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Santa Margarita boys, Laster start fast at California State champs
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA Jeremy Laster encouraged Santa Margarita’s boys water polo team to press hard on defense and put Soquel away early Friday night at the California State High School Championships.
The 1996 Olympian emphasized the importance of faking a shot and not allowing ball-side drives. He pushed the host Eagles to quickly transition into their counterattacks.
The Eagles’ new coach kept his energy high for four periods and his squad responded with a 15-7 victory to cap a 2-0 start in the 48-team tournament.
“I just have all this water polo in my head and to be able to take it out and give it to other people is fantastic,” said Laster, 42, the former Stanford and San Clemente star.
“And clear out some space (in my brain). I need the space.”
Santa Margarita’s press defense sparked a counterattack that netted eight goals. The Eagles also scored the first four goals and never trailed in advancing to Saturday’s 9 a.m. match against second-seeded Orange Lutheran at Newport Harbor.
Junior Brock Petersen paced Santa Margarita with four second-half goals while centers Jack Baumgardner and Jacob Wright added three apiece. Petersen’s twin brother, Chase, and Yurian Quinones scored two goals apiece.
Noah Hodge (four saves) and incoming freshman Will Kieckhafer (five saves) split time in goal for Santa Margarita. Senior-to-be Charlie Bailey netted four goals for Soquel while senior-to-be Bennett Bynes added seven saves.
Soquel reached the quarterfinals of its playoffs last season.
“My goal is for teams to hate to play us,” Laster said. “I want to press them hard the whole game and I want to counter them hard the whole game. I want to develop a rotation of nine or 10 boys where there’s no drop off and we’re sending them, and we’re going, and we’re going on every play. … All we work on in practice is counter.”
The Eagles opened the tournament Friday with a 13-9 victory against Lamorinda Blue, the top-seed in their group. Hodge blocked a penalty shot in the triumph.
"Jeremy has just been such a good addition to our team," Hodge said. "His positivity and his coaching style really elevates our team. He especially focuses on the younger guys."
Laster arrived at Santa Margarita in the spring, replacing Paden Mitchell. He inherits a squad with only one senior but three star juniors – Hodge and the Petersens – from Mitchell's top-ranked 16-and-under SOCAL club team.
A father of six children, Laster moved his family from Newport Beach to Ladera Ranch in February of 2015. With his oldest child, Anthony, who will be an eighth grader in the fall, playing water polo, he decided to coach and share his knowledge.
Laster coaches Anthony’s 14-and-under Orange County Water Polo club team, which finished fourth at the local Junior Olympic qualifier.
He also continues to work as a vice president and treasurer at Rancho Mission Viejo, a land development company.
“I (last) coached a long time ago right when I stopped playing,” Laster said. “I never set out to do this but I love it. It’s so fun.”