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South Coast Water Polo Tournament : Sunny Hills Lives Up to its Coach’s Promises

Times Staff Writer

Jim Sprague, the Sunny Hills High School water polo coach, is apparently afflicted with the same condition that made life tough for “The Honeymooners” Ralph Kramden.

Sprague will tell you. He has a big mouth.

But unlike Brooklyn’s most famous bus driver, Sprague is happy with the results of his big words.

In a newspaper article earlier this month, Sprague said his Lancers had the most talent in Orange County, and if his team didn’t win the Southern Section 4-A title this season, the entire season would be a disappointment.

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Sunny Hills took the first step toward the championship Saturday, defeating El Dorado, 7-6, in the final match of the South Coast Water Polo Tournament at Newport Harbor High School.

The Lancers took the lead with 2:30 remaining, when senior Paul Reichert scored from about 10 feet out to break a 6-6 tie. Reichert had the winning goal against Long Beach Wilson in Sunny Hills’ semifinal match earlier in the afternoon. The Lancers beat the Bruins, 6-5.

Wilson came into the tournament as the top-ranked team in the 4-A. So maybe it just wasn’t talk on Sprague’s part.

“I shot my mouth off earlier,” he said. “Now teams are coming after us with everything they got. This is great. I think our players responded well to all the attention. I’m going to shoot my mouth off every year.”

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Sunny Hills had an easy time of it in the first two rounds of the tournament. It beat Laguna Beach, 22-3, and Costa Mesa, 17-9. The Lancers had a tougher time with Corona del Mar in the quarterfinals, winning, 8-4.

Sprague has five starters returning from a team that finished 23-5 last season and made it to the 4-A quarterfinals. Sunny Hills lost to Foothill, 5-3, in the playoffs.

To this already strong core, Sprague has added two members of the Puerto Rican junior national team. Jose Santiago, who had a goal in the El Dorado game, starts for the Lancers, and his brother, Javier, is Sunny Hills’ first substitute.

“They’re solid ballplayers,” Sprague said. “I’m really glad the way the team has adjusted to them. I thought it might be a problem for some kids who have been waiting for three years to start, suddenly losing their starting position to someone new. But it hasn’t been a problem at all.

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“They (the Santiagos) still have to adjust to the difference in officiating (between) here and Puerto Rico, but they’ll be fine.”

And with the Lancers winning what is generally considered the most prestigious high school water polo tournament in Southern California, things appear to be fine for Sunny Hills.


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