CIF champs look to repeat success

CIF champs look to repeat success

Nico Tierney '20 treads water, looking for an open teammate behind the defense in a 15-1 dominant win against Notre Dame High School last season. Credit: Caitlin Chung

After defeating Newport Harbor High School 5-3 last season to become CIF Division I Champions, the boys’ Water Polo team looks to repeat its success this year.

Driver Christopher Kim ’20 discussed the squad’s expectation to defend its title.

“There, of course, is pressure, because now we have a target on our back,” Kim said. “Every team good or bad will give us our best game, but as long as we play our game, I think we can win again.”

“The mindset that we can and will win any game we play, solely because of who we are, can get to our heads very easily and cause us to get complacent with our focus and overall performance,” goalkeeper Asher Schwartz ’21 said.

In addition, players said that this year, the squad must focus on not playing down to its competition.

Head of Athletics Terry Barnum said he is confident in the team’s ability to repeat as champions.

“We are defending Division I champs, so obviously we have some holes to fill, but we have got a young group of guys who are working really, really hard,” Barnum said. “I know they want to defend that championship badly. They don’t want anyone to think they have fallen off.”

Attacker Shay Gillearn ’21 said that the squad will have to adjust after attacker Pierce Maloney ’19, utility Alexander Bucur ’19 and attacker Ryan Neopole ’19, key contributors to the team’s successful championship run, graduated at the end of last season.

“The loss of our three previous seniors will have a big impact on the team,” Gillearn ’21 said. “However, the rising seniors have stepped into a great leadership role to fill the gap.”

Schwartz said that this year’s most important games are against Newport Harbor High School on Oct. 12, Mater Dei High School on Oct. 22 and rival Loyola High School on Oct. 30.

“Newport is an improving team who we have had to face many times this year, including the CIF [Division I] finals and throughout club season,” Schwartz said. “They are definitely our biggest competition this year, and we want to defeat them to prove that we are the better team.”

Attacker Ethan Joei ’22 said that the team has had a busy offseason, with many of the players competing under Harvard-Westlake affiliated club team Los Angeles Premier Water Polo Club, where they finished second in the Junior Olympics. Players said their work in the summer helped the team develop both physically and mentally.

“In our off-season, we got so much fitter because we conditioned and swam a lot,” Joei said. “We went hard in the weight room to build our strength. More importantly, we went through dark times as a team to build our character. We really focused on our team culture and improved traits like attitude, focus and effort.”

In addition to playing on club water polo teams, players are also competing at the national level. Goalkeeper Nolan Krutonog ’20, defender Nicholas Tierney ’20 and utility George Avakian ’20 are all playing on the Youth National Team in the Union Americana de Natación Youth Pan American Championship.

Despite the loss of key seniors from last season, Schwartz said that the team will be very experienced behind the leadership of eight seniors.

“It’s good that we have a lot of seniors and upperclassmen this year,” Schwartz said. “The senior class is one of the most talented classes we’ve ever had. A lot of them have been receiving playing time since they were freshman, so that development definitely allowed us to win the championship last year. With this group of guys, we will have an experienced and strong starting lineup.”

The squad opens up the season by playing against league opponent Alemany High School at the Copses Family Pool on Aug. 29 and play their first tournament Sept. 19.

“Our goals for this season is to become the best players and people we can be inside and outside the pool,” Kim said. “As long as we follow the system and trust the process, winning and another CIF title should come with it.”

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