PASO ROBLES — The Lady Bearcats girls water polo team opened their season on Wednesday night with a home matchup against the Nipomo Titans and looked completely dominant, running away with the game 14-3.
Paso Robles enters this season returning four seniors and two of the top players in the county in Tatiana Smeltzer and Halle Nash and will look to build on the program’s recent success. Last year the Bearcats had a fantastic regular season finishing 19-10 but came up short in the CIF Division 1 playoffs falling to Sanger 13-7 in the opening round.
Senior night last fall was supposed to be the girls last time having to play a game in the Municipal Pool as the district had told people that a state-of-the-art pool was going to be finished by the start of this season but that was not the case due to a multitude of reasons as the Paso Robles Press has been reporting. However, even without a new pool Paso Robles head coach Grant East has worked hard to cultivate a youth program and his efforts are beginning to pay off as Paso Robles made a bit of a name for themselves at the junior olympics.
For many years in the Central Coast there has been Arroyo Grande, Righetti and then everyone else when it came to water sports but last year the Bearcats narrowed the gap and put themselves in the conversation by beating the Warriors two out of the four times they played and pushing the Eagles to the brink for the second straight year. While Smeltzer and Nash led the team a season ago, and it seems with another year of experience and swimming under their belt they might be even more dominant combining for 11 of the 15 goals, it’s the nucleus of four senior girls that may get this team over the hump.
“We are returning four seniors who were juniors last year and in my opinion, all four of them are top 10 to 15 in the league,” East said following the game. “This is my fifth year with all of them because I coached all of them in club as 8th graders,”
The other two seniors that make up the four are Morgan Harrington and Gabby Clayton and while their names might not appear on the score sheet as much as the other two girls their game is still extremely important to the team’s success especially on the defensive end.
While the first-round exit out of the Division 1 playoffs with nine seniors and seven juniors on the roster a year ago hurt, it might have perfectly aligned the stars for the Bearcats to bring home a ring this season. The Central Section shuffled their divisions this summer and due to the Bearcats only having one year in the Central Section and losing their only playoff game they earned no points placing them in the bottom three to four schools in the division which meant they dropped down to Division 2 while the top Division 2 schools moved up. How significant is this? Well, the Bearcats beat every team that is currently in Division 2 by five or more goals last year. While this team still wants to beat Arroyo Grande and win the Mountain League, the Eagles are now in a different division and can not stop the Bearcats from bringing home a ring.
The Bearcats keys to this season are their speed and defense according to East. Smeltzer and new call up, and leading scorer for the junior varsity a year ago, Holly DiSimone are two of the fastest swimmers in the entire county — both broke school records last spring in swimming. All four of the senior girls are strong defensively and will look to make things easier on sophomore goalie Kaitlyn Hebrard.
The Lady Bearcats actually open the season with the rare back-to-back home games and will look to start the season 2-0 as they play today at 5 p.m. at the Municipal pool in Paso Robles.