Last year, the Peninsula High girls water polo team only had 11 players. This year, 18 girls are suiting up for the Seahawks.
The uptick in participation is climbing — slowly, but surely — under second-year coach Milissa Burkey.
“We’re still a very young team,” Burkey said. “We have a lot of people that show a ton of promise and are interested in becoming better. It’s exciting.”
In her effort to rebuild the Peninsula program, which dwindled into single-digit participation at one point a few years ago, Burkey has brought on an old teammate. Burkey called on former teammate Brenna Spadoni to be an assistant for the team. Burkey and Spadoni were captains on the 2008 Peninsula water polo team, as seniors.
The Seahawks have a few solid wins to their name this season; they’ve defeated South Kitsap, Lincoln and Foss. For the players, it’s nice to see their hard work being rewarded. In 2015, only two of the players Burkey inherited even understood how to play water polo. While last season was primarily spent learning the basics of the game, this year, the results are starting to show.
It’s cool to see girls get in there and not be afraid to draw fouls and turn other girls and be physical, and also having that two-steps-ahead mindset.
Milissa Burkey, Peninsula water polo coach
“Just the general awareness of the game (has improved),” Burkey said. “The little things, the instinctual things like anticipating and not being afraid to get in and be aggressive. Getting over those jitters and being able to move into some solid, functional polo, which is exciting. It’s cool to see girls get in there and not be afraid to draw fouls and turn other girls and be physical, and also having that two-steps-ahead mindset.”
One of Peninsula’s best players has been junior goalie Maddie Hebert.
“She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” Burkey said. “She puts her mind to something, and she’s going to go and go until she is beyond successful. In practice, she has her head down and she’s working and sweating. She’ll never give up. And she’s a good goalie, too.”
Hebert made the transition from a field player to being the team’s starting goalie this season.
I really like the goalie position, I like being the eyes for my team and to help them out and be the backbone.
Maddie Hebert, junior goalie
“That was pretty hard,” Hebert said. “I really like the goalie position, I like being the eyes for my team and to help them out and be the backbone. I enjoy goalie a lot more than field. It feels like a position I was meant to be in.”
Hebert’s harshest critic is herself. She struggled with the frustration of not being able to make every save early in the season.
“In my mind, it didn’t occur to me that you’re there to block some of the goals, not all of them,” she said. “I had to tell myself that it was OK that I didn’t block that one. Next time, I’m going to try harder. The best part is rising up to meet the challenge. I feel like that’s what a lot of this year has been.”
Peninsula’s attack is anchored by sophomore Mikayla Snyder, who swam on the swim team this season and has improved tremendously, according to Burkey.
“She’s been working hard at point and her level of intensity and not being afraid to get in there and work and push has grown a lot,” Burkey said. “Last year, we were like teaching her how to swim. Now, she’s not afraid to get in there and she’s got an awesome outside shot.”
With only a few games left in the season, Hebert wants to see the team come together and play its best water polo of the season.
“I want them to understand that being a team, we have to work together,” Hebert said. “With a mountain, everyone sees the rocks at the top, but the rocks at the bottom go unnoticed. The rocks at the top wouldn’t be at the top if the bottom rocks weren’t there. I feel like our team doesn’t really get that. We’re together — we’re standing on the shoulders of giants.”