DOWNEY - Learning the Xs and Os just over a decade ago was Josie Cordero's main issue and focus for her team. Times have changed, just look at the two CIF banners.Now, the Warren high school girls water polo team head coach has built a championship program and credits a strong coaching staff, a large support system and of course, a group of girls with a knack for competition and the will to win. It wasn't always like that for the Warren Bears and its young 11-year old program. "I always remember where we began. Where the humble beginnings are. How we've gotten where we are today," said Cordero. Cordero found her first teaching job at Warren and began coaching the swim team 13 years ago. At the time, the water polo program was co-ed until the athletic director suggested making a girls water polo team to Cordero. Cordero had no experience in water polo but still agreed to help the program out as she began as an assistant coach. Just three years into the program, Cordero took over and began her reign as head coach of the Bears. Despite being a top three team for most of the years under her tenure, the Bears failed to go far in the postseason. The Bears never made it out of the first round and seemed to have reached a plateau. "We were always that notorious one and done. We were always finishing third in league, which would mean we'd play the wild card round in playoffs and then we'd always lose in the wild card round and that would be it," Cordero said. "That was how it was for a number of years." Cordero said the program took a turn in the positive direction, "the turning point," as Cordero calls it, when Ivana Castro joined the team in 2008-09 as a freshman. Castro arrived to Warren with a wealth of experience from her club team and Cordero felt she brought the raw desire to compete. "There's absolutely no doubt. We've never had an athlete like her to our program. Once you get someone in the program who has international experience, national titles under her belt... She is a real competitor." Cordero believes Castro's arrival has brought a culture that Warren has never seen. She calls it water polo fever. A phrase she got from Castro's mother. "They're enthusiastic about it, they're willing to make the sacrifices to become better players," Cordero said. According to Cordero, the Warren water polo program has welcomed many first-time players who've done an amazing job learning the sport. She said more than half the team has taken their game to the next level, playing for clubs in the offseason. "I definitely tip my hat that Ivana Castro has helped move this program forward and helped take us to another level," Cordero said. Cordero still holds every girl accountable and treats each one equally. "You got to treat every player like an equal ... we expect the same thing from every single girl, every single day and that's how you build a program," Cordero said, "Gotta hold every kid accountable to the same level of expectations." The additions of assistant coaches, who have been together since 2007, have also helped the program for the better according to Cordero. Every coach has brought in a winning pedigree and has instilled it in the girls at Warren. Assistant coaches like Janine Boutte and Stephanie Rosero both come from rival Downey high school, who Cordero considers both specialty players and versatile coaches. Cordero says the group "works as a unit and it makes things so much more productive when it comes to running a program." Cordero has successfully put the pieces together for future years. As players like Castro move on and graduate, the rest of the team has been prepared to follow suit and not miss a beat. Of the 14 current players, 11 will be returning to defend the CIF title that has found a home in Warren the last two years. For Cordero, she built more than the knowledge of Xs and Os. She built a championship program. Just look at the banners.
********** Published: March 15, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 48