With a focus on strong goaltending, Rio Americano water polo may be poised for two more SJS titles.
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
Everyone remembers the big play, whether it is the winning shot or the huge block to keep the ball out of the cage. But the key to the most important position in the pool —the water polo goalkeeper — is to forget everything.
“I tell (goalkeepers) to play with no memory,” Rio Americano High School goalie coach Joey Frantz says of the message he constantly conveys to his net minders. “You can’t dwell on the last play because you can’t get too high or too low as a goalie.”
Frantz, a Chicago native who played Division I water polo at the University of the Pacific from 2007-2011, has spent the last two seasons helping Raiders coach Tyson Frenn solidify the dominance of the boys and girls programs from the cage out. With solid goalkeeping a mainstay, the girls team has won 10 of the 11 Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championships and the boys have collected four Div. II section titles. Both teams are defending SJS champs with the boys having won the last three.
This year’s teams are again considered favorites in Div. II, and goalkeeping is among the top advantages the Raiders hold over opponents. The success in goal is even more impressive considering both teams are featuring new starters in the cage.
Junior Sophia Burgess replaces Avery Dotterer while senior Gavin White has gotten his chance to shine after the graduation of Wally Harmon. Burgess and White have their own styles and personalities, but both are leaders in maintaining the program’s dominance in the pool.
Burgess played on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore to log maximum minutes in the water, but saw action in the section playoffs to start the transition to varsity goalie for 2013. Frenn and Frantz have been impressed by the young goalkeeper’s fearless nature in being the team’s last line of defense.
“She is the most aggressive female goalie that I have seen in the section,” Frenn said. “She will go out and attack the shooter and force opponents to shoot into her blocks. And, if the ball is on the water, she is coming to get it.”
Frantz’s goal with the aggressive Burgess is to improve her positioning and increase her leg strength to explode out of the water to cover more of the net. He sees great potential in her.
“Ever since I first started working with Sophia, she has had great recognition of the ball,” Frantz said. “She constantly has her eyes on the ball and can immediately react to shots. She sees where the ball is going and does not just rise up blindly to cover the goal.”
White is more of a technician in the net who relies on his length and wingspan to cover the net as well as painstaking attention to the details of goalkeeping technique. His competitive nature and attempt to refine and perfect his technique does not stop when the games start.
Frenn said he has looked back to his net when the Raiders are on the attack to see White working on specific techniques or drills after a goal or situation to be better prepared for a certain shot later on in the game.
“We are not as strong defensively this year as we have been in the past,” Frenn said, “but Gavin can erase some of our mistakes with one save that turns the momentum around.”
Despite seeing little time in the cage while backing up Harmon, White understood that he would be assuming the role of anchor and team leader as “the man” in goal for his final high school season.
“I know that I have to be a leader back there,” he said. “You have to lead the offense by getting the ball where it needs to go, and lead the defense by getting guys in the right spots.”
“I always try to be super vocal in the pool because the goalie has to be in people’s ears.”
Frantz has been a constant in the ears of Burgess, White, and the rest of the Raiders’ goalies. He coaches the girls’ junior varsity team in addition to the countless hours that he spends sharing his goalkeeping knowledge and experience — a luxury that few high schools enjoy.
Most programs have a head coach who may have played in the field before moving into coaching or have teachers of the game with a mind for offensive prowess. Frantz brings a unique perspective as a former goalkeeper and demands a higher level of play from his pupils.
“Having a goalie coach to teach you instead of just getting instructions of what to do in goal is significantly better,” Burgess said. “With a coach that never played in goal, you don’t get the same interaction that we get with Joey.
“He is focused on getting you as close to perfection as you can get.”
Frenn appreciates being able to teach what he knows best — playing in the field — while leaving the goalie position to Frantz.
“I can rely on him to get them what they need, and I can spend time with the other players,” Frenn said. “I know that my goalies will be ready. That was the best hire I have ever made.”
The Raiders are poised to add even more hardware to their already-full trophy case, but their leaders want more than just section titles this year.
“We have goals to not give up counter-attacks and not give up goals,” Burgess said of the girls’ team’s aspirations. “We want to win sections again and to work back up to our previous streak of 10 consecutive championships.”
That would certainly be a legacy for people to remember.
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