As snubs go it was a minor one, but Kendall Benson and the El Dorado boys' water polo team took it personally.
In the preseason Southern Section Division II coaches' poll, two-time defending Empire League champion El Dorado was ranked behind league rival Katella.
"That was a total insult to us," Benson said. "We took that as an insult that the coaches would think that way." So he and fellow captain Robert Sellek called a team meeting. In about 30 minutes, the inexperienced players were given a lesson in what it means to play water polo for El Dorado.
The message? "We have a tradition," Benson said, "and we're not going to put up with anything else than a championship season."
Turns out the Empire League title was only the start for the Golden Hawks, who breezed through the league, defeating second-place Katella, 11-6. The Southern Section playoffs were tougher but largely because of Benson, The Times Orange County water polo player of the year, unseeded El Dorado emerged as Division II champion.
Benson, a senior, was at his best when the Golden Hawks needed it. He scored five goals, three in the third quarter, in an 8-7 victory over defending champion Costa Mesa. He scored six, four in the second half, in a 12-9 victory over top-seeded Los Alamitos in the semifinals. In the 15-12 victory over Laguna Beach in the title game, he scored six, four in the second half.
Benson, 6 feet 2 1/2 and 185 pounds, is stronger than most water polo players--and many football players. He hit the weights hard in the off-season and can bench press 315 pounds.
But Benson and El Dorado Coach Michael Ashe are quick to point out that the Golden Hawks weren't a one-dimensional team. Benson scored 127 goals, but Max Aguilar, an exchange student from Mexico, scored in the 90s, Luke Byward about 80 and Sellek more than 50.
Ashe said the close friendship of Benson, Sellek and Byward made the Golden Hawks click. "It was incredible watching them feed off each other," Ashe said. "I wish I could say it was all Kendall, but I really believe it was the Three Amigos that made it all happen."
Said Benson: "We're a team. We won as a team and that's the only way you can win."
ALL-COUNTY BOYS' POLO
Despite a nagging wrist injury and defenses that swarmed him, Arroyo had 52 goals and 30 assists for the Knights. His 58 steals tell only part of his defensive prowess: few can match him as a two-meter defender.
El Dorado, Sr.
Benson, the Empire League most valuable player, had 127 goals, 57 steals and 42 assists. He was outstanding in the playoffs, scoring 22 goals, many late in the game, as the Golden Hawks won the Division II title.
Laguna Beach, Jr.
Dornin, a 6-foot-5 left-hander, he scored 107 goals, helping the Artists to their first outright Pacific Coast League title. A vocal leader who wants the ball in critical situations, he scored five goals in the Division II final.
Ellis directed the Knights' outstanding defense and was especially good at knowing when he could cheat out for a steal. He had 28 steals. Had 12 saves in 8-6 loss to Long Beach Wilson in Division I final.
Great all-around player: creative on offense and solid on defense. A four-year starter, he led the Knights with 73 goals and 86 steals and had 28 assists. Had three goals and four steals in the championship game.
El Toro, Sr.
Outstanding on the counterattack, Sakatani is usually the fastest swimmer in the pool. He scored 107 goals and was named the most valuable player of the Sea View League after leading the Chargers to the title.
San Clemente, Sr.
A power player with one of the strongest outside shots in Orange County, Shaughnessy helped the Tritons win the South Coast League title and advance to the Division I semifinals. He was named the league's MVP.
Coach of the Year
Drawing players from the county's smallest public school, Scott, in his seventh season, became the first coach to deny Costa Mesa a Pacific Coast League title. Then he led the Artists to the Division II title game.
THE SECOND TEAM
Two-meter man / Scored 116 goals, Century League co-MVP
Two-meter man / Scored 134 goals, MVP of Golden West
Two-meter man / 6-6 hole man who scored 106 goals
Two-meter man / Led team to Division II second round
Two-meter man / Strong, explosive all-around player
Corona del Mar
Goalkeeper / Helped Sea Kings to Division I second round
Two-meter man / Helped Griffins to Division II semifinals