Water Polo: San Benito High won’t field a girls team this year

The Balers' Ceily Hepner was a top returnee until the school decided to cancel the season.

San Benito High won’t field a girls water polo team this year. A shortage of players and a look toward the future ultimately were the reasons why the school decided to cancel the 2016 season.

“It was a shock to me—absolutely—that we didn’t have enough players to field a team,” Balers coach Fred Latimore said. “We have a large population at this school, but I do think this sport is cyclical in the sense that most people don’t play water polo until they come to high school. I’m disappointed obviously that the season has been cancelled, but we’ll build this program back up.”

Latimore said only four players—Ceily Hepner, Sophia Reyes, Madison Trimble and Katie Sanchez—showed up for tryouts over the first 10 days of practice. A water polo team needs six players to start (five field players and a goalie), but also at a minimum one to two extra athletes when a player either has to miss a match due to sickness, injury or personal reasons.

Latimore, who was entering his second year coaching the girls, will help out boys coach Brendan Sigourney and boys junior varsity coach David Garcia. The four girls are trying out for both teams, with the final rosters being available on Monday. The Balers girls water polo program has been nothing if not consistently good over the years, and last year was no exception.

San Benito finished 7-5 in Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division play en route to a quarterfinal appearance in the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs. That team had a 12-player roster and had three potential senior returners for this season. However, the seniors decided not to return, and even if they did, the squad would’ve had a tough time competing in the Gabilan Division.

“You need seven total players (at a minimum), but the reality is the Gabilan is a very tough division, and it wasn’t going to happen this year,” Latimore said. “It wouldn’t have been fair to anyone, so we decided to pull the plug.”

As of Friday afternoon, Latimore said he hadn’t heard from any student-athletes or parents inquiring about a reinstatement of the program.

“We’ve been transparent with all of my girls and their parents on what was going on,” he said. “We’ve been communicating with them on the potential of this. Tod Thatcher (San Benito athletic director) and I were communicating this to everyone involved in the program.”

Despite the pool situation at the school—one of the two pools was closed a year ago—Latimore said players did have an opportunity to swim or play water polo this summer.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a facilities thing,” he said. “I think there are a lot of factors involved, with the first being kids trying to get ahead in school. It’s a cyclical thing of getting player turnout, but I also have to do a better job of recruiting and make sure I work with SBA (San Benito Aquatics) to get people interested in water polo at an early age. That way when they get to San Benito, they’ll be ready to step in and play at a high level.”

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