August 27, 2014 - By Dan Shriner
There are some new competitive Dragons at Lake Orion High School this fall.
The inaugural Lake Orion's boys varsity water polo team played its first-ever match last week at home against Haslett.
The Dragons lost, 15-6, but Coach Gary Essenmacher said the squad is learning the sport and having fun.
"We are a developing team, learning, improving and having fun. We want to improve our skill-sets and develop them for our future," Essenmacher said.
Even the coach is new. Essenmacher played water polo at Oakland University but has not coached a varsity team before.
Most of the team members are sophomores and freshmen but there are two seniors.
There are only three players on the team with experience, Essenmacher said.
The team's captain, Shane Ciora, will play what is called the point when the team is attacking the opposing goal. Ciora scored the first-ever goal for the Dragons in the Haslett game.
Sophomore Avery Womack will play what is called a "holeset" which is a position in the center are of the "field". This position is like a center in basketball but also has elements of a playmaker position.
Nate Emert is a junior and will be one of the team leaders, Essenmacher said, along with goalie Jonah Bukowsky.
The game of water polo is tough. It must be noted that the game is played in deep water, so players have to swim and tread water the entire time. It is an infraction if a player goes to the bottom of the pool and pushes off. There are six players and one goalie on each team.
Players are in very good shape and must be considering the games are played in seven minute quarters with a 30-second shot clock.
The game mixes elements of soccer, basketball, and hockey. Like soccer, goalies defend a large netted goal. The players are allowed to use only one hand at a time to pass or shoot the yellow, soccer-sized ball.
Like basketball, there is a shot clock and fast breaks. There is a position that uses a center-like "hole man" who takes shots or passes to players swimming towards the goal. Driving, setting picks, and trying to get near the net for a shot can be reminiscent of basketball.
Like hockey, water polo is a physical game and players can be temporarily ejected into a penalty box area for short periods of time such as 20 seconds or more.
The game also has a great deal of physical interaction between opponents as they push, shove and generally try to upset the player swimming with the ball. There is a great deal of underwater pulling and shoving that is not seen by most fans.
Two referees walking alongside the pool are constantly calling players for many of the underwater infractions and shenanigans.
Essenmacher said the players are enjoying the game and learning.
Potential spectators should check the Oakland Activities Association website, click on the Lake Orion link and you can find a calendar of sports events for the water polo team and other Dragon sports.
The new water polo team can promise some excitement and fun.
While wins are nice, Essenmacher said it was important for the players to learn, play hard and have fun. The wins will come in time.
"They are looking forward to the season and learning the game," he said. "We are really having fun."