Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor boys water polo gets back to basics under coach Julia VanCamp

For the past few years, the Gig Harbor High School boys water polo team faced some challenges to the program. From not having enough players to a collective lack of discipline, things weren’t looking up.

Enter coach and Fresno Pacific grad Julia VanCamp (formerly Ponce), a former standout for the Gig Harbor High School girls water polo program, who saw these problems and had the desire to address and fix them.

“When I was originally hired, they gave me the backstory of the program. There were challenges before I got here,” she said. “My instinct was ‘There’s something that needs fixing, I’ll fix it.’”

And what she brought was giving discipline where discipline needed to be.

Beginning last year in 2018, VanCamp implemented a code of conduct that blue printed all of her expectations for her team. It laid out that her players would become respectful, responsible adults who wanted to play water polo.

Other things began to change for the team as well, along with their change of attitude.

“There’s definitely been a big shift in how we do things,” said senior Owen Wild. “Like dressing up for game day; that was something freshman and sophomore year we tried [to do]. Wearing a dress shirt with a tie never caught on. Now we have these polos and khakis and the team looks the part when we go out for an away game.”

Wild, a Gonzaga baseball commit and Tacoma News Tribune 2019 All-Area baseball selection, was originally brought into the fold during his freshman year when water polo was still struggling to find its footing at Gig Harbor. In fact, his older brother, Matthew, basically forced him to play.

At first, it was an unpleasant experience, with Wild’s swimming skills not up to par. But as the years went on, he endured the intense training and is one of the leading scorers for the Tides.

“[My favorite part of playing] definitely just the games, the whole atmosphere,” he said. “Scoring goals with your whole team behind you and knowing that when you score, there’s that rush that you get.”

Part of VanCamp’s philosophy is also building a comradery and bonds between her players and to cut out any bullying that may happen, as it was an issue prior to her tenure.

Some of her new rules include five minutes in the changing room before practices and eliminating team captains as well. It has really cleaned up things for the team, and younger players like sophomore Andrew Huston see the positive change in atmosphere.

“I just really like the group we have,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll go to Dairy Queen after games, and the bus rides going to and from games, we bond a lot on that.”

Growing up, Huston played soccer and swam for his hobbies. With influence from his mom, who also had passion for water polo, Huston combined both into playing water polo.

That combination has proven successful for Huston as he plays a sport that he has real passion for, something that VanCamp seeks from her players, and he is part of a tight knit group of athletes.

“[We do] a lot of swimming and legs. We get our teamwork down because that’s a big part of water polo,” Huston said. “We watch a lot of film, some training in the gym. Our main thing is watching film from the games that we play and learn from that.”

Practices for the Tides have also increased in their intensity under VanCamp. Their training time together is anywhere from two to three hours.

The weight training is usually done three times as week with body weight workouts before getting in the pool; then once in the pool, players are swimming hard for 40 minutes. Finally, they get into technique work to challenge the swimmers’ legs.

The Tides’ strength and readiness has given them the edge in games as they have achieved a perfect 12-0 record in league play, and a 13-1 record overall.

In the end, VanCamp wants her players to respect her time as a coach.

“We continually go over the expectations of the team which is just a lot of it is commitment based,” she said. “I have to congratulate the guys because they’re doing a good job of executing what us as coaches want. They work, they show up and their commitment level is phenomenal.”

The Tides’ season officially wrapped up with their match against Curtis this past Tuesday. However with their record, they are easily qualified to play in the post season tournament.

They will play Emerald Ridge at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8 at Rogers High School in the opening round.