In it to win it: A look into the most successful athletic programs at the school

In it to win it: A look into the most successful athletic programs at the school

With the sun beating down on the field, Caroline Sturgeon ’20 crouched in the goal, her heart racing as her eyes focused on a quick Huntington Beach High School midfielder weaving through defenders. The score was tied 1-1. Her job became simple: protect the goal. Not only was the LAFHA championship on the line but so was team’s two season win streak. Sturgeon said the team’s previous success added to her nerves in the game.

“I felt pretty nervous before our championship game because there was so much at stake,” Sturgeon said. “There is a little more pressure on our team because of our winning streak so that definitely makes me feel anxious at times, but we are such a close team that I know we will support each other no matter what, and that helps with the nerves.”

The field hockey team has won 39 consecutive games and taken home two LAFHA championships. The squad has been a force for the past two years but they did not always have a winning history. Prior to 2016, the field hockey team did not have much league or playoffs success, exiting in the first round of playoffs in 2015. As the team became more dominant, center defender Cypress Toomey ’19 said the team has worked hard to create a winning environment. Toomey said she is proud of the team’s achievements.

“It feels really cool to know that we are now part of the school’s history,” Toomey said. “We are on the wall of the gym. I know it is just the beginning of success for the field hockey program and it feels great to know that this team is a part of starting that.”

Boys’ water polo has won four CIF championships, one of them being this past season. In 2013 and 2014, the team won back to back Division 1 titles. By winning quickly into his career and maintaining success, program head Brian Flacks established the culture that Ryan Neapole ’19 said is still important for the current water polo team. Neapole said that the program’s history is important for understanding the values of the team.

“It feels amazing to be apart of [Harvard-Westlake] water polo and to represent all the amazing players to have come before me,” Neapole said. “All the athletes on the team are expected to have a basic knowledge on the history of our program in order to understand what they have become apart of, and after their first couple practices they realize how much work it takes. When we wear [Harvard-Westlake] water polo gear we understand who came before us and want to represent our predecessors in the best way possible.”

Neapole said that despite the reputation the program has, each season is different and they work to create their own legacy.

“There is always pressure to win, but it does not come from who came before us,” Neapole said. “The pressure comes from within the team. We are a competitive and always want to win, so when we do not we are disappointed. But when we do win, even if it is a minor victory we celebrate it because we earned it ourselves, not from anyone before us. At the start of every new season we are a different team from the last. We are not entitled to anything that teams before us have earned, even the reputation.”

The boys’ basketball program, with ten wins under its belt, has won the most CIF championships of any sports program. Victory and several large name players have brought the team attention from scouts and the press. Program head David Rebibo said the rich background that the program has attracted him to the school.

“Anytime you are a part of something with an incredible history and rich tradition it is always special,” Rebibo said. “It is why Harvard-Westlake was so appealing to me in the first place. It is pretty special and something I appreciate and think about every day.”

Former boys’ basketball program head Greg Hilliard coached the team for thirty years in which it won nine CIF championships and two state championships. Rebibo became the coach in 2015 and in his first season he won a CIF championship.

“It is never easy to follow a coach who has had as much success as [Hilliard],” Rebibo said. “However, [Hilliard] was great in supporting the players and coaches as we transitioned into the new regime here at HW and for that I am appreciative. We are thrilled to have been able to continue the tradition of winning at Harvard-Westlake basketball.”

Freshman guard Cameron Thrower ’22 said that playing for a winning team feels really special.

“It feels great to be a part of a successful program because when the program accomplishes something great like winning a championship, you look back and say that you accomplished something great with my teammates,” Thrower said.

Baseball has won only one CIF championship but with several of the school’s alumni playing Major League Baseball and many players committed to play college baseball, the program is nationally recognized. However, center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong ’20 said the team is more focused on performing for themselves, rather than their reputation.

“As a team I know that we have bigger expectations for ourselves than any outside source, but that is cause we work so hard,” Crow-Armstrong said. “Last year, a lot of us saw how fast a great season can change so we do not want that again. This is a very fun and fiery team so we do not feel any pressure. We are confident in what we do.”

Considering the team has only won one championship, Crow-Armstrong said that the winning drought pushes them harder to compete.

“The championship in 2013 has definitely made us feel like it has been too long without one,” Crow-Armstrong said. “We do not talk about it all that much, but it is definitely in our minds and most definitely motivates us.”

Boys’ tennis has won eight CIF championships and twenty-six league championships. It has placed high as a team in addition to having many individual achievements. With winning set as the precedent, Eli Nickoll ’21 said that he initially felt stress to play well.

“There is definitely pressure on all of the players because we all have had amazing and impressive wins,” Nickoll said. “For me personally as a freshman on the team last year I felt pressure to perform in big matches but I learned to just play my hardest and forget about the work because then the game will come to me.”

Since the tennis program has been so successful, Nico Guillen ’20 said recruiting to the school becomes easier. In addition, dedicated coaches with strong programs are able to mold and develop the roster, regardless of recruiting. Guillen said winning drives the team to continue its triumph.

“The tennis program has been successful for many years because of great coaching and the ability to recruit the top players in Southern California,” Guillen said. “The program has also been able to maintain its success by nurturing the growth of players who did not come into the program through recruitment.”

Nickoll said that winning in the past makes the future seem more attainable, further motivating players and reassuring their objectives.

“It is awesome being a part of such a successful team because we are all striving towards a realistic goal in winning CIF again,” Nickoll said. “We have a good chance of getting rings and competing against the best competition in the country.”

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