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Blockbuster Talent : Westlake High's David Block Is a Goal-Oriented Water Polo Player Who Has His Sights Set on a College Scholarship and a Shot at the 2000 Olympics

October 09, 1994|JEFF FLETCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — Basia Fisher wasn't sure just how good her son, David Block, was at this water polo thing until an expert cleared it up for her.

"A coach that first saw him came to me and said, 'This boy has tremendous talent, more than the norm. You really need to take him and expose him to the college coaches,' " Fisher remembered.

Block was barely 14 at the time. And he'd been playing water polo for a grand total of two weeks.

The coach was Craig Rond, founder of the Southcoast Water Polo Club in Thousand Oaks, and he was right.

"I still remember my first practice," said Block, now a senior at Westlake High. "Shooting in the pool, I made all my shots and I said to myself, 'I might be pretty good at this sport.' "

In the past three months, Block has traveled twice to Europe and once to Hawaii for all-star water polo events. He won a gold medal with a 17-and-under all-star team that played for two weeks in Greece in August. Block's play in Greece left an impression on Don Stoll, who coached that team and five Southern Section championship teams in the past six years at El Toro High.

"It's amazing to me," Stoll said. "With no formal background in swimming or water polo, for him to be as talented as he is in just four years is just remarkable. . . . I'd love to have him on my team."

Perhaps the most significant praise, however, comes from U.S. Olympic water polo Coach Rich Corso, who also coaches at Harvard-Westlake High.

"I think he's good. He is a one-man team (at Westlake). He's improved a lot over the last 10 months," Corso said.

Corso, who has coached Block in clubs and clinics at Harvard-Westlake, said it's too early to gauge the chances of Block reaching his goal: the 2000 Olympics.

"You have to take him out of this area and he's got to play against guys who are his caliber or better before you can determine that," Corso said.

The next step for Block will be college water polo, probably at Pepperdine, Stanford, USC or UCLA. Coaches from those schools have been in regular contact with Block and his coaches.

"When (college coaches) get ahold of him," Stoll said, "there's so much raw material I'm sure they can refine him to be much better than he is now."

Compared to other area high school players, Block doesn't have much room for improvement. In 11 games, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound hole-man has scored 55 goals and had 14 assists. He has two 10-goal games and has carried the Warriors to a 7-4 record.

Not bad for a kid who began playing water polo simply because his mother wouldn't allow him to play high school football. Too violent, she said. So he figured he would try a sport he had watched on television--once, during the 1988 Olympics.

When Block first jumped into a pool for water polo, his best asset was a strong, accurate arm. He had been a quarterback, after all. Throwing the ball into the goal? No problem. Swimming? Well. . . .

"When I first started, the swimming part was really tough," he said. "I was really slow."

Still, Block managed to win the most valuable player award for the Westlake junior varsity his freshman year. That spring, he joined the Westlake swimming team, and improved dramatically. Last spring, he qualified for the Southern Section Division I championships in the 200-meter individual medley.

As a sophomore, Block was the named second-team All-Marmonte League. He made the first team last season and was the team MVP after scoring 65 goals.

"I don't think there's anyone in the Marmonte League who can stop him one on one," Westlake teammate Scott Weigel said. "There are games when he gets the ball in the hole and he just turns and scores every time."

As the hole-man, Block's job is to camp in front of the opponent's goal, like a floating post-up player. Because he's so good, teams often double- or triple-team him, Westlake Coach Mike Power said. But they don't stop him.

"He can have three guys on him and shake them off and still keep control of the ball in one hand," Power said.

Most of Block's proficiency is the result of 10 months of grueling work following his junior season at Westlake.

He played last winter for the National Youth Development Team, which worked out for about six hours each Saturday in El Toro--about a four-hour round trip from Block's home in Westlake Village. On Sundays, he played two hours with a club team based at Harvard-Westlake in Studio City.

This summer, Block played with the club team at Pepperdine. He was also chosen as captain of a 16-and-under team from Southern California that traveled to Hungary for a series of games, including one against the Hungarian national 19-and-under team. Block's team lost, 11-9.

Less than a month after returning from Hungary, Block traveled to Greece with a 17-and-under all-star team. He stopped briefly in Los Angeles on his way from Greece to Hawaii, where he played in another invitational all-star tournament.

"Anything you tell him, he would do it and get better right away. . . ," said Stoll, the 17-and-under all-star coach. "Some things take four or five years for a kid to learn, and he seems to pick them up right away."

Power said Block has been using what he's learned over the summer to help his Warrior teammates.

"He showed us a lot of defensive plays and a lot of offensive plays," Power said. "He kind of took it into his own hands to say, 'Hey guys, if you want to be good, this is the way to do it.' "

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