The562’s coverage of boys’ water polo is sponsored by Aquatic Capital of America Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
After the pomp and circumstance subsided on Wednesday at the Belmont Outdoor Pool, Wilson boys’ water polo proved once again why it’s the top program in the Moore League.
The Bruins played premier defense in a 12-6 win over the Jackrabbits that all but clinched a 15th consecutive league title for Wilson.
“It’s a lot of fun and really intense,” Wilson goaltender Brady Simon said of the great atmosphere and capacity crowd. “It can get to players really easily but we train to have composure and stay focused and it’s just business for us.”
Simon made a handful of saves and only allowed two goals while in the cage for three quarters. Sean Tunnicliff led that defensive charge in the middle of the pool, and he also scored a game-high six goals.
“I think a lot of people see Sean shoot and they think that he’s kind of a one diminutional player but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Wilson coach Zach Polmanteer said of Tunnicliff. “He’s our director of defense and the reason he is open on the offensive end is because the team sets him up. They listen to him because he’s such a good leader defensively.”
Wilson had four field blocks in the first quarter, and finished with nine in the game.
“Our team always takes pride in our field blocks,” Tunnicliff said. “Getting a field block is the greatest feeling and I think that is our best stat. That’s what we always try to do, and to do it against Poly is a great feeling.”
“Poly has some shooters and you can’t deny that, Antonio (Lorio Apuzzo) and (Jonas) Wyatt had a couple key blocks to keep us in the game early and we were able to put the pedal down,” Simon said.
The Bruins only led 2-0 after the first quarter that included multiple opportunities for Long Beach Poly to get on the board.
“I can think of two or three goals in the first quarter where either we threw a little too high on a lob instead of burying it, or just an unlucky bounce off the post,” Poly coach Ish Pluton said. “if those go in, we’re looking at a really tight game all the way through the fourth quarter.”
Instead, Tunnicliff scored twice in the second quarter to put Wilson up 5-0 before Poly got on the scoreboard through Sam Lavid, who was the only Jackrabbit with two goals. The Bruins led 6-2 at halftime, and then took advantage of some counter attack goals in the third quarter to lead 10-2 going to the fourth. Simon made two point-blank saves at the end of the third quarter.
“He is a heart and passion player and when he’s on he’s a force to be reckoned with,” Polmanteer said of Simon. “I’m excited to see what he does at the collegiate level. We owe a lot of those shot blocks to Brady because we can trust him. We know if we do our job he’s going to do his.”
Tunnicliff scored three of his goals off 5-meter penalty shots that he said came from the flow of the game.
“We were fighting for the ball and working for the cage and when you do that you get rewarded,” Tunnicliff said. “The 5-meters came and we finished them.”
Those opportunities didn’t come for Poly star Reese Hammond, who didn’t get a goal until the fourth quarter. Wilson did a nice job double teaming him after he got the ball.
“We had to pick and choose who we wanted to shoot and hope it worked out,” Polmanteer said. “Luckily our defense was timing our shade perfectly and we were zoning the right way. Then a couple of missed shots went our way. We definitely ran a tactic to not let Reese get the ball and it worked out pretty well.”
The atmosphere at the Belmont Outdoor Pool was phenomenal on Wednesday with big crowds for both teams, and the bleachers overflowing onto the pool deck.
“The vision of Long Beach water polo, this is what we want it to look like with this kind of intensity and this kind of atmosphere at the games,” Pluton said. “We’re hoping we continue to grow as a league.”
Before the game, Wilson also had their Senior Day activities that included ringing the memorial Latham Bell bell. He is a Bruins aquatic coach who passed away a few years ago.
“It’s a lot to go through, I was honestly nervous to do all of the festivities before arguably our biggest game of the year before playoffs,” Polmanteer said. “I’m really happy my boys were able to lock in, focus and start the game with the intensity and tempo we wanted to… The fact that we can have this intense but loving rivalry, credit and thank you to the Poly and Wilson supporters. We’re lucky to be able to do this in this city.”
It’s also fair to say that both teams got better because of the rivalry experience, and they’ve both got high hopes for the CIF postseason.
“Games like these and these environments have prepared us pretty well but we’re going to be facing some of the top teams in the country and as we’ve shown before we’re ready for it,” Simon said.
Wilson is currently ranked No. 14 in CIF Southern Section Division 1.
“Going into this season a lot of people have counted us out,” Tunnicliff added. “Going into the postseason we think we can make a really deep run and we’ve just got to stay as a team and we’re fighting for it.”
Poly is currently ranked No. 7 in Division 2.
“A moment like this when they feel so crushed because they wanted it so bad...If we play any team that’s ranked in Division 2 with the amount of intensity that we played Wilson, we’re going places,” Pluton said.