Monday, November 16, 2015

Never Underestimate What Kids Who Are Willing to Work Hard Can Do: Newberg Water Polo State Champions 2015

When we moved to Newberg, Oregon, Grant was going into 2nd grade.  That kid was like a fish and could hold his breath forever.  We couldn't keep him out of the water.  I have an unnatural fear of drowning and am a nervous wreck when my kids are around water so I registered the kids in swim lessons.  The walls at the pool were covered with boards touting one water polo state championship after another.  It never once crossed my mind to consider this sport for my family.  But God had other plans.

My Future Stuntman at age 10, when he first started playing water polo.
Grant insisted on trying water polo.  The spring of his fourth grade year, he and his two buddies Dane and Raleigh signed up.  Watching them play - even at an elementary level - scared me half to death.  I couldn't believe all the shoving/drowning/pushing was legal.  It was like a living nightmare for me, but Grant LOVED it. I would have to get over my fear of him drowning because this kid was made for water polo.

Water polo is co-ed until high school.  Grant, Dane, Raleigh, Zach, Wilson, Mackenzie and Hannah all grew up together in the pool. We watched them graduate from the shallow, short end of the pool where they could touch if they got tired to the full-length, deep end that required continual treading of water and non-stop swimming.  They swam their little pre-adolescent bodies up and down the pool proving they were indeed capable of playing this grueling sport without drowning. They got stronger and faster almost overnight.
The boys when they started playing water polo: Left to Right (Caleb - not a polo player), Grant, (Alden - not a polo player), Raleigh and Dane.
Newberg's water polo program is all about community.  The older, more experienced kids help coach and train the younger kids coming up through the system.  Families work together to raise money to pay for club fees.  We cheer on each other's kiddos, volunteer at home tournaments, travel together to away tournaments, and host potlucks for team dinners. When you continually rub shoulders, strangers melt into friends.  Friends begin feel like family.  You can't put a price tag on what we share.

Jim McMaster is legendary when it comes to Newberg water polo.  He's been coaching the teams for years and led them to one state title after another.  Jim expects the kids to show up, work hard, be respectful, work hard, be nice to each other, work hard (have I mentioned that yet?), and exhibit good sportsmanship.  He has high expectations and holds the kids accountable to them.  No surprise - they step up and meet the bar.
Coaching the boys through the state championship game
This year Grant and his friends are freshmen.  The girls split off to their own team and the Freshmen Five moved on to a boys high school team that graduated their entire starting line up, minus two.  Everyone agreed this would be a re-building year for the boy's team.

Conditioning (in two hour segments times five days a week) started in mid-August.  The following week, the kids moved into Daily Doubles.  Practice started early (6:30 a.m.) and usually consumed five hours of each day.  That didn't include the ten miles per day of biking Grant, Dane and Raleigh rode to and from practices.  It was intense, but Grant never once complained. He loved the challenge, the discipline, and the muscles that quickly emerged. When school started, practice was six days a week.  After home games, Coach Jim has the boys do a full swim set.  These kids are in the best shape of their lives!
Fast forward five years and this is what those "little boys" look like now. 
Lots of hours spent carpooling with these hooligans.  I love them all like they're my own.  That's me, Grant, Dane and Raleigh after the district tournament.
Coach Jim is a great judge of talent and has vision for how to sculpt his team.  He knows when to push the kids harder and when to give them a break.  He definitely lets them know when they screw up, but he also has frequent words of praise for a job well done. During games he often paces the pool deck yelling out plays and instructions.  The kids know to listen for his voice and do what he says.  They respect him and it shows.

Last year the Newberg High School boys won the 6A state title against arch rival Southridge with a powerhouse lineup of mostly seniors. No one thought the boys had a chance at repeating as state champions.

Never underestimate what a crowd of kids who are willing to work hard can do.  

A team heavy with freshmen showed up this season ready to play and hungry to win.  They had something to prove. Wilson was the starting varsity goalie while Dane and Zach started in the field.  Raleigh was first off the bench with Grant following.

The older boys were incredible. If they were frustrated about having such young players, they never showed it.  Instead they poured into their new teammates - working hard in the early weeks to gel as a team and making all the boys feel like they were part of something bigger than themselves.  They were Newberg Nation.

In the pre-season the boys lost a nail-biter to a bigger, older Barlow team, losing by one goal.  It lit a fire under them and they didn't lose again to an Oregon team the entire season! Our boys entered the 6A Oregon state water polo championship tournament undefeated in league play! No one predicted that.

The boys won their way through the state tournament to the championship game.  Guess who they matched up against?  Barlow.  The only Oregon team to hand them a loss this season.
Team Photo after the won the state semi-finals game and earned a spot in the championship game.
To add to the drama, our girls team went undefeated all season as well.  Their roster was the opposite of the boys - top heavy with seniors who were playing their last games together at the state tournament with only Hannah and Mackenzie representing the freshmen class.   In a crazy twist of fate, the girls also were matched up against Barlow in the championship game. A big showdown between two great programs was in store.

Our boys came out strong, scoring four quick goals to end the first quarter 4-0.  Barlow played hard, but our boys never let them get close.  We won the state championship match 14-5!  When the All Tournament Team was announced, Wilson made the First Team -as a Freshman.  His teammates and the parents in the crowd went crazy. In fact five of our seven starters worked their way onto the All Tournament teams, with Tyler Bell earning the MVP.  It was magical.
Team Captains retrieving the trophy
2015 6A State Champions!

Look at Wilson's team celebrating when they announced he was the First Team All Tournament Goalie.
The girls game was the complete opposite.  Barlow came out strong, scoring three goals before we scored one.  The score at the half was 2-5 in Barlow's favor. Our girls played fierce defense against an equally fierce Barlow team and slowly but surely battled back, tying the game then going ahead by one in the fourth quarter.  The score was 6-5 in Newberg's favor with thirty-three seconds left when Barlow scored to send the game into overtime.  It came down to conditioning and our girls wore down Barlow, scoring three goals in the last three minutes to win the state title 9-6.  It was INTENSE and EXCITING.  Four of the Newberg Girls team players also earned spots on the All Tournament Team.  I'm still trying to come down off the adrenaline high!
Girls 6A State Champions 2015
WELL DONE BOYS AND GIRLS!  You make us all so proud.  I can't wait for next year.

#newbergnation #gotigers #waterpoloisnotforwimps #statechampions

You know I can't end this post without drawing a parallel to life.

So often we face challenges that seem insurmountable.  There appears to be no way out, around or through.  Well intentioned people may even be saying, "It's a rebuilding season. Don't plan to be successful."   Can I encourage you to not give up?

Keep showing up every day.

Get out of bed.  Sometimes that alone is a victory.

Choose joy in the face of heartache.

Hold tight to Jesus' hand.

Work hard.

Press in.

Don't quit.

You will get through this.  And you'll make yourself and everyone who loves you proud in the process.

#lifelessonsfromsports #yourewelcome #lifeisnotforwimps