The 2011 high school boys water polo season is gaining momentum with each game as November’s San Diego Section playoff tournament approaches. An elite core of South County teams appears to be in the competitive mix this season, with the Eastlake Titans challenging for a top five seed in the Division I playoffs, and the Division II and Division III playoffs expected to include additional Metro Conference teams.
The San Diego Open tournament, which starts Monday and is slated to conclude with championship finals Oct. 29, serves as an annual barometer for the upcoming section playoffs. Forty teams are entered this year, including Eastlake in the event’s elite eight field.
Joining the Titans with top eight seeds are Granite Hills, Grossmont, Valhalla and Santana along with Bishop’s, Santa Fe Christian and Torrey Pines.
Eastlake draws Granite Hills and Grossmont — teams vying with the Titans for upper-end spots in the division rankings — in back-to-back games on Monday at the Montgomery Middle School pool (across the street from Granite Hills High School). EHS head coach Chris Barrick said his squad welcomes the opportunity to prove it is worthy of an elite seed come the CIF playoffs.
Eastlake dropped a 9-5 non-league decision to third-ranked Torrey Pines last Friday in a game played at UC San Diego.
Torrey Pines and Granite Hills have split games this season, with the Eagles claiming a 7-6 overtime decision on Oct. 1 after falling to the Falcons, 7-5, in the championship game of the season opening Poway Invitational.
With 2010 Division II champion Scripps Ranch moving up to Division I this season, the division is starting to get top-heavy with deserving teams.
“We’re doing OK — we’re getting a few things ironed out,” Barrick said. “I think we will be all right. Right now we’re ranked sixth, and we’d like to be at least fifth heading into the playoffs.”
Eastlake played the Falcons, the reigning Poway Invitational champions, to a 2-2 standoff in the early stages of the second quarter. However, the quarter ended with Torrey Pines holding a 7-3 halftime lead. The Titans matched the Falcons with a pair of goals in the second half.
Eastlake gave up one six-on-five goal in three man-down situations while scoring once on five Falcon ejections.
“Against Torrey Pines, it was just mental mistakes that hurt us,” Barrick said. “Four of their goals came off of their very aggressive press defense and counter attack. Our defense was good and for the most part held their half-court offense in check. We had a total of 16 team steals, but had a hard time generating consistent offense against their press.”
Patrick Lenihan led Torrey Pines with four goals while five other Falcons scored singletons. Titan goalie Rhett McGinty had seven saves while Adam Hilborn and Dylan Chase each scored two goals. Mike Tong had the other EHS goal.
The Titans continued to make a push toward securing their fourth consecutive Mesa League championship by defeating the Otay Ranch Mustangs, 19-4, Wednesday evening at the Southwestern College pool.
Hilborn, Tong and Johnny Velasquez each scored four goals for Eastlake, which improved to 5-0 in league play, 12-8 overall.
Tyler Rowean scored two goals while Chase, Eric Hum, Daniel Lord, Kevin Cochrane and Jian Laxina each chipped in with one goal.
McGinty made nine saves while EHS teammate Brian Porter had five saves.
Gio Lucatero, Miguel Montes, Mack Markham and J. Ramos each scored single goals for Otay Ranch, which dropped to 0-3 in league play, 1-5 overall.
Mustang goalie Erik Stoke continued his fine play this season with six point-blank stops.
Otay Ranch was coming off an 18-5 league setback to Hilltop last Friday. Erwin Samson led the Mustangs with two goals while Kyle Petrin, Markham and David Castello each scored once. Jake Hamner and Stoke each collected three saves in the contest played at the Loma Verde pool.
Stuart Sokil and Rodrigo Perez led Hilltop with five goals each.
Also entered in next week's massive San Diego Open tourney from the South Bay are Hilltop, Mar Vista, Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch. Pool sites include Valhalla, Granite Hills (Montgomery Middle), Helix, Santana, El Capitan, Monte Vista and Bishop's high schools.