Winter Progress

We started our off season with game play, to keep activity high and competitive fires burning. For the men this was scrimmages and the women it was a 3 team House League. The way we utilized the pool on shared Thursday night created a 3 lane drill space, by the bulkhead, and a 5 lane game area under dive boards, both 25m long.

The men have a decent size area to keep fit but not exhausted when playing 7v7. In the picture above you can see a multi-coloured streak in the centre of the picture, that’s a 50km/hr rebound from the save Trevor just made. We alternate time in the game area with 15-20 minute gender specific games. The coaches noticed some negative patterns emerging in men’s games this week, primarily based on mixed skill levels. To address this we are now shifting focus to 1 night of equally split pool to better use the drill space.

That change works well for the women as I am seeing some outstanding mentoring with fall varsity players and winter roster additions. The addition of Evie to the women’s coaching now means we have a good athlete to coach ratio to drive drills over 90 minutes with a practice dedicated to that.

We have a 6v6 format for women so when they play games there is lots of space to create open players. Feeding these situations with quick reads, and immediate passes, needs improvement so a weekly drill night will fix that quickly. I’m hoping to introduce 7v7 play, with a shot clock, to women by March. This will only be possible when open space is fully understood as more people will make it harder to find.

This busy practice structure makes the ARC, with its 8 water polo goals, look like a genuine water polo facility. That impresses high school prospects when they visit campus and we have been making sure that happens quite a bit this season. One thing for sure, if the teams improve their standings next season, with their new recruits, it will be largely influenced by the work of veterans in this off-season.

PS these are sketchy cell phone images, not the high res beauties we are used to from Grant Crowe.

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Off-season Restructure

Our varsity season has ended but our winter training has just begun. There is quite a lot happening and I will highlight how the men and women contrast while touching on highlights of their programs.

The men have a solid base of veterans, mostly returning in the fall of 2018. They are simply tasked with ramping up offseason training with clear goals and increased intensity. This year the focus is another step up from the previous winter, exactly the direction change needs to be going.

My attention in the men’s off-season is recruiting, contacting potential players and arranging campus visits for those waiting for admission offers. I’m also looking years down the road so each year has a few solid prospects to replace podium grads. With Arno and Logan leading men’s practice each day I get the luxury of a view from a bit of distance, seeing what goes on without the emotion of driving it. That changes perception quite a bit so the leadership group gets to see many angles.

By contrast, there is a major restructure of the women’s program happening right now. Not due to any single thing, due to many. We will graduate about 2/3rds of this years team in the spring. That leaves a big roster gap that we can seldom fill with a single rookie class so solutions are being found close to home.

We always have a few women on campus with water polo experience but no connection to the program and then some great athletes that try and learn the sport in a short fall season. This year an off-season tryout introduced 24 new women to our team, some with game and club experience. That tryout allowed us to create a group of 28 women training toward improving the squad for the fall so a healthy group of incoming frosh can help us step to the podium.

While we are not playing Major League winter water polo, or NCAA like UofT, we are getting a league of our own. The women now have a 3 team city league, that will change rosters at least twice this winter, as we learn by tactics informing technical skill acquisition. That flips the youth model of drilling skills to perfection while tactics slowly get brought into play. It’s an experiment but the 3 teams will have dedicated coaches so we will have an 8:1 ratio and support by varsity peers in each group. Teams will not have goalies but the 2 varsity team net minders play every minute by changing teams each match.

I will coach one group and be joined by Sarah Brandon, our assistant the last few years, and a new female coach, Evie Marshall. Evie played at a very high level with Ottawa Titans in her youth so has a very solid perspective to share. She is in Kingston while husband Logan is in Med School so her awareness of our program is already pretty solid. I will always be looking for coaches so if I can manage all 3 teams to be run by women it will happen.

I’ll try to write about the intensity of the men’s scrimmage and the competitiveness of the women’s games as we go.

Recognition

For the first time ever our program has a male and female Athlete of the Week at the same time.

Queen’s Athletics has named Cox-Twardowski and Neapole as their athletes of the week following our weekend at finals. This reinforces the contribution they have made all season and indicates the attention our program is now getting on campus.

Athlete of the Week

Both return to lead our teams in 2018 so they can be found at ARC during the winter as they help drive the program forward. Next blog I promise to shift focus back to the bigger picture of the teams and their plans.

Results that matter

People are scanning this blog looking for details. Here is a bit, before too much reflection.

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but the weekend was a step forward toward a goal that has a great buy-in from the teams. That is what makes returning, working harder, look attractive.

I don’t want to focus on individuals too much in a team sport. However Trevor Robinson, Caitlin Neapole and Alex Cox-Twardowski being named all-stars simply demonstrates that other teams now know who we are. Don’t overlook that because they don’t know us if we aren’t pushing them, in one way or another, with our performance.

This men’s team has produced back to back bronze medal performances, not something that happens regularly with our water polo program. The men are awesome and have worked hard. We read regularly about the captains and their leadership but this year our success was equally influenced by others out of the spotlight. This weekend it was the calm, thoughtful comments from Hendrick Fang that focussed the team at key times. The sharp observations and direction from Andrew Helt at breaks and the tandem leadership of coaches van Alst and Seaman that kept us on course. It is from this stable position and returning roster that we push forward in 2018.

9 of these women graduate, leaving a huge dent in our roster. The amount they have grown and improved this year is significant and I’m sad they won’t see a chance to perform again with all they have learned as a group. We do have incoming rookies and a few at home that will return, but the rebuild is going to take focus and we will miss some key players in big ways. The way they played vs newcomers from Guelph was quite impressive. They won easily and worked hard to follow some tactics we had struggled with during the season, all without being disrespectful of rookies at their first collegiate championship. That was a nice contribution to league growth that will pay us back many times over the coming years.

I want to thank the alumni and partners that scrimmaged us last week to prepare for this event. That was a big help. We also have to offer a huge thank you to Grant Crowe for the endless, world class, images of our games he provides. The parents in the stands every time we play are never overlooked so here is a thank-you to them as well.

Brief Saturday review

What a great education today. Just a brief recap; the anticipated rematch with Carleton, after our men beat them in October, met some resistance. The Ravens had us in their sites for over 3 weeks and apparently dedicated 7 practices per week to preventing another loss. Their commitment was obvious as they pressed us relentlessly.

We fought back well but exhausted ourselves keeping the first quarter score to 1-0. Our adjustment to their tactics was slow and our fatigue from the press prevented a measured response. We were down by 6 before a reply and then scored a couple of beauties. Too little, too late.

The women played a 5th place game vs Guelph that had us in control of every aspect all night. Every player was involved, often with 6 in, 6 out substitution. Great leadership from Caitlin Neapole and showing signs that make me very hopeful for 2018. Jess Schnabel was very strong in goal and kept a couple of strong shooters to very few goals. The score was 13-2, an easy enough win.

That was an awkward way to end a 4 year varsity career for some of our graduating players, without stress in a game with lots of subbing. But, my focus was team first and ending the year working together so the individual glory was secondary.

There’s a huge bronze medal game for men vs Western on Sunday. That is a very strong opponent, one that upset Mac, and they will have revenge in mind for our defeating them twice already this season. It will be a war that likely goes back and forth but the fight in our guys is pretty impressive so I’m confident in their chances.

Progress is Measured in Different Ways

The 2017 championships are underway and quarterfinals took place tonight at Carleton. The #4 women started against #5 Ottawa GG’s. That ranking simply reflects that GG’s don’t play any games before finals. With 2 ex national team program members in the water the GG’s should have won that game by a larger margin.

If they only knew how good they could be……

What happened in the game was our anxiety and nervous approach forced many turnovers early. That put us behind at the beginning and that lead to our predictable relax and decent play. In the second half the women went on a 4-0 run with goals on consecutive possessions. Winning the 3rd quarter was easy when they were relaxed. They will approach the next game that way from the start.

Our men lived up to their rank and dominated the GG men 17-6. That was without Hendrick Fang in the second half as he was resting a cramping calf rather than push it. With his dominant play he could have helped us win more convincingly. They aren’t happy at their various little errors so their focus will be much better against a Carleton team clearly on edge after their loss to us in October.

LeBlanc couldn’t buy a foul at 2m today?

Multiple players scoring 3 or more goals indicates we had plenty of guys pushing hard to finish. That’s a huge change from years past and it took a load of Alex Cox-Twardowski who picked up 2 majors in the first quarter when checking 2m. Connor Crowe scoring 6 wasn’t out of character but the hat trick from Haden Brearton came at exactly the right time.

Crowe was on fire early, 6 goals.

Alex scored the first goals to get the guys on track, 4 in the first 1/2.

The Eve of Our Departure

Tonight is the final practice before we head to Ottawa for our OUA and NCWP championships. The men and women are pulling in different directions and it’s been a tough month processing that emotionally. Men are full of self confidence and women see creeping self doubt. So much of this is mental and with 3 months + 11 games it’s tough to change course once moving along.

But that’s never been different so we create the systems to negotiate it. There has been so much accomplished at ARC this season I can’t possibly summarize it. Much of what goes on is team centred and won’t be blog topic sort of stuff. One thing to recognize is steady leadership.

Every week we have a session that includes mentor lead station work. Alex shares experience at 2m and Trevor does the same in net. It’s very popular with the teams and shows definite influence each week.

The women have no shortage of leaders, it’s just a different sum of water polo history they bring. Captains Jess and Caitlin have been steady from start to finish and they play at a level the team can count on every game.

The teams are looking for different outcomes this year but both are very focussed on what their goals are. We’ve had injury and illness throughout the year and will even miss women with mono and with a concussion on the weekend. That hasn’t changed anything in team goals or prep so we are all ready for what lies ahead. Results should be available on the Carleton Ravens website each day.

Championship Prep, Recap

Saturday was an excellent review of November progress and obstacles remaining for the final push to OUA and NCWP championships. Our men put on a very powerful display of depth and control. The all-star team they faced was very good, not as fit as Queen’s but quite talented. The age group team the women faced is one of the best in Canada and full of confidence and technical ability.

Bickerton & Pinchin, alumni guests

The score of the men’s game was 16-4 in favour of the Varsity squad. Goals came from every part of the offence; transition, extra, outside shooting and 2M. There was a convincing 4-1 start in the first quarter, that control continued throughout and 3 players scored multiple goals. There were a few stand out performances, Alex Cox-Twardowski is definitely focussed and his fire sparks the play of everyone. There was outstanding play in 2 very technical areas – Trevor Robinson in goal and Alex LeBlanc at 2M offence. This pattern repeats from practice to every game so it defines our character.

One or two performance patterns also emerged that require adjustment. This will not be discussed in a blog but practice attention will address the concerns Arno and I have. It’s important to note that the team we played was good enough to challenge any previous Queen’s team from the last 6 or 7 years. I was surprised by how much control our varsity team had in this game tailored to their prep.

Women helped me narrow the coming weeks practice, no question. The simple explanation for their performance, outside of inexperience, is that they “watch” the game more than “play” the game when in the water. They pointed me to the key faults in their understanding of our tactics so it was a perfect game to help me get them ready. The score of their match was 8-12 and it broke down in two different halves.

The women’s game started with us falling behind 2-8 as we let the Capital Wave dictate every aspect of play. Adjustments, after some intense correction, saw us take the second half 6-4 winning both quarters 3-2. That meant we adjusted and outplayed a team that was better prepared and more intense to start. With very little game experience over their lifetime this is something I can see and explain but still struggle to understand. But, I’m fully prepared to keep searching for the answers.

Countdown 2017

We have entered the final week of our 2017 season and teams are certainly getting more intense. That’s what we want as we approach our final tune up games this Saturday in the ARC pool on campus.

The men will play an alumni all-star team team that has a great deal of experience and enough youth to make the game spirited and tough. Passionate alum Jason Sterne will bring a few Ottawa Masters athletes to join local alumni Sergiy Kolosov and Ian Pinchin on this squad. James Bickerton is even rumoured to be headed this way to play. They’ll get support from Connor Lundell-Smith and a top club prospect that will challenge his varsity brother.

These two guys have been on fire the last few weeks, firing cannons from everywhere in the pool. I can’t wait to see them play an intense game with strangers. Connor Crowe and Alex LeBlanc were quiet at the start of the season, not so much in November.

Our women are also getting a last push from visiting club players. This includes some strong age group women from Capital Wave in Ottawa as we look to play at our best level but with strangers. It is very late in the season but I still don’t know who will start on any given day and each practice presents possibilities. One player definitely bringing the intensity to earn playing time is Kelsey Grimes, as you can see below.

I won’t talk too much about other players before finals as I don’t want to mess with any heads. Believe me though, there is lots I want to say and I will, once we are through the championships.

Positives

While the men are headed for a 3rd place seed at OUA’s they are still sitting with a humble 5-5 record (5-4 in OUA) in a very balanced and competitive league. This puts the winless record of our inexperienced women in perspective where they see a little less competitive balance.

I don’t have to look far for positive signs with either team. The question for the men is will they be sharp and focussed at the end of the month when having no senior club to scrimmage with. With the women, it’s will we have enough time to turn the corner? Both teams are having visiting squads come to ARC the week before finals for a tune up game that I’ll write about soon.

In the mean time here is a visual indication of how some fundamentals we’ve worked on with women are now part of a unviversal skill set. Defence wins championships and we expect it might also win a few playoff games.