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Hilltop's Howard is section's top gun Phillip Brents | Fri, Oct 05 2012 01:34 PM

Water polo players like Hilltop High School senior Nick Howard come along once a decade or so. The San Diego Section record book is proof of that.

Tommy Martinez was the first great Lancer scorer. He tallied 286 goals from 1978-80.

Martinez was named the section’s player of the year in 1980 as the Lancers captured their only division title to date.

Ricky Medina and Danny Street followed in Martinez’s footsteps. Medina scored 290 goals from 1988-91; Street tallied 316 goals from 1990-93.

Street’s mark currently stands as the Hilltop career scoring record. He also holds the school record for goals in one season at 160.

The latter record might not stand the test of time, however.

Howard, a transfer from Ventura High School, has notched 75 goals in Hilltop’s opening eight games this season. The Lancers have at least 16 more games on their schedule this season.

In fact, Howard has already entered his name in the record book. He scored 17 goals in a Sept. 14 game against San Ysidro to set a new school record. The 17 goals rank sixth best all-time for most goals in one game in the section.

He also had 14 steals in a game to set a new school record.

(Eastlake’s Erik Franks holds the section record for most goals scored in one game at 28, set in a 1998 game against Southwest. Franks is followed by Sweetwater’s Mike Maniss with 21 goals in a 1979 game against Castle Park.)

Entering Friday’s non-league game against Patrick Henry, Howard has collected 75 goals, 83 steals and dished out 31 assists.

He appears on track to make multiple entries among the leaders in the section record book before the season is over.

Howard, however, remains modest about his scoring prowess. “I don’t keep track of my stats,” he said. “What matters to me is that our teams plays well and I give it my all.”

The Lancers are 5-3 in their opening eight games, including a recent tournament in Irvine. Hilltop opens Mesa League play on Monday, Oct. 8, when the four-time league champion Eastlake Titans drop in for a 3 p.m. varsity showdown at the Parkway pool.

The game expects to be the Metro Conference’s showcase match-up of the season.

Eastlake is currently working on a streak of four consecutive unbeaten league seasons dating from 2008.

Howard, a one-time member of the U.S. 16U national team training pool, looks to be the center of attention.

“Nick was double-teamed and even triple-teamed at the Irvine tournament and still managed to score 24 goals in four games,” Hilltop coach John Salts said.

The charismatic Howard, who has been playing water polo since he was 8 and made two trips to Hungary to play in international tournaments, is the first to realize that one person does make a team.

“I’ve been playing for so long that I’ve learned a lot of tricks,” he said. “But teamwork is really important. I get a good feeling knowing I’m helping the team.”

Howard’s skills rank him among the top varsity players in San Diego County. He owns a near-lethal 76 percent scoring percentage. But it’s the little things he does in the water that have endeared him to his teammates. He’s not afraid to pass the ball as much as he shoots it.

Salts believes Howard’s presence in the pool has made the Lancers a better team overall.

“Definitely a player of his caliber makes the players around him better,” the HHS coach said. “They see his approach to the game and his knowledge of the game. It’s helped his teammates raise their level of play accordingly. He’s been a great team captain in helping the team.”

Howard has been an impact addition since he joined the team at the tail end of last season. He scored four goals in Hilltop’s 18-9 first round playoff victory against West Hills.

Howard said playing water polo at Hilltop has been the big reason he’s been able to make a successful transition from living with his father in Ventura to living with his mother in Chula Vista.

He is now looking to continue playing water polo in college, preferably at a school not too far from San Diego. With a 3.6 grade point average in advanced placement classes, finding a suitable program shouldn’t be a problem. He’d like to major either in business or law.

His short-term goal is to play well against current Metro standard-bearer Eastlake.

“I hope it’s a good game,” he said.

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