In coming years, Nipomo High may look back at this season as the year its boys water polo team truly established itself as a program on the rise.
The Titans picked up their first CIF-Southern Section playoff win Thursday afternoon, routing Arroyo Valley 20-8 at home to advance to the Division 7 quarterfinals.
“I’m hoping to carry on the tradition these guys are starting,” fourth-year coach Justin Jewell said of his players. “It’s always fun to be at the forefront of a new tradition. There’s nothing better.”
Nipomo (18-7), which moved from the PAC 7 into the Los Padres League this past offseason, a situation more reflective of its enrollment, ended the regular season ranked No. 3 in the division.
With Thursday’s win, the Titans advanced to face either Orange (the Golden West League champion) or Garden Grove (a wild card that came into that matchup as a sizable underdog). Nipomo will travel for the quarterfinal round Saturday.
One reason for the season of program firsts is simply added experience. The Titans’ starting lineup is made up entirely of juniors, following a sophomore-heavy roster that paid its dues in 2009.
“This year’s good,” goalkeeper Kirk Wilenius said, “but next year, we still have that (to make a title run), because everyone’s coming back.”
Added Jewell: “I’m still trying to coach to the young mind, but they’ve really been playing their best water polo at the right time.“This team definitely has an upside.”
Perhaps another source of all the improvement, though, is a diversified collective of talents Nipomo has reaped from an 18-player roster comprised of multiple cross-sport athletes — a rare luxury in the realm of specialized aquatics.
“I’m blessed with thoroughbred athletes,” Jewell said. “I have athletes that can play any sport. They can pick up anything from a basketball to a soccer ball to a baseball — they can do it all. I attribute all our success to them being coachable and being great athletes.”
For example, Wilenius, who had eight saves before being substituted out before the fourth quarter on Thursday with the contest well in hand, is also a 6-foot-5 post presence for the Titans’ basketball team.
Cole Holloway and Marc Baker, each of whom netted a team-leading six goals on Thursday, are both stars on the baseball team, as well.“We have a few baseball players,” Holloway said, “and the arm strength and throwing (brought over from that sport) is very valuable.”
Brennan Bryant, Connor Cavazos and J.W. Dobbe also had two goals apiece in the first-round win.
“Communication was key today,” Holloway said. “There was a lot of passing and facilitating and moving the ball.
“It’s just a brotherhood out there.”
Nogales was the bracket’s No. 2 seed, behind only LPL nemesis Santa Ynez, with whom the Titans are hoping for a rematch in the division finals on Nov. 20 at William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine.
“We’re driven to meet up with them again,” Jewell said of the Pirates. “I believe we deserve to meet up with them again.”