La Habra may be one of the last places in Orange County a college water polo coach would expect to look for a high school recruit.
But for the first time in recent memory, Sonora High School is drawing recruiters' attention. The Raiders have been consistently ranked in the Southern Section top 10 this season, and it isn't too hard to figure out why.
A visitor to a typical Sonora game quickly notices a darting figure in the pool who is usually a stroke ahead of the other players and who always seems to be in the center of the action.
An opposing coach recently chastised his players for not spending enough time guarding Sonora's top gun.
"The only person out there right now to worry about is No. 9," the coach said. "Forget about the other guys."
Perhaps it was a slight exaggeration, but whether chasing a loose ball, faking out a goalie with a quick wrist shot or directing his team's offense, Sonora's Greg Olson eventually gets everyone's attention.
And for Olson, making a name for himself and Sonora seem to be going hand in hand this season.
"This area lacks the tradition and parental support of other schools," Olson said of the water polo program. "We're trying to build up the school and people are starting to notice us."
"Greg is the first player from La Habra we've recruited in 13 years," USC assistant coach George Harris said. "He's quicker than 99% of the high school players and can easily play for any major institution."
Three recent games demonstrate what coaches like about Olson:
- In the Sunny Hills tournament three weeks ago, Olson scored three goals as the Raiders defeated Sunny Hills, 8-7. It was Sonora's first victory over the Lancers and the first time in 16 years that a Freeway League team had beaten Sunny Hills.
"That was a major turning point for us," Sonora Coach David Kent said. "The Sunny Hills mystique is everywhere we go and this helped us establish our program."
- The next morning, Olson drove to Lynwood to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Afterward, he rushed to Fullerton's Independence Park, where the Raiders were playing Newport Harbor, ranked second in the Southern Section 4-A division.
Olson missed the first half but scored seven goals in the second. That wasn't enough, though. Sonora lost, 14-10.
"It felt like a summer game--you just jump in the pool and start playing," Olson said. "But I think my concentration was even better, since I didn't have time to worry about anything."
- In a rough match against Indio last week, in which a Sonora player was ejected, several players complained about the officiating and Indio's physical style.
Kent, disgusted, called his team in a huddle and made only one remark. "Look at Olson," he said. "He's getting beat up worse than any of you guys and he hasn't said a word."
Sonora's players became considerably quieter after that, though they lost, 11-10.
"We depend on Greg an awful lot," Kent said. "He runs our offense, directs traffic and sees things before they happen."
Said teammate Doug Smith: "Last Wednesday, a lot of guys were talking during practice about the girls on our homecoming court. But Greg told us to shut up. He wanted us to concentrate only on water polo. He tries to motivate us and keep the team under control."
Olson played for Harris from January to August in the junior program at USC. Olson and teammate Brad Silver drove from La Habra to Los Angeles an average of four nights a week to play on Harris' Trojans club team.
They were the first players from Sonora to play on the Trojans, which takes some of the best players in Orange County.
"Sunny Hills always sends kids to the Trojans, but we just started," Olson said. "I played against the best competition in my life and made my biggest improvement playing with them."
Olson, 5-feet 10-inches and 150 pounds, began as a reserve but quickly moved into the starting lineup and was named an All-American as the Trojans won the National Junior Olympics 17-and-under division in St. Louis in August.
"He's a very intelligent player and extremely coachable," Harris said. "His quickness and savvy make up for any size disadvantage he may encounter in college."
Even with the 40-minute drive during the school year to USC, Olson maintained a 3.5 grade-point average his junior year. He should be able to pick from the top water polo programs and universities in the country. Harvard, Stanford, Cal and USC are all recruiting him.
Despite Olson's accomplishments, the season could end as most have for Sonora. The Raiders lost three of four games last week, including league playoff games to Fullerton, 11-8, and Buena Park, 9-7.
Sonora (18-9), which was ranked as high as No. 3 this season, can only hope for a Southern Section wild-card bid as the fourth-place team from the Freeway League.
"Even after beating Sunny Hills, I don't think people believe in us," Kent said. "We're still a Cinderella team."