Alta Sierra’s seventh grade girls water polo team made school history last week by winning the league title — and going undefeated all season.
And they did it despite — or perhaps partly because of — 5:30 a.m. daily practices.
With Alta Sierra Intermediate pool under construction, eight water polo teams had to share Buchanan High School’s pool this season. The Buchanan and Alta Sierra teams had to negotiate times to practice, both before and after school.
One may think that the seventh grade girls drew the short straw with the earliest practice, but the truth is they wanted that slot.
“We selfishly requested that 5:30 a.m. practice,” said coach Kelsey Hicks Bojorquez. “There’s something about the calm and peacefulness in the morning before everyone else in the world wakes up. It ended up being our biggest strength.”
Players and parents were concerned at the very beginning, because the girls had to report to the pool by 5:15 a.m., Bojorquez said.
“But as soon as we got started we literally heard zero complaints. Sometimes we were yawning and shivering, but we had no complaints,” she said. “To show that kind of dedication and determination at such a young age, it definitely bonded the girls.”
“The girls would joke about trying not to fall asleep in class, but they did well academically and found that having an early morning practice freed up their afternoons for afterschool labs, plenty of time for homework and more opportunities to attend family functions, Bojorquez said.
The team had an impressive 11-0 record, including eight league games and three preseason games, Bojorquez said.
“Just because we were undefeated doesn’t mean that we are perfect,” Bojorquez said. “We are constantly perfecting our offense and defense.”
The girls on the team just clicked, their coach said.
“This group of girls has a kind of chemistry that you can’t teach. I’m calling them my dream team,” she said. “My job is to teach them and make it fun so that they fall in love with this sport and want to play it up through the collegiate level.”
Her coach methods didn’t include screaming and shouting at the girls.
“There’s times when they just aren’t getting it and I’ll sing it to them. I’ll dance and they’ll be like ‘oh ok!’” Bojorquez said. “We can be silly; they’re so coachable.”
There were also great leaders in the group. When Bojorquez had an emergency appendectomy on Oct. 5, Alta Sierra’s water polo head of sport Leah Mazziliano stepped in to coach.
“My team captains really stepped up in that time,” Bojorquez said. “They’re just incredible captains. I was literally going to my game in sutures and doubled over.”
The coaches and student-athletes couldn’t have had such a successful season without the support of parents, Bojorquez said.
“We had incredible parents, an incredible support system which makes for an even better team,” she said. “It was great knowing that there’s going to be a crowd at each game.”