That’s because the Vikings are perennially among San Diego County’s premiere high school teams, but almost always find themselves battling two teams to get to the top of the ladder: local powers Coronado and The Bishop’s School.
As the clear No. 3 in the equation, La Jolla is fighting to show it belongs, and as the seasons go on, has made progress toward its ultimate goal of altering the power rankings of boys high school water polo in San Diego.
“I think we’re right there with Coronado and Bishop’s is still a little bit ahead of us,” La Jolla Coach Tom Atwell said.
The Vikings came close to taking that first step recently in their 9-7 loss to Coronado on Sept. 30 at La Jolla High School. The Vikings and Islanders were tied, 2-2, through the first quarter before Coronado scored three unanswered goals in the second quarter.
The Vikings trailed, 7-4, at halftime, and even as Coronado scored two quick goals to take a five-goal lead early in the third quarter, the hosts got back three of those and held the Islanders scoreless down the stretch.
“I really feel like we’re even with Coronado this year, and going into that game, I felt we had a really good chance at beating them, more so than any other year,” Atwell said. “We didn’t play very well. Our offense was out of synch. Defensively, we played very well, but out offense just wasn’t there.
“I think we’re right there with Coronado as far as development the last couple years. Now in the fifth year of having the pool (on campus at La Jolla High School) and seeing the development of the kids from freshmen all the way up through seniors, we’ve arrived. I think the kids just need to get over the hump that they can beat Coronado.”
After losing that close game to the Islanders, La Jolla’s schedule won’t get any easier anytime soon.
On Oct. 6, the Vikings will host Bishop’s - their neighborhood rival and the four-time defending CIF-San Diego Section Division II champion - and they’ll visit Coronado for the second half of the teams’ home-and-home series Oct. 11.
The Vikings will face Bishop’s one more time before the season is out, but after this difficult stretch immediately in front of them, they will have about three weeks before the end of the regular season and the start of the section playoffs.
Atwell believes he’ll soon know just how good this team is and what it needs to improve on as the postseason approaches.
La Jolla was 11-3 after the Coronado game.
Atwell likes the makeup of his team despite its relative youth - the Vikings start just two seniors - and he is excited about the future. Physically, he believes this team is as good as any he has coached at La Jolla, though he knows that his players‚ mental game needs some more conditioning.
One of the key elements to La Jolla eventually being able to beat Coronado and Bishop’s regularly is mental. Winning breeds confidence, as the saying goes.
“In the last four years, we’ve lost to Coronado by one goal each year,” Atwell said. “We’ve always been just right there but haven’t been able to get over the hump. But this group is starting to see that if we play well enough, we can certainly beat them. I’m looking forward to our matchup down at their pool. And if everything goes as expected, we’ll see them in the semifinals of CIF, so we have a couple more chances to get them.”
Atwell believes getting a win over Coronado or Bishop’s would be a big mental boost.
“That would give us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs,” he said. “It would be huge.”