By Rick LeBeau
Following a rigorous summer training program that included a 10-day camp in Santa Barbara and hosting an Australian youth team, La Jolla High School’s boys team is hoping to rebuild from last year’s successes that left them just short of making the CIF Finals.
The Vikings lost several players who matriculated to the collegiate water polo level on both coasts, leaving room for new stars to take the stage. Coach Tom Atwell will lean on seniors TJ Pugmire, Brandon Flores, Moshe Porter, Aaron Robbins, and Zach Nelson to lead the team in the water this season. He’s also expecting big things from underclassmen such as Brock
Macelli and Todd Denaro, who had good club seasons this summer. Atwell is hoping to rely on a highly conditioned team to put pressure on the opponent all game long with their swimming prowess. Three weeks prior to Labor Day, the Vikings were in the water five hours a day, building a swim-training base that is second to none in the county.
Having lost five players who were 6-foot-3 or more from last season, Atwell says the main difference this year is that the team is faster and scrappier. They’ll have to be to contend with teams such as Bishop’s and Cathedral Catholic, as well as Coronado. The four teams are virtually a lock to be competing in the semis against each other 11 weeks from now.
Highlights this season will be tournaments in Menlo (Northern California), Villa Park (Orange County), and the traditional big San Diego tournament — the AFC, which will include powerhouse programs from both San Diego County as well as Orange County, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Atwell is counting on team cohesion to carry the team far — he stated that this year’s team has some of the best chemistry of any team he’s coached.
The season started in earnest Tuesday with a tough match versus Scripps Ranch, which is defending its Division II CIF title this year.
Across town, The Bishop’s School coach Jim Fales is optimistic about his team’s chances this season as well.
As a perennial CIF finalist and winner of last year’s Division II CIF crown, Bishop’s is always in the conversation for best team in the county. Having lost several first- and second-team all-CIF players from last year’s team, Fales looks forward to this year’s unique challenge, and plans on digging deep into the “farm system” he has at his disposal.
Leading the Knights this year will be team captain Blake Lee, who is an excellent perimeter shooter. Lee is being recruited by Harvard and Princeton, and will likely play his collegiate water polo on the East Coast. Supporting Lee will be 6-8 goalie Caleb Schultz, whose father was also a standout water polo player in the county before playing at Long Beach State. Victor Wrobel will be following in his brother’s wake, stepping up as a key player this season.
Bishop’s will take a couple trips out of town for high-level competition as well. They’ll visit Northern California to take on three of the area’s best powerhouses and will compete in the South Coast Invitational in Newport Beach, where they will collide with the best water polo talent in California.