Please, hold the jokes about the horses drowning.
Water polo is serious business at Galena High School, where the activity is a full-fledged varsity sport for both boys and girls and carries the same status as the other fall sports of football, soccer, volleyball, cross country and girls golf.
Students at Galena participating in water polo don't actually play for their school. They help represent the Northern Nevada Water Polo Club, a team which is comprised mainly from the Washoe County high schools (i.e., McQueen, Reno, Manogue, Reed and Galena) and competes in interscholastic tournaments in California and Nevada. The club has both a full boys and girls team.
"Our players can come from any high school," explained first-year boys coach Lance Bohlman, who played two years of water polo at Air Force. "All of our games are at weekend tournaments, in places like Ashland, Oregon, and Martinez, California."
Galena has the largest contingent of athletes competing on the team this season, nine, including five boys and four girls. Likely to earn varsity letters for Galena this fall in water polo are Erik Tendeland, B.J. Damonte, Mike Damonte, Devin Reese, Brandon Williams, Lisa Stevens, Chelsea Correia, Chanel Kozloski and Brianne Owens. Tendeland is the boys' team captain.
Correia, a junior who has been to the zone swimming championships in the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley, said water polo fills a sports void for many high school athletes, especially those who swim during the spring.
"I went out for soccer my freshman year, but I like this more because it involves the water," said Correia during the team's practice session at the Nevada Swim Center on Tuesday. "I've swum since I was 8, and this seemed to be the right 'next thing' to do because it involves so much swimming.
"This is a lot more fun (than soccer) - you get to meet more people from other schools and travel out of town."
Although it is an Olympic sport and commonly played in California at both the prep and collegiate level, water polo may be unfamiliar to most Northern Nevadans. In the sport, two teams of six field players and a goalie - while treading in deep water - try to score points by throwing a rubberized ball through a 10-by-3 foot goal. The dimensions of a regulation water polo pool are from 66-98 feet long and 26-66 feet wide.
"It's essentially a cross between soccer and basketball in the water," said Northern Nevada assistant coach Darren Cummings.
Although such actions are forbidden, the kicking and holding of an opponent often occurs, making water polo one of the rowdiest sports around. (Too many violations on one player give the opposing team a 45-second, hockey-like power play; serious fouls result in a penalty throw.)
Northern Nevada girls coach Amy Atkins believes water polo is the roughest prep sport available to girls.
"Water polo is as aggressive and physical as any boys sport," said Atkins, who played high school water polo at Nevada Union High in Grass Valley, Calif. "In my opinion, it's one of the more fun sports a girl can play."
Despite drawing from several schools and having a limited amount of practice time (the team rotates among UNR, Northwest and Idlewild pools for five practices per week), Northern Nevada has been surprisingly competitive. With only one week left in the season, the boys are 5-8 and the girls have just under a .500 winning percentage.
"That's a great record for us, considering the majority of our players are first- or second-year players," Bohlman said. "Only three of our players have more than two years experience, not much compared to the California players who have been playing year-round since they were 10."
Although not many people know about the team, it's been around for at least 20 years at some level. The team is currently funded by the Washoe County School District.
Washoe County School District Director of Student Services Tom Olivero said the limiting factor in the growth of water polo in Northern Nevada is the number of facilities. He does not foresee individual schools fielding independent teams anytime soon, noting the two new high schools planned for Reno will not have swimming facilities and demand for pool time in the region is certain to increase.
"Interest is not the problem, it's pool availability," Olivero said. "The team we have is struggling to get pool time. If there were an increase in the number of teams, I have no idea where they'd practice."
Despite the fact it's funded by Washoe County, Olivero said participation on the team is a possibility for a student from an outlying area, including Carson City. In fact, Carson High student Tim Russell earned a letter on the team four years ago.
For information on water polo, call 348-0375.