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Water Polo Wilson

SEASON PREVIEW: Wilson Girls’ Water Polo

The562’s coverage of aquatic sports in Long Beach is sponsored by the Aquatic Capital of America Foundation.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.

Wilson girls’ water polo is in the best shape it’s been in for years.

When the Bruins won their first CIF Southern Section championship in the 2018 Division 3 playoffs, they then had to replace most of the graduating seniors who got them there.

Last season after years of climbing the ranks again, Wilson was on the bubble to make the CIF-SS Open Division and ended up reaching the Division 1 championship game. This season, the Bruins return more than a couple impact players from that team who are ready to take the next step.

“They’re hungry because they want that experience again this season,” coach Barry O’Dea said. “We’re looking really good in practice right now, we’re moving the ball well, and in some ways we’re almost moving it better than we were this time last year. Especially in the 6-on-5. They just look really experienced.”

Seniors Katherine O’Dea and Jermonie Billingsly have spent the last few years playing high school, club and international water polo. Billingsly is back from injury to continue dominating the 2-meter, while O’Dea, who was most recently working with the USA Youth National team, has returned to playing the perimeter after moving down low to fill the team’s need.

Fellow senior Emily Cribari, who is committed to attend Fresno State, will also play at the 2-meter with Billingsly.

“It’s just about confidence in themselves, confidence in the ability to put the ball in the back of the net,” coach O’Dea said of Billingsly and Cribari. “And the confidence their teammates have in them to do the job in center.”

Coach O’Dea knows his team also needs some young players to step up into key roles if they want to win a sixth consecutive Moore League championship and go deep into the playoffs again. Wilson has won 16 of the last 17 league titles.

“This year we’re talking about it being more of a marathon than a sprint,” O’Dea said. “Just slowly take things on to be ready for February (in the playoffs).”

Junior Iris Hiskey will be a key defender at the 2-meter while junior junior lefty Angeliki Arroyo is back after getting some good experience last year. Sophomore Reece Haga will also be key on the perimeter after getting a lot of playing time as a freshman.

The newest, and maybe the most important, addition to the starting lineup is sophomore goalkeeper Teagan Shandrew-Pearshall. 

“She just stepped up and wanted it,” O’Dea said. “She’s got good instincts for only playing water polo for two years with just got a natural ‘go’ at the ball. She works her tail off, has taken to the training and listened a lot. She’s just kind of a natural at it right now.”

Wilson will play almost an identical schedule to last year, so that means they’ll be in the Open Division mix once again with good barometer games against Huntington Beach, Mater Dei, Oaks Christian and others in non-league games.

“Obviously we want to be looked at as one of the tops out there,” O’Dea said. “I think our girls want to compete in the (Open Division) because they believe they can. That’s good for Wilson, the City of Long Beach and the entire water polo community when you have a chance to be great outside of the city and highly regarded. It’s a good positive for the state of water polo.”

“But, we’re going to play wherever they put us,” he added. “It’s always fun to make a deep playoff run.”

Wilson opens the season against Huntington Beach this week.

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JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.