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2014-15 Girls water polo coach of the year: Justin Johnson, El Toro
El Toro girls water polo coach Justin Johnson made an honest appraisal of his personnel.
“We don’t have a superstar,” he said during the season.
Johnson instead leaned on teamwork and coaching to help lift the Chargers to new heights. And in the end, they celebrated like superstars.
Johnson guided El Toro (23-9) to its first CIF-SS girls water polo title and for his efforts, the former U.S. national team player is The Register’s coach of the year.
In a victory covered with Johnson’s fingerprints, the Chargers edged San Clemente, 5-4, in the Division 2 final.
El Toro tied the score, 4-4, late in the fourth period after the first-year coach alerted officials that San Clemente had called timeout without possession of the ball. The officials agreed and with 1:33 left, issued a penalty shot, which El Toro’s Maddy Parenteau converted.
Haley Hagerty, part of Johnson’s center rotation and a substitute during the penalty sequence, netted the winning goal with 32 seconds left. For a school long known for success in boys water polo, the girls had their moment.
But even before the final, Johnson, 29, made plenty of other shrewd moves. The former Concordia assistant coach landed former Stanford defender Kelsey Suggs (Tesoro) as a top assistant, instructed goalie Tori Rainone to be more active outside the cage and focused on team chemistry.
One of his early changes made team dinners open to players throughout the program. “I wanted it to be a team environment,” Johnson said. “When everybody knows each other, everybody wants to work a lot harder.”
The former Mission Viejo and UCLA player also mixed his cool-intensity with levity. The 6-foot-7 Johnson held his hand high during postgame handshakes and his players leaped to give him a high-five.
“I think they were just so hungry for something different that they were willing to kind of take me in and listen to what I had to say,” he said. “Luckily, we came out on the top side at the end.”
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