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PAUL RODRIGUEZ , PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Orange Lutheran's Steve Carrera is the Register's girls water polo coach of the year.

Girls water polo coach of the year: Steve Carrera, Orange Lutheran

STAFF WRITER

Orange Lutheran coach Steve Carrera handed each of his players a copy of the stat sheet from the bitter loss and asked them to write a single word on the paper filled with disappointing numbers.

“Champs”

The Lancers’ girls water polo team had just lost an early-season game against top-ranked Laguna Beach, the two-time defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion.

The Lancers lost, 5-2, and were shut out in the second half. But soon after the Dec. 19 match, Carrera delivered the stat sheets and requested a brief mental exercise.

“Putting ‘champs’ was just a reminder of where we wanted to go,” senior Kelsey Tyler said.

The Lancers wound up going places in 2015-16.

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ALL-COUNTY GIRLS WATER POLO

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The fourth-year program stormed to its first CIF-SS Division 1 title, ending the season on a 17-game win streak that included a mid-January victory against Laguna Beach.

For his efforts, Carrera is the Register’s coach of the year.

“It’s like a storybook ending,” said Carrera, whose Lancers defeated Foothill, 6-3, in the Division 1 final.

“I just have to give a lot of credit to the girls who believed that we could do it. … They knew we were going to be good, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that we would have been this good so quickly.

“But the pieces fell together.”

Carrera’s skills in the mental aspects of the game were an important part of the equation. He believed his players’ biggest challenges were mental. When they cleared that hurdle with Laguna Beach, he was confident the Lancers would be nearly unbeatable.

Working with his brother, Ed, who is an assistant coach, they blended seniors with freshmen and produced an up-tempo style that gave opponents fits.

Carrera has built programs quickly before. He guided the Northwood boys from 2000-06 to a Division 1 runner-up finish.

The Lancers were his first major breakthrough with a girls team.

“This one is special,” said Carrera, whose Northwood team fell to El Toro, 11-8, in the Division 1 finals in 2006.

Just four seasons ago, Orange Lutheran lost consecutive Trinity League matches to Santa Margarita and Mater Dei, 22-4, and, 20-5.

Carrera said some opponents snickered at the Lancers that first season.

“They were having a good time,” he said.

The Lancers grew into a hard-pressing and swift-counterattacking team. The good times for opponents were over.

Despite starting three freshmen, including Alyssa Barnuevo in goalie, Orange Lutheran captured the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions in January for the first time and added a second consecutive Trinity League title.

Behind the scenes, Carrera pushed his players harder in training. The players dreaded his sets of 20 200-yard freestyles, but Carrera also found time to lighten the mood. He played along with the team’s running joke that his swim sets built a “hate hill.”

“He truly does love us,” senior Emma Skelly said. “He just invests so much time in us. Obviously, it paid off.”

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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