Huntington Beach's boys water polo team and Matt Robert, right, defeated Loyola, 14-7, on Saturday at Foothill to reach the semifinals of the California State High School Championships.

Huntington boys show improved depth in key victory at California State champs


NORTH TUSTIN Patrick Saunders sprung side-to-side in the cage with more quickness.

Newcomer Garrett Zaan not only backed up starter Quinten Osborne at center, he burned a pressing defense.

New defender Ryan Hurst helped silence the opposition’s 2-meter attack.

Huntington Beach’s new depth and polished skills were on full display Saturday afternoon.

Saunders made 14 saves to anchor the defense and Zaan and Osborne each scored twice from center as the Oilers’ fifth-seeded boys beat No. 4 Loyola of Los Angeles, 14-7, in the quarterfinals of the California State High School Water Polo Championships at Foothill.

Steady Ethan Wojciechowski paced the offense with a match-high four goals as Huntington Beach sprinted into Sunday’s semifinal against top-seeded and reigning CIF-SS Division 1 champion Mater Dei. The game is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Foothill.

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Wojciechowski, a  first-team All-County selection last fall, highlighted his performance with a turn and backhanded strike early in the second period on a post-up. Late in the third, he riffled a cross-cage shot into the net on another post-up.

“The team is performing well,” said Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic, who had nine diffeent players score. “Loyola (was) missing Marko (Vavic). That (was) definitely a big handicap for them. … We’re working on the chemistry. It’s coming along (but) we got a long way to go.”

But there was no missing the Oilers’ progress.

Saunders made nine of his saves in the first half, including two against the Cubs’ power play. Loyola responded with four goals in the third, including perimeter strikes by Gordon Rowland, Henry Chase and Griffin Thue but for the most part, Saunders was tough to beat.

“He’s a wall,” Branisavljevic said of Saunders. “He’s definitely covering more than he covered last season. I see big progression.”

Zaan, a transfer from Orange Lutheran, scored twice from center in the second half. His value was especially noticeable in the fourth period as Loyola opted to press. The Cubs earlier dropped an extra defender in front of Osborne, who beat one-on-one coverage on the opening possession of the match.

Zaan responded to the press by drawing Huntington Beach’s first two exclusions, which were converted for goals by lefty Curtis Jarvis and Hurst.

“We haven’t had a true (secondary) center since Wyatt (Benson) transferred to Mater Dei,” Wojciechowski said.

The Oilers also ran a double-post with Zaan and Osborne, another new wrinkle.

“That’s something we’re going to be doing in the fall a lot,” Branisavljevic said.

Hurst, a transfer from Newport Harbor, helped limit Loyola to mostly perimeter shots. The Cubs didn’t score from center but received two perimeter goals from Rowland.

“Last year, we didn’t really have a (primary defender) because Eli Lule transferred (to Mater Dei),” Wojciechowski said. “The two transfers have really helped us out.”

Huntington Beach also is competing with a new attitude. After consecutive trips to the CIF Division 1 semifinals the past two seasons, the Oilers are seeking to capture the championship this fall.

“We are pushing to be first,” Branisavljevic said. “We’re molding them into something great.”

Added Wojciechowski, “This is our time. This is our chance to go and get a championship for HB.”

In the other boys semifinal Sunday, Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton takes on Harvard-Westlake at 11 a.m. The championship is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Foothill.

The girls semifinals and final will be played at Corona del Mar. Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran clash in the 10 a.m. followed by the Laguna Beach-San Ramon Valley tilt at 11 a.m. The championship is also at 3 p.m.

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