Knights reach West Region final to qualify for state

Mac water polo sinks rivals Churchill, Vandegrift and Westwood before finishing second to Austin High


At the conclusion of the tournament, the team celebrates in the pool with their second place plaque. The exception is goalie Jamie Guckenburger who leaped out of the pool in celebration, perhaps because his team is headed to state and perhaps because he made 10 saves in the championship game.

William Perkins

After a weekend filled with tight matches against arch-rival opponents, the McCallum water polo team emerged from the pool with a second place finish out of the 19 teams competing at the West Region Champs tournament, which qualified them to advance to the state championship in May.

While we’ve still got work to do before state, I think our teamwork is unmatched by any other team in the district. That is what brings us all together.

— William Wheeler

After a first-round bye the team earned with its undefeated first-place regular season, the Knights defeated Churchill 14-4 in the second round. The game started off slowly as the knights began to gain their confidence. Captain Keegan Langley said the team struggled initially on defense before regaining its confidence and taking control of the game. Freshman Ossie Joplin led the team with eight points in the game while senior Marios Petropoulus and junior Atticus Adair each scored two points. Other scorers included juniors Spencer Mcnelis and William Wheeler.

The Knights opened the second day of the tournament with a third-round match against Vandegrift. For the second game in a row, the Knights got off to a slow start and trailed at halftime, 5-4. Unlike the previous game, however, it was the offense that needed to wake up, which it did with 11 second-half points to vanquish the Vipers, 15-11.

“I was really scared in the beginning, it didn’t feel like we were going to win,” Petropoulos said. “As we got our stuff together I felt better and better as the game went on.”

Mcnelis led the Knights for the game with six points, followed by Joplin who scored three points and contributed a game-high nine assists. Petropoulos scored twice; Wheeler, once.

The Knights stayed poolside to cheer on their rivals as they fought each other in a tight match for the right to play the Knights in the fourth round.

“With water polo you don’t just form a bond with your team, but with a lot of the opposing teams too,” Wheeler said. “One minute you’ll be cheering for another team, and the next they will be cheering for you.”

In addition to supporting their peers in the pool, the Knights were entertained by a fantastic finish. Down 9-6 in the fourth quarter, the Raptors rallied to tie the game on a penalty shot to force the game into overtime. In overtime, Westwood senior Emilio Cohen earned the swim-off victory with the sudden-death goal that sent Westwood into the fourth round.

Playing for each other as a team all season long, the Knights ran the table through the district until they finally dropped a game to Austin High in the tournament final. The Knights had beaten the Maroons twice previously. (William Perkins)

The semifinal match between Mac and Westwood was a meeting of longtime rivals and friends. Both teams knew what the other was going to do. McCallum sent Mcnelis to shadow Cohen the entire game; Westwood did the same, sending Cohen to cover Joplin, and sophomore Freddy Browarski to blanket Adair. Despite the Warriors’ best defensive efforts, McCallum finished off their season 12-5. McNelis and Joplin did most of the damage, scoring six and five goals. Wheeler scored the team’s other goal.

In the final, the Knights faced the Austin Maroons in the third meeting between the teams this year. After beating Austin High twice earlier in the season, the Knight lost to them in the tournament final, 12-8. Captain and goalie Jamie Guckenberger played admirably in goal, blocking 10 shots, but a combination of another slow start and a stout Maroon defense proved too much for the Knights to overcome.

I know we were all disappointed to lose to a team we had already beaten, but … I know everyone was happy to have earned another opportunity to prove ourselves in state.

— Jamie Guckenberger

“I know we were all disappointed to lose to a team we had already beaten,” Guckenberger said, “but I feel like I played my best game and I know everyone was happy to have earned another opportunity to prove ourselves in state.”

Wheeler said the team’s success in qualifying for state and throughout the season can be attributed to the team’s approach to preparing for it.

“While other teams were running drills, we were outside practicing zone defense in basketball,” Wheeler said. “When other teams were swimming laps, we were weaving through stand-up paddle boarders in Barton Springs, and it has paid off. I know that whenever any one of my teammates gets the ball they can handle themselves with it, and that level of trust is something that I think other teams really lack. While we’ve still got work to do before state, I think our teamwork is unmatched by any other team in the district. That is what brings us all together.”

The state tournament is May 6 and 7 in Houston. The Knights hope to go as far as they can, and if that run includes another shot at Austin High, it would be a most welcome opportunity.