Not many teams knocked out of the playoffs can say they put a foundation in place for the future like the Nipomo High boys water polo program did this year.
The Titans saw their season come to a close Wednesday with a 7-3 loss to Nogales of La Puente in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 playoffs at Arroyo Grande High.
While Nipomo (19-8) came up just short in its bid to make it to the divisional championship Saturday at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine, the defeat didn’t diminish the sense of historical accomplishment already surrounding the team.
Making the first playoff appearance in the nine-year history of the school, the Titans claimed the first two postseason victories in school history.
Nipomo, which will return 14 of its 18 players next year, will bring back its entire starting lineup for 2011. Included in that group are 6-foot-5 goalkeeper Kirk Wilenius and leading scorers Marc Baker and Cole Holloway.
“We started together and we’re going to end it together,” junior 2-meter J.W. Dobbe said. “It feels good to make history for our school, and we’re going to keep doing it next year.”
A sophomore-heavy roster cut its teeth a year ago in the PAC 7, before the school was moved into the Los Padres League this past offseason.
“They had to grow up real quick,” Nipomo coach Justin Jewell said. “A lot of personal goals were met, and a lot of team goals were met. I think it’s been just an outstanding year with all the support of (the school’s) administration, the town of Nipomo and all the parents coming together.”
On Wednesday, Holloway had one goal, as did Dobbe and fellow junior Brennan Bryant, a driver. Wilenius made 11 saves.
“All of us have come together much more this year,” Bryant said. “Next year’s going to be great. We can’t wait.”
Nipomo made it to the semis with 20-8 and 17-12 wins over Arroyo Valley and Orange, respectively.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” Dobbe said of the improvement from 2009. “You definitely feel it around school, and you can tell that other teams at school are starting to look up to us.”
Nogales (30-2), the bracket’s No. 2 overall seed and an undefeated Valle Vista League champion, advanced to face Los Padres League champion Santa Ynez for the title at 9:20 Saturday morning.
“They brought a lot of experience into today’s game, and experience prevailed,” Jewell said of Nogales. “They brought a very good squad, and ultimately the more poised and better team did win today.”
Many of the Titans’ players will also play other sports the rest of this year. Wilenius, for example, was on the basketball team as a sophomore last year, while both Baker and Holloway star in baseball.
“I think playing other sports as well as playing offseason (club) water polo really combines and makes you a good athlete in general,” Dobbe said. “And that goes around the horn for our whole team.”
Jewell sees it the same way.
“I know once we get geared back up in the summer, they’re going to be full-fledged and they’re going to be all-out for another finals experience in our league,” Jewell added. “These guys are young, so I think everything’s in our favor. They’re excited. They’re walking out of here with their heads held high.”