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HIGH SCHOOL WATER POLO PREVIEW : With Pool Open, Unproven Royal Endures

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The respite may be temporary for Steve Snyder and his Royal High water polo program, but he welcomes it.

Snyder spent this spring and early summer agonizing over the possible closure of the Rancho Simi Community Park Pool for the 1993-94 school year because of state and county budget cuts.

His immediate fears were allayed in July, when the Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks District and the Simi Valley Unified School District each contributed an additional $14,250 to the fees they had already paid to make up the shortfall.

The pool will remain open, and Royal’s water polo and swim programs will continue to exist, at least for another year. Snyder said a shutdown would have destroyed the successful Royal swimming and water polo teams he painstakingly built into regional powerhouses in his 13 years as coach.

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“It has been a very strenuous year and very stressful, and it’s taken its toll, fighting the political battles as well as the on-deck battles,” said Snyder, whose teams have won 12 consecutive Marmonte League championships.

Snyder was at the forefront of widespread community support for keeping the facility--the only 50-meter pool in Ventura County--open during this school year.

“I’m very appreciative and grateful to the community response, which was so great,” he said. "(People) felt that there were some worthwhile programs for the kids.

“A lot of intangibles are there for the kids that I think the people in power recognize, taking into account the college scholarships and appointments to military academies (that players receive), lifeguard jobs, all the intangibles that come from a program such as ours.”

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Tangible evidence of Highlander success was personified in four graduates last spring.

Jack Kocur, the school’s all-time leading scorer, is a freshman on the Pepperdine squad, and Ralph Radka is a freshman goalie at West Point. Myles Bozinovski plans to enroll at UCLA next quarter and will attempt to make the team as a walk-on, and Luke Frazier plays for Cuesta.

Snyder points with pride to those departed standouts, at the same time realizing his cupboard is relatively bare.

“We lost some superstars,” Snyder said. “Without a doubt we’ve dropped talent-wise. The last two years, we’ve ranged from having good players to superstars. Now we range from having average players to a few good players.

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“But every kid in our program has had the benefit of the tradition of success. That’s a plus that carries some weight with it.”

Though unproven and inexperienced, the Highlanders are ranked seventh in Division II. Highlander co-captains Greg Galloway and Andy Bruininga, and senior starter Eric Dudley should be constants for Snyder on a team of uncertainty.

Snyder describes seniors Jeremy Pickles and Ed Frankenbush as “question marks.”

Goalie Frankenbush has no varsity experience, though Snyder expects him to be a top player, and Pickles is an enigma.

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“He could be a dominating player potentially,” Snyder said. “He just has a lot of athletic talent. But it’s a real question mark as to what this guy will do.”

Simply being able to focus on coaching comes as a relief to Snyder after the anxiety of the financial and political issues he has battled, and his fear that Royal’s programs would be disbanded.

The issue is not settled, either. The ante from the school district and park boards was a stopgap compromise. School and park officials will seek a permanent solution during the course of the school year, searching for alternative funding sources such as fund-raising events, volunteer work, corporate sponsorship and possible winter aquatics programs.

“It’s still iffy and up in the air,” Snyder said. “We’re living each day as if it were our last.”

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OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH

Harvard-Westlake--The area’s strongest program--which has won two Southern Section titles and has advanced to the semifinals in six of Coach Rich Corso’s eight seasons--feels underappreciated and insulted, and is itching to prove itself after two slaps at its pride.

The affronts?

The Wolverines lost to El Toro, 10-9, in double overtime for the Division I championship last year, and after graduating four All-Americans are ranked only fifth in the section’s preseason poll.

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“Our team is not happy with that (ranking) at all,” said Corso, seizing on motivational tools. “We feel we should be ranked higher. The simplest way to alleviate that situation is to beat the teams in front of us and make sure teams six through 10 are behind us.”

If that perceived lack of respect isn’t enough inspiration, current players can draw on the memory of last season’s championship loss.

“I made them sit there and watch (El Toro) celebrate,” Corso said. “The seniors were excused, but I had the younger guys sit there and watch them celebrate.”

Those younger guys include Peter Kiefer (a returning All-Southern Section goalie), Ryan Flynn, Tommy Rauth, Rich Won, Jason Manning and Ron Scott, all seniors who figure to see considerable playing time.

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Crescenta Valley--Opponents will focus on stopping emerging star Romas Kudirka, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound senior who earned a spot on the 16-and-under National Youth Team this summer.

With five returning starters from last year’s Pacific League champion, Coach Pete Loporchio wants a balanced attack, but he concedes that all roads probably will lead to Romas.

“He can certainly control the game from the hole set position, and opponents will send a three-man zone and drop three men back on him,” Loporchio said.

Kudirka scored 61 goals primarily as a defensive specialist and was an all-league second-team performer.

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Senior driver Ryan Bittle is the Falcons’ leading returning scorer (70 goals) and an all-league selection.

Senior goalie John Marlett seems much improved and sophomore Joey Bennett earned all-league honors as a freshman. Jon Conrad and Eddie Kim also will start.

Crespi--The Celts haven’t missed the playoffs since 1978 and this season should be no exception, because Crespi figures to better last year’s 16-11 finish.

“Crespi is the most improved team I’ve seen in the Valley,” said Crescenta Valley’s Loporchio.

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Crespi Coach Jeff Thornton has five returning starters, including seniors Jon Schild (45 goals) and Rob Gram (80), third-year starters.

Two-meter defender Mike Scarcelli, goalie Travis Doolie and utility player Julio Vergara are all proven returning starters.


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