The Tooele County water polo team underwent a major overhaul this season, but the players scrambled and put things together just in time to save their season.
Having lost their head coach because of scheduling conflicts and a plethora of seniors to graduation, the remaining players were left with almost nothing to build on. So the team captains, Kelly Clonts, Brook Baker, Amber Baker, Jack McEachern, Natalie Headman and Jake Nelson, went to work, asking businesses to be their sponsors and finding someone to be their new head coach.
Luckily, assistant coach Chandra Yeaman stepped up and became the team’s head coach. Then, it was a matter of finding players to fill the roster. High school water polo in the state allows anyone age 12 through his or her senior year to play, and the Tooele County team certainly pushed the age limit to the maximum when filling the roster. The team currently has a sixth grader from Copper Canyon Elementary School playing on the boys’ team.
“We recruited a lot from the lower (age) schools,” said Tooele’s Brook Baker. “We have a lot of junior high kids.”
The players placed fliers at every school, and finally they were able to compile enough players to fill a team.
The roster features students from all over the valley. It includes players from Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville high schools, Blue Peak High School, Tooele Junior High School, Clarke N. Johnsen Junior High School, and Copper Canyon Elementary School.
Playing alongside teammates who go to rival schools also adds a little extra flare to practices and games. Amber and Brook Baker both said it was strange their first time playing with teammates from Grantsville and Stansbury.
“Can we talk to them? Are we allowed?” Brook Baker recalled.
Amber Baker said when anyone said he or she was from Stansbury, she cringed. But eventually that went away.
“After a couple of days, it doesn’t matter,” Amber Baker said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
Yeaman said once the players get in the pool, the rivalries melt away.
“They all come together as a team,” she said. “They’re just Tooele water polo, and there’s no labels as far as where they come from. That started even from when I played. I started playing in 2006.”
Brook Baker said that sometimes it’s a little hard. Right now she’s teammates with one of her biggest rivals from swimming — Becca Clonts of Stansbury. The two of them compete for the same position on the water polo team, so it makes for fun and competitive practices.
“I’m perfectly OK with it, but now we’re rivals in this too,” Brook Baker said. “So we’ll be subconsciously warming up and racing each other.”
But Coach Yeaman said she loves that competitive fire in practices. It will only help to make the team stronger when playing against other schools in games.
“It keeps them pushing against each other to do better,” Yeaman said. “Coming from a coach, for me that’s something I’m constantly trying to get from them. To see them, once in a while, try to compete against their rival, it’s interesting to see who comes out on top.”
Amber Baker said when success doesn’t happen for the team, no one points blame, and no one looks at the school rivalries as any reason why something isn’t working.
“We’ve never had any of that,” she said. “You’re a person. And you play water polo. That’s all it is.”
The experience of the players on this year’s team varies drastically since the team had to rebuild itself. About half of the team members have at least one year of water polo experience, while everyone else is brand new to the sport.
One of those new players is Seth Dakkak of Blue Peak High School. He spotted the water polo team practicing outside on strategy before getting in the pool and he was curious about the sport. He eventually joined the team and has developed his skills to the point where he even won an in-practice competition.
“He has improved so much in the past three weeks,” Yeaman said. “Just starting from scratch it shows that there’s a lot of promise in newer kids to rise up and do well.”
The players consider themselves a band of “misfits,” and they love it. They take pride in featuring students from every social clique and just about every school.
“Our personalities mesh well because we’re a team of misfits,” Brook Baker said.
Amber Baker said they’re more than a team now.
“We all come together as a family,” Amber Baker said. “It’s really a beautiful thing because we have kids who wouldn’t have people to talk to, but now they have so many people they can talk to.”
Yeaman said everyone who has joined the water polo team has been included in the camaraderie.
“You never see anyone left out,” Yeaman said. “Even Vincent, the sixth grader, you wouldn’t think he would have too much to say, but he can bring something up and everyone includes him.”
Brook Baker said the team has to build from the ground up, and that’s helped the players grow together.
Amber Baker added: “We’ve all had to work together. It’s been an effort from everybody.”