The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School

The Scratching Post

The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School

The Scratching Post

The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School

The Scratching Post

Up for the challenge: Water polo players share their passion

Danny Spivak
Emmitt Brown-Richardson (12) plays defense against Prospect High School.

VHHS water polo season began for Boys and Girls on Feb. 26. 

According to sports analysts, water polo is one of the most challenging sports due to the physicality and skill required. Bleacher Report ranks water polo as the number one hardest Olympic sport, while ESPN’s panel of sports scientists has water polo just shy of the top 10 hardest of all sports.

Michelle Utsis (11) has played Varsity water polo since her freshman year. She said there is a lot of athleticism to water polo, which makes it challenging.

“Swimming back and forth is one thing, and you have to swim back and forth a lot, but also you have to worry about other people trying to avidly drown you…You also need to have stamina because some games last a very long time and tournaments will be three games, some back to back,” Utsis said.

For Boys’ team captain Murray Heneghan (11), water polo is difficult because referees are not able to see what happens under water.

“There’s a lot of pulling and grabbing; people will push you underwater. Nothing really happens about that. It’s also super exhausting because you’re swimming, but also making sure you’re above water so you can breathe,” Heneghan said.

Despite the challenges, Matthew Lee (12) said the competitiveness of water polo is what interested him in the sport.

“It’s something that I was immediately drawn towards, especially because I had a background in swimming. A lot of guys that swim gravitate towards polo, because it puts a more team-based aspect into the sport,” Lee said.

For Heneghan, the best part of playing water polo is the team around him.

“We have a really close team, so after practices, we will go out to breakfast and do a lot of different activities outside of just playing water polo. Our team is really fun,” Heneghan said.

On the Girls’ team, Utsis also said her teammates are the best part of playing water polo.

“We spend a lot of time together. If you make a goal, we will cheer for you. If you mess up, we will still cheer for you. There’s a lot of screaming and cheering — never a dull moment,” Utsis said.

According to Utsis, her coach has done a great job of prioritizing the team’s understanding of the game and making plays. She believes that this will be instrumental in their success this season.

Similarly, Heneghan said the Boys’ team is also focusing on the smaller things to prepare for game-time situations. 

“First is treading ability: making sure everyone knows the proper egg-beater [treading] form and getting up out of the water. Second, correct passing and throwing form… Third would be game IQ, watching film, and talking about how the game goes,” said Henegan.

Beatriz Gatmaitan (12) is excited about the team this year and is looking forward to getting the most out of her senior season.

“I want to try to have a lot of fun this year. I want to get to know more people and build a stronger bond with them, especially because we use so much teamwork,” she said.

Gatmaitan said that she hopes to support the underclassmen this season.

“I want to be someone that new players can come to help improve their skills, but also be a role model for them — someone new players can trust and be comfortable around,” Gatmaitan said.

Lee said his advice to underclassmen who are looking to try polo is to be bold.

“Don’t be scared to fail. I know that sounds cliche, but the thing that sets people apart in water polo is confidence. If you’re willing to put yourself out there and give it a shot, you don’t know where it’ll take you,” Lee said.

Heneghan said that his advice to underclassmen is to be willing to try it.

“Polo is super welcoming. There’s multiple years where there’s brand new kids who don’t know how to play and it turns out they really like it and they end up playing [all] four years,” Heneghan said.