Water Polo: A girl among boys

Ceily Hepner is the lone girl on the varsity boys team this year, having earned a spot after the girls team's season was cancelled.

Ceily Hepner always wondered if she was good enough to play with the boys. She’s got her answer. The San Benito High junior starts for a team that has no seniors but plenty of room for growth and optimism.

“It might not be our pinnacle (season), but it’s definitely not a rebuilding year,” fourth-year coach Brendan Sigourney said. “It’s great when you have a young team because you see improvement from the first game of the season. It’s going to be kind of fun to see who grows and develops the most.”

Hepner earned a spot on the boys team after the girls squad had its season cancelled three weeks ago. From there, Hepner tried out for the boys team and not only earned a roster spot on the team, but a starting position. Being a lefty, Hepner can play the point or left flat or wing position, a critical factor for many reasons.

“Having a lefty is extremely useful in the pool,” Sigourney said. “But not just any lefty. With Ceily, she’s really smart as far as game sense goes. She knows where the ball should go to, and that will help us move the ball around and get us easier shots and different angles to shoot from.”

Hepner was one of only four athletes who showed up for the first 10 practice days in August for the girls team. Out of one cancelled season came a golden opportunity: to try to earn a spot on the boys team. It didn’t hurt that Hepner has been friends with two of the top players on the team, Zander Bonnet and Josh Corrigan, for several years.

“We all swim for San Benito Aquatics,” Hepner said. “We hang out all the time, and they treat me exactly the same in the pool—as one of the guys. I really appreciate that … I knew once I got a chance to play with the boys, I would have a better opportunity to get looked at by colleges and improve my skills.”

Hepner said the adjustment from the girls game to the boys game has been a subtle yet impactful one. Whereas girls tend to grab onto the swim suit to gain any advantage, the boys grab her arms. Water polo is without a doubt a contact sport, and Hepner said she’ll have to make some adjustments going forward.

Bonnet, a junior utility, is the team’s go-to player. An outstanding swimmer, Bonnet possesses an all-around game combined with speed.

“Zander is crucial to our success,” Sigourney said. “He can take control and lead our team to where it has to go.”

Corrigan is a junior driver who also has a lot of speed. The Balers have no seniors on the roster, which usually spells trouble for a team. However, there are enough experienced players on the squad for San Benito to compete in the Monterey Bay League’s Pacific Division.

Junior goalie Casey Matsui and junior driver Oliver Garcia should make a big impact. Sigourney said Garcia has excellent game sense and a quick shot, and Matsui looks promising in goal. Dawson Garcia, Ryan Okubo, Reed Fulcher, Ben Smith, Eduardo Villanueva and Brandon Lomeli round out the 11-player roster.

In the team’s season-opening 10-9 win over York on Aug. 30, Bonnet had five goals, Corrigan four and Garcia one. Bonnet scored the game-winner with under a minute remaining, off an assist from Corrigan.

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