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Riding the Green Wave: Hilltop alum returns to alma mater to coach Lancers polo team Phillip Brents | Fri, Aug 29 2014 12:44 PM

Ernie Medina is heading home, and he sees that as a highlight in his long coaching career.

Medina, one of the South Bay’s veteran coaches with 30 years of coaching experience, has assumed the head coaching position of the boys water polo team at Hilltop High School, his alma mater.

A 1978 HHS graduate, Medina coached the Lancers previously from 1991-95, winning a share of one league championship. He began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater before taking the head coaching job at Chula Vista High School from 1981-86.

He coached at the Chula Vista Aquatic Association from 1986-91 and, after leaving Hilltop the first time, coached water polo at Crawford High School and later at Otay Ranch High School, where he coached both the girls and boys water polo teams.

Medina said he is excited about the move back to his home school and the possibilities that could be in store for the Lancers this season.

With a total of 37 participants in the program, Hilltop should be strong in the numbers game at the varsity level, he said.

Gaining experience will be the top order this season as returning varsity players are at a minimum.

“We have lots of JV players from last year who have moved up and have improved,” Medina explained. “We have three goalies bidding for the top spot — that’s a luxury I have not had for a while. We also have two lefty field players, and that’s another luxury I have not had in a while. We have quite a few players with offseason polo experience.”

Top players include juniors Emilio Maldonado, Anthony Torrol, Austin Kober and Josh Fischer, sophomores Caleb Macias, Noah Collins and Ivan Corona, and seniors Gregorio Del Rio, Wyatt Schmidt, Jovanny Astorga, Franco Venyoso, Ivan Gonzalez and Ivan Sandoval.

Maldonado is a returning varsity player and team captain. He earned second team all-league honors off last year’s 14-13 team finish.

Torrol played both in the cage and in the field for last season’s JV team. Medina has been impressed by Torrol’s strong play at both positions and noted that Torrol will likely see double-duty action this season.

Kober is another strong utility player up from the JV ranks. The Hilltop coach cited Kober’s knowledge of the game as one of his strengths after being one of the key players on the Mustangs South Coast Water Polo club team during summer league play.

Medina said Macias, another player from last season’s JV squad, has improved greatly and was the top defensive guard for the MSC Water Polo Club in the 16U Division over the summer.

Medina calls Collins, a returning varsity player, a “fast and athletic player.”

The new Lancer coach noted that Del Rio returns to the goalie position after a year off from an injury. “He has improved after playing with the Nado Club during the offseason,” Medina said.

Schmidt ranks as one of the fastest swimmers in the Mesa League after placing third at last spring’s league finals in the 100-yard backstroke as a junior.

Fischer, the 2014 Mesa League Diver of the Year, is making the jump up from the JV ranks. “He’s fast and strong in the field,” Medina noted.

Astorga, another JV player last year, is a good sprinter and also has a strong arm. Medina said Venyoso is another strong swimmer who has a strong arm.

Newcomers looking to break into the varsity lineup include sophomores Andres Uribe, Daniel Godinez and Emilio Cruz.
What does it all add up to in Medina’s homecoming season? Something likely very good, it seems.

The MSC club won its 16U division in the San Diego East County Summer League while the 18U team finished third in the standings.

Medina produced eight league girls water polo championships at Otay Ranch. He equally likes the fit in Lancer green and black.

“We have 13 to 14 strong varsity players,” Medina explained. “The kids who played summer league have an advantage with experience coming into the high school season. If the kids can play as a team, they’ll thrive. The prospect is awesome.”

The Lancers got off to a promising start despite absorbing an 8-7 setback to Rancho Bernardo in last Saturday’s ninth annual Draz Classic at the Granite Hills High School pool. Hilltop rallied from a 5-4 halftime deficit to tie the game with 45 seconds to play on a man-up goal by Collins.

The Broncos scored the game-winner with 31 seconds to play, and Hilltop barely missed notching the equalizer in the dying seconds.

Maldonado led the Lancers with four goals while Kober and Schmidt also matched Collins with single goals.

Besides continued player development, the emphasis will be on pride and tradition this year, Medina noted.

“We’re trying to bring back the glory days of Hilltop,” Medina said. “We want to develop a strong sense of pride in water polo and to play at a high level. Former coach John Salts did a 13-year stint and he deserves a lot of credit.

“We have a wall of fame at school and some of the coaches on it include Randy Coutts and Greg Ormsby in the 1960s and 1970s, Lynn Garcia in the 1980s, myself in the 1990s and John Salts in the 2000s.”

In fact, in celebrating its past, Hilltop will hold its annual alumni game Friday, Aug. 29, starting at 3 p.m. at the Parkway pool.

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