Gunnar Gustafson has decided to have a little fun in his senior year at Corona del Mar High School. And what could be more fun than a fourth Southern Section championship.
Gustafson has been a member of three Sea King water polo teams that have won 4-A titles, and now he wants to try his hand at volleyball. To do this, he has to forgo the swim season, but, for a little fun and possibly another title, it's worth it.
"It is my last year in high school, so I want to have a good time," said Gustafson, The Times' player of the year in water polo. "The idea has been in the back of my mind since I was a freshman."
This isn't completely a whim on Gustafson's part. He does have some background in the sport.
As an eight-grader, Gustafson played for the Balboa Bay club team. He was a middle blocker on the team, which won the national championship in the 14-and-under division.
Although he had enjoyed his one year of volleyball, there was no question which sport he would play in high school.
"As a kid, I really looked up to the water polo players," Gustafson said. "I would see them hanging out at the pool wearing their team sweats. I really wanted to be like them."
Gustafson has competed for club swim teams since he was in kindergarten and has been a good age-group swimmer. He made the natural transition from swimming to water polo when he entered high school.
As a sophomore, Gustafson was a key reserve for the Sea Kings. He has been a starter the past two seasons and was named first team All-Southern Section both years.
Although water polo is a fall sport and volleyball a spring sport, there was no way to play both. Corona del Mar water polo coach John Vargas requires all his players to compete on the swim team.
"The reason Vargas has been so successful is because he makes his players swim in the spring," said Corona del Mar volleyball coach Charlie Brande, whose team won the 4-A championship last season.
But Brande didn't give up on Gustafson completely.
"He always talked to me about possibly playing my senior year," Gustafson said. "I already have all the swimming background I needed, so I talked to Charlie before water polo season began and he said he would work with me."
Brande has a little background in converting water polo players to volleyball players. In 1977 when he was the coach at Newport Harbor he did the same thing with Ted McGinley, a three-year starter on the Sailor water polo team.
McGinley played his senior season for the volleyball team, which also featured Olympian Steve Timmons.
"The sports are similar in some ways," Brande said. "What Gunnar will have to improve on is his jumping ability. That's the one thing that swimming a lot takes away from an athlete."
Gustafson began training shortly after the Sea Kings defeated Villa Park to win the water polo title. He rides a bicycle every day and has been lifting weights periodically.
Gustafson also will have to learn a new position. At 6 feet, he is too short to play middle blocker and will likely play outside hitter.
It hasn't been a problem for Gustafson, though. He's just having fun.
"It's been great to see all the guys I played volleyball with in the eighth grade," he said. "It's been fun. Of course another title would be awesome, too."
ALL-COUNTY: WATER POLO FIRST TEAM
Name Yr. School Gavin Arroyo Sr. Villa Park Paul Felton Sr. Capistrano Valley Gunnar Gustafson Sr. Corona del Mar Brandon Howald Sr. Corona del Mar Matt Maclear Sr. El Dorado Ken Nickel Sr. El Toro Erik Terwilliger Sr. El Toro
Name Yr. School Zach Holder Sr. Foothill Jason Cox Sr. Marina Kevin Eggert Jr. Capistrano Valley Gary Larson Sr. Villa Park Greg Milton Jr. El Dorado Tom Nichols Sr. Newport Harbor Andrew Tinseth Sr. Sunny Hills