High School Sports

Arroyo Grande girls water polo team thinking big

With rain pounding the Central Coast on Monday, some members of the Arroyo Grande High girls water polo team wanted to stay inside.

It might have seemed as if the Eagles had enough reason to take a day off. Arroyo Grande, the back-to-back defending CIF-Southern Section Division IV champion, is currently ranked No. 1 in the divisional poll. The Eagles (15-1, 5-0 PAC 7) already beat Rio Mesa — last year’s divisional runner-up and this year’s second-ranked squad — 5-4 on Jan. 9. And through five PAC 7 league games, the Eagles have outscored their opponents 74-7 — nearly equating to a 15-1 average margin of victory.

Still, their coach, Steven Allen, wanted to hold a practice after the rain had subsided for a bit.

“I asked them, ‘How do you know Rio Mesa’s not practicing today?’ ” Allen said. “To get prepared for playoff polo, we’ve got to continue to get better every day.”

The trademark defense of the Eagles has been anchored by senior goalkeeper Briana Lippert, last year’s Division IV co-Player of the Year, who is being shown recruiting interest from Cal, Allen said.

“Our defense has really only progressed,” Allen said.

Meanwhile, Arroyo Grande’s scoring efforts have been led by 2-meters Alexa May and Kim Johnson, with Aly Greene, Katie Sverchek, Meghan Anderson and Stephanie Stern, among others, also making strong contributions.

“Really, the offense is the biggest change,” Allen said in comparing this year’s team to last year’s version. “We pose problems for other teams.”

The Eagles have won 59 league contests in a row. Most of their recent large leads against league foes were claimed in the first halves, before Allen emptied his bench to avoid even more lopsided scores.

“It’s not my second string’s fault,” Allen said of trying to manage virtually insurmountable early leads with class. “They want to keep scoring, too. It’s hard to find a balance. We don’t want to disrespect our opponents by any means.”

Allen attributes much of Arroyo Grande’s success to the players’ year-round dedication. This past offseason, the Eagles traveled to New Zealand and trained for two weeks for a high-profile tournament there.

“It gets us used to that next level,” Allen said of the overseas exposure. “We’ve been pretty successful in our area, but we want to be successful in Southern California, against the big girls — Division I and Division II teams.

“It’s a tremendous learning experience for the kids.”

Earlier this season, Arroyo Grande won the El Niño Cup in Irvine for the first time in the decade Allen has taken the school there, with defender Melanie Johnson taking home tournament MVP honors. That run included a number of victories over higher-division opponents.

The Eagles’ next lofty challenge is likely to come on Feb. 4- 6 at the Southern California Championships tournament at the William Woolett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine — also the site of the division championship match.

“There’s a comfort level with it being at that pool,” Allen said.

The postseason will begin Feb. 15.

COLLEGE COMMITMENTMorro Bay senior receiver Austin Nesbitt has accepted an offer to play football for Menlo College, a Division III program in Atherton. This past season, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Nesbitt led the Pirates with 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, and also had a team-best eight punt returns for 99 yards.

The NCAA’s National Letter of Intent Signing Day for football, soccer, track and field, cross country and boys water polo is Feb. 3.

COACHINGThe Paso Robles Public Schools Board of Trustees will discuss cost-cutting proposals that include discontinuing coach stipends at a 7 p.m. meeting tonight in the district’s boardroom at 800 Niblick Road in Paso Robles.

Elsewhere, Mission Prep is looking to hire head coaches for boys volleyball and boys golf. For more information, call 543-2131, extension 212.