Five Photos, Five Stories. Day 2: Water Polo

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog. If you would like to be nominated please leave a comment below and I would be happy to oblige.

Day Two: Water Polo

Back in mid-March I wrote a post about how proud I was of my second daughter, E, for her hard work to improve her water polo skills from her freshman to her sophomore year. It was written right after her first game of the season in which she happened to also score her first-ever goal on a sweet shot from the left side. E went on to become a starter for the majority of the games on her JV team and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for almost every game. I watched her grow in strength, speed and confidence into one of the key contributors on her team. She worked hard and listened to her coach and kept a positive attitude throughout the season. Her team won all but a couple of games and E ended up scoring about 10 goals but also made many assists and played physical defense, often frustrating opposing girls with her long arms (it doesn’t hurt that her daddy’s arm-span is over 7 feet long). I watched with a lot of pride and contentment seeing her take on some leadership within the team while keeping away from most of the drama. Water polo definitely dominated our family calendar for the months of March and April. The regular season came to an end in early May and all that remained on the schedule was the JV State Tournament on May 9th.

E reaching save

The long arm of the law minding the net at JV State.

As the regular season came to an end E’s coach announced that the JV goalie would be playing on the Varsity team so she would not be available for the JV Tournament. Since E had spelled the goalie a couple of times during the regular season her coach asked E to take over that spot at the upcoming tournament. E wasn’t particularly happy about that request as she was looking forward to continuing her strong play in the field. She and I talked about it quite a bit that week before state and I convinced her that playing in the goal would be a great help to her team even though that meant having to sacrifice her personal stats for the good of the team. She wasn’t 100% on board with that but, to her credit, she told the coach that she would play wherever she was told/asked to play. She did communicate that she would enjoy some time in the field, if at all possible. It made me really proud to see her embrace something that wasn’t exactly what she wanted because it was the right thing to do as a teammate.

E’s team played the first game of the tournament and she was in goal to start. She played well although, to be honest, the defense in front of her was stout, only allowing a handful of shots, none of which found the back of the net, thanks to E. Her coach switched her out of goal in the second half as her team cruised to a victory. The same thing happened in the second game, although E allowed one goal before switching out into the field for the second half. Interestingly enough, the girl who replaced E in goal in the first two games had never played as a goalie prior to that day. While she gave a great effort, she did allow a few goals. I commented to my wife after the second game how much better E’s team looked and played when E was in the goal. I bit my tongue and didn’t interfere or suggest to E that she should stay goalie for the whole game. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in the third and final game of the “pool” play. E stayed in goal the entire game. She made a few nice saves and ended up with a clean sheet, meaning a shutout! Are you kidding me? Shutouts are not that common in JV water polo (Until this one I had not seen one in the two seasons E had been on the team), but to do it at the State Tournament? Clutch.

The championship game went roughly the same as the others as E’s team jumped out to an early lead, played suffocating defense and the won the title 10-2 against one of their biggest rivals in the area.  As the final horn sounded I was able to see E’s face and it was pure joy. After the post-game handshakes between teams, E’s team received medals for their accomplishment and the smile on her face stretched from ear to ear. As I gave her a hug and congratulated her she told me that she had asked her coach to stay in goal for the second half of the last two games instead of switching out into the field. I was stunned, because I knew how much she had wanted to be in the field. Yet, it also made me even more proud of her for putting her team ahead of herself. It showed a maturity beyond her 15 years that will serve her well as she continues on in sports and life. I look forward to her final two seasons of high school water polo.

Note: A few days ago I took part in a “men’s masters” water polo at E’s high school pool after receiving an invite from the varsity coach. Holy cow! So much more respect for what the athletes go through to play water polo. I mean, I knew that they’re constantly swimming and that I’m NOT a swimmer (I know how, but I’m not one) and that I’ve never played the sport before. I think I made it up and down the pool three or four times before I needed to sub back out. In that short time during the first game I did, however, manage to take AND MAKE! a shot on goal. (Beginner’s luck!) I played most of the second game in goal before my knee cramped up and I was done for the night. I learned that I’m not a water polo player and gained a whole new level of respect for the strength, skill and conditioning of the athletes.

She shoots…she scores!

Please permit me to brag about my 15 year old daughter in this proud papa post. Tuesday evening was my daughter E’s first Junior Varsity water polo game of her sophomore season in high school. While she’s always been a swimmer and started on a swim team early in grade school, last year was her very first time ever playing water polo. By her own admission (and with her permission to share here) she was pretty clueless last year. The few minutes that she played last season were mostly a jumbled mess of mistakes along a pretty steep learning curve. Her lone highlight came in the end of season tournament in which she took a shot on goal only to learn the pain of hitting the crossbar. I remember telling her then that I was proud of her because at least she had taken the shot. Despite not experiencing much success in the sport last year, E refused to give up. In fact, she made it her goal at the end of her freshman season to be starting JV in her sophomore year. She played and practiced water polo with a club team over the summer and winter seasons. She continued to show up with a desire to learn and improve. She swam on her high school’s swim team again in the fall season. She gained confidence in herself as she began to increase her strength and sharpen her skills. She watched as her time trials improved and her coaches approved.

The 2015 season began in early March and E was excited to compete for a starting JV spot. I can admit this now, having seen her improvement from last season, that I was a little leery of her ability to attain this goal. I supported her 100%, but there were doubts in the back of my mind since I had not seen her play at all of those practices from last summer and winter. Still, after just three practices during that first week she proudly announced that her coach had selected her (along with a few other girls) to continue to practice with the Varsity girls, to compete for a spot on the varsity squad. WHAT?! Needless to say, E was ecstatic and I was blown away at the news. I’m pretty sure she was somewhere around cloud nine dreaming about the possibilities. After a few more practices it became apparent to her that she wasn’t quite ready for the varsity level and she was feeling a little down about that after one practice. It was at that moment, while driving her home from practice, that I told her just how proud I was of her. We took a little stroll down Memory Lane and reminisced about her freshman season. I reminded her that her goal had been to crack the JV, not varsity, lineup. I felt that she needed to know how much she had grown and improved from the end of last season to the beginning of this one. She had to know how impressed I was by her dedication and perseverance. I finished my pep talk by reminding her that she had already accomplished something that her old man never would. She had already played on not one, but two, high school sports teams.

E is #12, playing some stellar defense

E is #12, playing some stellar defense

Well, last Thursday was the Intra-squad Scrimmage and E played one quarter. She was on defense from the very first play and her aggressiveness and tenacity were remarkable to everyone there and her coach even pointed it out to all of the parents in attendance. It was a marked change from the timid player E was during most of her freshman season. While she wasn’t in for a long time I was pleased to see such obvious growth and improvement in her game. Those hours shuttling her to and from practices at the different pools were beginning pay dividends. All of this buildup set the stage for the first game against another team.

I didn’t know this but E didn’t make the starting lineup for the JV squad. Even so, she was among the first subs for her team, unlike last year when she was among the last to get in, if at all. Her first game action was the start of the second quarter and I noticed immediately her aggressive confidence as she played swarming defense and swam harder than I remembered her doing last year.

IMG_7407

Pass to #9 or shoot on goal?

A short time later E received a pass and advanced it toward the goal. As the defenders closed in on her she deftly passed to an open teammate who buried the shot for a goal in the wide side of the net. While I was cheering her for making the pass and garnering an assist I could only marvel at the growth from last year. But the best was still to come as E was just getting going. A minute or two later the other team turned it over and E swam hard into the offensive end where she received a perfectly placed pass. She swam the ball forward on a 2-on1 break and surveyed her options: try a risky pass over a defender to her teammate or take the shot on goal herself. All of this happened in a matter of only seconds as the defenders were closing in and her coach was shouting instructions from across the pool.

She shoots...she scores!

She shoots…she scores!

As I held my breath (and snapped pictures!) E made her choice and took the shot. Her powerful toss beat the goalie to the near post and she had the first goal of her career. As she swam back toward the center of the pool she looked up at me, absolutely beaming. If I could have leaped over the railing and jumped into the pool to hug her I would have (but that would’ve been a bit awkward and a tad embarrassing for her).

I’m such a sucker for feel good stories and this one ranks right up there for me as a parent. I’m blessed to be with my children 24/7 as a Stay At Home Dad. I get to witness some pretty amazing things like first words, first steps, first crushes and so on. Now I get to add to that a first goal in water polo. But, more than the physical first-goal itself, it is the sense of accomplishment for my daughter that comes from working hard to improve herself and seeing firsthand the fruits of her labor. I’m so proud of her for sticking with it and for finding the resolve to push herself even when others doubted her. I look forward to watching many more of her games…as well as how it will inspire her younger siblings.