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Torrey Pines water polo team all fired up

CARMEL VALLEY — In the world of high school sports, graduation can sometimes make or break a team. The loss of a few key senior athletes could mean a season or two of rebuilding — or as one coach preferred to put it, reloading — making development at the novice and junior varsity levels all the more critical.
If the recently completed 2008 season is any indication, it appears the Torrey Pines High School boys water polo team is armed and ready for success for the next several years.
Following a league switch this year from Palomar to Avocado, the three squads compiled an impressive 29-1 league record, with varsity and novice going undefeated.
Noting that the level of competition was slightly higher in the Palomar League, head coach Rob Tilburg said Avocado League teams such as Escondido and Fallbrook still gave his boys a run for their money, with three of those four varsity match-ups ending in one-point victories.
For Torrey Pines — and district rival La Costa Canyon — the league switch helped level the playing field — or deck, in the case of water polo. Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon were the only two schools in the Palomar League without on-campus pools. In the Avocado League, Fallbrook is the only school with an on-site facility.
For Torrey Pines, that meant practices and home games on weeknights from 7 to 9:30 at the University of California San Diego. That kind of schedule requires an increased level of commitment not only on the part of the athletes, but from the parents as well — especially parents of novice players since they are underclassmen who don’t drive.
According to Cal State San Marcos student Jose Vasquez, the Falcons first-year novice coach, it’s that commitment combined with a sense that they are “a unit and not just individuals” that helped his squad achieve success and improve throughout the season.
“It’s that mentality that makes a team,” Vasquez said. “They all did a great job.”
Freshman goalie Nick Lyon agreed. “We have all become better in our specific position, but more than that, we work better as a unit than we did at the beginning of the season,” Nick said.
Of the 13 athletes on the novice squad, less than a third had ever played the game before joining the high school team. “But they were a very coachable bunch of guys,” Vasquez said. “It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster but it’s been fun. I played their strengths instead of their weaknesses and tried to make it as fun as possible. It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun.
“That doesn’t mean I’m soft or let them be late for practice,” Vasquez said. “I tried to make them learn commitment, to work hard and do their best and be a team. If they take that away, I did my job.”
With a varsity squad consistently seeded among the top teams in Division 1 — Torrey Pines finished second to Carlsbad in the CIF championships from 2004 to 2006 — Vasquez is also tasked with training new players so he can provide Tilburg with enough ammunition to keep that winning tradition going strong.