Younger than its been in a long time, Campolindo girls water polo is still a title threat
By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
It would’ve been the perfect time for Kim Everist to take a bow and step away from coaching.
The Campolindo High girls water polo program had just won its third consecutive North Coast Section Division II championship and its fourth in five years. The majority of the roster was graduating. Everist was about to take a new full-time job in San Francisco, and her 6-year-old daughter deserved attention too. Thus, no one could have blamed the coach if she dropped the mic and made the ninth year at the Moraga school her last.
She came very close to it, too.
Something told her she should stick around, though. And after making some arrangements and assuring that she could give her full commitment, she returned to the pool to begin a new chapter with the Cougars — and it’s one that she’s found extremely refreshing.
“We graduated sort of a legacy group that had been around a long time,” Everist said. “Now we’re young in both experience and leadership, and it just makes for an interesting season. It’s a big reason why I came back. I knew it was going to be some rebuilding, but it’s been fun. They’re learning how much they can push themselves.”
As it turns out, that may be pretty far.
For a roster that features just three returning starters with twice as many freshmen and sophomores as seniors, Everist sees signs that the team’s learning curve could accelerate.
“I do just really like the feel of this group,” Everist said. “They work really hard in the pool, which is a given, and there’s just not a lot of high drama. As soon as we can get a little bit of confidence built in them, they’re really going to take off.”
The three returning starters are junior attackers Olivia Price and Kari Jensen, and sophomore attacker Katie Klein. Jensen and Klein should be familiar names to those with knowledge of Campolindo’s championship runs over the past five seasons as older sisters, Kimmie Klein and Annika Jensen, were both key figures. The Cougars junior goalkeeper, Becca Buck, is a younger sibling of Hannah Buck, who graduated last year after the Cougars completed their NCS three-peat.
Those four players represent the core of the current group, and their familiarity with the program — and obvious talent — are a big reason why this team may grow up faster than expected. They are beginning to play like leaders too.
Playing in the Woodcreek Invitational Tournament in Roseville from Sept. 25-26, Campolindo went 2-2, including a galling 8-7 loss to Clovis that involved four sudden-death periods. Everist came away extremely encouraged with the fight the team showed, especially her core four.
“I sent a text out to the girls after we got back Saturday and it basically said that if I had to pick four people to go to battle with, it would be those three juniors and sophomore,” Everist said. “They just left it all in the pool. And really I feel that way about my whole team. It’s been a fun process to watch.”
The loss to Clovis, which closed the tournament for the Cougars, really could turn out to be a watershed moment for the team. Battling through the extra periods together seemed to forge an identity and a greater sense of togetherness between them.
“It’s hard to feel like a team when the only thing you’ve gone through is wins and success,” senior captain Ellen Gerst said. “Going through a challenge like that was really good for us. Everyone wanted it at the same time. The whole bench was holding hands and during breaks we’d look in each other’s eyes and see the determination. It brought out how much everyone wanted to be a part of this.”
Campolindo closed the tournament with a 7-3 overall record and prepared to switch gears with the Diablo Foothill Athletic League schedule beginning on Sept. 30. Despite their youth, the Cougars will still be a heavy favorite to win the league crown. They should get strong competition from their district rivals, Miramonte-Orinda and Acalanes-Lafayette.
“It’s back to work,” Everist said. “We definitely learned a lot about our team (in the first month), and we definitely have areas that we need to refine and get focused on. I think it’s just a lot a hard work and growth.”
Following that Woodcreek tournament, Gerst — who is now in her third year of varsity — was confident the team was on the right track. And, like Everist, she made a note to point out how this year’s team feels different than her previous teams at Campolindo. “Freshmen don’t have as much homework to do, so they can bring a lot more enthusiasm and energy to the pool,” the captain said with a laugh. “But I think it’s just a matter of gaining confidence, both in ourselves individually and as a team. Everyone has talent, and we just need to learn to trust each other collectively.”
It would seem Everist made the right choice in staying.
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