Capistrano Valley girls’ water polo Coach Craig Fransen didn’t know what to expect.
Fransen, who hadn’t coached water polo in 15 years, took over the Cougars last summer to prepare for the inaugural season.
Although Fransen’s team lost its first game by 17 goals, it rebounded to challenge for the South Coast League championship.
But he had a little help.
After starting with no assistant coaches and 40 players at tryouts, Fransen, who also teaches at Capistrano Valley, enlisted three volunteers: a star coach, player and assistant.
“It’s been a windfall for myself and the team,” Fransen said.
So who are Fransen’s assistants?
* Villa Park’s Jeff Ehrlich, one of Orange County’s winningest boys’ water polo coaches.
* Jack Bowen, a former Stanford goalkeeper who has played for the U.S. national team.
* Christian Buckley, a former Indiana player and assistant coach on the women’s club team.
“A lot of credit should go to Ehrlich and those guys,” Fransen said. “Having Ehrlich around is like having a mentor. I hadn’t done this since I was coaching at Laguna Beach in 1981, so it’s been great.”
Capistrano Valley (10-9, 3-1 in league) performed well this season and will play Mater Dei (12-5, 3-1) with second place in the South Coast League at stake in a 3 p.m. game today at Saddleback College.
But most of the area’s top teams begin play todayin the Irvine Southern California Championships tournament held at Heritage Park, Corona del Mar and El Toro.
Although the Southern Section will sanction playoffs for the sport next season, there are no official section championships this season. So the Irvine tournament tried to provide an alternative, assembling a strong field that includes all of the county’s current top-10 teams.
The Cougars are also entered in the 32-team tournament but they won’t be able to make a championship run. Capistrano Valley will have to forfeit its first game because of its commitment to play Mater Dei.
Other teams playing in the Irvine tournament rescheduled today’s league games to avoid the conflict, but Capistrano Valley was unable to arrange a similar agreement with Mater Dei.
“We tried to accommodate them,” Mater Dei girls’ Athletic Director Geri Gainey said. She explained that the rescheduled game dates conflicted with the schedule of Mater Dei Coach Guy Souza, who is attending night school to earn his teaching credential.
“We just want to focus on the positive,” Ehrlich said. “We want to win second place in league and then shoot for the tournament consolation championship.”
Ehrlich, whose daughter Cori is a freshman on the Capistrano Valley varsity, brought 23 years of coaching experience at Villa Park to help Fransen.
“I started helping some, then one thing led to another and now I’m finding myself there most of the time,” Ehrlich said.
Fransen said the team even uses Ehrlich’s offensive schemes. Capistrano Valley showed how quickly it learned against Villa Park, currently ranked second in the county.
Villa Park thrashed Capistrano Valley, 18-1, in the season opener Dec. 3, but at the Newport Harbor-Corona del Mar tournament Jan. 9, the Cougars took the Spartans to overtime before losing, 9-8.
“Coach Ehrlich has helped us tremendously,” said senior Jessica Povey, the team’s leading scorer. “Once we started getting accustomed to each other, everything started to turn around.”