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PHOTO, TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
El Toro's No. 8 boys water polo team defeated Santa Margarita, 16-10, in a nonleague match at El Toro.

El Toro shows off stronger look in opening win

STAFF WRITER

The improvement in El Toro’s boys water polo team emerged in the first period Tuesday and never relented.

The eighth-ranked Chargers looked like a different squad than last season as they opened their season with a 16-10 nonleague victory against visiting No. 9 Santa Margarita.

El Toro’s press and positioning on defense appeared vastly improved and the shooting wasn’t far behind.

Aaron Leighton scored five goals and fellow senior Connor Wilde added three, including an impressive finish at the end of the first half.

El Toro’s squad featured mostly the same players as last season, just with more experience and comfort under second-year coach Justin Johnson.

Johnson, a former U.S. national team defender, returns six of seven starters on a team that features five seniors.

“For us to have five playing seniors right now is huge,” Leighton said. “Not only for the development physically, but also mentally and having the experience.”

El Toro didn’t have much experience playing for Johnson last fall. He was hired in late August, just prior to the start of the season.

Johnson said the beginning of 2014 served as an “overhaul” while the success came later. The Chargers reached the CIF-SS Division 2 quarterfinals, falling to eventual champion Foothill.

“Now, hopefully, we started from a better spot,” Johnson said. “Let’s hope we still get the same momentum as we go through the season.”

El Toro started strong against Santa Margarita (1-1), scoring the first three goals to build a lead it would never relinquish.

Less than a minute into the first, the Chargers turned a steal by senior goalie Brandon Shields (nine saves) into a counterattack strike by Leighton’s brother, Jack, off a cross-pass from Chad Nelson.

Later in the first, Aaron Leighton added a power-play goal and a counterattack strike off a failed extra-man chance by the Eagles.

El Toro, ranked seventh in Division 2, added another three-goal spurt at the end of the first half to open an 8-3 lead. Wilde capped the run by splitting two defenders with a spin on a counterattack near the Eagles’ 5-meter line and unleashed a back-handed shot that beat the buzzer.

El Toro finished with eight counterattack goals, converting multiple chances after aggressive defense on the perimeter. The Chargers also finished 5 for 6 on the power play and got three assists apiece from Jack Leighton, Sam Gallo and Nelson.

“I don’t want to speak too soon, but it looks like El Toro could be making the climb back up to where they used to be,” Santa Margarita coach Paden Mitchell said. “I think Justin is the guy who is going to get them there.”

Santa Margarita is trying to rebuild with three returning starters. Austin Clark paced the Eagles with five goals, and sophomore goalie Noah Hodge added 10 saves in about 2 1/2quarters.

In other nonleague games:

No. 7 Newport Harbor 11, Long Beach Wilson 10: Ryan Hurst scored four goals to help lead the host Sailors (1-1).

Servite 16, Redondo Union 5: Alejandro Sherratt and Cody Ela each scored four goals, and Jeff Sherer made 10 saves to pace the host Friars (1-0).

Beckman 13, Trabuco Hills 4: Ian Holder and Evan Kim each scored four goals to lead the host Patriots (1-0).

No. 2 Orange Lutheran 12, Woodbridge 9: Ash Molthen scored four goals to help lead the Lancers (1-0) at Santiago Canyon College.

Los Alamitos 11, Northwood 6: Goalie Steve Mori made 14 saves to lead the visiting Griffins (1-0).

Marina 23, El Modena 11: Leo Yuno scored 10 goals and Joseph Lastelic added seven to pace the visiting Vikings.

Aliso Niguel 15, Costa Mesa 10: Nick Ure netted eight goals for the host Wolverines.

Kennedy 13, Downey 11: Rodrigo Baca scored six goals to pace the visiting Fighting Irish.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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