Despite winning the 2018 CIF Division I title over Newport Harbor High School, the boys’ water polo team found itself ranked second behind its rival in the 2019 CIF preseason poll, just as the Wolverines began their quest to repeat as champions.
“A lot of people actually saw our win from the year before as a fluke, and [thought] that Newport was going to get the job done for real this time around,” goalkeeper Asher Schwartz ’21 said. “We knew we were the better team and were very capable of winning the championship, but we definitely always had that in the back of our minds throughout the season.”
The boys only built on last season’s success, finishing the year with a 31-2 overall record that culminated in two championship wins. Defeating their rival Newport Harbor 6-4 Nov. 16, the Wolverines secured the CIF Division I title for the second year in a row. With this momentum, the team once again triumphed over the Sailors in an 11-10 win at CIF Regionals one week later.
Schwartz credited the boys’ success throughout the season to their ability to control game play through set plans.
“Our biggest key to success was playing our game as a team,” Schwartz said. “As long as we dictated the way games were played, we would essentially always win. Specifically, our ability to run proper zones, maintain good communication and play smart on offense allowed us to dictate many of the games we played. Losses would always come when we failed to execute our game plan and when we played into what the other team wanted to do.”
Though the team started on a 17-game winning streak, players still struggled to separate themselves from previous seasons, defender and Pepperdine University commit Nico Tierney ’20 said.
“The biggest obstacle we faced was finding our identity as a team,” Tierney said. “We needed to find out how this year’s team was different than last year’s and once we found it, we didn’t lose a game.”
This season, the team’s eight seniors, all of whom are committed to play in college, helped guide the Wolverines to success during their championship run.
“The seniors were all great leaders this year,” attacker Shay Gillearn ’21 said. “They brought us together and motivated everyone to give their best. I will definitely miss the leadership they bring to the team.”
This year’s team was also uniquely experienced, as every senior on the roster had contributed significantly to the 2018 squad’s title, Aquatics Director and Boys’ Water Polo Head Coach Brian Flacks said.
“I think the most noticeable difference was the amount of trust we had in each other,” Flacks said. “We had been through so much as a group over the past four years and there was nothing at this point that could distract or derail us from our goals. As for adjustments, I gave this group an immense amount of freedom. I trusted they had the ability to self evaluate and make corrections when we seemed off course.”
Like previous teams within the program, this year’s squad will continue to inspire Wolverines for years to come, United States Naval Academy commit and defender Christopher Kim ’20 said.
“I think that although this team did accomplish a lot as a whole, we wouldn’t have had all the tools necessary if it weren’t for the teams that won before us,” Kim said. “I think our winning team is yet another story that is a part of the entirety of the Harvard-Westlake water polo legacy. Our team, like the ones before us, is motivation for the younger kids to want to do the same. As long as that never dies, the Harvard-Westlake water polo program will keep winning CIF championships.”