Snodgrass and Oster emerging as new leaders at right time

by: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Asha Gatchell is one of several young players returning to the Sandy girls water polo team. The Pioneers are trying to create a new identity.

On a mid-September day, coach Kraig Lofstedt watched his girls water polo team run through an assortment of passing drills.

The coach sat on a chair near the pool, within shouting distance of his team but far enough away where the players couldn’t hear him say, “The girls have a huge shadow over their head with Alicia (Hayes) being gone.”

Lofstedt scanned the pool, looking at a team with questions to answer, things to prove, voids to fill. None bigger than the departure of Hayes, one of the best water polo players ever to pass through the program.

There were a couple early-season games already under Sandy’s belt, but not enough to gauge its full ability.

As practice rolled on, players were emerging as leaders; others were coming out of the woodwork, stepping up, taking on new roles. All of it essential, given the unspoken reality Sandy faces this season.

“They have a lot to make up for,” Lofstedt says. “They have a lot to prove.”

It’ll be hard but not impossible.

Only two players, including Hayes, graduated, meaning the majority of last year’s team is still intact. And the existing talent, Lofstedt says, has the potential to even exceed last season’s results.

“As a team, it’s improved,” he says.

Absorbing the leadership role are two players whose work ethic makes them a natural choice: Courtney Oster and Amanda Snodgrass. Lofstedt speaks of both having that classic but rare desire to improve each day.

According to the coach, Oster will be the vocal leader, commanding the pool, and he believes she’ll be a candidate for player of the year.

“Without her we don’t have a chance,” Lofstedt says.

Snodgrass will be out there leading by example, and the thought is her work ethic will influence the rest of the team, many of whom are young players.

“(Snodgrass) doesn’t want to be mediocre,” Lofstedt says. “She wants to go that extra mile. That’s the only thing you can’t teach somebody. You can give them every drill in the book. But unless they actually put the effort forward, they’re not going to go anywhere.”

Sandy will rely heavily on several young players, such as Cherrie Schaffer and Asha Gatchell. But these are players who played on the team last year and have already experienced the demands of the league and the talent they’ll face.

The Pioneers also will lean on Elisha Weidauer, who will play in the field as well as goalie. Lofstedt says she’ll be keeper in deep pools while Shayne Anderson will be between the pipes in shallow pools. That also means Weidauer will always be in goal during the state playoffs.

“(Elisha) will be a huge contributor this year, in the cage and in the field,” Lofstedt says. “I’m hoping to get her into the field as well because she can swim and shoot. Elisha is like Amanda; she wants to get better every day.”

This is a team that is working toward building a new identity. Sandy wants to be a unit and develop more chemistry and interaction in the pool. And doing that will be this season’s challenge.

“The entire season rides on how the girls react to watching a star player play or trying to work together and make something happen,” Lofstedt says. “I have no doubt that the girls are capable of making a ridiculous run.”

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