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High Schools | FALL PREVIEW: BOYS' WATER POLO

Wilson Team Is Water Tight

September 11, 2002|DAN ARRITT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Members of the Long Beach Wilson boys' water polo team traveled to Mexico last weekend, intent on tightening the knot that has bonded many of them for nearly 10 years.

For three days, they surfed and held impromptu meetings around the pool and in their condominium rooms, centering nearly every conversation on the longtime camaraderie they've enjoyed as teammates at Wilson and on their Long Beach Shore club team.

"We talked about how close we are," said Matt Norris, one of six returning senior starters for the Bruins. "About how it's the last time we'll be playing together, and how it means a lot to play every game like it's our last."

In the last game they played together, Wilson won a Southern Section championship. With their starting lineup returning nearly intact, as well as many talented reserves, the Bruins are again the team to beat this season.

"We know everybody wants to take us down," said senior Thomas Hale, who spent most of the summer playing for the U.S. junior national team.

That wasn't the case last season, when Wilson hovered around the middle of The Times' top 10 rankings before getting hot in the playoffs and winning their fifth Division I title in six years.

Coach Tony Martinho, who, as a player, helped Wilson win its first championship in 1981, agreed the Bruins will be the favorites this fall.

"The challenge is different this season," Martinho said. "Last year, we thought we had something to prove and we worked very hard for that."

Familiarity breeds success. Knowledge of each other's styles and abilities allows the players to pass with better efficiency, knowing exactly where each wants to receive the ball in order to get off the quickest shot. On defense, they usually don't have to shout for help because they know it's already there.

"We all know each other's moves and how we play," said senior Garrit Barth, a returning starter. "We know we can rely on each other."

Hale is Wilson's top player and the team's only four-year starter. In addition to his time on the junior national team, which included playing in a tournament in Russia this summer, he played two years on the U.S. youth team. He is also left-handed, which makes him a hot commodity on any level.

"He controls our offense," Norris said. "Plus, he spent the whole summer playing with college guys, so they've really helped him out."

Norris specializes in two-meter defense, which usually requires guarding the opposition's biggest and best player.

He played one of his better games of the season in last year's Division I final, holding The Times' player of the year, Marty Matthies of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, to three goals in a 9-7 victory.

Drivers John Foster and Clint Wilson are also members of the U.S. youth team. Foster handles most of the Bruins' two-meter offense, and Wilson who is also left-handed, plays on the same side of the pool as Hale.

At 6-foot-4, Barth, a dangerous perimeter shooter, is the team's tallest player and also its fastest swimmer. Brent LaBounty returns as goalkeeper.

"We all have our specialties and it works out good," Norris said. "We're a real balanced team."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE TIMES' RANKINGS

A preseason look at the top 10 boys' water polo teams in the Southland:

1. L.B. Wilson (SS-Division I)

Six returning starters from last year's Division I championship team include U.S. junior national team member Thomas Hale and youth team members John Foster and Clint Wilson.

2. Servite (SS-Division II)

U.S. junior team member Trevor Clark is surrounded by talent, including senior Pat Buckner and junior Adam Hewko.

3. Corona del Mar (SS-Division I)

Division II co-most valuable player Artie Dorr and U.S. junior team member John Mann are among region's best players and their size will create headaches for opposing defenses. The Sea Kings were Division II champions last year.

4. Harvard-Westlake (SS-Division I)

Marty Matthies, the 2001 Division I player of the year, will get help from a strong group of freshmen. Typically, one of the more physical teams.

5. El Toro (SS-Division I)

All-South Coast League players Matt Grace and Brent Danna lead a group of four returning varsity players who helped Chargers advance to Division I semifinals last year.

6. Newport Harbor (SS-Division I)

Seniors Nathan Weiner and Ross Sinclair and junior Michael Bury return for their second-year coach, Jason Lynch.

7. Foothill (SS-Division I)

Alex Cripe and Frank Reynolds will be counted on offensively, while Sandy Hohener will take over in goal. Knights will be pressed against more physical teams.

8. San Clemente (SS-Division I)

Led by Kenny Yamamoto, Tritons don't lose much from team that lost to Wilson in the Division I semifinals last year.

9. Riverside Poly (SS-Division V)

Not as deep as last season's Division V championship team, but All-American Mike Looy is one of the region's best two-meter players.

10. Villa Park (SS-Division II)

Former Spartan standout Joey Pacelli takes over a strong group, including Servite transfer Shea Buckner. Villa Park drops to Division II this season.

Dan Arritt

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