By DAVE THOMAS | Mission Times Courier
Winning a CIF title in any sport takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.
The Patrick Henry High boys water polo team’s hard work paid off as they recently swam away with a CIF Division II crown in a 13-10 win over Eastlake in overtime. It was the first CIF victory in the team’s history.
In capturing the gold, the Patriots were led by Alex Wenzel (six goals), goalie Tanner Furtak (21 saves, multiple assists) and captain Adam Monroe (led his team in goals this season and won the CIF Sportsmanship MVP).
Although Patrick Henry would go on to lose in the SoCal Regionals to Mount Carmel 12-9, something good came out of that loss.
Patrick Henry head coach Charlie Equels alerted officials to a Mount Carmel goal that was initially disallowed. As it turns out, the ball did go in the net. Mount Carmel was awarded the goal due to Equel’s sportsmanship in pointing out the score that not many others seemed to notice.
In a statement, Mount Carmel Athletic Director Greg Lanthier wrote, “In a game where every goal was going to be crucial; in a time where an emphasis on winning is out of control, your coach displayed the highest level of integrity and sportsmanship. Please pass on to your coach, [Patrick Henry Water Polo] program, and your PH athletics community, sincere appreciation from [Mount Carmel Boys Water Polo], and our entire athletic community. Your coach has helped to renew my faith in the value of integrity in education-based athletics.”
While the loss ended Patrick Henry’s season, it was a season to remember for Equels and assistant coach Brandon Huff.
“Winning this title cemented this team in school history,” Equels commented. “Winning the first boys CIF championship has set the groundwork for our future. We only lose four athletes, so hoping that our returning athletes and future team members learned what the value of teamwork can accomplish.”
Asked about when he thought he had a championship contending team in his midst, Equels noted, “Our boys have been in search of the title for a few years now; last year losing in the semifinals was exactly what this team needed. Every year, we have an end-of-season analysis with our staff and players and following that loss it was obvious the next season would be special. Led by our captains Adam and Alex, it was clear that with their drive and commitment to success, we would be successful.”
A team from day one
As important as the coaching staff is to a team, it is the athletes that have to get the job done no matter the surroundings they are playing in. With this group, mission accomplished.
According to Monroe, “It was an amazing feeling to win CIF because we struggled from the beginning of the season but we rallied together and made a run for the championship and succeeded. Winning CIF is always the number one goal but I never thought that was in our reach until I realized how dedicated this team was. This isn’t a team, it’s a family; we are always together whether it be in the pool or out.”
Wenzel echoed those sentiments, noting, “Winning CIF this year was our main goal throughout the season, and putting in countless hours of hard work in and out of the pool was the way we were able to win. Everyone on the team grew tremendously as water polo players and teammates throughout the year, and winning CIF was a perfect way to show it.”
Any successful water polo team needs a goalie they can depend on to make up for any defensive mistakes and more. In Furtak, the Patriots had that during the season and playoffs.
“It felt great [winning CIFs] and was very exciting,” Furtak commented. “At the start of the season, I thought we were going to get killed every game and be nowhere near as good as last year’s team. But because a few of us played in the offseason, we became a solid squad and beat teams favored to win.”
With the season now in the history books, Equels and Co. can now focus on the 2020 campaign after taking some time to enjoy this year’s accomplishments.
“I have been coaching since 2005; year after year I have been lucky enough to have an impact on the future of our nation,” Equels commented. “Year after year, players and parents teach me just as much as I teach them. However, this team as a unit has had a profound impact on my coaching career; they have given me a remarkable season to remember. These are incredible young men and they have provided the community with hope in our youth. They proved that positive growth mindset is real and have set the example for many athletes to come.”
As Patrick Henry Principal Elizabeth Gillingham summed it up best, “He [Equels] is a fierce competitor who can take the last seconds of the game and make magic happen in the pool with a few words of inspiration.”
For the Patrick Henry boys water polo team, this was a magical season.
— Dave Thomas is a San Diego-based freelance sports writer.