YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Showcase Should Make a Big Splash

Harvard-Westlake, Royal are strong again, but won't meet in tournament run by Corso.


After spending four years as the U.S. National water polo team coach, Rich Corso finally found some free time to pursue another dream: bring together the best high school water polo teams in the area for a tournament.

Next week, the 1997 water polo season will kick off with just such a tournament. . . . well, almost.

Seven of the area's powers are entered in the Harvard-Westlake tournament--Crescenta Valley, Burroughs, La Canada, Agoura, Crespi, Glendale and the host Wolverines. Missing, however, is Royal, which is the area's most successful program over the past two years with two appearances in the Southern Section Division IV finals.

"There really is a lack of quality tournaments in this area," said Corso, the Harvard-Westlake Coach. "I've been talking about doing one for three or four years and now that [the Olympics] are behind me I thought it was time. We tried to get all the best teams but we couldn't. Some coaches had other commitments and other priorities."

Royal Coach Steve Snyder said by the time the invitation arrived, he already had his team committed to play in other tournaments.

Royal and Harvard-Westlake have been the top programs in the area for some time. Since 1981, no other area team has won a Southern Section title. But because they play in different divisions (Royal in Division IV, Harvard-Westlake in Division I) the teams have not met in the playoffs.

Each coach books a schedule that will help prepare for their respective divisions, making a regular-season meeting unlikely. The Harvard-Westlake tournament would have been a prime stage, but the argument over who is better will have to be settled on paper once again.

"Maybe next year," Corso said. "There is opportunity where they might come in. We'd definitely like to have the best teams available to play in this tournament. We're thinking of inviting some of the top teams from Northern California as well three or four years down the line."

The Wolverines appear to have the advantage over Royal this year. With two high school All-Americans returning in Peter Hudnut and Phil Spataru, and with 82 games during the off-season, the team is deep and experienced.

"Any time you return two All-Americans, you figure you have to be pretty strong," Corso said. "We had a great winter and spring, I'm very happy with what we have."

Goalie Brendan Connolly and driver Mike Crosby, who Corso calls "the best-kept secrets in the division" give Corso additional weapons to keep his standouts free.

"We have four very, very strong players," Corso said. "We also have some 6-7 and 6-8 guys to guard the two-meter and we've had great drops in our swim times."

Playing in Division I, generally regarded as a stronger division than the others, the Wolverines have lost in the quarterfinals four consecutive seasons, a streak that is becoming a thorn in Corso's side.

"Nobody wants their season to end that early," he said. "But we have a tougher mountain to climb than other teams. Losing in the quarterfinals has been disappointing and the guys have made their goal to get back to Belmont Plaza [site of the Division I final]."

Royal also returns an All-American in senior David Radka. He is the youngest Highlander to earn All-American honors since Jack Kocur, who went on to a stellar career at Pepperdine.

Radka was the second-leading scorer on the Division IV runner-up last season, trailing only Chris Richeson, The Times' regional player of the year.

"He's as good as anybody there is in this area," Snyder said. "He's multi-talented, he's got speed and he's a very good athlete."

All-Southern Section Division IV goalie Garret Herzer also returns for the Highlanders, giving Royal plenty of weaponry to make a run at a third consecutive Division IV final.

"From what I hear, the division is up for anybody's taking," Snyder said.

Other teams to watch:

La Canada: Six of seven starters return from last year's Division III quarterfinalist, including all-Division III selections Brendan Naeve, Russell Bernstein and Michael McDay. The Spartans had a rigorous off-season schedule that included a trip to the Junior Olympics tournament.

Impressive games were a 4-2 victory over Division I power Capistrano Valley and a 4-2 loss to Harvard-Westlake. "I think we can play with anybody," Coach Larry Naeve said.

Crescenta Valley: All-Division III goalie Brian Hasbrouck already has school records for career saves (462), saves in a season (316) and saves in a game (28). All-American swimmer Kenny Carpenter and sophomore Justin Payne, who scored 45 goals last season, return for the five-time Pacific League champions.

Agoura: The long-time second fiddle to Royal in the Marmonte League is still a Division IV power. The Chargers must replace the 150-plus goals of Noah Bookman and Noah Cirincione, but a solid defense led by goalie Joey Smither and good speed with Mitch Dexter and Elliott Hirsch make the Chargers one of the top teams in the area again. Dexter had 58 goals last season.

Burroughs: Big, even with the graduation of 6-foot-5, 240-pound two-meter man Alfonso Tucay. All-league selections Loran Leidenger (6-6, 200) and Brian Carsten (6-6, 185) lead the way. "Maybe it's the water here," Coach John Kunishima said of his team's perpetual size.

Buena: The Channel League co-champions a year ago should make another run. Conor Niedeffder should be one of the area's premier defenders and sophomore Ian Prichard, who played junior varsity last year, adds speed.

Los Angeles Times Articles