Playing the hole-set position in water polo is not for the faint of heart. Just ask San Benito High senior Ben Reed, who is starting at the position for the first time in his varsity career.
The position involves mental and physical warfare, as players routinely scratch, pull and tug on each other, and the best ones do it in such a way that they won’t be called for a penalty. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Reed is still relatively new to the sport and the position, but he’s come a long way and developed into an impact player.
“Ben has been a really good team leader and has been huge in the pool for us at hole set,” said Brendan Sigourney, who is in his sixth season as the San Benito High coach. “To his credit, he’s really stepped it up this year and has been our go-to guy at times. He’s also ambidextrous which is pretty rare at our level while also being a vocal leader. He leads by example, never wants to sub out and is always encouraging teammates. He’s one of the guys you need on a team to get through years like this.”
After looking up to past seniors, Reed is now the one his teammates look to, and he acknowledged the importance of setting a good example and making sure everyone is communicating in the pool. The Haybalers are in a transition year, as they returned no starters off a 2017 team that won the Monterey Bay League’s Pacific Division championship. However, Reed feels this year’s squad has reason for optimism. In an 8-7 loss to Palma on Sept. 18, the Balers led 5-2 at halftime but couldn’t finish.
“We know we have to finish those games,” Reed said. “We’re putting things together because the ultimate goal is to win. I can’t wait to see where we’re at near the end of the season.”
The Balers have strong players in Dylan Perry, Reed Fulcher, Tyler Oelrich, Adam Bonnet, Ramon Duran and Kenneth Kliewer. Perry, a senior two-meter player and hole guard, has provided a steady presence defensively while showing improvement offensively.
“He’s getting out of his shell, shooting a lot more and stepping into his role,” Sigourney said. “He plays some of the sport’s backbone positions, so Dylan has really added to our team.”
Fulcher, a senior, sets the tone with a willingness to compete in every situation while never slowing down.
“His attitude goes a long way,” Sigourney said. “He might not show up in the stat sheet, but he has relished taking on the role of being a senior and helping the young guys learn the sport.”
Oelrich, a junior goalie, looks to follow in the footsteps of past Baler standouts in the cage, including Casey Matsui, who manned the position in 2017. Oelrich has been the junior varsity goalie the last two years and has done a solid job this season.
“Tyler has been great for us,” Sigourney said. “He’s provided stability in the cage for us, and that’s important when you have a young team. He’s learning his voice in there, and we’ve been lucky to have good goalies here lately.”
Bonnet, a sophomore driver, has plenty of talent and speed, representing the future of the program along with sophomore Ramon Duran. Sigourney said Bonnet does all of the team’s sprint-offs, has tremendous endurance and picks up things fast. Duran, a sophomore driver, distributes the ball well, plays excellent defense and makes sound decisions with the ball.
“Ramon will be a force to be reckoned with in the future,” He’s got a great attitude, is a good teammate and is a natural athlete who wants to learn. He’s coachable and someone you want to have around as an example for other players to follow.”
Kliewer, a junior driver, swims well, plays strong and affects the team in a positive way with his ability to keep things loose.
“He has tons of energy, and water polo is a perfect sport for a kid like him,” Sigourney said. “He’s always happy, cracking jokes and always high energy. “
The Balers, who entered the week with a 1-3 record in the Pacific Coast League’s Mission Division, have been competitive in all of their matches outside of the league opener against first-place Harbor. However, the Balers feel they’re on the cusp of a turnaround. Constant communication in the pool will be key, with discipline playing a huge role as well. Against Palma, Reed admitted he let an opponent get the best of him, which earned him a penalty and gave Palma a man advantage.
“I got scratched and hit in the back, then came back and drowned (dunked) him (put him under water),” Reed said. “They scored on a 6-on-5, so it wasn’t the smartest move from my part. I have to find other ways to fight back and stay smart. Hole-set is a very physical position, and my mindset is to get in the best position I can to score and try not to let them get in my head and just play water polo.”
If Reed and his teammates continue to evolve mentally and physically, they’ll definitely make a move up the division standings.