Bengals water polo looking at competitive season after state championships
Feb 21, 2017 05:15PM ● Published by Kelly Cannon
Both the girls and the boys Bengal water polo teams won their respective state championships in 2016. (Lyse Durrant/Bengal Water Polo)
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The Bengals water polo team is ready to start their next season after both the girls and boys teams won the 5A state championship last year. The club has been around since 2004 but has significantly improved since Mike Morgan took over as head coach in 2014. Morgan said when he started, the girls team hadn’t won a game and the boys team was just average, despite a lot of talent on both teams.
“Going into the spring 2015 season, everyone knew Brighton had been around for a while as a club. But our teams really weren’t that strong,” Morgan said. “I don’t think other coaches expected us to do as well as we did. We ended up with both teams in the 5A state finals.”
The girls lost the final game by one point, but the boys ended up winning the championship. In the 2016 season, the girls had a tougher schedule but it ended up paying off when they won the state championship for the first time in the Brighton High School history. The boys also won their state championship, the second in a row.
Morgan said because of the success of the team, other coaches are gunning to take the top spot away from the Bengals. However, Morgan isn’t worried.
“We lose players every year but that’s kind of the fun of coaching high school water polo. Every year, it’s a different team dynamic and you have to work in a way to leverage every player’s strengths and to fill each other’s weaknesses to have the strongest team,” Morgan said. “It’s a lot of fun and it’s very rewarding and filling.”
Though based out of Brighton High School, the Bengals water polo team is technically a club team that is registered with the USA Water Polo Association, and they practice at Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center.
“The structure of the league in Utah is if a kid swims for their high school and that high school has an affiliated water polo team, they have to play water polo for that club,” Morgan said. “Kids who play on our team are all from around here or are from high schools that don’t have water polo teams.”
While the majority of players are from Brighton High School, the team also has players from Corner Canyon High School in Draper and Alta High School in Sandy.
The biggest rival every year for the Bengals has been Herriman High School. Two years ago, Cottonwood High School was also a big competitor.
“But Viewmont (High School), we met them in the finals for the girls and the boys last season so I’m expecting them to really bring it this year as well,” Morgan said. “Maybe there are other dark horses coming up. You never know.”
Morgan said the great thing about coaching youth competitive sports like the Bengals water polo team is the sport might be the only area of the kids’ lives where they can feel the satisfaction from the hard work. While kids can’t choose to not go to school, they can choose to be on the team.
“The fruits of their labors, the trophies in the hallway, it’s due to their hard work, their sacrifice, and they take responsibility for each win and each loss. I feel that’s tremendously important,” Morgan said. “My goal for each of the players is that they put in their best effort to not only work as hard as they can and be to practice on time but also to make friends with all of their teammates and strengthen the relationships in the team. By doing those things, we can get the hard work in.”
Eighteen-year-old senior Nicholas Nelson joined the water polo team because he liked the team aspect of the sport where players can build off each other.
“Other sports like track or swimming, it’s just the individual time that creates the team,” Nelson said. “I like how we can work together to build something that others can’t.”
Last year, Nelson said the team was confident going into the championship game because they knew they had conditioned enough and built up the team enough where they knew they would come out on top. This year, Nelson feels that the team has done a good job of playing everyone equally.
“I like seeing that and I want to see more of that because we definitely grow when everyone on the team is included rather than just star players being given all the time,” Nelson said. “For me, I’m the goalie so I just want to block as many shots as possible.”
Seventeen-year-old junior Olivia Huntzinger started out playing water polo after swimming for the Cottonwood Heights aquatics team. After seeing her older sister play water polo, she decided to join the water polo team as well. Like Nelson, she also likes the team aspect of the sport.
“I like to know that my teammates have my back and I can support them if they need it,” Huntzinger said. “I like the strategy too.”
Winning the 2016 state championship for the first time in Brighton High School history was an amazing thing for Huntzinger.
“It was really great for us because the year before, we lost in the last 10 seconds of the game. They scored another goal and we lost,” she said. “It was really great and it really brought us closer together and it was a great way to end the season.”