NEWPORT BEACH, CA. THE Sea Kings are still kings of the pool!
Coach John Vargas' Corona del Mar High Sea Kings, defending CIF champs, edged La Jolla The Bishop's, 8-6, last week in the finals of the South Coast boys' water polo tourney at Newport Harbor High.
Vargas, who will take over the Stanford men's program next season (and who is hoping he can bring along his star player, 6-4 senior Michael March), pulled out all the stops to help guide his Sea Kings to the championship.
And he had to too.
The Bishop's reached the semi-final game via wins in the first two rounds with a combined 35-8 margin, then trounced fourth-ranked Lake Forest El Toro, 12-7 to gain the championship match against CDM.
The Bishop's, a San Diego CIF Division II finalist last season, have emerged as a Southern California prep powerhouse the past few years by keeping a nucleus of players intact since junior high. Five players on this year's squad won the 1997 Speedo Cup national crown in the 13-under division.
La Jolla had nearly three times as many man-advantage opportunities, but the top-ranked Sea Kings were able to stop eight of 11.
"They're a very good team," said Vargas afterwards.
"It's good for us to beat a team like that."
CDM led by a single goal, 7-6, with 32 seconds remaining. Then the Bishop's coach, Jim Fales, had one of his players jump into the pool, stopping the
clock and awarding the Sea Kings a penalty shot. March was on the money and that was the "old ball game."
Just 33 seconds earlier March succeeded in swiping the ball off a Bishop's player's hand as he was preparing to shot for what might have been the tying goal.
"The mark of a good team is how well they play [man-advantage] defense," Vargas said. "In practice we haven't been playing good 6-on-5 defense, but today we did."
March and teammate Artie Dunn, the Sea Kings' primary scorers, were held to a single goal by the Knights, but Bobby Messenger rifled home three goals from outside and Jason Dorocco had two.
March, a southpaw, has as much an advantage in water polo as a leftie pitcher does in baseball, according to his coach. "The majority of players are right-handed so this gives us an added dimension on offense," Vargas explained, noting that March has come a long way in a short period of time.
"He's aggressive, he's real strong but totally composed and under control, so you have this sense that maybe he's not. It would not be the most unbelieveable thing to think he has a chance the make the U.S. Olympic team in 2004," Vargas said in a recent Los Angeles Times interview.
Regarded as one of the best young players in the nation, March spent a week in Australia during the summmer training with the U.S. national junior team,
then was in Greece for a week and Turkey for two while competing in tournaments. He also trained for a week in Croatia with the U.S. national team itself.
Not surprisingly, all the top collegiate polo programs are after March's services for next season but the Newport Beach native says he's "keeping my options open.
"I want to win a ring (CIF Championship) and then I'll decide about college," he says.
— Bill Bell