Water polo makes itself at home

Senior M.J. Raade was a standout yet again for the Aqua Lions, scoring four goals against Sheldon in an 11-3 win. NICK SNYDER/CG SENTINEL

The new and improved Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center may still be in its infancy, opening just a few short weeks ago, but the Aqua Lions water polo teams are doing their best to get comfortable in their new home pool.

Cottage Grove played host to three visiting teams last Fri., Oct. 11, putting on the first water polo tournament since the Daugherty Center’s grand re-opening. North Eugene, Sheldon and Medford all made the trip to the Aqua Lions’ home pool, with Sheldon ultimately taking the boy’s title and Cottage Grove triumphing on the girl’s side.

All in all, however, according to head coach Tyson Pilling this was a day that was just as much about celebrating the Daugherty Center as it was about the water polo matches themselves.

“I think I heard one person that’s an alumnus, they said they felt like they were about to cry because of how awesome [the facility] looks, how fun it was and how smoothly it was going,” Pilling said after the tournament had wrapped up.

The sentimentality and connection the City of Cottage Grove has to the Daugherty Center is central to its place in the community, but Pilling also sees larger opportunities for the facility.

“I think the only other thing is to get more teams in, do [tournaments] over two days like we used to, have a food vendor there. But, as far as the facility goes … the way it was built was for it to be a competition fast tank. That means it’ll be good for polo, and it’ll be especially good for swimming. It’s a fast pool and it can help bring people into the town and bring money into the economy.”

This was an effect that could already be seen at the venue’s first multi-team competition, as parents and friends of all the away teams filled the bleachers on the pool deck.

The Lady Aqua Lions were the stars of the event, capping off their stellar play throughout the day with an 11-3 victory over the Irish.

In typical fashion, M.J. Raade and Mikayla Baird played central roles for Cottage Grove, constantly in the middle of the action and scoring four and five goals, respectively.

“The girls were just really, really good,” Pilling said. “[Mikayla] especially played through, played hard and did what she needed to do. It worked.”

The boys had a rougher go throughout the day, playing North Eugene tough in a loss and beating Medford before ultimately losing their final match of the day to a talented Sheldon team, 10-1.

The Irish were led by senior Abraham Iboa who seemed to score every time he touched the ball, ending the day with nine goals.

“The boys are getting a lot better every day,” Pilling said.

“They just need to keep working on their communication and make sure that when you get a player that’s that good … pay really close attention on picking your shots and passes because one bad pass turns into a turnover then the other team’s going the other direction for a counter. So, a player like that, you need to put two on him and if you make a mistake, they’re going to score every time.”

As the water polo season begins winding down, win or lose, Coach Pilling can rest easy on the fact that his team and his new facility are representing Cottage Grove well.

“Water polo is a contact sport,” Pilling emphasized. “But one thing I really liked was, not only was the tournament a huge success … but teams and the officials said how impressed they were by the sportsmanship and how clean everybody was playing. It was really refreshing. Everybody said [we] played really physical, really hard, but were very clean.”

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