When it comes to the Calaveras High School water polo program, there’s plenty to be excited about. There’s a boys’ team that only has one nonreturning player on it. There’s a girls’ squad that is young and energetic. And to cap it all off, there’s a new head coach who will try to lead the program in a positive direction.
Stacey Bagneschi will coach both the girls’ and boys’ teams, which is a tough task, considering before this year she had zero water polo coaching experience.
“I was very nervous because I have never coached water polo before. Swim, yes. Water polo, no,” Bagneschi said. “I read lots of books and watched lots of videos and I am very thankful for my assistant coaches.”
Even though Bagneschi is entering her first ever season as a water polo coach, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know exactly what she wants from all of her players.
“If you are here, you better be dedicated to it,” Bagneschi said. “I want total dedication to this sport. We are here to learn and yes, we get competitive, but we are here to have fun, too.”
When it comes to her boys’ team, Bagneschi couldn’t have asked for an easier start. She has a team full of players with experience and a deep knowledge of water polo. With only one freshman on the squad, Bagneschi will lean heavily on her veteran leadership.
“I’m very thankful for how many returning boys we have,” Bagneschi said. “I wish we had more freshmen, so that we could introduce them to the game, but I’m very thankful for all my returners.”
One of those returners is junior Owen Murphy, who was named as a co-captain. Murphy is entering his third year in Calaveras’ pool and feels that the comfort level that he has with his teammates will pay off as the season progresses.
“On a team sport, it’s great to have consistency,” Murphy said. “That way, everyone knows each other and they’ll get along better. When you’ve played with someone, like in my case for three years, you know how they play and you know when they are going to shoot. It makes you more confident when it comes to who to pass the ball to.”
Aside from Murphy, Bagneschi also singled out Wyatt Moore, Max Brant and Allan Ramos as some of Calaveras’ key returners.
“They know what they are doing,” Bagneschi said of her returning players. “We are going to have a really good team with them. I’m very impressed with their knowledge of the sport and their dedication so far to it.”
For the past two years, Ramos has been Calaveras’ goalkeeper. However, this year he is being challenged for that spot by Italian foreign exchange student Simone Passiolli. Bagneschi likes what she has seen from Passiolli and feels she now has two quality keepers.
“We are lucky to have Allan back and to have Simone here as part of an exchange program from Italy,” Bagneschi said. “He’s a phenomenal goalie.”
When it comes to expectations, Bagneschi won’t predict a league title, but she does feel that her squad will improve in the win column.
“I expect a lot more wins than last year,” Bagneschi said. “They are bonding as a team very well and they get along, which is great. There’s no issues and no drama and I love that.”
Murphy added, “For any team, getting into the playoffs is great. We are going to take it one game at a time and it’s going to take some hard work, but I think we can do it.”
Unlike the boys’ team, Bagneschi isn’t quite sure what to expect out of her girls. The team is made up of plenty of new faces and that requires Bagneschi to start at the very beginning.
“We start from the basics,” Bagneschi said. “We have a lot who are still learning how to swim, which makes it a lot more difficult than just throwing them in the water and teaching them how to play the game. It’s going to be a transition year with them. There’s going to be a lot of learning as we have a lot of new players. We even got a couple more new ones in this week, so we are a little behind, but we also have a lot of strong returners.”
While there are new players who are still trying to learn how to be water polo players, Bagneschi has returners who she feels will help lead the charge, which includes Rachel Zermeno, Piper Garcia and co-captains Cora Heusel and Jamie Smith.
Smith, who is entering her senior season, knows how important it is for her to be a good teammate, as well as a coach in the water.
“Like every other sport, if you get new players, you have to teach them how to play,” Smith said. “You have to teach them the dynamics of the game and hopefully they’ll get it down quickly. Being patient is the key thing. You need to be patient with them and they’ll get it down faster than if you are rushing them.”’
Smith knows that collecting wins might be difficult with such a young squad and she’s OK with that. She knows what her role is and if some wins can be picked up along the way, then that’s just an added bonus.
“I’d like for us to go to the playoffs, but if we don’t get that far, I won’t be mad as long as I’m having fun with the girls,” Smith said.