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1996 PREP PREVIEW WATER POLO

Foothill's Arroyo Has Been Carving Out His Own Niche

September 11, 1996|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — For some, an older sibling's legacy can be stifling, and Robby Arroyo would seem to have a doozy of an example to live up to.

His brother, Gavin, is an Olympian. . . . and a graduate of California, where he played on three NCAA championship water polo teams. . . . and a former Orange County swimmer of the year, who won two Southern Section championships for Villa Park High.

But Arroyo says he rarely hears comparisons to his brother. "A lot of kids have problems feeling they have to fill their brother's shoes," he said. "But if a lot of people don't know, they don't hassle you about it."

If Arroyo is sheltered from such expectations, it's partly because he attends Foothill, four miles down the road from the high school where his brother was a big man on campus. But there might be another reason. By helping his team to a section water polo title, Arroyo already has accomplished something his brother didn't.

And Arroyo has a chance to win two more. Foothill is again favored in 1996 and Arroyo, only a junior, should play another major role.

"I think his potential is really unlimited," Foothill Coach Jim Brumm said. "I saw Gavin play a lot at this age. Gavin had an incredible work ethic and so does Robby. He's got to be on par with his brother."

Said Villa Park Coach Jeff Ehrlich: "I haven't coached Robby, so I cannot compare their mental toughness. But it appears that they are similar in that capacity and that's what carries you to the next level."

The Arroyos were introduced to the water when they were infants and basically grew up around the pool. Their mother, Judy, had been an outstanding swimmer as a youth--she was training for the 1964 Olympics before her competitive career was cut short by a water skiing accident in Ensenada, Mexico. Their father, Mike, can barely swim.

Robby, now 16, remembers tagging along to workouts for Gavin, who is eight years older.

Eventually, when he was about 7, Robby joined the competitive fray. In water polo, he had a significant head start over his brother. Gavin didn't start playing the game until high school; Robby has been playing club water polo since he was in the sixth grade.

The friendships Arroyo formed playing for the club--Tustin-based SoCal Aquatics--played a big part in the family's decision for him to attend Foothill instead of his neighborhood school.

By that time, he was ready for varsity water polo and immediately made his presence felt. "Even as a freshman," Villa Park's Ehrlich said, "he looked like a man out there."

Now at 6 feet 1 1/2 and 190 pounds, Arroyo is one of the more dominant players in the Southern Section. He's strong enough to be a power player at the two-meter position and fast enough to be a threat to score on the counter attack. "Especially at the two-meter position," Brumm said, "he has the ability to take over the game."

Brumm said Arroyo has the uncanny ability to quickly learn new moves. "I'll say that I saw something in Italy, that the Italian two-meter man was doing," said Brumm, who is also an assistant on the U.S. junior national team. "He picks it up immediately and adds it to his game."

Arroyo wasn't able to try out for the junior national team because of a broken wrist he sustained playing pickup basketball in January.

The injury, a hairline fracture and some tendon damage, hampered him during swimming season and lingered into the summer. Further tests showed he had developed tendinitis.

As he was shaking the effects of that injury, Arroyo went down with another--seriously spraining his ankle in another pickup basketball game during the summer.

A week later, Arroyo was hobbling around in Atlanta with his family, watching his brother play for the U.S. team in the Olympics.

"There was no way I was going to let the injury stop me from walking around and having a good time," he said. "I mean it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Maybe not. Arroyo returning to the Olympics as a participant is not out of the question. But that's still a long way off. More immediately, there's the matter of his third high school season.

Foothill, which lost one game last year, is again packed with talent, despite losing eight seniors, including leading scorer Brian Brown.

"We don't have as many guns," Arroyo said, "but I think we might be a little bit deeper all the way around."

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