Lancers are No. 1-ranked Division III boys water polo team

Hilltop's Aidan Garces rises out of the water to take a shot on goal. Photo by Phillip Brents

The San Diego Section water polo playoffs are about to make a splash in both gender fields.

Division I and Division III playoff fields are scheduled to start June 8, followed by the Division II playoff field on June 9. Championship games are scheduled June 18-19 at Granite Hills High School.

Several South County teams look to extend their seasons when postseason play commences.

Hilltop High School carries a composite 24-2 record (12-0 boys, 12-2 girls) into Saturday’s final regular season games at El Capitan High School. The double-header faces off with a boys game at 8:30 a.m. between the Lancers and host Vaqueros (10-3) while Hilltop will engage the Lady Vaqueros (8-5) in a girls game at 9:30 a.m.

The section seeding meeting is scheduled the following day on Sunday (June 6).

The top-notch end to the 2020-21 season has been just what Hilltop head coach Ernie Medina wanted to see. The Lancers have had to make up ground following the conclusion of the 2019 season and the delayed start to this season.

“After Hilltop narrowly missed the opportunity to advance in the Division III playoffs in 2019, the boys made a pact to get better,” Medina said. “They have worked very hard and continue to work hard at practice and games. Mindset and focus have been the key for the boys and girls this season. We hope to go deep into CIF Division III.”

Medina is hoping all that hard work plays off with an upper end seed in the upcoming playoffs.

Hilltop’s boys squad enters Saturday’s season-ending double-header with a bid to finish regular season play with an undefeated record. The Lancers enter the contest ranked first among Division III schools ahead of No. 2-ranked Santa Fe Christian (8-3) and No. 3-ranked Scripps Ranch (7-5).

El Capitan, which is 6-2 in the Grossmont Valley League standings, is ranked ninth in Division II.

Hilltop’s girls team enters its regular season finale ranked third among Division III schools, trailing No. 1-ranked Valley Center (8-2) and No. 2-ranked Mira Mesa (7-0).

El Capitan (4-4 in league) is ranked eighth among Division II girls teams. Veteran coach Robin Sanchez recently picked up his 450th career win coaching girls water polo.

Hilltop High School’s boys and girls water polo teams finished as the automatic qualifiers for the San Diego Section playoffs representing Metro-South Bay League and Metro-Pacific League teams. Courtesy photos

Hilltop’s boys squad wrapped up an undefeated Metro-South Bay League schedule with a 22-6 victory against Olympian May 27 at the Las Palmas pool. Prior to that, the Lancers defeated Otay Ranch, 20-3, on May 25 in another game at the National City pool.

Hilltop’s girls team wrapped up league play with a 6-0 record following a 17-8 win against visiting San Ysidro on Wednesday (June 1) that built on a 17-4 win over Olympian May 27 at the Las Palmas pool. The Lady Lancers defeated Otay Ranch, 22-7, on May 25 after defeating San Ysidro, 19-4, on May 20.

The lop-sided scores are not a misprint. Hilltop previously defeated Otay Ranch (23-11 on May 13) and Olympian (18-0 on May 18) by large margins in first-round play.

The Metro Conference was split into three leagues for 2020-21 spring competition based on combined power rankings from both genders.

Hilltop, Olympian, Otay Ranch and San Ysidro comprised the Metro-South Bay League standings.

The Metro-Mesa League lineup included Mar Vista, Eastlake, Mater Dei Catholic and Bonita Vista.

The Metro-Pacific League lineup included Castle Park, Montgomery, Southwest and Chula Vista.

Not all teams completed their schedules.

Mar Vista was declared as the Metro-Mesa League champion in both gender fields and given automatic playoff berths while Hilltop received automatic playoff berths representing the Metro-South Bay League and Metro-Pacific League in both gender fields.

Castle Park finished as the top team in the Metro-Pacific League boys standings.

Mar Vista, heading into Friday’s final regular season game at Rancho Bernardo, is ranked 11th among both gender fields in Division I.

Hilltop’s Nic Garces fires a shot at Otay Ranch goalie Miroslav Segedinev in a game earlier this season. Photo by Phillip Brents

Riding the green wave
Hilltop faced off the season with non-league wins against Chula Vista (5-0 on April 28), High Tech High San Diego (16-4 on April 30), Francis Parker (16-9 on May 4), Serra (13-6 on May 6), Eastlake (17-13 on May 7) and Mater Dei Catholic (7-6 on May 11).

The win over Eastlake gave Hilltop its first inkling that something special might be in store this season.

Aidan Garces led the Lancers with seven goals while Raul Rico and Nicholas Garces followed on the scoresheet with four goals apiece. Carlos Mendez and Nikos Kapetanios both scored once while goalie Timothy Roa kept his team afloat with 18 saves.

Zane Derrod keyed the Titans, last year’s Mesa League co-champions (with Mar Vista?) with five goals, followed by Riley Anderson, Matt Bjornstad and Zach Shields each with two goals. Eduardo Maldonado and Gio Scheitt each scored one goal in support of goalie Jake Garcia (eight saves).

“Eastlake has a tradition of aquatic strength in the South Bay,” Medina noted. “We have always respected their talent and coaching staff. We feel that we were well prepared and felt good and honored to play with them at a high level of water polo. It was a good win.”

The Lancers opened up an early 4-0 lead on the Crusaders before MDC rallied to narrow the score to 5-4. Hilltop managed to preserve its lead at 6-5 before the Crusaders completed their comeback to tie the game, 6-all, with 3:37 to play in the final quarter.

The Lancers notched the game-winner with 3:29 to play in a rapid exchange of goals within a span of eight seconds. Nic Garces finally settled the issue with the final goal of the contest.

Seniors David Brown and David Dare led Mater Dei Catholic with two goals apiece.

Hilltop opened league play with a 24-11 win over Otay Ranch May 13 at the Parkway pool. Rico led the Lancers on the scoreboard with 11 goals while Nic Garces followed with five tallies. Aidan Garces scored four goals while Evan Rodriguez and Kapetanios both had one goal in support of Roa (12 saves).

Trystan Marshall paced the Mustangs with four goals while teammate Santiago Reyes scored three times.

Otay Ranch junior Trystan Marshall will be among the players to watch next season. Photo by Phillip Brents

Hilltop defeated Monte Vista, 19-3, in a non-league game on May 14, then topped Olympian, 22-7, in a league game on May 18 before capturing a 13-10 non-league decision from West Hills in a non-league game played May 19 at the Parkway pool.

Rico keyed the Lancers with six goals over a young Monte Vista team while Petros Kapetanios contributed four goals. Liam Romero broke through with three goals while Nikos Kapetanios and Rodriguez spread around the scoring with two goals each.

Rico paces Hilltop in season scoring.

Sophomore Caeleb Collins, junior Diego Vazquez and senior Josh Rivera each scored two goals for the Eagles (2-4 in league, 5-6 overall) in the last game against Hilltop while senior goalie Leonardo Martinez was credited with seven saves.

Otay Ranch edged Olympian, 16-14, on May 25 to sweep its two games against the Eagles and improve to 2-2 in league play (with a pair of no-contests against San Ysidro).

Otay Ranch defeated Castle Park, 15-13, in a double overtime non-league game on May 24. The game was tied at 10 through regulation. The Mustangs scored three times in the first overtime period and tacked on two more goals in the second overtime period to secure the victory.

Otay Ranch defeated Montgomery, 20-8, in another Metro-South Bay League/Metro-Pacific League cross-over game on May 21 after dealing league rival Olympian a 14-11 setback on May 20.

Senior Gavin Baldo led the Eagles with five goals in the loss to the Mustangs while Collins collected three goals in the game against east side rivals. Martinez had 12 goalie saves to buttress the winners.

Otay Ranch played several non-league games. Otay Ranch defeated Bonita Vista, 20-3, on April 30 and dropped identical 16-8 scores against Mater Dei Catholic on May 6 and May 14.

Olympian defeated Castle Park, 12-9, in a non-league game on May 11 as Metro-South Bay League teams generally held the upper hand over teams from the Metro-Pacific League.

Hilltop goalie Timothy Roa just says “no” to a shot by Otay Ranch. Photo by Phillip Brents

Metro-Mesa League
Mar Vista finished 6-0 playing a full schedule against Metro-Mesa League competition, followed in the standings by Mater Dei Catholic (3-3), Eastlake (3-3) and Bonita Vista (0-6).

Mar Vista (11-2 overall) defeated Mater Dei Catholic, 18-2, on Wednesday (June 2) behind six points from junior Ethan Hastings (five goals, one assist) and five points from junior Fletcher Field (three goals, two assists). Sophomore Bradford Dickson scored twice while leading the team with three defensive steals.

Sophomore Dylan Hartley (11 saves) and senior Jake Osthimer (six saves) both allowed one goal against the Crusaders (6-7 overall).

Mater Dei Catholic secured a tie for second place in the league standings after defeating Eastlake, 15-10, on May 27. Brown keyed the Crusaders with seven points (six goals, one assist) while Dare collected six points (five goals, one assist).

Mater Dei, led by Brown with five goals and two assists, defeated Bonita Vista, 20-10, on May 25.

Mar Vista previously defeated Mater Dei Catholic, 26-7, on May 20. Junior Carlos Ibarra keyed the Mariners with six points (five goals, one assist) while Hastings had five points (four goals, one assist). Brown paced the Crusaders with four goals.

Eastlake defeated Mater Dei Catholic, 15-10, in a first-round matchup on May 18. Dare led the Crusaders with four goals in the loss.

Bonita Vista finished its season 0-10, 0-6 in Metro-Mesa League play, following a 13-8 loss to Eastlake on Tuesday (June 1).

Hastings finished regular season play as Mar Vista’s top scorer with 75 points (49 goals, 26 assists) and 28 steals, followed by Ibarra with 69 points (52 goals, 17 assists) and Field with 61 points (41 goals, 20 assists).

Sophomore Trevor Rector ranked fourth on the team with 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) while junior T.C. Spaulding ranked fifth on the team with 34 points (21 goals, 13 assists), followed by junior Luke Wilson with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists).

A total of 10 players finished in double-digit scoring. Osthimer collected 25 points (18 goals, seven assists) to seventh in team scoring, followed by Dickson with 23 points (17 goals, nine assists), sophomore Nathan Crosby with 22 points (15 goals, seven assists) and Hartley with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists).

Wilson ranked second on the team with 24 steals, followed by Dickson had 21 steals, Rector with 20 steals, Ibarra with 19 steals, Spaulding with 18 steals and Field with 15 steals.

Hartley made 128 saves in 13 games.

Brown finished regular season play as Mater Dei Catholic’s top scorer with 53 points (45 goals, eight assists) and 31 steals, followed by senior Caleb Robinson with 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) and 29 steals. Dare finished third in team scoring with 37 points (31 goals, six assists) to go with 25 steals.

A total of six players finished with more than 20 scoring points. Gonzalez finished fourth on the team with 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) with 18 steals while Downey finished fifth in team scoring with 24 points (21 goals, three assists) while adding 11 steals. Freshman Zack Dare strung together 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) while adding 14 steals.

Gonzalez racked up 112 saves in 13 game appearances.

Dare and junior Leo Downey each scored four goals for Mater Dei Catholic in the win over Otay Ranch while Brown contributed three goals and two assists. Robinson had two goals and two assists while senior goalie Armando Gonzalez was credited with nine saves.

Metro-Pacific League
Castle Park (6-5 overall) finished as the top team in the Metro-Pacific League standings with a 6-0 league record, followed by Montgomery at 4-2, Southwest at 2-4 and Chula Vista at 0-6 in league play.

Montgomery is 5-5 overall. The Raiders are 3-4 overall while the Spartans are 0-9 overall.

Junior Ryland Humphrey finished as Castle Park’s top scorer en route to earning Metro-Pacific League player of the year recognition. Emilio Lugo and Kai MacFarland (South Bay League 50-yard freestyle swim champion) were also key players in the starting lineup, according to coach Mark Esquivel.

Other top returners included seniors David Bernal and Rodolfo Salas while veteran goalie Ivan Galindo had a “a tremendous year,” according to the CPHS coach, with a personal best 14 blocks in a game.

Castle Park swept Montgomery in the teams’ two league encounters, winning 19-10 on April 29 and 14-7 on May 18.

Castle Park swept Southwest in its two league matchups, winning 16-7 on June 1 and 15-8 on May 13. The Trojans defeated Chula Vista, 13-3, on May 4.

Castle Park dropped a 24-12 non-league encounter against Serra on May 7 and lost, 19-14, to High Tech High San Diego in a non-league game on April 27.

Montgomery defeated Southwest 15-11 on May 20 and 14-6 on May 4 for a two-game sweep over the Raiders.

The Aztecs dropped cross-over games against Otay Ranch (20-8 on May 21) and Olympian (11-5 on May 26). Monte Vista edged Montgomery, 11-10, on May 7 in a non-league game.

Hilltop’s Sunny Perkins takes a shot on the High Tech San Diego High goalie in an eary season game. Photo by Phillip Brents

Girl powered
Mar Vista (Metro-Mesa League) and Hilltop (Metro-South Bay League) were declared as league champions.

Mar Vista (6-0 in league) takes a 10-3 overall record into Friday’s final regular season game at Rancho Bernardo. The Lady Mariners wrapped up league play with a 13-4 win over Mater Dei Catholic on Wednesday as junior Tatum Billings led the MV scoring parade with five points (two goals, three assists) while senior Iliana Lopez scored three goals. Senior goalie Abbey Harbin made 11 saves while allowing two goals.

Senior Anna Cetnar led Mater Dei Catholic with a hat trick of her own while junior goalie Adriana Sammartano was credited with nine saves.

Team leaders for Mar Vista include Billings with 63 points (39 goals, 24 assists) and senior Annie Dickson with 59 points (41 goals, 18 assists). Junior Gabriela Murrieta ranks third on the team with 37 points (29 goals, eight assists), followed by Lopez with 32 points (20 goals, 12 assists). Harbin has made 126 saves in 13 games.

Hilltop’s two losses this season have come in non-league contests against Mater Dei Catholic (6-4 on May 11) and West Hills (6-4 on May 19). The Lady Lancers have recorded non-league wins against Chula Vista (13-3 on April 28), High Tech High (19-3 on April 30), Francis Parker (16-6 on May 4), Serra (13-3 on May 6), Mount Miguel (18-6 on May 7) and Monte Vista (20-3 on May 14).

Hilltop’s Hannah Zimmerman looks for a shooting lane. Photo by Phillip Brents

Mater Dei Catholic (8-6) is ranked immediately behind Hilltop among Division III teams. A playoff rematch could prove quite eventful.

Cetnar paces the Lady Crusaders with 42 points (32 goals, 10 assists) while senior Amalia Koch keys the team with 38 defensive steals.

Eastlake (3-3, 5-8 overall) is ranked sixth among Division II girls teams. The Lady Titans defeated Bonita Vista, 8-6, on Wednesday to wrap up league play. Junior Maegan Ruane led Eastlake with three goals while juniors Daniela Rivas and Melinda Espinosa both scored two goals. Senior Alexia Harlow made 13 saves to post the win.

Espinosa tops the Lady Titans with 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in 13 game appearances, followed by Ruane with 23 points (16 goals, seven assists) and Rivas with 17 points (15 goals, two assists). Espinosa also tops Eastlake in the defensive department with 48 steals.

Mater Dei Catholic defeated Eastlake, 6-5, on May 27 but dropped a 13-4 decision to Mar Vista on Wednesday to finish 3-3 in league play.

Southwest (8-1 overall) and Chula Vista (9-4 overall) finished tied atop the South Bay League standings with 7-1 league records.

The Lady Raiders defeated the Lady Spartans, 16-15, on May 6 while the Lady Spartans claimed a 15-12 win in the teams’ rematch on May 25.

Southwest is ranked sixth among Division III teams while Chula Vista is ranked seventh.

Otay Ranch goalie Miroslav Segedinev extends to make a save. Photo by Phillip Brents

Metro Conference
Boys Water Polo Standings

Metro-Mesa League

Mar Vista 6-0, 11-2

Mater Dei Catholic 3-3, 6-7

Eastlake 3-3, 4-8

Bonita Vista 0-6, 0-9


Metro-South Bay League

Hilltop 4-0, 12-0

Otay Ranch 2-2, 3-3

Olympian 0-4, 5-7

*San Ysidro did not field team


Metro-Pacific League

Castle Park 6-0, 6-5

Montgomery 4-2, 5-5

Southwest 2-4, 3-4

Chula Vista 0-6, 0-9

Hilltop’s Maria-Gracia Ortiz drives for possession of the ball. Photo by Phillip Brents


Metro Conference
Girls Water Polo Standings

Metro-Mesa League

Mar Vista 6-0, 10-3

Mater Dei Catholic 3-3, 8-6

Eastlake 3-3, 5-8

Bonita Vista 0-6, 3-9


Metro-South Bay League

Hilltop 6-0, 12-2

Otay Ranch 3-3, N/A

Olympian 2-4, 5-6

San Ysidro 1-5, 2-7


Metro-Pacific League

Southwest 7-1, 8-1

Chula Vista 7-1, 9-4

Sweetwater 3-5, 4-5

Montgomery 3-5, 3-10

Castle Park 0-6, N/A


Photo Gallery by Phillip Brents

Hilltop’s Carlos Mendez takes a shot.
Hilltop scoring leader Raul Rico sizes up a shot.
Nikos Kapetanios was a contributor this season as one of the team’s newcomers.
Hilltop’s Victoria Ryan looks for a passing lane.
Hilltop’s Maria-Gracia Ortiz squares off for a shot on the opponent’s cage.
Hilltop’s Makaylin MacIntyre looks to generate some offense from midcourt.
Hilltop’s Sunny Perkins looks to shoot.
Nic Garces – Hilltop’s lightning bolt
Veteran coach Ernie Medina weathered the storm this season to create league championship seasons — simultaneously — for both Hilltop’s boys and girls water polo teams.



Metro-Mesa League champion Mar Vista (12-2) received the No. 1 seed in the Division I boys playoffs while Metro-South Bay League champion Hilltop (13-0) received the No. 1 seed in the Division III boys playoffs.

Metro-Mesa League champion Mar Vista (11-4) received the No. 5 seed in the Division I girls playoffs while Metro-South Bay League champion Hilltop (12-3) received the No. 3 seed in the Division III girls playoffs.

Eastlake (4-8) received the No. 11 seed in the Division I boys field

Mater Dei Catholic (6-7) received the No. 11 seed in the Division II boys field

Otay Ranch (5-4) received the No. 9 seed in the Division III boys field

Olympian (5-7) received the No. 11 seed in the Division III boys field while Metro-Pacific League champion Castle Park (6-5) received the No. 12 seed in the Division III boys field.

Eastlake (5-8) received the No. 7 seed in the Division II girls field

Mater Dei Catholic (8-6) received the No. 2 seed in the Division III girls field while Chula Vista (9-4) received the No. 6 seed in the same field.

Otay Ranch (4-7) received the No. 11 seed in the Division III girls playoffs while  Southwest (8-1) received a play-in game against Serra to start the Division III girls playoffs.