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Southwestern College men's water polo team no longer treading water Phillip Brents | Fri, Oct 21 2011 02:31 AM

The Pacific Coast Athletic Conference men’s championship water polo tournament is scheduled Nov. 4-5 at Palomar College. The Southwestern College Jaguars have a game plan this year: avoid being seeded fourth or fifth in the five-team field.

“The fourth seed plays the fifth seed in the opening round and the winner gets the top seed,” SWC coach Jorge Ortega explained.

The top-seeded team is likely to be the Grossmont Griffins, who have recorded two decisive victories over the Jaguars so far this season.

Grossmont defeated Southwestern, 17-5, on Wednesday (Oct. 19) to improve to 6-0 in PCAC play and 16-3 overall. The Griffins previously rang up a 23-4 win over SWC in first round play.

The Jaguars are 2-4 in PCAC play, 4-10 overall.

Southwestern’s men’s program is undergoing a water polo revival, though the casual fan might not notice it by the team’s record. The Jags have defeated PCAC rivals Palomar and Miramar in first-round match-ups along with non-conference victories against L.A. Trade Tech and Saddleback.

Southwestern has key second round contests scheduled Oct. 24 at Palomar and Oct. 26 against Miramar (at the Jags’ pool). Victories in both games could land SWC as high as a No. 3 seed for the upcoming championship tournament.

“If we can avoid playing the No. 1 seed, we might be able to take our chances and maybe get into the championship game,” Ortega said.

The top two place-finishers from the PCAC finals advance to the Southern California regional championships. The top two place-finishers from the regional tournament advance to the state championship.

The Griffins have won 11 of the last 13 conference championships and longtime coach Brian Harvey likes the chances of this year’s team to repeat.

“We’ve very balanced this year,” said Harvey, who has guided the Grossmont program since 1989. “We’d like to win the conference title and guarantee ourselves a trip to the regional tournament and see what we can do about qualifying for the state championship, but it’s going to be tough to be one of the top two teams at the regional.”

The favorites to advance to the state finals from the Southern California regional are Golden West and Long Beach City, both of which have a large number of European players on their rosters.

Long Beach City is 17-2; Golden West is 19-2.

If the Griffins are the favorites to win the PCAC, who might be favored to meet them in the championship game?

Ortega doesn’t want to count out his team just yet.

The Jaguars dropped a 19-16 first-round decision to San Diego Mesa and were hoping to make amends for that setback in the teams’ Oct. 5 rematch. But an injury to SWC standout Justin Kruse (Eastlake) left the Jags depleted in the water. The Olympians won 11-4.

Kruse did not play in Wednesday’s game against Grossmont but could return to the line-up for Monday’s crucial match against Palomar.

Luis Pementel keyed Southwestern with two goals in the loss to the Griffins while Leonardo Perez (Hilltop) and Ian Muhlbach (Eastlake) each scored one goal and added an assist. Gabe de Maria y Campos (Eastlake) scored one goal while Muhlbach led the team with six steals. Alejandro Castenda (Montgomery) was credited with eight saves in three quarters of cage duty while Tony Weidinger (Mt. Miguel) had three saves in one quarter.

Grossmont’s scoring was spread among 10 players. Trey Davis (Dana Point) and Julian Myers (Torrey Pines) led the Griffins with three goals each while Tyler Ormsby (Valhalla), Daniel Straub (Patrick Henry) and James Smith (Garden Grove) all contributed two goals.

Steven Perdew (Cathedral Catholic), Bryant Davies (Grossmont), Tom Bruce (Australia), Shane Brown (West Hills) and Devin Stone (Merced) each scored once.

Bryan Cook (Cathedral Catholic) and Jackson Ross (University City) combined to make five saves for the victors.

Ormsby tops the Griffins with 61 goals to go along with 24 assists and 41 steals while Davis has accumulated 54 goals, 31 assists and 41 steals. Perdew had 37 goals, 30 assists and 33 steaks while Myers had 34 goals, 30 assists and 16 steals and Davies had 24 goals, 10 assists and 23 steals. Cook has 102 goalie saves to his credit this season while Ross has made 93 saves.

Muhlbach ranks fourth in the state in total points with 48 goals, 12 assists and 52 steals (just ahead of both Davis and Ormsby).

Pimentel ranks second on the SWC scoring ledger with 27 goals, 12 assists and 12 steals while de Maria y Campos has collected 23 goals, 14 assists and 12 steals. Prior to his injury, Kruse had racked up 17 goals, nine assists and 16 steals.

Castandea tops the Jags netminder duo with 72 saves to Weidinger’s 27 stops.

Muhlbach had four goals while Perez, Pimentel and Manny Gambino (Chula Vista) each scored three goals in the win over Palomar on Sept. 26 while Weidinger made eight saves.

In the victory against Miramar on Sept. 28, Muhlbach had five goals and three steals while Pimentel had three goals.

Ortega feels the Jaguars program has turned the corner as far as recruiting goes.

“The goal for our program is to keep the South Bay guys playing in the South Bay,” the SWC coach said. “I’ve had a full year and off-season to scout the local high school talent and talk with some of the coaches. It’s starting to show results for us already and, I think, will only get better as the word of mouth spreads. Guys from Bonita will see their guys playing here, and guys from Eastlake will see their guys playing here and the same for the other local high school teams. Friends will tell their friends, and really, that’s the best recruiting tool we have.”

With a 1-24 record last season, there is certainly nowhere to go but up. And the season isn’t over quite yet, as far as Ortega is concerned.

“We’re going to try to get those wins (we need),” he said.

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