Shortly after IHSA lifted some restrictions on contact sports, the boys water polo team started to train and prepare for its upcoming season, though it is still uncertain when the team’s first competition will be, head varsity coach Doug Eichstaedt said.
“It was exciting to hear the news,” he said. “There has not been a lot of optimistic news over the last 12 months, and it was the first time that I felt like we would be able to start playing again.”
The boys water polo team was not able to compete last season. They were supposed to have their first game March 12 last year against Hinsdale South High School. Unfortunately, that was the same day everything was canceled, Lian Malas ‘21 said.
“It was a bummer,” Malas said. “I’m really stoked to have a season this year, even though it got pushed back. I’ll take that any day rather than not having a season at all.”
There were very few pools open for teams to practice in during quarantine, even when restrictions became lighter. However, Max Aquatics in Hodgkins allowed for the LT team to practice there. Usually, club teams are not allowed to play together during high school seasons. However, this season, the team was allowed to practice during club seasons as well, which helped to enhance their level of play, Malas said.
“It has been difficult to be away from coaching and competing,” Eichstaedt said. “I am mostly concerned about the players and providing as many opportunities as possible.”
Their first strategy was to follow all of the guidelines that were put forward by the Illinois Department of Public Health. There were adjustments made every time the state moved from one tier to another. It challenged the coaches to be creative and think outside the box, and there were some opportunities to try new strategies that they would not have done before, Eichstaedt said.
“I was about to spend time talking and listening to other coaches from around the country,” Eichsteadt said. “I used these conversations to reflect on my own coaching and thought of ways to restructure certain drills and progressions of skills. We also had the unique opportunity to coach with a member of the US National Team and NCAA champion at UCLA, Matt Farmer.”
Before their new season was announced, the boys had been practicing hard but also staying healthy and safe while doing so, Sebastian Perez ‘21 said. The main problems are in the locker rooms and when they are outside of the pool because disinfection with chlorine generally inactivates the virus in the water.
“We’re careful about COVID,” Perez said. “We keep our masks on [and] keep six feet apart. We are confident and more ready to play, [and we] hope to get some good practices and great games out of the season.”
The boys water polo team is working towards winning the state’s championship this year after being stripped from the chance last year. Anything less would be a disappointment for the team, Malas said.
“The sport is very special to all of us,” Perez said. “We need to give 100% effort at practices like we always do to win. It’s been very slow being away from water polo for so long.”
Above all, Eichstaedt wants a sense of normalcy to come back for the sake of his players. Their most important goal is to work together as a team and to be able to play with each other once more, he said.
“I want the players to compete and participate in a sport that they enjoy,” Eichstaedt said. “Being part of a team and working towards a common goal, whatever that might be.”