In 2018, San Benito High fielded a girls water polo team for the first time in three or four years. Not surprisingly, things didn’t go well. The Haybalers finished 0-15, often losing by huge margins. Fast forward to this season, and things could not be more different under coach Hayley Vandercook. The Balers entered the week with a winning record and could conceivably contend for a Pacific Coast League Mission Division championship.
“We’re definitely in good spirits,” said Vandercook, who actually took over as coach near the end of last season to help the program stay afloat. “The goal is to win the lower division (if not this year then next), get back to CCS and get back to playing Baler water polo.”
This is Vandercook’s second coaching stint with the team, having coached the Balers from 2008 to 2013, with the program qualifying for the Central Coast Section playoffs three times in that span. Vandercook has been pleased with the team’s effort and match performance thus far, noting the program still has a long way to go and continued improvement will be key.
Kylie Corrigan—one of three Corrigans on the squad—is a junior captain and a prolific goal scorer. Corrigan and sophomore Caroline Fleming form a dynamic 1-2 combination at the all-important hole-set position. Depending on the matchup and how things are going, the two could be playing alongside each other or Fleming could spell Corrigan—the starter—for minutes at a time.
“They are offensive powerhouses,” Vandercook said. “Caroline is new to the sport, but really athletic and has raw, natural ability that we’re trying to hone in on. She will end up being a great water polo player. Both her and Kylie are strong, big girls who usually have a strength advantage over defenders. So whoever has the better strength matchup will be the one to take on the wrestling in the center at that point. We’re lucky to have two hole-sets with different strengths who complement each other well.”
Sophomore Meaghan Ricker, a returning goalie, has boosted the team with solid play. Vandercook was effusive in her praise for Ricker, nothing she was the goalie last year when the team allowed 20 goals or more a whopping five times in 15 matches. Even though Ricker didn’t have a legitimate chance to make stops on most of those goals, she’s the one with the burden of responsibility as the last line of defense.
“The fact that she was willing to come back even though we lost most games last year by double digits, and to have the perseverance to return is incredible,” Vandercook said. “Obviously, as the goalie she was the one feeling every loss last year because she’s getting scored on all the time. She’s one of the main reasons why we’re winning because she’s coming up with so many incredible blocks every game.”
Vandercook said Ricker attended a goalie camp in the off-season, which improved her game awareness skills and overall leadership ability to be a captain. Corrigan has freshman twin sisters on the team in Coley and Maddie Corrigan, who are the fastest swimmers on the team and have added depth to a roster of 19 girls.
“The Corrigan twins can switch off each other in that one is a lefty and the other a righty,” Vandercook said. “They have a twin dominant hand advantage, and both play club and have scored a lot of goals for us. The biggest challenge is when I’m yelling, ‘Throw it to your sister,’ you have to be very specific on which sister to throw the ball to. They know where to find each other in the pool.”
Another returner, junior Samantha Logue, has made dramatic strides in her game the last couple of years to become an impact player. Logue possesses strong game awareness, speed and communicates well with her teammates, which keeps the defense in sync.
Caitlin Schaefer, who played under Vandercook and is one of the greatest swimmers and water polo players in program history, is now an assistant coach on the team.
“We’re super lucky to have Caitlin helping us out,” Vandercook said. “She’s been a wonderful addition to the program and she’ll be key to get the program back to where it once was.”