Sam Barnes competes in water polo and swimming, helps coach Tigersharks

There aren’t too many circumstances where one sport would help an athlete participate in another one or that there would be success for the athlete in both of those sports.

Yet, that was the case for Taft High swimmer and water polo player Sam Barnes after he was invited to compete for a water polo team that is competing in the Junior Olympics.

“It’s awesome,” Barnes said of being named to the team. “It’s a huge honor.”

“It’s just an earmark and an indicator of his talent, and a great honor to be considered,” said Taft swimming and water polo coach Nathan Usrey.

Barnes found out about the Bakersfield water polo club when after a practice they went to Bakersfield to see the top tier teams practice.
Their coach approached Barnes and asked him about playing on the team.

The water polo club will be playing three games in four days in the first qualifier this coming Saturday at San Jose.

All totaled, Barnes says there are three tournament qualifiers.

However, Barnes will not be competing for the team due to travel expenses. It would cost about $2000 to go up there and compete.

Even though he was invited to play on a team that possibly would go to the Junior Olympics, Barnes, who will be a senior this year, likes the Taft High water polo team more.

“This water polo team is even better because of the camaraderie,” he said. “It’s more fun playing with these guys, some of them I’ve swam with. “It’s a lot easier to work with the unit.”

One of the things Barnes likes about playing water polo is the home games. This year the Wildcats will have six home games compared to no home games that they had last year.

“The one thing I am excited for is the home games,” he said.

Water polo is not the only sport Barnes is successful at.

He also has been successful at swimming going back to when he competed for the Tigersharks swim team.

In the year before competing at the high school level, Barnes completed his Tigersharks run by finishing second twice at the Kern County Championship and had four victories at the meet before that.

Just this past May, Barnes, as a junior for the Wildcats team, finished 12th in the 200-yard breaststroke at the CIF/Valley Master's Sectional meet.

Out of the events he competes in, Barnes says he likes to compete in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 500-yard freestyle.

He also is excited about his final season on the swim team and has several goals.

“This year hopefully we will get another league championship,” he said. “I want to improve my leadership goals. “If we keep the team together that will be our best shot at league.”

Looking past high school, Barnes plans on competing in college swimming. He is not sure about water polo, he might play at the recreational level.

Along with competing in water polo and swimming, Barnes also helped push the idea of starting a water polo team at the high school.

He along with fellow swimmers Joe Michalski and Brett Usrey would play water polo during the swim season for fun and as a reward.
The three wanted to turn that fun into a competive sport at the high school.

“We wanted to get more serious about it,” said Barnes.

They approached Usrey about the possibility of starting a team  and Usrey liked the idea on a condition that they would grow the team or “it would be over.”

Barnes along with the two other players went out and recruited players to play.

“He has been a pioneer for water polo and a leader by example for all aquatics for Taft High in the past five years,” said Usrey. “He has just been a great asset for us.”

Since that first season, Barnes feels the water polo program has improved.

“Our guys have improved so much,” he  said. “Everybody knows something about the game. We all know what were thinking.”

Competing for the Wildcat swimming and water polo teams is not the only thing Barnes does.

Barnes is also giving back by being a coach for the Tigersharks swim team.

“Sam is nothing short of a great kid, very mature, excellent work ethic, friendly,” said Tigersharks head coach Greg Golling, who has known Barnes for about five to six years. “Lots of kids on our team, including mine look up to him as a swimmer.”

“Coaching for the Tigersharks is so much fun,” said Barnes. “It’s always fun to watch them.”

At the same time, Barnes says its a weird experience.

“It’s such a weird thing just because I used to look to my coach for advice,” he said.

Barnes started coaching the Tigersharks last fall according to Golling. Following water polo season, Barnes asked Golling if he could do water polo with the Tigersharks swimmers.

“We did this twice a week and there was a huge response,” said Golling. “We had several other kids come out for polo that weren’t swimming at the time.

He has a very even, measured manner and the kids responded to him with an incredibly positive attitude.”

Following the fall swim season Golling asked Barnes if he would like to coach some of the Tigersharks.

“He did an excellent job, many of the days he was coming off of high school swim practice or summer water polo practice,” said Golling. “There are many adults I know who wish they had his work ethic.”