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Grand Haven girls water polo looking to build

Duncan MacLean • Apr 1, 2017 at 8:30 AM

With a second-year head coach, a new, but experienced assistant, and a fresh crop of players new to the sport, the Grand Haven girls water polo team is taking their season one game at a time, but is excited to improve.

In head coach John Ledger’s first year at the helm, the team finished with just five wins and 14 losses. Their season ended with a loss to Zeeland in the opening round of the district tournament.

2016’s team was much like this year’s edition with lots of young, undeveloped talent relying on strong senior leadership and experience.

Murielle Garbarino led 2016’s squad. This year, two of Grand Haven’s successful swimmers will do the honors.

Seniors Sophie Kleyla and Dali Woodard will reprise their leadership role from this fall’s swim team for one more season in the pool.

Kleyla and Woodard will lead the team as the lone returning starters from last year’s squad. Both competed for the Bucs as part of the swim team this fall and have a firm grip on the game of water polo, something hard found this year for Grand Haven.

“We lost Murielle Garbarino, who was lights out on a lot of stuff, it is a different world now,” Ledger said. “She drew all the attention on offense and freed some of the other players up. Now, they are getting that attention on defense.”

With their offensive force departed for greener pastures, the young Bucs are going to have to step up their game across the board.

“What happened last year was the girls that never swam and had never played polo came out, so we developed them,” Ledger said. “Those girls didn’t come out this year, so we have a lot of girls who have never played polo or swam, again.”

Five out of the 17 players on the roster have never played water polo or swam before, with the rest of the team falling all over the experience scale.

The combination of widespread inexperience and top-heavy skill has created some problems for the Bucs in their early season matchups.

“For some of the girls that have been playing for a while, this isn’t exactly what they were picturing,” Ledger said. “It is a struggle, there is a lot of frustration. But, we have stuff coming. There are girls I expect will develop once we shake off these frustrations.”

The team will look to compete in every game as part of a loaded O-K Red Conference, with three teams already ranked in the state’s top 10.

“We will run into some buzz saws, but if you can take something away from a loss, then it was productive,” Ledger said. “Even if we lose games, you can still make progress. My big thing is, use what you did wrong, learn from it, and let it go.”

After developing over the course of a tough regular season, the Bucs hope the competition will mold them into a competitive team in the district tournament

“We want to make it out of Friday at districts,” Ledger said. “That is one step further than last year.”

Grant Weick, former head coach of Grandville’s girls water polo program, came on as an assistant for Grand Haven this year. Coach Ledger hopes his expertise and the benefits of having two sets of eyes at practice will foster rapid player development.

“He has a lot of experience and expertise,” Ledger said of his new assistant. “When we are both in practice, we can get a lot done. He is good at what he does.

With teachable spirits and no where to go but up, the Grand Haven girls water polo team is taking on this season with the right attitude.

“I like their individual personalities, they seem to get along well, which is always good,” Ledger said of his team. “If we can just nudge up closer to some teams, you play them this time of year a then again later and get a little closer, that feels good.”

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