and Bradley sticking to it — to see it in their eyes, ‘I’m in total control now.’ was very satisfying.”
Connor Stapleton was one of only four seniors on the Blue Devils. Six of the seven Davis starters return next year, but it’s no secret that replacing a U.S. youth national team member will be a tall task, if not impossible.
Picture the 1930s New York Yankees without Babe Ruth. Somehow they found a way to continue top-level play. And yes, coach Stapleton has found a way to mix and match talent on seven other championship squads …
Something says he’ll find a way next fall, too.
Notes: Connor Stapleton is now off to the World Youth Water Polo tournament (Dec. 1-9) in Perth, Australia. While Down Under, the local kid is going to have a huge rooting section — the whole family is going, including Tara, her parents, Colby and the coach. “They get Hungary in the first round,” Connor’s dad says with a smile, knowing the Hungarians have what is considered the best water polo squads in the world. At least on the 16-hour flight to one of the world’s most isolated big cities, Tracy Stapleton should finally get a chance to reflect on Saturday, Nov. 10.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.