Miners look to build on previous success
Last season, the Nevada Union boys water polo team dipped its toes in the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. This season, with many key players returning, the Miners are looking to dive right in.
“We bring back a group of nine returning varsity players,” NU head coach Lotty Hellested said. “Many of them are guys who were my first kids campers.”
The veteran Miners squad returns captains Earl English and Parker Rhodes as well as Cole Castleberry, Chase Milhous, Ryan Filek, Joey Bush, Alex Fitandes, Grant Clove and Kenny Gilfillan.
With nine returners, the Miners have aspirations to make the playoffs once again, but for that to happen NU will need to navigate a very difficult Sierra Foothill League.
“My expectation is we will do the best we can,” Hellested said “That’s all relative to your league. Honestly, you can have your strongest team ever and everyone else is stronger, and conversely you can have a team do well that’s not as good because everyone else has dropped. My hope is that we will win the games we should win.”
Granite Bay and Woodcreek have been the SFL powers in the recent past, but Rocklin and Del Oro will also field quality teams this year, said Hellested.
“Our league is wide open for the team that can be more consistent,” she said. “I’m hoping that’s us, but you never know.”
This season, the Miners are building on last season’s foundation and fine tuning their skill set, said English.
“Our defense and coaching was a major factor last year,” he said. “We’ve learned more and got the basics down, lots of simple stuff, but it’s helped all the more.”
While the Miners have the talent to make waves in the SFL, their cohesiveness is their greatest asset, said Rhodes.
“The cohesiveness on the team is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” he said. “We’re all like brothers, and we get along really well. It’s huge, not only being able to cooperate with your teammates but knowing their skills. What they’re good at and what they are not — are they a lefty or a righty, do they prefer higher passes, what can they handle — it’s just good to know everyone’s weaknesses and strengths. That’s when you start to see a better offense and a better defense — when everyone knows each other.”
Rhodes, a senior, wants his final season with NU to be a statement season for the water polo program.
“My biggest goal is to leave a legacy of Nevada Union water polo,” he said. “The last few years we’ve been kind of the underdog and looked down upon, and I don’t want to be that anymore. I want to be one of the top teams.”
If the Miners are to turn the tables in the SFL, it will be because of their intensity, Rhodes said.
“Everyday, whether it’s morning or afternoon practice, we’re swimming faster, getting up higher with our egg beater, we’re throwing harder passes, and our concentration is there. We’re trying to bring our game to a whole new level with our focus and knowledge of the game.”
The Miners will introduce a new starting goalie for this season in Joe Bush.
“Joe is a very good goalie,” Hellested said. “Last year, he played behind the senior goalie who was really good. He’s deceptive. Joe doesn’t look like a big goalie, but he is a big goalie. He made some really strong saves in that Sierra College tourney. He’s got really good legs, and he’s a good blocker. He plays bigger than he looks.”
Helping Bush learn the intricacies of tending goal, is former Nevada Union water polo player and former Cal State Monterey Bay goalie Sarah Hudspeth.
The Miners have opened the SFL with an early loss to Woodcreek but will look to right the ship today at home against Roseville.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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