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Ventura Grows From Doormat to League Power

Cougars' program rises under stable leadership of Coach Abing and players like Derse.


The development of Mike Derse is a prime example of how much progress the Ventura High water polo program has made the last three years.

Derse, a 6-foot-3 junior, was a basketball player who decided to join the swimming team in the spring of his freshman year to stay in shape.

At the same time swimming Coach Joe Abing was looking for athletes with whom to build a water polo program. Derse was encouraged to try out.

A year later, Derse is the Cougars' best defensive player.

Derse's rise from newcomer to standout mirrors Ventura's fortunes. Three years ago the Cougars were coming off consecutive three-victory seasons and Abing was the school's fourth coach in a four-year period.

Ventura is now in much better shape. The Cougars were 16-10 last year, finishing third in the rigorous Channel League and advancing to the Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals.

But that may be only the warmup act.

When the preseason coaches polls are released next week, Ventura may be the highest-ranked team from the region: Better than cross-town rival Buena, perennial Marmonte League champion Royal and annual playoff participant Agoura.

Ventura opens today in the Thousand Oaks tournament with pool-play games against Newbury Park and Calabasas.

"More than anything else, Joe has brought stability to the program," Ventura Athletic Director Phil McCune said.

"The kids know who the coach is going to be each year now. He's a young guy who can relate to the kids."

Abing, who played at South Pasadena High and Cuesta College, has also turned around the swimming program. The Cougars lagged behind Buena for years, but last spring Ventura won the boys' and girls' league titles. The boys' title came mostly with the help of the water polo players, who are required to swim in the spring.

Ventura also has a 3.8 team grade-point average, led by Derse's 4.4.

Chad Caldwell, an All-Division IV selection, and seniors Aaron Cox and Todd Barbosa are among Ventura's other top players.

Derse still plays basketball for Ventura, but swimming and water polo are now more than just exercise.

"I'm really into [water polo] now," Derse said. "I can't wait to get started."

Other teams to watch:

La Canada: The defending Division III champions lose several top-flight players, including All-American Brendan Naeve, but the Spartans return three starters. Senior driver Michael McDay was an All-Division III selection and senior Charles Chang was a second-team pick. The Spartans will be tested early in the Jim Toring tournament and in the Rio Hondo League by South Pasadena.

Harvard-Westlake: The Wolverines reached the Division I semifinals last year, their best finish since 1992. Besides All-American Peter Hudnut, Harvard-Westlake returns senior Jason Malinsky and sophomores James Bloomingdale and Eric Townsend.

As usual, the Wolverines have one of the most difficult nonleague schedules in the region, beginning with a trip to Texas this week.

Royal: Junior Ryan Apperson is the Highlanders' only returning starter, but Royal is still a favorite to win its 17th consecutive league title. Coach Steve Snyder needs to sort through a myriad of sophomores and juniors before a permanent starting lineup is established.

The Highlanders won't start their season until the Riverside Poly tournament Sept. 17.

Crescenta Valley: The Falcons have won six consecutive Pacific League titles and 38 consecutive league games but need to find a replacement for goalie Bryan Hasbrouck, The Times' regional player of the year.

Seniors Justin Payne and Kenny Carpenter combined to score 148 goals, giving Crescenta Valley enough firepower to hold off Glendale and Arcadia.

The Falcons reached the Division III semifinals last year before losing to La Canada.



* THE PROVEN: Harvard-Westlake senior Peter Hudnut played this summer with the U.S. Junior National team. The 6-foot-5 two-meter man is considered one of the top high school players in the country. . . . Senior Michael McDay scored 60 goals and was a Division III first-team selection for La Canada, the defending division champion. . . . Chad Caldwell is Ventura's best offensive threat. He scored 96 goals as a junior as Ventura finished third in the Channel League. . . . Kenny Carpenter not only scored 80 goals for Crescenta Valley last year, he's also one of the best swimmers in the region, setting a Southern Section Division II record in the 100 butterfly this year. . . . Kevin Witt scored a region-high 113 goals for Glendale last year.

* THE PROMISING: Jason Falitz scored 58 goals as a sophomore for Burroughs, which finished second behind Division III finalist Bell Gardens in the Almont League. . . . Jeff Little may be small (5-7, 130) but he scored eight goals as a freshman for Crescenta Valley. . . . Junior Lloyd Masson had an impressive summer and will be La Canada's new goalie. . . . Juniors Hans Larsen and Mike Campbell are the only two returnees for Agoura, which must replace all seven starters from a team that reached the Division IV quarterfinals.

* FAST FACT: Agoura is the only Marmonte League school to defeat Royal since 1986. The Chargers defeated Royal, 12-11, in 1994 to earn a share of the title with the Highlanders.

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