EAST ROCKHILL >> It’s early Thursday morning, and the Pennridge girls are out of the pool and on their way to the weight room.
Water polo season is upon us, or second thought, make that…
“It’s swimming. You feel like you’re in swim season — you barely touch a ball,” Rams senior Claire Beno says with a smile.
Practice began with an hour and a half of sprint work in the water and finished up with some dryland workouts. “We’re really working on our endurance, especially this year,” Beno said, “because that’s what our weakness usually is as a team.”
The Rams had a breakthrough season a year ago, reaching the state tournament at season’s end. Going further — and having more in the tank to do so — is the focus for 2016.
“The sooner we get their legs underneath them, the better they’re gonna be,” Rams coach Jacob Grant said. “Endurance is always a big factor for the Pennridge team because we have such a small squad. For varsity, our benches are usually like three kids and then JV, it’s like four or five.
“So getting these girls’ legs ready before the season is big.”
Grant, also the swim coach at Pennridge, is enjoying his first summer at the helm for the Rams’ girls water polo squad — he took head coaching duties two weeks into the season last year.
Two-a-days practices are now one four-hour practice, but starting at 7 a.m. so things finish up early. Next week, skill work will come. But these early days are all about building up stamina, a valuable resource deep into the season.
“It actually helps you a lot because one of the aspects of water polo is you need to be able to swim and counter to get back to the other side,” said Beno, a three-year veteran for the Rams. “In water polo, you play every position, so you have to be able to swim back and forth.”
Beno enjoyed her first trip to states last year. It was how they got there that made it really special.
“It was an exciting feeling, especially in the state play-in game,” she said of a tense battle with Perkiomen Valley. “We were behind 3-1 and came back to win in overtime.
“We had a tough time in states so we wanna be able to go back and redeem ourselves,” the senior said of the Rams, who earned the No. 8 spot. “States is a whole new ballgame, because there’s teams from all over in Pennsylvania that you don’t get to play often.”
This fall will present new challenges and new conference opponents, including Perk Valley, which Pennridge battled into OT a year ago.
But the Rams also welcome some new team members — four freshmen, including Hope and Megan Weiss, two products of the Perkasie Pirates feeder program.
“From senior down to freshmen, there’s a lot of good relationships,” Grant said, “a lot of positivity. The seniors and juniors are stepping up and not just passing to girls they’re comfortable with.
“They’re stepping out of their comfort zone, taking a freshman under their wing and working with them one-on-one. You always like to see the older girls helping out the younger girls because they’re the future of the program.”
The Rams enter the season with three seniors, a pair of juniors, and versatile players like Beno — experienced at d hole and hole set — to help smooth the transition as the younger players come along.
The Rams will also be training a new goalie, one of many things on the check list for opening day. But these early August mornings — with all the laps and reps — are when the groundwork is laid.
“It’s good to do it now,” Beno said, “because in-season, you can’t work your body that hard. When game time comes, you’ll be tired, you’ll be sore, so you have to get it done now.”
With a lot of hard work, Pennridge is intent on pushing the program further. Its first ever state tournament appearance came under former coach Ryan Griffiths back in 2012, and now this group is looking to make states an annual tradition.
Season goals have not yet been set, but Grant already has a pretty good one on his mind for this team.
“I would like to see them get back to the state tournament and continue the upward trend we had from last year,” he said.