The Mater Dei Catholic High School boys water polo team, led by junior standout Ben Brown, turned in a record-setting season in 2016.
The Crusaders won their first Mesa League championship as Brown set personal and school records for offensive output.
“The biggest factor for our success was team unity,” MDCHS coach Guy Souza explained. “Team unity translates into good team defense and that helped us become successful.”
Mater Dei Catholic’s dominance in the pool was apparent early in the season when the team won the championship title of the East County Invitational and, in the process, recorded a school-record 12-game winning streak.
The Crusaders (18-10 overall) won their opening five league games before hitting a bump in the road by dropping three of four contests. But Souza’s team finished strong with a timely 16-7 win against Otay Ranch to nail down this year’s league title.
Mater Dei Catholic finished with a record of seven wins and three losses in league play. The Crusaders finished one game ahead of runner-up Eastlake (6-4 in league play).
Brown earned honors as this year’s Mesa League Player of the Year. He finished the season with 121 goals and added 91 assists for 212 points. He previously scored 125 goals and 185 points as a freshman and 113 goals and 175 points as a sophomore.
The Crusaders received the No. 8 seed in the San Diego Section Division II playoffs and hosted ninth-seeded La Jolla Country Day in a first-round game on Nov. 8.
Mater Dei Catholic won 11-7 behind three goals and three assists from Brown and four goals and one assist from senior left-hander Michael Garcia. Sophomore Juan Hernandez contributed three goals and two assists while senior Roberto Jimenez added one goal and one assist.
Brown led the team defensively with 10 steals while junior goalie Dionisio Saucedo made 14 saves.
The Crusaders’ season of plenty ended in the quarterfinals on Nov. 12 with a 15-8 loss to top-seeded Valley Center.
Hernandez led the Mesa League champions in the game with four goals and two assists while Brown collected four goals and one assist. Garcia and Jimenez each were credited with one assist.
Mater Dei Catholic was down 4-1 at the end of the first quarter and trailed 9-3 at halftime in fighting an uphill battle.
Valley Center would go on to win the division title with a 12-6 victory against sixth-seeded San Pasqual.
Hernandez finished second on the team with 77 goals and 116 points. He also received recognition on the All-Mesa League first team.
Garcia (38 goals, 61 points) earned honors on the all-league second team.
While Brown and Hernandez took care of the team’s primary offensive needs, Saucedo, a newcomer, backstopped the team’s defense.
Saucedo had never played water polo before Aug. 10 when he came out for the team. “He made 164 saves for our team and was a major factor in our success,” Souza said.
Metro Conference All-League Teams
Ben Brown (Mater Dei Catholic) 11
Matt Olimski (Otay Ranch) 12
Mark Estrada (Hilltop) 11
Zach Hastings (Mar Vista) 10
Cooper Maestre (Otay Ranch) 12
Cayden Pangelinan (Eastlake) 10
Juan Hernandez (Mater Dei Catholic) 10
Emiliano Castro (Bonita Vista) 10
Daniel Calzada (Bonita Vista) 12
Michael Garcia (Mater Dei Catholic) 12
Ivan Hernandez (Otay Ranch) 12
Caleb Macias (Hilltop) 12
Jesse DeAlva (Eastlake) 11
Bryce Heber (Mar Vista) 10
Player of the Year
Ben Brown (Mater Dei Catholic)
Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders
SOUTH BAY LEAGUE
Adreyan Hernandez (Olympian) 12
D.J. O’Brien (Olympian) 12
Jose Guzman (San Ysidro) 12
Enrique Balvaneda (San Ysidro) 10
Brandon Sanchez (Olympian) 12
Johnder Hernandez (Southwest) 12
Austin Greenwell (Olympian) 12
Alan Contreras (Olympian) 12
Hector Garcia (Chula Vista) 12
Riley Romero (Southwest) 11
Victor Garcia (San Ysidro) 11
Carlos Andy Ruiz (San Ysidro) 12
Antonio Saldana (San Ysidro) 12
Noah Collins (Olympian) 12
Player of the Year
D.J. O’Brien (Olympian)
SAN DIEGO SECTION
BOYS WATER POLO PLAYOFFS
(6) Westview 15, (11) Eastlake 5
(8) Mater Dei Catholic 11, (9) La Jolla Country Day 7
(6) San Pasqual 9, (11) Otay Ranch 2
(1) Valley Center 15, (8) Mater Dei Catholic 8
(8) Monte Vista 15, (9) San Ysidro 13
(2) Olympian 11, (7) Mission Bay 7
(3) San Dieguito Academy 12, (2) Olympian 9
San Diego Section Champions
Open Division: Vista Panthers
Division I: San Marcos Knights
Division II: Valley Center Jaguars
Division III: Helix Highlanders