How do you deal with that pressure?
Ariana Bockstahler turns it on its head. She comes in beaming, projecting a smile that fills the deck outside Bishop’s coach Doug Peabody’s office overlooking the Knights’ pool. Completely relaxed, ready to talk about her team, herself, even share a little about her personal likes and her family.
How do you do that?
“I think Ari holds us together,” says teammate Katie Scott, a top offensive attacker. “When things get tough, she’s like a calm voice.”
A big sister, maybe? A mother-type?
Bockstahler, who thinks her last name has something to do with a “shepherd” (according to information online, ‘stahler’ is a blacksmith or foundry worker, and ‘bock’ means ‘buck’), certainly seems to look after her chickadees, while also playing a key role in Peabody’s rotation. She plays utility, literally all six positions in the pool, in all senses of the word. She’s the Knights’ heart and soul.
“She’s a two-time winner of the Kandel Award,” said Peabody. “The Kandel Award is one we have here at Bishop’s for the person who sacrifices the most of herself and for the betterment of the team.”
The fiery coach, on the deck in an interview calm, wearing sunglasses on a brilliant Monday afternoon, continues, “In our system, we have set positions. She is willing to play any position. On her club team, San Diego Shores, she plays center. But for us, she has played every position this season.”
Andy Koczon, assistant athletic director at Bishop’s, points out that the Knights kept the game under control against a dominant Cathedral Catholic, losing only 7-3 in their first meeting. Other teams have gone down 15-3 and worse.
The Knights certainly aren’t a one-girl team, even with their core of five seniors, who played together for three years, graduating last June and all moving on to college water polo.
But Bockstahler, the “blacksmith” who will get her hands dirty with what the team needs, is the glue.
“Our team is really young this year,” says the captain, who is a commit to play at UC Irvine next year. “We have two seniors and two juniors. The rest are sophomores or freshmen. That’s a really different situation than what I’ve been part of the last three years.”
The Knights battled in the Tournament of Champions, hosted at Dos Pueblos and Santa Barbara High Schools, and came away licking their wounds. “Cathedral played the same opponents and had a tough time, too,” reported Peabody.
“Ever since I’ve been in water polo, my teams have called me ‘Ari.’ But my full name is Ariana. So when I came to Bishop’s, it went from a team thing to a school thing. Everybody at school here calls me ‘Ari.’ My mom says, ‘That’s not your name.’”
The Bockstahlers lived in Naples, Italy for two years while Ariana was in the fifth and sixth grades. “My mom [Krista] is a retired Navy anesthesiologist (now working at Rady’s). Then, we lived in the little town near the [Capodichino] military base, and I attended school on the base. I learned enough Italian to where I could order food and say basic things with my friends, but I don’t remember much of it now.” Her father is Eric, and her three brothers are Alex, 20, Andrew, 10, and A.J., 9.
In between workouts, which Peabody says are limited by the school: Asked if the team holds conditioning workouts before school in addition to afternoon practices, he responds, “We can’t do it here. The school won’t allow two practices a day,” the solidly-built senior fuels up on strawberry ice cream. “And gelato. Ooh, I like a lot of dessert,” Bockstahler enthuses.
Other key members of Peabody’s rotation include Scott, a sophomore; Sophia Sanders, a freshman and the team’s leading scorer; Sierra Martin, a sophomore and the team’s new center; and goalies Sofia Stern, a freshman, and Sammie Stone, a sophomore.
Instead of moaning over the Knights’ youth due to the five stellar seniors graduating last year to Division 1 competition, the coach puts it in the positive: “We actually have a lot of opportunity for new players to step in.”
About Scott, he says: “[Katie’s] an attacker. She’s our second-leading scorer. She’s a good offensive threat, a good shooter. She understands the offensive flow. She knows how to create a shot for herself.”
“She’s our leading scorer. Dynamic, a lot of speed, competitive as all get out, whether sprinting or attacking,” said teammate Sophia Sanders.
“She pretty much came out of nowhere,” said Sierra Martin. “All the work she’s put in the past year and a half paid off.” Why did she decide to put in all the work, which lifted her from the pack to a starting spot? “I think she saw the opportunity,” says the coach. “She went for it.”
“Our two goalies split time,” said Peabody. “I think there have only been three or four games all season in which Sanders and Stone didn’t share time.”
Scott, 15, fancies herself, besides a scorer, as someone who keeps her teammates loose with humor. “I think I’m funny,” she laughs. “I don’t know if everybody else does. We always recite vines. They are these short phrases that repeat over and over. Like ‘free-shevac-ado’, for ‘fresh avocado’.” You put the emphasis on different syllables than normal.
“I think (having fun with the vines) helps us bond,” says the attacker. “We also have team lunches on game days, and we do sleepovers.”
“Also, we talk about preparation. We go through scenarios that can come up: if the other team is running one post up, or cross drive, what are you going to do [to respond]?”
“We try to do a lot of communicating, being vocal, so you and I are not confused when we’re out there.”
“I have to worry about the whole team,” echoes Bockstahler, the captain. “It has to do with being vocal, communicating to the others what’s in my head.”
“A usual practice consists of 40-minute blocks of conditioning,” said Peabody. “Some days we’ll concentrate on shooting, other days on defensive positioning. We do a lot of that.”
Asked if he challenges his team members with higher concepts in the sport, the coach replies, “We are teaching at a level at which they could continue to play at the college level.”