A generous helping of 14 South County high school water polo teams looked to extend their seasons when postseason play commenced June 8-9 in both gender fields in the 2021 San Diego Section playoffs.
For the first time in section history, both boys and girls championship playoffs were held concurrently. This year’s finals included eight consecutive games June 19 at Granite Hills High School.
It was a season like none other with competition in boys water polo and girls water polo – which traditionally play in the fall and winter seasons, respectively – playing side by side not only in the spring but post-graduation.
Some schools had already held graduation ceremonies up to three weeks by the time the final division champion was officially crowned.
Local playoff qualifiers included Metro-Mesa League champion Mar Vista (boys and girls), Metro-South Bay League champion Hilltop (boys and girls) and Metro-Pacific League champions Castle Park (boys) and Southwest and Chula Vista (girls co-champions).
At large qualifiers from South County pools included Mater Dei Catholic (boys and girls), Eastlake (boys and girls), Otay Ranch (boys and girls) and Olympian (boys).
Making a splash
Hilltop High School carried a composite 25-3 record (13-0 boys, 12-3 girls) into the Division III playoffs as dual Metro-South Bay League champions. The Lancers boys team was the first in school history to complete an undefeated regular season.
Hilltop received the No. 1 seed in the Division III boys bracket while the Lancer ladies received the No. 3 seed in the Division III girls bracket behind second-seeded Mater Dei Catholic, the Metro-Mesa League runner-up team.
The No. 1 seed was a definite reward for more than a year of arduous hard work after narrowly missing the 2019 CIF playoffs and having the 2020 season pushed back seven months because of the COVIV-19 pandemic.
“The boys made a pact to get better,” Hilltop head coach Ernie Medina said. “Mindset and focus were the key for the boys and girls this season.”
Hilltop hoped to go deep into the Division III playoffs. Both teams won their opening quarterfinal matches but were both embroiled in contentious semifinal games.
The Hilltop boys captured a tense 12-11 double overtime victory over fifth-seeded West Hills while the Lancer girls team (13-4) came up short by a 4-3 score against Mater Dei Catholic.
Of the 14 Metro Conference playoff entrants, Hilltop and Mater Dei Catholic were the only two teams to make the finals.
Hilltop carried a 5-4 lead into the waning moments of the Division III boys championship game against sixth-seeded Ramona but was unable to hold the lead as the Bulldogs reversed course to capture a last-second 6-5 victory to deal the No. 1 seeded Lancers (15-1) a heartbreaking ending to the season.
Mater Dei Catholic (10-7) dropped an 11-4 decision to top-seeded Valley Center in the Division III girls championship game.
Mar Vista swept to gender championships in Metro-Mesa League competition with 6-0 league records. The Mariners received the No. 1 seed in the Division I boys playoffs while Mar Vista’s girls team received the No. 5 seed in the Division I girls playoffs.
Both teams won their first playoff matches — the boys, 5-4, over eighth-seeded Torrey Pines and the girls, 16-6, over 12th-seeded Torrey Pines.
The Mariners saw their seasons both end in the ensuing round. Mar Vista (13-3) dropped a tight 7-6 contest to fourth-seeded Poway in the boys semifinals while the girls team (11-5) came up short in an 8-6 quarterfinal-round loss to fourth-seeded Rancho Bernardo.
Eastlake received the No. 11 seed in the Division I boys field while Mater Dei Catholic received the No. 11 seed in the Division II boys field.
Neither team was able to advance in their respective brackets. Eastlake (4-9) suffered a 16-10 loss to sixth-seeded San Pasqual while Mater Dei Catholic (6-8) dropped a 21-4 decision to sixth-seeded Fallbrook.
Otay Ranch (5-4) received the No. 9 seed in the Division III boys field while Olympian (5-7) received the No. 11 seed in the Division III boys field. Both teams went out in the opening round.
Otay Ranch (5-5) ended its season with a 12-6 loss to eighth-seeded High Tech High San Diego while Olympian (5-8) lost 17-9 to eventual division champion Ramona.
Metro-Pacific League champion Castle Park (6-6) received the No. 12 seed in the Division III boys field but lost, 15-3, to West Hills in the opening round.
Metro-Pacific League co-champion Chula Vista (10-5) received the No. 6 seed in the Division III girls field and defeated 11th-seeded Otay Ranch (4-8) by a score of 10-6 in the opening round to meet Metro-South Bay League champion Hilltop in the quarterfinals.
The Lancer ladies won 15-3 to advance to the semifinals.
Southwest (9-2) defeated Serra in a Division III girls play-in game, spearheaded by Metro-Pacific League Player of the Year Mariel Origel, a senior, but was unable to advance past fifth-seeded San Marcos following an 18-1 setback.
Mater Dei Catholic received the No. 2 seed in the Division III girls field and won two games to advance to the championship game against Valley Center. The Lady Crusaders defeated seventh-seeded Mira Mesa, 8-3, in the quarterfinals before slipping past Hilltop in the semifinals.
The Metro Conference was split into three leagues for 2020-21 spring competition based on combined power rankings from both gender fields.
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 finished 6-0 in both genders while playing a full schedule against Metro-Mesa League competition. Following the Mariners in the boys standings were Mater Dei Catholic (3-3), Eastlake (3-3) and Bonita Vista (0-6).
Following Mar Vista in the Metro-Mesa League girls standings were Mater Dei Catholic (3-3), Eastlake (3-3) and Bonita Vista (0-6).
The Metro-South Bay League boys standings included Hilltop at 4-0, Otay Ranch at 2-2 and Olympian at 0-4 with San Ysidro not fielding a team.
The Metro-South Bay League girls standings featured Hilltop at 6-0, Otay Ranch at 3-3, Olympian at 2-4 and San Ysidro at 1-5.
Castle Park finished as the top team in the Metro-Pacific League boys 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 finished regular season play 5-5 overall. The Raiders were 3-4 overall while the Spartans were 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 for the back-to-back league champion Trojans 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.
“Goalie Ivan Galindo lead the team in blocks while Kai MacFarland helped defensively leading the team in steals, followed up by Emilo Lugo who came in with most assists and goals behind Ryland Humphrey,” Esquivel said.
Southwest tied Chula Vista atop the Metro-Pacific League girls standings with 7-1 records, followed by Sweetwater and Montgomery, both with 3-5 league records, and Castle Park at 0-6.
“The Lady Raiders had a spectacular season finishing with a 9-2 record and a 7-1 league record,” Southwest coach Jon Carson said. “Mariel Origel dominated the girls Pacfic League in helping lead the Lady Raiders to their league championship banner. Mariel played a key role as lead scorer and in helping the Lady Raiders beat Serra High in the first round of CIF playoffs.
“Jasmin Chavez and Annia Cruz led the team in assist and goals behind Mariel Origel.”
Metro-Mesa League Player of the Year Ethan Hastings finished regular season play as Mar Vista’s top scorer with 78 points (51 goals, 27 assists) and 30 steals, followed by junior teammate Carlos Ibarra with 69 points (52 goals, 17 assists) and classmate Fletcher Field with 64 points (43 goals, 21 assists).
Sophomore goalie Dylan Hartley made 138 saves in 14 games.
Senior David 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. Senior David Dare finished third in team scoring with 37 points (31 goals, six assists) to go with 25 steals.
Senior goalie Armando Gonzalez racked up 112 saves in 13 game appearances.
Regular season team leaders for Mar Vista’s girls team included junior Tatum Billings with 68 points (41 goals, 25 assists) and senior Annie Dickson with 63 points (45 goals, 18 assists). Junior Gabriela Murrieta ranked third on the team with 39 points (31 goals, eight assists). Senior goalie Abbey Harbin made 126 saves in 13 games.
Senior Anna Cetnar paced the Lady Crusaders with 42 points (32 goals, 10 assists) while senior Amalia Koch keyed the team with 38 defensive steals.
Junior Melinda Espinosa topped Eastlake with 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in 13 regular season game appearances, followed by junior Maegan Ruane with 23 points (16 goals, seven assists) and junior Daniela Rivas with 17 points (15 goals, two assists). Espinosa also topped Eastlake in the defensive department with 48 steals.
Olympian sophomore Caeleb Collins scored 21 goals in eight games while senior Gavin Baldo had 21 goals in seven games.
METRO PACIFIC LEAGUE ALL-LEAGUE WATER POLO TEAMS
Ryland Humphrey (Castle Park) 11
Alex Uribe (Montgomery) 12
Alexis Colmenares (Southwest) 12
Emilio Lugo (Castle Park) 11
Aziel Juarez (Montgomery) 10
Carlo Lira (Southwest) 11
Axel Jimenez (Montgomery) 10
Jovan Checo (Montgomery) 10
David Bernal (Castle Park) 12
Ivan Galindo (Castle Park) 11
Ian Pimentel (Southwest) 10
Omar Alvarez (Montgomery) 10
Diego Lugo (Montgomery) 10
Hector Martinez (Castle Park) 11
Kai MacFarland (Castle Park) 11
Arturo Aguilar (Southwest) 12
Pablo Ahumada (Castle Park) 11
Joel Salazar (Southwest) 12
Samuel Gonzalez (Montgomery) 9
Sebastian Silva (Castle Park) 11
Athlete of the Year
Ryland Humphrey (Castle Park)
Castle Park High School
Mariel Origel (Southwest) 12
Jazmin Chavez (Southwest) 12
Gitzel Herrera (Chula Vista) 12
Lizette Herrera (Chula Vista) 11
Brianna Jean (Montgomery) 11
Jennifer Quevedo (Sweetwater) 12
Arlyssa Hernandez (Castle Park) 12
Annia Cruz (Southwest) 12
Derell San Agustin (Sweetwater) 10
Roxanna Aguilera (Southwest) 10
Keilyn Duarte (Montgomery) 12
Asile Chavoya (Montgomery) 12
America Cortez (Sweetwater) 10
Ariana Valenzuela (Castle Park) 12
Genesis Sanchez (Southwest) 10
Aylin Cruz (Southwest) 9
Victoria Ruiz (Montgomery) 11
Karina Serrato (Sweetwater) 9
Melanie Gallegos (Sweetwater) 12
Shailyn Hillery (Chula Vista) 10
Athlete of the Year
Mariel Origel (Southwest)
Southwest High School
Chula Vista High School