Gurus Go Head to Head

Times Staff Writer

The S&R Sport Cup was not only a matchup between many of the top boys' water polo teams in Southern Section Division I and II, but the championship game provided a forum for two of the most experienced coaches in the nation.

Anaheim Servite, led by 36-year coaching veteran Jim Sprague, scored an 8-7 victory over North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, led by former Olympic coach Rich Corso, on Saturday at Corona del Mar High.

Corso coached at Yale, Stanford and UCLA before coming to Harvard-Westlake in 1986. After serving as an assistant with the U.S. national team from 1980-84, he became head coach in 1992 and coached the Americans at the 1996 Olympics.

Before the game on Saturday, Corso said he was honored to be coaching against Sprague, who spent 24 years at Fullerton Sunny Hills, where he won the first of his three section titles in 1973, and the past 12 at Servite, winning Division II titles in 1998 and 2001.

"I have a lot of respect for Jim Sprague," said Corso, who won section titles in 1988 and 1991.

"He has been in this sport since God was a boy."

Wilson's Winding Road Long Beach Wilson, the only team to beat Servite this season, finished fifth in the S&R Sport Cup after being dropped into the loser's bracket on opening day by a 9-5 second-round loss to San Jose Bellarmine Prep.

The Bruins are in the middle of a tough month, having defeated Servite, 16-8, on Oct. 2, before playing in last weekend's 16-team S&R Sport Cup.

This week, Wilson played Santa Ana Foothill in a nonleague game on Tuesday before traveling to Harvard-Westlake for a nonleague game on Saturday afternoon.

"We're on our way to the meat of our season," said Coach Tony Martinho, who has guided the Bruins to three of their last four Division I titles.

"The next four weeks we have a monster schedule. Our focus is to try and improve each week."

Way Out Western Anaheim Western appears out of place in the Southern Section Division VI coaches' poll. It's not a result of how the Pioneers have played this season, but rather where their school is located.

Western is ranked No. 8 in Division VI, among teams from as far away as Palos Verdes and San Bernardino.

"It's so spread out," Coach Don Luethke said. "Garden Grove and us [the Orange League] are the only Orange County leagues in this division."

That not only makes for longer commutes during the playoffs, but also for a difficult job when it comes to ranking the teams, some of which are located 100 miles apart.

Luethke said it sometimes takes Western a while to get noticed. "We usually work our way into [the rankings] as the season goes along," he said.

Before several Orange County leagues were realigned last season, the Orange League used to provide a regular contender for the Division VI title.

Brea Olinda dominated the league and reached the section finals in 1994 and '97, but the Wildcats were moved to the Century League last season. That opened the door for teams like Western (10-5, 2-0) and Santa Ana Valley.

The Pioneers avoided a poor start in league for the second consecutive season by defeating Anaheim Savanna, 9-4, last week behind three goals by Nick Polichetti and two by Kevin Armijo.

"We lost to Savanna last year and it cost us a league title," Luethke said.

Now the focus is on Thursday's game against Valley, which not only replaced Brea Olinda in the Orange League but also took its role as Western's nemesis. The Falcons won the league title last season.

Surviving into the later rounds of the playoffs, as Brea Olinda once did, is no longer a sure bet for Orange League teams, which usually have to rely on inexperienced players.

"We'll continue to do our best to find out who is interested in playing water polo at Western," said Luethke, who scouts the hallways and physical education classes for potential players.

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