The562’s coverage of boys’ water polo is sponsored by Aquatic Capital of America Foundation.
Three Long Beach high school boys’ water polo teams learned where their playoff roads will begin on Saturday morning with the release of the CIF Southern Section’s boys’ water polo playoff brackets. As expected, Wilson was a top 20 team all season and has been placed in Division 1 while the other two Moore League schools Long Beach Poly and Millikan will compete in Division 2.
CLICK HERE for the full brackets.
Wilson (14-14) won its 15th consecutive Moore League title this season and starts this postseason against Santa Margarita at the Belmont Outdoor Pool on Wednesday. The Bruins are back in Division 1 after reaching the semifinals last year, but most of that starting lineup graduated.
Goalkeeper Brady Simon is one of the key returners, and he thinks his team is well prepared because of its difficult regular season schedule.
“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.
“Going into this season a lot of people have counted us out,” added fellow senior Sean Tunnicliff. “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.”
Santa Margarita (13-13) is an at-large team out of the Trinity League. The Eagles lost to eventual Division 1 champion Loyola in the quarterfinals last year. The Cubs beat Wilson in the semis.
“I expect a very good, competitive game because we have pretty similar styles and common opponents,” Wilson coach Zach Polmanteer said. “They are a tactical, intellectual team.”
Wilson and Santa Margarita have both played Corona del Mar, Servite, Miramonte, Palos Verde, Mater Dei, Menlo, Huntington Beach and Mira Costa this season. The Bruins went 4-4 in those games while the Eagles went 3-5. However, Wilson ended its season with a 12-10 overtime win over Mira Costa on Friday. Santa Margarita beat Mira Costa 20-5 in early October.
The winner of this first round matchup will face the winner of El Dorado and No. 2 seed Corona del Mar.
“We got the gauntlet,” Polmanteer said. “I expected it. We have a tough road but at this level in the postseason everyone is good. But at this point it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you just have to play your best water polo… We’ve been itching for the playoffs, it’s a chance to prove ourselves, with a big senior class I think they really want to put a stomp on the end of their high school careers.”
Long Beach Poly was a member of the Division 2 Top 10 poll for most of the season, but that wasn’t reflected in their postseason draw. The Jackrabbits have to visit Westlake in the first round. Westlake finished the season No. 5 in the Division 2 rankings. Both teams were second place finishers in their leagues.
“Westlake doesn’t want to play us either,” Poly coach Ish Pluton said. “But the boys are in good spirits… They’ve got some depth and some big, physical guys but we’re excited and ready to play them.”
Poly (20-8) had its best overall record in seven years under Pluton, and got a good look at Westlake (18-10) when it came to the Long Beach Tournament early in the season. Pluton said he hopes his team can gain an advantage in open water transition.
“We have to come in ready to play our style and go for it,” Pluton said.
That strategy worked last year when Poly won the CIF-SS Division 4 championship.
“We’ve got some seasoned kids on the team that have done this run before and now know how to lead their team through it,” Pluton said. “We’ve got some great leaders in the water with Reece (Hammond) and Tyler (Oatey). It’s going to be fun watching their leadership shine.”
Also in Division 2, Millikan (9-15) is hitting the road to face Del Rio League champion La Serna (20-8) in a tough matchup for the young Rams.
“It’s great that we’re in (the postseason) and it’s just another learning opportunity,” Millikan coach Randy Wright said. “This year we’ve been able to define our game and it’s not a singular approach. If we need to play pressing options, we can do that. If we play a top team we can run those zone packages to disrupt them. But if you can’t control the ball they’re going to out-swim you.”
La Serna is the No. 3 seed in Division 2.