The quest for another undefeated season begins Wednesday for Greenwich High School’s girls water polo team and senior captains Bella Schraa and Emma Phillips, both of whom have been mainstays on the squad since their freshman year, are intent on leading the Cardinals to a perfect spring season.
“I’m so excited, the team is in such great shape,” Phillips said. “Everyone’s been working hard and we’re all just really excited and grateful for the upcoming games. We have such an opportunity with this team to do so well and I expect such good things.”
“I’m hoping we’re going to be undefeated,” said Schraa, who like Phillips, has competed on the Cardinals’ water polo team since her freshman season. “We have a similar team as last year. I’m really confident everyone will contribute equally as much as the starters do. The goal in the end is to have won every single game and it will be a nice way to end the high school experience.”
Greenwich, which opens its season with a game against neighborhood rival Greenwich Aquatics Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the YMCA of Greenwich, registered a record of 11-0 in 2021, meeting each challenge it faced along the way. The 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Greenwich posted a highly successful 2019 season and in years previous to that, they also enjoyed great success. Cardinals coach Paul Constantin, who is beginning his seventh season at the helm, expects the team to be in top form, starting with its season-opener against a tough Greenwich Aquatics squad.
“This year we’re going to be very strong,” Constantin said. “I feel very confident in their knowledge and water polo skills, so I really think that it’s going to be a great season.”
Schraa is coming off a junior season that saw her earn First Team All-America Water Polo honors by the National Swim Coaches Association. Only 14 high school players in the country received First Team All-America accolades and just two were from the Northeast, with Schraa being one of the athletes.
A center, Schraa was the Cardinals’ leading scorer last season and powered the team’s offense in her other years on the team. She’s difficult to defend from her position as the team’s go-to offensive player.
“I sit right in front of the goal and face in front of the goal with my back,” said Schraa, who will continue her water polo career at Bucknell University. “I usually stay in the middle of the goal and if the ball gets into me, my goal is to finish it off.”
“Bella brings a lot of water polo experience, along with Emma, which is going to help us a lot,” Constantin said.
Schraa certainly has an impressive water polo resume. This past summer, she visited California several times to compete at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics in California as a member of the Los Angeles Water Polo Club.
Schraa has been a member of the USA Water Polo Cadet National Team and made the Futures International roster. She’s also made USA Water Polo’s Academy Team. In 2017, started training with the Olympic Development Program and in 2018 she made USA Water Polo’s Olympic Development Team. She has especially cherished the time she’s spent honing her skills with her Greenwich High teammates.
“From having a lot of experiences with different water polo teams, GHS is one of my favorites. All of my best friends are on this team, it’s a short season, so we make sure that we have a good time and we make sure that every moment counts. Paul is an amazing coach, so the GHS season is one of the best experience I’ve had in my childhood in water polo. I’m just really grateful to have this as part of my high school experience.”
Phillips a center defender, likes the teamwork she’s seen the team exhibit during the preseason practices.
“The majority of us are upperclassmen,” Phillips said. “We have six seniors and five juniors. We had two graduating seniors last year and we have a new freshman, so it’s more or less the same team and that’s going to help us. A lot of us have worked together in the past, so there’s a lot of good chemistry and I expect us to play really well together.”
Junior twin sisters Ashley and Olivia Hopper, both of whom made significant offensive contributions last season, return to the Cardinals, along with Coco Whittle, Ellen Norell, Richa Vaid, Daisy Gray, Bronte Brock, Mikaela Browning, CJ Weigel and Sofie Wang. Emma Gustafsson, Brenna Coffey and Sophia Ojjeh also join the Cards for what they hope is a dominant season.
“I think we should be in really good shape moving forward,” Phillips said. “I have loved every moment of the last four years on the team. Each year it gets better and better. Paul is great, the girls are great and I would say I’m really lucky to have this experience. The GHS experience is so unique to GHS. We have such a welcoming group and we really make the most of it, so it’s really fun.”
Following their match against Greenwich Aquatics, the Cardinals host neighborhood foe Sacred Heart Greenwich on Thursday at 4:15 p.m., then face visiting Greenwich Academy on April 6. They will play Staples (away, April 7) and host their own Cardinal Tournament toward the end of the season.
“Whoever is here they are committed to the program and the team and they bond well together,” Constantin said. “We complement each other in the water and that’s all you can ask for.”
This marks the second season that Schraa and Phillips are serving as captains and they are determined to conclude their Cardinals careers in top form.
“Just like last year, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be there to lead my teammates,” Schraa said. “I’m grateful to work with Paul, he’s a great coach and he’s coached me since I was 10 years old. I’m trying to do whatever is best for my team and finish it off with a win.”