Last week, for the first time in over 18 months, Lompoc High School played a boys water polo game.
The game against the Cabrillo High junior varsity squad at the Lompoc Aquatic Center was the beginning of what athletic director Don Cross, director of aquatics Jeff Storie and coach Taylor Emery hope will be a successful climb back into prominence for the team.
Everyone involved knows it will be a long road, but the program returned with 17 participants, which is a good start.
Lompoc fell to Cabrillo 18-14, but it was the first action for the team that had only been together for three weeks prior to the game.
Emery was very happy with the way the team played under the conditions and he feels his team will be ready when they host Morro Bay Wednesday in their first Los Padres League varsity game.
“I just want them to get to know the game.” Emery said after the game. “Not necessarily know the techniques, but I want them to be swimmers, work on getting the counters and just be able to be aggressive shooters without relying on one person.”
With 17 members of the team, there are several who are in the pool for the first time ever playing polo.
“I have four or five solid swimmers and polo players,” Emery said. “We are going to be a good team, but like Santa Maria we will just have to build.”
Santa Maria has shown improvement in the past couple years after taking its licks. At 4-8, the Saints are excited about the opening of their brand new pool, which will be opened the first week of October.
Santa Maria is confident that having its own pool will help in the interest and participation in the sport.
Lompoc and Cabrillo are both thrilled to have a top quality facility in the Lompoc Aquatic Center that they both call home.
After having just three weeks of practice, Emery was happy to get the team into the pool against an opponent in a full-game atmosphere.
“I wanted everybody to get in, see how the refs were calling the game, give them some pointers and get them to play the game horizontally, not vertically,” he explained. “I wanted them to work on shooting in a game atmosphere.”
The most shooting and scoring for the Braves came from senior Harrison Brown, who is thrilled to have a team back in action.
“He was on my team when I was a senior,” said Emery, a 2010 graduate of Lompoc, about Brown. “He got to see how a team worked and flowed.
Emery expects Harrison to be a team leader.
“Harrison was doing what he needed to do,” he explained. “He was vocal with his players — I’m going to rely on him a lot to be a coach inside the pool.”
After former coach Kevin Hicks resigned, the water polo program stalled. Cross asked Storie, the director at the Aquatic Center to step in and lead the aquatics program. Storie will be the head coach for the swim teams in the spring and is the de facto head coach of the polo team but will defer to Emery, who knows and loves the game.
“I work at the poll as a lifeguard and Jeff asked if I would like to coach polo,” Emery said. “I took it amongst myself — not only as a Lompoc Brave Alum, but also as a friend of (Coach) Hicks — to keep the program going and get it back to where we can build this program and be competing with Cabrillo and Santa Ynez.”
Emery has big plans and feels his team can get good quickly and compete in the LPL. But he is also realistic with the players.
“They understand that they are not at the position to be competing with CIF quality teams,” he said. “But they understand that they are going to come everyday to practice, work harder every single day and get ready to compete.”
The competition begins Wednesday at 2:40 p.m. at the Aquatic Center when the new look Braves host Morro Bay.