Lions’ female water polo team builds one of its most successful seasons in a decade

More stories from Juliana Castro

C.K McClatchy girl’s water polo team in 2022 had one of its most successful seasons in seven years.  The Lions went undefeated in Metro League play, won the Metro League tournament, and advanced to the second round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin section playoffs. 

The key to a strong team, water polo coach Xanthe Plescia said, (is) “many of these athletes spent some time in the off-season playing polo on a club team. There are only so many improvements you can make during the regular season so any time spent in the off-season playing has shown to help our success significantly.”

The team was led by its two captains, Karina Clark and Kelly Gray. Both players were on the team for four years.  

“On the surface captains are expected to lead warmups, set an example for the younger girls, and communicate with the coach. On a deeper level, my and Karina’s role as captains served as a huge responsibility for us” Gray said. “ We were the voice of the girls on the team and had to use our positions to demonstrate how the team should act. I took this role more seriously than I thought I would, and I think it reflected positively upon the team.”

“I would be someone that our team could look to no matter what. I like to think that beyond just being captain I am close friends with every single one of my teammates” said Clark. “As captain, I would bring our team up when we lost, and cheer with them when we won. Trying to bring a positive perspective even on the longest of tournament days or challenging games. Being captain is wearing two hats, one of leadership and one of friendship, both equally important.”

Gray and Clark said that although water polo is not one of the more popular sports they still felt supported.

Gray said, “I think the biggest thing I noticed, being a female playing water polo, is that our sport often goes unnoticed, along with many others. People really only show out at football and basketball games. When my friends came to my games, their opinions were only positive. The game itself is so intense and fun to watch there’s never a dull moment. As for being a girl team, I think we experienced similar attention and value as the boys.” 

Reaching the second round of section playoffs was the highlight of the season because it hadn’t been done since 2015. 

“The best way I can describe it is electric,” Clark said. “When the final buzzer went off in the first round and we knew we were moving on everyone lit up and the energy was contagious. You could feel how happy and proud everyone was. Despite the second-round game not having the outcome we would have liked, we were all content knowing that we had fulfilled our goal of giving this season our all.” 

Gray pointed to some strategies the team used to be successful, “I know from personal experience that, when you get worked up about smaller things that happen in games, the outcome is never positive,” she said. “As a team, we had to look past seeing just one thing in the pool. Whether that was one player or one mistake we made, success only came when we saw beyond that. We also worked as more of a unit and helped each other out in the pool.”

Coach Plescia said she tried to encourage her athletes to believe they had more potential than they realized. And with the encouragement from their coach, a lot of athletes had the opportunity to rise and fill important roles on the team and it created a full lineup of athletes that could generate offense.

“Some advice I would give to someone wanting to play in the future would be, don’t give up,” Clark said. “While the sport might seem daunting at first if you stick with it you will find a sport that you love and make some of the best friends.” 

Gray added, “Don’t knock it until you try it. Even if you do try it, still don’t knock it. I came into water polo my freshman year knowing nothing, except how to swim. After the first practice, I begged my parents to let me quit, but they made me stick it out for a few days. After giving it a real shot, I stuck with it. If I had quit, I would’ve never recognized my talent in the sport.”