There are high school sports dynasties all throughout the state of Washington. Whether one is talking about teams like Garfield in basketball, or Lynden and Bellevue in football, people know they’re talking about the cream of the crop for years. Obviously, folks are a little less in the know when it comes to the sports that seem to fly under the radar.
When it comes to the relatively unknown world of boys’ water polo in this state, the best of the best reside in quiet, little University Place. The Vikings’ head coach Dennis Piccolotto has built a bonafide dynasty and to see his players slice and dice the competition is like watching an engine hitting on all cylinders.
That powerful engine hit the Curtis High School pool on Saturday, Nov. 10, with a state championship trophy on the line. The only thing standing in the way of a fourth-straight Curtis title would be talented Spartans from Bainbridge Island.
Fans from both communities showed up in force and packed the stands for this title match, and at times in was nearly deafening inside the Curtis Aquatic Center.
At the end of the first quarter, Vikings were leading the Spartans by a score of 3-1, and the home team was just beginning to fire up its engine. By the end of the first half, Curtis had built a 7-1 advantage and it was becoming clear that the visitors were going to have no answer for the best water polo team in the Evergreen State.
Bainbridge was able to sneak a couple of goals through in the third quarter, but they still couldn’t match the output from the Vikings, as the three-time defending state champions carried a sizable 11-3 lead into the final stanza.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Vikings had captured their the state championship by a score of 14-6. For a couple of minutes, it had looked as if the Spartans were going to put together a little run and make it interesting, but the Curtis offense roared back to life and slammed the door shut on any comeback ideas.
The players, including Piccolotto all jumped into the pool to celebrate the victory, and the Curtis crowd was downright gleeful.
“At times I worry that our Viking Nation might take this run we are on for granted,” said Piccollotto. “But then they show up in full force at the state tournament to cheer us on. It is awesome seeing the sea of blue shirts in the stands and hearing them cheer for our boys. I cannot help but look up and smile and be proud of our community and how they support our water polo team.”
The championship win marked the 16th boys’ state title overall, and the eighth under the leadership of Piccolotto in the past 13 seasons. He has also led the girls’ team to a pair of state championships. If there’s a more gifted water polo coach in the state, they’re obviously staying away from the pools, as Piccolotto just keeps churning out teams and players of the highest order.
“This year our team theme was ‘Our Season, Our Team, Our Story’,” said Piccolotto. “After a few close state championship wins the past few years, we wanted to make sure that we finished the season playing at the highest level possible. The two weeks leading up to the state tournament were filled with challenging workouts that really forced the boys to focus and prepare.
“We implemented several new plays and schemes, which was new territory. Usually we simply narrow down the play book and put forth energy and time on the couple plays that worked well during the season. This year it was all about stretching our team to the maximum.”
Following the victory, the All-State teams were announced. Curtis’ Brevin Gronlund, Sam Guffey and Brandon Long were all named to the first-team, with Long earning Goalkeeper MVP honors, Guffey taking Defensive MVP, and Gronlund earning the Tournament MVP nod.
“The tournament committee did not know who Brandon was before the season,” said Piccolotto. “But they learned quickly after watching him compete in the state tournament.
“Brevin is known for offense and led the team this year with 151 goals (second all-time at Curtis). However, his perimeter defense stood out all season and all tournament. Brevin’s defense led to quick goals which provided the team a lot of momentum.”
Piccolotto sees a budding rivalry in the Bainbridge Island program, and it looks a little familiar to him.
“They remind me a lot of us, before we won state,” said Piccolotto. “We were so hungry back then. Bainbridge will be around for a while and look to be our number one rival moving forward. We are losing five varsity seniors, including four all-state tournament athletes. It will not be easy to defend the title for the fourth consecutive year, but if I know anything about my guys, it is that they are up to the challenge.”
The Wilson Rams also advanced to the state tournament, taking home the seventh-place trophy after a 9-3 victory over Kennedy Catholic.