By BOB YORK —
What proved to be the beginning of the end came rather quickly. Just eight days after capturing the 2013 New England Prep School Girls Water Polo Tournament crown, 10 senior members of that championship team marched down Old Albany Road, received their diplomas and shortly thereafter, departed the premises as Deerfield Academy alumnae.
With the bulk of a team that had produced an undefeated (16-0) league mark, a 16-4 overall showing, entered its postseason play as a number-one seed and exited it with a gold medal now gone, coach Mark Scandling had a premonition the 2014 campaign might be quite different–and it was.
With six freshmen, three of whom drew starting assignments in the season opener, as well as four sophomores, three juniors and just one letter winner dotting this spring’s roster, the Big Green became the pinata of the league. It failed to win one game in 14 appearances and was thus missing in action when it came to defending its crown.
“We were an extremely young team this year, so we figured we’d take our share of lumps this season,” said Scandling, whose Big Green water polo squads are known for throwing some pretty festive postseason pool parties at the medals podium. His girls teams have won titles in 2013 and 1998 and finished second in 2003, 2010 and 2012. His boys, who finished third this past fall, meanwhile, have chalked up four championships, those coming in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
“From my standpoint as a coach, however, it was a very rewarding year,” added Scandling. “We were able to give a lot of inexperienced kids a great deal of playing time this year and they really took advantage of it. They made huge strides throughout the season and the experience and depth we achieved this year is bound to show up next season.”
Nahla Achi (15), who served as captain of this spring’s team and received an extension of her leadership role when she was voted co-captain of next year’s squad along with Ari Evans (16), was the lone Big Green player to have previous varsity experience on her resume. Scandling revealed, however, that the Big Green managed to come up with a secret weapon this spring, but as the Deerfield mentor quickly pointed out, “it didn’t remain a secret very long.”
The secret that the Big Green couldn’t keep secret turned out to be Evans. Every prep school pool hall throughout western New England had her mug shot on the bulletin board by the time she had wrapped up her second game of the season. During that game, she pumped nine goals into the back of the Suffield Academy net. The super sophomore, who hails from California where the sport is a way of life, was double-teamed the rest of the season but still managed to finish up as Deerfield’s leading scorer, registering 52 of the team’s 79 tallies.
Scandling learned a lot about his team during that Suffield game, among them was the fact that no matter how bleak things looked, he realized this group of girls would never call it quits.
“We were down by a score of 9-2, but battled back to tie the game at 11-11 before we eventually lost, 15-12,” said Scandling. “Then, later in the season, we hung in there with Andover, which won the (NEPSAC) championship this year. We were down by just two goals in the fourth period before they finally prevailed, 12-9.”
Achi, who was named the team’s MVP this season, wound up second in scoring with a dozen goals, while Yasmine Deswandhy, another blossoming sophomore, was third on the charts with 10 goals.
Thankfully, the members of the freshman class really got their careers off to a fast start. None, probably more unexpectedly than Lucy Beimfohr, who volunteered to play in goal.
“She got her first start of the season against Greenwich (Conn.) High School, which has one of the premier water polo programs throughout the Northeast,” said Scandling. The Big Green ended up on the short end of a 16-4 score that day, “but Lucy hung in there and played better and better as the season moved along.”
Deerfield’s freshman class came through at the other end of the pool, too, as four rookies–Ellie Koschik, Ellie Uhl, Maddie Thies and Jiwon Shin–jumped in “and learned how to compete at the same time they were getting on-the-job training,” explained Scandling.