BELMONT SHORES, CA., Nov. 17 — The Sea Kings are the kings of the pool for the third-consecutive year.
Coach John Vargas' Corona del Mar High Sea Kings (24-3), double-defending CIF Division II champs, won their third-straight Championship here this evening with a resounding 16-4 thumping of Esperanza. The match was one of six Southern Section Divisional finals played today at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool.
(As in swimming, California does not hold a statewide water polo championship tournament. However, the Southern Section, stretching nearly 200 miles from San Luis Obispo to the Orange County border, is the largest of all the sections, comprising more than 350 schools and divided on the basis of enrollment and locale.)
"Esperanza" (18-11) means hope in Spanish but there was none for the Anaheim school, as Corona del Mar just had too much firepower. Led by their "Big Three" of Artie Dorr and Bobby Messenger, who each scored
three goals, and Marcello Pantuliano, who had four, CDM won its seventh CIF title since Vargas took over the program in 1983 as a 21-year-old, while compiling a 50-11 playoff record.
Vargas takes over the top-ranked Stanford men's program from retiring Dante Dettamante January 1, and is one of the few coaches to ever have won national prep and collegiate titles as a player (U Cal Irvine) and then a high school championship as a coach. If Vargas wins an NCAA Championship at The Farm, a distinct possibility, he'll become the first person to ever accomplish this feat as both a player and a coach.
The Sea Kings celebrated their coach's final victory by tossing him into the pool and then, in a scene rare for water polo celebrations, his players swam toward him for more celebrating.
The match was played before a loud and racuous sellout crowd at Belmont (17,505). Corona del Mar was the second-seeded team behind Anaheim Servite, which dealt the Sea Kings their only loss to a Southern Section school this season.
However, the top-ranked Servite Friars lost to Esperanza in the semi finals last Saturday. Esperanza then defeated Sunset League champ Laguna Beach, 10-9, in overtime in the semi finals Wednesday at Newport Harbor High in Newport Beach to gain the finals.
Corona del Mar cruised into the finals via a 12-6 win over Los Alamitos, after having won its first two playoff games by 20-3and 19-1 margins.
"There's no better way to go out," Vargas said. "I'd rate this as one of the best teams I've had."
Corona del Mar shook off three first-period ejections to lead 7-2 at halftime, and put the game away in the final 3:10 of the second quarter with a 4-0 run behind a punishing counterattack. The Sea Kings challenged Esperanza to shoot from the outside after opening in a press, and the winners got great goalie play from Sherwin Kim, who had 12 saves.
CDM finished with seven counterattack goals and Messenger scored all three of his goals on counters. Pantuliano started several of the counterattacks
with steals and finished with five plus his four goals.
"We came out looking for opportunities and took what we could get," he said of the counterattacks. "The guys did a great job and we didn't get rattled by those ejections," Vargas added.
Several of the Sea Kings' star players, including Door, Messenger and Michael March, are reported to be following their coach to Stanford next fall, but nothing is yet definite.
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Long Beach Wilson coach Tony Martinho, who was on the Bruins' initial CIF Championship team exactly 20 years ago as a player and then won for the first time as a coach two years ago, won his first Division I title without the services of all-world star Tony Azevado in the evening's finale.
Wilson, the top seed in DI, edged Coach Rich Corso's Harvard-Westlake squad, 9-7 for the crown.
Azevedo was on four Wilson championship-winning squads from 1996-99. After sitting out last season at Stanford as a red-shirt freshman following a stint on the U.S. Olympic team, Azevedo has led top-ranked Stanford in scoring this season and hopes to lead the Cardinal to the NCAA Championship in two weeks.
The win for the Bruins was their fifth in the last six years and seventh overall. With only six seniors on the roster, it was a trend many "experts" didn't expect to continue. "Most of the kids on this team started with me three years ago, and they've worked extremely hard," Martinho said.
"That's what this is, a team," added junior Thomas Hale, whose second goal with five minutes remaining gave Wilson its first lead. "We're not like a
powerhouse with only one or two good players, like we used to have." Wilson (23-7) wound up six of 11 on extra-man opportunities. Harvard-Westlake (18-5) was four for four, but didn't have any in the final half.
Before its merger with Harvard in the late '80s, Westlake was an exclusive all-girls school in Los Angeles, and counts among its graduates a certain
double Olympic swimming gold medalist who at the 1982 U.S. Nationals in Gainesville won the 50 yard freestyle to deal current Texas women's co-coach
Jill Sterkel her first-ever loss in that race.
A year later this same swimmer would set a national prep record in the 50 free and 17 years later, at the "tender" age of 32, would win golds at Sydney as a member of Uncle Sam's 400 medley and 400 free relay squads.
She also picked up bronzes in the 100 fly and 50 free (with teammate Jenny Thompson) at last September's Olympics.
Oh, her name? Dara Torres.
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Whittier's Cardinals, third-seeded in Division III, rode the scoring power of Scott Johnson and erick Leon (four each) to a 9-7 win over Whittier La Serna.
The victory was Whittier's first title since 1959 — nine years before the city's favorite son, Richard Milhous Nixon, was elected president — still the Golden State's only chief executive.
Johnson had two goals in the second quarter and Leon the other as the Cardinals took a 6-4 halftime lead.
David Goetz scored three goals for La Sesrna (25-8).
The Cardinals' Matt Ortiz had 16 saves as Whittier ended 24-6.
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Defending Division IV champ Santa Barbara defeated southern rival Ventura, 11-7, to capture its second-consecutive championship.
The Dons, second-seeded although they had beaten Ventura twice iu the regular season, made sure the third time was the charm as they built an 8-2
halftime advantage. Graeme Lee-Wingate and Craig Edelman scored three goals each for the victors, which defeated top-seeded and Channel League Ventura for the third time in four matches.
Santa Barbara, which defeated Ventura in last year's finals, 8-7, winds up 23-5. Ventura finishes at 21-4.
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Riverside Poly won its second-consecutive DV Championship via a 14-13 squeaker over Palm Desert.
Last year Poly won a laugher, 25-8.
This year the top-seeded Poly Bears (28-2), trailed at the half, 6-3, but quickly pulled within a goal after scoring on three-consecutive man-advantage situations to open up the third quarter.
Eric Qualls scored six of his seven golas in the third period to help lead the Bears — home of former world and American record-holder Cynthia (Sippy) Woodhead — to the championship.
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Top-seeded Division VI La Verne Damien was no match for intra-city rival Bonita, as the Bearcats won handily, 9-2.
Bonita (20-4) held Damien scoreless in the second half to win the Championhsip, its first in five previous playoff appearances.
The score was tied 2-2 at the end of the first quarter, but Daniel Domenici scored three of his team-high four goals in the second to give the second-seeded Bearcats a 5-2 halftime lead.
– Bill Bell