This article was originally published by The Willistonian on May 5. The writer is also a co-captain on the team.
Williston Girls Water Polo has started its season with success as they look to repeat history for the second year.
The team is currently on an 10-game league winning streak with decisive wins against all their opponents, including powerhouse Greenwich Academy. The team is led by Coaches Bill Berghoff and Emily McDowell, as well as senior captains Kaitlyn Williams and Pippa Berry. Kaitlyn will be playing Division I water polo at Iona University next year.
Girls water polo was first introduced to Williston in 1994, and the school is currently one of only ten teams competing in the New England Prep School League (NEPSAC). The 2022 season was historic for the group, as they won their first NEPSAC championship in school history.
Athletic Director Mark Conroy explained that the program’s success has varied over the years.
“In terms of the development of girls water polo, like many programs, it has definitely had its ups and downs over the past 23 years, but the girls who have participated have ALWAYS had a tremendous team experience,” he wrote in an email to The Willistonian.
In 2017, the interest level for girl’s water polo at Williston was at an all-time low, and the program was at risk of being cut. During that time, members of the team recruited girls within the school to join the team.
Ella Mattocks ’22, current Villanova Women’s Water Polo team member, explained that this was how she got into the sport.
“One of the captains for the team at the time, Abbie Coscia ’20, sent me a long text asking if I would join the team simply because there was barely enough people to have a team,” she explained. “I said ‘Yes’ because I had no reason to say no.”
Since then the program has grown steadily. Three-year senior Kaitlyn Williams was one of the first players with prior experience to join the team.
“Since sophomore year I think the team has gained a lot of depth, as we now have an entire starting line of players with past experience,” said Kaitlyn.
During the 2021-2022 school year the team gained many veteran and skilled players who instantly found their spot in the starting line up. Tenth graders Juno Aselton and Isabel Gargamelli, as well as 11th grader Hayden Hedstrom, were three vital additions.
Juno, a California native, explained that before joining the team last year she did not envision they would be so successful.
“I had no idea we would have this much success so quickly,” Juno, the goalie, said. “I met someone on the team a couple years ago, and I knew we had good players but I was really shocked by our ability. I had no awareness of the league we were in, or how good half the girls on the team were.”
For many people not from the west coast, water polo can be a very unfamiliar sport; it has recently began to grow in popularity, but still lacks the resources and recognition to become widespread.
Due to this, many members of the squad have spent their summers and school breaks at water polo academies, camps, and with host families in order to train and gain greater knowledge.
Hayden was first introduced to the sport as a kid when she was living in Southern California. After moving to Boston her freshman year, she still has made the effort to go back during the summers to train.
“California water polo is fast, and playing out there has made my game play much better,” she explained. “I think it has benefited our team because it gives a different style of game play and allows the newer team members to learn different styles.”
Having players who play on club teams and seek out other opportunities has put the team at a level that other teams in the NEPSAC cannot compete with. The team has outscored their opponents 172 to 44 in their past 10 league games.
Coach Berghoff has led both both the boys and girls programs since 2012. Before joining Williston, he led Choate to three consecutive NEPSAC championships. He believes that the team’s success comes from how close-knit and hardworking the girls are.
“I think that we are really cohesive and really play a team game,” Berghoff explained. “Everyone is a year better. The girls on the team have taken to their roles and thrived in them.”
The girls recently had their first loss of the season in an out of league game against Greenwich High School, a team who currently is on a four-year undefeated streak. The team plans to travel to Greenwich on May 7 for a rematch with the talented squad.
Kaitlyn believes that the team has prepared very well for the upcoming challenge.
“I feel very optimistic in our teams capabilities going into Sunday because I know what we showed Greenwich this past weekend was not at all our best game play,” she said.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, the squad will be seeded first going into the NEPSAC championship on May 20 at Exeter.