Boys’ water polo struggles to stay afloat with sicknesses and new coach

October 23, 2023 — by Agastya Vitaldevara
Photo by Neal Malhotra
Kunal Bhatnagar reaches up to block a shot on senior night against Santa Clara on Oct. 19
Despite a disappointing 1-13 season in the El Camino league, the team showcases large potential for future years.

The boys’ water polo team took the lead in the first quarter against Santa Clara on their Oct. 19 senior night game Oct. 19, with senior co-captain and center defender Yanis Herne scoring the first goal. 

After the score went back and forth for the first two quarters, a weak third quarter left the Falcons down 6-5. Though senior left wing Jarrett Singh kept the team in the game with a quick shot off a rebound, Santa Clara in the end eked out an 8-7 victory.

The team ended with a 1-13 record in the El Camino League after struggling with a full, healthy roster and adjusting to a new coach. The Falcons played Homestead in the first game of league finals on Oct. 23.

The boys’ season was plagued by sickness, often leaving them without their full set of starters. Key players like senior co-captains Herne and Mitchell Chen, senior left-wing Singh and junior right-flat Kirby Fung were unable to play multiple games. Other players such as sophomore hole-set Nirvan Shah and junior goalie Armon Vuppala ended up playing through their sicknesses and, subsequently, were unable to play at their full potential.

“We were really hoping for a late season turn-around like our last season; we beat most teams the second time we played them,” Fung said. “Unfortunately sickness and COVID got in the way, even though it’s evident that we’re playing better in games than at the beginning of the season.”

The biggest adjustment for the team came from the new head coach Utku Karhan, who recently graduated as the captain of the San Jose State Div. I water polo team. Under the previous coach, Class of 2022 alumnus Kendal Jarvis, practices would often stretch to three intense hours, while this season, practices often lasted between 1 and 1.5 hours due to the Karhan’s busy schedule.

“Waterpolo is a sport that requires longer practices because it takes a while to get warmed up properly to prevent injury,” Herne said. “As a result of the shorter practices, we don’t get the opportunity to run vital drills.”

However, even with all the losses, the Falcons have seen many improvements. After a 20-4 home loss to Lynbrook on Sept. 12, the team came back stronger the second time. Playing the Vikings on Oct. 3, despite missing Fung and Bunker, the team put up a fight, keeping the game within three points for the majority of the game before losing 11-7 in the fourth quarter.

After a long string of disappointing losses, some games within a single goal and others by large margins, the Falcons got their first win of the season at home against Wilcox on Oct. 5.

Following a 1-1 deadlocked first quarter, Shah led the team to a 7-4 victory, taking three successful shots from the center and changing the tide of the game. Throughout the rest of the game, the Falcons’ defense, led by Herne with 12 steals, prevented Wilcox from converting their offense attacks. The team is also young, with two underclassmen, Shah and freshman Brian Le, playing vital roles in the starting lineup. For his part, Shah is optimistic about the programs future.

“We have so much talent on our team this year, and more incoming from JV,” Shah said. “I know that with some direction, we’ll definitely be in contention for league championships next year.”

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