- April 8, 2020
There are some programs that have been so dominant year in and year out that it’s hard to recall a time when they weren’t winning.
Among those are the boys and girls water polo teams at Olympia High, which has owned the pool in recent memory under the leadership of head coach Stephanie Johnson Possell.
Although the regular season is winding down for Olympia, at 19-4, the Lady Titans once again have shown that they have what it takes to carve out a big piece of the proverbial pie for themselves as the district tournament quickly approaches.
“The girls are having a good season,” said Johnson Possell, who’s coached the program since 2009. “I’m most happy about the progress our girls have made this season and the adjustments that we have made between last season and this season — we have done a really good job.”
Like all high-school programs, the success of this season comes from the development of players through the span of a few years. In the case of the Lady Titans, it actually started back in 2017.
Following their state championship in the pool that year, Johnson Possell had six seniors graduate. Combine that with a lack of juniors, and Johnson Possell was in rebuild mode.
But all that hard work then has paid off now, as the program continues to grow. It also has helped that the girls on the team have bought into what Johnson Possell is selling.
“They’re a really fun bunch of girls to coach this year — they have positive attitudes, they like to work, they like to learn and I really see them growing every game,” Johnson Possell said. “Every game, we get better at something, and that has happened all season long.”
Leading the way for the Lady Titans is a pair of seniors in goalie Lily Rutledge and utility player Shoshana Scanlon. While Scanlon has become a scoring threat for Johnson Possell’s side, Rutledge has played impressively between the posts — especially considering this is only her second season of water polo.
“She (Rutledge) has really stepped up and is doing a great job for us,” Johnson Possell said.
Just like the Lady Titans, the boys water polo team has built a reputation in the pool over the last several years, which culminated in 2018 with a state title.
Living up to the hype set forth by such a successful year is difficult for a lot of teams, but for the Titans, there appears to be no issues.
After graduating seven seniors from last season’s team — including one starter — this year’s team has raced its way to a 22-1 record with just two matches remaining. And if that’s not scary enough, this year’s team actually might be better than that 2018 state-title team, Johnson Possell said.
“We are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than we were last year,” Johnson Possell said. “The boys play a very unselfish game, but we do have a couple of players who are leading the way.
“Luke Carey is currently leading our team in scoring — he is one of our two team captains — and he is a really good athlete,” she said. “We have Danny Cruz, who’s another senior this year who is up there with scores. Alec Johnson, he is a utility player and only a junior.”
Throw in Touma Mack and goalie Ryan Hopegill, and you have a team that can dominate on both sides of the ball.
Moreover, the coachable nature of the players on her team has been a real point of pride with the team.
“This is the hardest-working group of boys that I have ever coached,” Johnson Possell said. “They are coachable, they make adjustments when I ask them to make adjustments — they really want to learn the game. The fun part of coaching them is that we are coaching them at such a high level — there are so many different things that we can do with them, because they know so much more about the game.”
Although the Titans still have two matches it’s the upcoming district tournament that has captured Johnson Possell’s attention.
Unlike other sports, in which both teams that make the title game go on to the state playoffs, only the district champion continues into the postseason.
“Our primary goal is always one possession at a time, so we always set big goals out there, but to get to those goals the focus is always just one step at a time, one possession at a time,” Johnson Possell said. “We have very competitive games that we need to play in order to get where we need to go.”