Water polo to continue its first season as an official UIL fall sport

Freshman+utility+Kane+Macklin+practices+the+morning+of+Aug.+26.+The+team+will+play+its+next+game+against+Marcus%2C+the+current+No.+1+ranked+team+in+the+district%2C+on+Sept.+9.

Emma Short

Freshman utility Kane Macklin practices the morning of Aug. 26. The team will play its next game against Marcus, the current No. 1 ranked team in the district, on Sept. 9.

Water polo is continuing its season after being recognized as an official UIL fall sport this summer. 

“Games matter a lot more,” head coach Donzie Lilly said. “There’s no days off and it could be anyone’s night. You might think this team has the advantage over our team, but [then] we come out, play well and steal a win. It might help [give us] a better seeding in districts which will help in the region tournament. We’re getting ready, starting to come together as a team.”

So far, the boys’ team is 7-5, having lost to Highland Park, Jesuit and Flower Mound. This was the year district games were introduced, which has heightened the competition the team has faced previously. 

“It hasn’t been as competitive as we hoped yet,” captain and utility player Jake Foughty said. “Teams we’re worried about are Southlake Carroll [and] Marcus. It’s going to be tough. A lot of their players have experience, [but] so far we’re doing awesome.”

The girls’ team has been undefeated in the preseason. Center defender Riya Meghani said having the majority of the team the same age has improved their team bonding skills and being able to work together. 

“A lot of the girls we’ve been playing with have been here since freshman year, so we’re all juniors together,” Meghani said. “It’s really interesting to see how we’ve grown; freshman year we were learning how to throw and catch the ball, and this year we’ve gotten so good with fundamentals and we’re learning more in-depth skills we can use in the games.”

Freshman utility Bogdan Slavu fakes a shot at the goalie at practice Aug. 26. (Emma Short)

Water polo is the first UIL sport to be sanctioned since wrestling became an official sport in 1994. Some changes that have come from this include longer quarters, more week-night games and the season being changed from the spring to the fall. 

“It’s a really big impact,” Lilly said. “ I think there’s going to be an increase in attendance from other students at Hebron and I’ve already seen an increase from the faculty. There’s a lot more recognition now that it’s an official sport, so the school’s been super positive with the transition and super supportive.”

Compared to last year, both teams are younger. The boys’ team had seven seniors last year and has two this year. The girls’ team has no seniors on the team this year, which Lilly said can be an advantage in preparing for next year. 

“If it goes well, that’s awesome, [but] if it doesn’t go well it’s OK as well,” Lilly said. “There’s going to be zero girls leaving next year, [so] this is kind of just a year to figure it all out and push for [making] a state run next year. If everything goes well [and] we make a state run this year, that’s fantastic. If it doesn’t, we always have all offseason [and] next year to continue to push for that state run.”

Because of the new UIL regulations, only the top four teams will advance to state, as opposed to 12 last year. The team’s next game will be Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. against Marcus, the current No. 1 team in the district.  

“We have a very young boys team, so really the sky’s the limit on this one,” Lilly said. “A lot of them are 14 [and] 15 and they’re used to playing against 14 [and] 15 year olds. Now, they’re playing against 18 year olds, so it’s a big jump up for them. We’ll see how they handle the physicality, the speed [and] the fast pace of the game compared to what they are used to playing.”