Kellie Dunn has coached a lot of water polo, but even with the help of her trusty crystal ball, the Hood River Valley girls coach is uncertain how things will shake out come playoff time this November.
First off, Dunn and rest of the state’s prep water polo coaches, are coming off a COVID-shortened spring season in which safety precautions had the players competing in a contact-less season. (It’s tough to don facemasks in the water.) Contact, albeit most of it unseen under water, is a huge aspect of the grueling sport. Secondly, Dunn is working with a young team as she prepares them to defend the state title the Eagles won two years ago.
This is HRV’s seventh season of girls water polo and all have been with Dunn’s as coach.
“With such a young team, a lot remains to be seen and we are really looking for a couple sophomores and freshmen to step up in a big way for us,” Dunn explained of her 13-player roster. “I do expect us to make it to the postseason and be a force in the 5A tournament. Our goal this season is to get to the championship game again to defend our title.”
The route will be a little easier with a couple of experienced seniors and a junior — each a co-captain — leading the way. Mary Rose Kissinger, Sarah Arpag and Emma Titus bring different skill sets to the team. Kissinger is traditionally the HRV goalie, but Dunn said she is “playing around with throwing her into the field this year some, too.” Arpag is the fastest player on the team and “an incredible competitor in a game.” Titus and fellow junior Bergen Rust will be asked by Dunn to “take on a lot more this year than they have in the past and I see them both being incredibly strong on defense and offering some serious offensive plays, as well.
“These three bring so much leadership to this team and have been incredibly supportive of our younger players, especially helping get our freshmen up to speed,” Dunn said of her co-captains. “They all have great composure, a deep knowledge of the game, and a killer work ethic. I am proud to have them leading our team this year.”
Dunn has been focusing on fundamentals in preseason workouts, in part reteaching the game to players whose only other experience with the sport is no contact. Dunn said her seven-player starting lineup is “fairly fluid right now. My younger players are still sorting things out, so I can’t say for sure who else might be in that mix.”
Esmé Price is a sophomore who will be filling in as goalie, as Dunn pushes Kissinger into the field. Anna Southall and Avery Walker are other sophomores who will be asked to fill the void of the seniors who graduated last year, Dunn said.
Dunn said she feels fortunate to be able to field a team. “I feel like my roster is a bit smaller than I would prefer, but after our coaches’ meeting, I’ve realized that the HRVHS girls team is doing quite well on player numbers this year after all,” Dunn said. “So many schools are struggling to build their program up as some kids have just sort of moved on after being away from it last spring.
“The other issue in our sport this year is there are still many pools not opened back up yet due to COVID. I’m feeling so fortunate to have the facility we have and the ability to field a team … I’m excited to see which of our freshmen and sophomores step up this season and become force on this team.”