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A New Battle Cry for Eagles: Yugo, Guys

Boys' water polo: Second-year coach Asic, who played for Yugoslavia's national team, installs European-style system and instills high hopes at Santa Margarita.

September 05, 2000|MELANIE NEFF | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Margarita boys' water polo Coach Peter Asic isn't one to stand by and yell at his players from the pool deck, pointing out mistakes while making sure his shoes don't get wet.

The former Yugoslavia national team member prefers the one-on-one approach, choosing to work side by side in the water with his players, showing them how to shoot, drive, pass and block. If they do it wrong, he is right there to correct their technique, over and over, until they get it right.

"It is very different for them to see the coach in the water with them," Asic said. "They relate to me differently. They know I can show them how to do it, and I get respect from them for that. I am always in the pool with them."

Asic, a 36-year-old mortgage banker, lives in Laguna Niguel and came to the United States from Croatia in 1984 on a water polo scholarship to Pepperdine. A member of the national team at age 16, Asic played against the best players in the world. His father and brother also played, and still coach in Italy. Asic, in his second year as coach of the Eagles, is trying to instill European techniques in his players.

This season, Asic has introduced the team to a new defense that is so complicated his 10 returning seniors had a hard time grasping it. He began introducing the schemes last year, but the young, inexperienced team wasn't ready, so Asic waited until this summer to really push it on them.

"We are going to mix four defenses together," Asic said. "In 35 seconds you are going to see four different sequences of defense. It is really different than any other school is going to do. It's very tough."

The team spends at least 20 minutes of practice time on "chalk talk"--learning the defense on paper. Then Asic and his team hit the pool, where they spend at least 45 minutes putting it into play.

"I like the new defense a lot," said junior Nick Nolan, the Eagles' leading scorer last season. "It's going to be really hard to score on us. It took some getting used to, but we've got it down now."

Said senior two-meter player Garrett Marquis: "It helps me get involved with the offense more. It's a really good defense and if we play smart and keep our heads on a swivel and make sure we are looking where the ball is, we'll be tough to beat."

Nolan and Marquis have some extra motivation to make the defense work and help the team succeed.

In the final Serra League match at Servite last season, Nolan, Marquis and Adam Szeremeta--all starters--decided to drive to the game instead of taking the team bus. After driving in circles through construction zones in Anaheim, the three finally found Servite High and were stunned to find the Eagles already trailing, 7-0. Asic was infuriated, and benched all three players, forcing them to sit and watch as their team took a 25-1 bashing, losing a chance at a league co-championship with the Friars.

"I felt really bad," Marquis said. "I let the team down and I let the seniors down. It was their final league game and it was a big game for them. This year, I know we can beat Servite. There is no question."

A Serra League title would be Santa Margarita's first in water polo. The Eagles finished second last year and lost in the first round of the Southern Section Division I playoffs. This year, expectations are much higher.

"We are at least three times better than we were last season," Asic said. "We can win the league and we are planning to go all the way in CIF.

"And this year, nobody is going to drive to a game."

Other teams to watch this season:

Newport Harbor is the overwhelming No. 1 preseason pick by county coaches. The Sailors were knocked out of the Division I playoffs last season by a 9-8 overtime loss to El Toro in the semifinals. Three starters return, including Peter Belden, a first-team Times' Orange County selection. El Toro, which lost in the final to Long Beach Wilson, lost all but one starter, but are expected to be strong with senior Brett McCleave. Saddleback, which surprised many by reaching the Division II semifinals, also lost all its starters to graduation. San Clemente, backed by three-year All-American Josh Hewko--the third Hewko brother to play for the Tritons--could give Newport Harbor a battle in Division I. Foothill, which returns only one starter, has reloaded, as Brian Alexander is joined by Ian Elliott, Wes Fox and Blake Benjamin.

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