High School Sports

Boys Water Polo: Arroyo Grande Eagles still look like PAC 7’s best in the pool


Just a minute and 10 seconds into its match at Nipomo High on Tuesday, the Arroyo Grande boys water polo team lost any chance of a shutout.

“We came out pretty slow in the first couple minutes of the first quarter,” Eagles senior Eric Marsh said.

That didn’t last long.

After giving up the contest’s first score, the Eagles tallied 10 consecutive goals in the first quarter alone on their way to an 18-4 win.

“We’ve been working a lot on defense, and I think that’s something that’s showing a little bit more,”Arroyo Grande coach Steven Allen said. “And offensively, we were able to get a lot of people the ball.”

Marsh and Ryan Higginbotham each had a match-high three goals for Arroyo Grande (3-3), which had 12 players score.

The Eagles have plenty of new faces, as last year’s team that went 27-4, falling in the CIF-Southern Section Division IV semifinals, graduated four all-divisional players: U.S. Junior National Team member Jesse Gillespie (now playing at USC), Mikey Benaron, Derek Lange and Patrick Cullen.

“Those are some big shoes to fill, if we want to play up to (being) that caliber of a team, like last year’s,” said Marsh, who earned all-divisional second-team honors as a junior.

Arroyo Grande struggled somewhat at last week’s Riverside Poly Tournament, finishing 21st amongst 30 squads.

“We could’ve done a lot better,” Marsh said. “We came back and showed our stuff (Tuesday).”

Griffin Chanley, Ian Dunn and Dennis Meffert — all sophomores — had a goal apiece in Tuesday’s win.

“We have a much younger bunch,” Allen said. “We’ve had some growing pains, but we got through a lot of issues (in Riverside) — who’s going to go where; figuring out who’s going to fill which gap.”

Trying to sort out the rotation has revealed improved depth, Allen added. The Eagles substituted en masse after taking the commanding 10-1 first-quarter lead.

“The good thing about our team this year is we can sub really far into our bench,” Allen said. “Last year, it was really that top group (of starters). This year, we’re able to sub five or six guys and still be competitive. We’ve got some sophomores stepping into some major roles.”

Arroyo Grande, which was slotted No. 8 in the division’s preseason poll, hopes its arduous tournament schedule continues to pay dividends, as the shuffled, younger Eagles lineup will likely be competing for a PAC 7 crown with Righetti, which was ranked sixth in the preseason poll.

“We travel wherever we need to in order to get good competition,” Allen said of the Eagles’ aggressive scheduling, which this year includes a late-October visit to the Servite Tournament in Anaheim. “Anytime we can go nonleague, we go as hard as we can and are willing to take the losses.”

Ryan Morgan made six saves for the Eagles on Tuesday, and Nipomo’s Chance Evans had eight saves.

Although it doesn’t have comparable depth, Nipomo (0-3) — which got goals from Stevie Canales, Cole Holloway, Brennan Bryant and Derek Seaman — is similarly young, with five sophomores.

“We showed resilience getting out there with a much bigger, faster team like A.G.,” Titans coach Justin Jewell said.