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NICK AGRO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Huntington Beach, led by goalie Patrick Saunders, left, and senior Ethan Wojciechowski, is looking to rise to the top in CIF-SS Division 1 this season after back-to-back deep runs in the playoffs.

Huntington Beach trying to break through in Div. 1

STAFF WRITER

Huntington Beach’s boys water polo team tasted postseason success the past two seasons but wasn’t satisfied.

After consecutive losses in the CIF-SS Division 1 semifinals, the Oilers are hungry for a title.

“The goal is to win (Division 1),” captain Ethan Wojciechowski said after a recent workout. “Anything short of that would be a disappointment.”

Huntington Beach has never reached a section final but believes it has the talent to break through.

The two-time defending Sunset League champions already have four seniors committed to top programs - Wojciechowski (Cal), goalie Patrick Saunders (UCLA), center Quinten Osborne (UCLA) and defender Ryan Hurst (Cal).

The experience doesn’t stop there. Osborne and junior Jacob Cavano are part of the U.S. team at the FINA World Men’s Youth Championships. which are underway in Montenegro.

The Oilers also have talented seniors Matthew Robert, William Khouri and Jacob Van Mechelen, plus lefty Curtis Jarvis and center Garrett Zaan, a transfer from Orange Lutheran.

Second-year coach Sasa Branisavljevic said the Oilers’ depth runs seven deep on the bench.

“We’re expecting to push the rhythm of the game with numbers rather than individuals,” he said.

Most of the players hail from the powerhouse Vanguard club program.

“You look at our team and you can say, ‘Well, they’ve got the most talented guys,’” Wojciechowski said. “But we haven’t won anything yet. We’ve under-achieved.”

The Oilers are stressing improving team chemistry and execution.

Those are two qualities of juggernauts Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake of Studio City. The two have combined to claim the past six CIF Division 1 titles, and took turns in 2014 and 2015 sinking Huntington Beach in the semifinals.

“(We need) everyone playing together and playing within the system,” said Wojciechowski, a first-team All-County pick last season. “We do have a tendency where one player, myself included, might try to do too much and hurt the team in certain situations. … And when we go down, (we need to) have a winning mentality, knowing we’re going to get back in the game.”

Saunders added, “We can’t beat ourselves. We have to play together. Stay focused.”

The Oilers are hoping their team lunches on Saturdays will help build more chemistry.

“We go to Chipotle and fill it up,” Wojciechowski said. “It’s just to be together and get away from the pool.”

The Oilers also face a mental challenge. Huntington Beach hasn’t fared well against Mater Dei, losing to the Monarchs in the semifinals of the state high school championships in July.

The Oilers beat Harvard-Westlake in the offseason but suffered a 6-2 loss at the Junior Olympics.

“HB wasn’t a very strong program when we all got here, so we didn’t have much of a tradition or a cultural,” Wojciechowski said. “But at the end day, there are no excuses. It’s up to us what we accomplish and how we finish.”

NOTES

Orange Lutheran attackers Ash Molthen and Hannes Daube also are part of the U.S. team in Montenegro. … Mater Dei, Harvard-Westlake and Huntington Beach are part of the Wolverines-hosted Elite 8, a new tournament scheduled for Sept. 15-17. ... Chris Martinez and Billy Motherway are competing at goalie for Mater Dei, Monarchs coach Chris Segesman said. … Former San Clemente standout Logan Powell is coaching his alma mater, replacing longtime coach Marc Parker. ... Sunny Hills’ new pool is scheduled to open in December, Lancers coach Keith Nighswonger said.

Contact the writer: dalbano@scng.com


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