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November 26, 2022

Balers thin in numbers, strong in spirit

With only eight players on the roster, the San Benito High boys water polo team knows it has to play smarter and be more disciplined than their opponents. After all, an ejection means Haybalers coach Brendan Sigourney will only have one player left to substitute in, assuming everyone is available on a given day. Despite the thin numbers, Sigourney knows he’s coaching for the right reasons—to educate and empower teenagers and keep the game fun—and that ultimately makes all the difference.

“I tell them I have one hard rule and it’s they don’t quit on each other or on the game,” he said. “If they do that, we’ll never have a problem with how the game goes. We can lose by one goal, 10 goals or 20, but as long as we make a genuine effort I don’t care what the score is because we’ll play teams better than us and it doesn’t matter.”

Sigourney takes a holistic approach to the sport, knowing it’s not always about wins and losses. Having said that, the team—despite its small numbers—has the potential to make some noise in the Pacific Coast League’s Mission Division. That was evident after a thrilling 11-10 overtime win over Gilroy High on Sept. 11. When a coach says everyone will contribute to the team’s success that is mostly lip service.

When Sigourney says it, it’s a matter of fact. Since it takes seven players to field a starting lineup in water polo, Sigourney will literally need to use everyone for the team to stay afloat.

“This is a hard year for us, and we’re definitely scraping the barrel so to speak,” he said. “We barely had enough for a JV team—we’ve got 11 for JV and eight for varsity—and thankfully we have enough to get by.”

Jeremy Smith scored the game-winning goal against Gilroy on a 6-on-5 advantage, and he’ll be a focal point to the offense along with a couple of other players. Sigourney said Smith makes sound decisions in the pool and possesses a great shot, making him a threat to score in myriad situations. Kenneth Kliewer also earned praise from Sigourney for being a smart and consistent player who also plays solid defense and rarely comes out for a breather.

Adam Bonnet possesses tremendous speed and wins the majority of the sprint-offs. He works hard and scored some critical goals against Gilroy. Ramon Duran scored a team-high three goals against Gilroy and has a chance to be a special player.

“Ramon is playing out of his mind right now and has huge potential,” Sigourney said. “He goes non-stop and has a great attitude. I wish I had 10 more of him.”

The Balers are ultra-solid in goal with Tyler Oelrich, a returning starter who had a breakout season last year. Even though Gilroy scored 10 times, Oelrich made some terrific saves, some of the highlight-reel variety that paved the way for the Balers’ victory. One of the team’s newcomers include senior Noah Zaragoza, who is known more for his wrestling accomplishments.

However, Sigourney said Zaragoza has come into his own in water polo, noting Zaragoza’s rock-solid defensive play and physicality. Zaragoza spent the last couple of years on the junior varsity squad, and his hard work is paying off now as a member of the varsity team. A couple of other newcomers—Andrew Eymann and Austin Wiggins—have also proved key in helping San Benito become a complete team.

“They’re both pretty raw still being new to the game, but they’re my two hole-sets and they’re big, strong guys who will help us,” Sigourney said. “They’re not afraid to get in there and wrestle, and they’re performing admirably for not having much background in sports.”

San Benito High now has one of—if not the premier—aquatic facility among any of the high schools in the Central Coast Section. Armed with a sparkling new facility, Sigourney has a goal to build a club water polo program that will get kids exposed to the game at an earlier age so by the time they get to high school they can make an immediate impact.

“That’s my dream,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll actually happen, but I will take the role of starting a club program up this winter.”

For now, Sigourney and all of the players in the program are loving life in their new digs.

“Going to the new pool from our old pool is like going from the pond to the ocean—it’s incredible,” he said.

Sigourney doesn’t expect his relatively inexperienced team to be world-beaters; he just wants them to play hard, be willing to learn and have a positive attitude in the process.

“Everyday is an opportunity to learn something new,” he said. “That is kind of my mindset as a coach for this program. I’m proud of all these guys. So far they’re playing their hearts out.”

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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