Max Bergeson was well-situated in the gene-pool department, and he spent time during his youth playing on the pool deck as his dad coached the boys’ water polo team at Beaverton High in Oregon.
But when it came to immersing himself in the actual pool, and the sport, it took some time before he drank the chlorinated Kool-Aid.
“I didn’t start playing water polo until the sixth grade,” said Bergeson, who should soon earn his third straight All-CIF Southern Section Division I designation after leading Corona del Mar High to its 11th straight Pacific Coast League championship and a berth in the division semifinals. “I couldn’t even swim.”
His dad, Garth, was a former standout at CdM, who went on to help UCLA win a pair of national championships in the early 1970s. Max’s uncle, James, starred at Newport Harbor before becoming a four-time All-American at Stanford and helping the United States win a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea.
Further, the aquatics facility at CdM High is named after his grandmother, Marian Bergeson, a former California state senator and state assemblywoman who also served on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and was the state’s Secretary of Education.
But when it came to making a name for himself in athletics, the water polo ball was not Max’s first choice.
“I played everything but water polo,” he said. “I played basketball, soccer, football, lacrosse, golf, and some other stuff.”
But when the family moved from Oregon to Carlsbad, it wasn’t long before Bergeson was slipping into a Speedo.
“It’s the family sport,” he said. “Once I started playing, it didn’t take me too long to get attached to the game. Then, I stopped playing everything else.”
He also started learning subtleties of the game from his dad and his uncle. This knowledge, combined with natural talent that included a powerful left-handed shot, helped Bergeson contribute to Carlsbad High’s San Diego Section Division I title as a freshman.
The family then moved to Orange County, where the chance to develop his water polo skills against better competition was a challenge Max was eager to embrace.
“If I would have stayed down in Carlsbad, I would have won another three [section] championships,” the 6-foot, 185-pounder said. “But there was a much lower level of competition there. Coming here gave me a much better opportunity to become a better all-around water polo player. Change is always good and I’ve always been up for a challenge.”
Since arriving at CdM, Bergeson has clearly upped his level of play.
“He has been a definite addition to the program and probably one of the top players I’ve had the privilege of coaching,” CdM Coach Barry O’Dea said.
Bergeson amassed 87 goals this season, six more than his total as a junior.
He had four goals in a 12-7 first-round playoff win over Esperanza on Nov. 11. He scored five, including the game-winner with four seconds left, in a 15-14 quarterfinal win over Ventura Nov. 14. He led the Sea Kings with five goals in Wednesday’s 14-10 semifinal loss to Back Bay rival Newport Harbor.
CdM (24-6) is expected to play in an invitational postseason tournament for which details are still emerging, O’Dea said.
His heroics against Ventura included blocking two shots on the Cougars’ final possession.
“He came through all season for us,” said O’Dea, who admires the progress Bergeson has made in his all-around development.
“He has always been the most talented kid in the pool,” O’Dea said. “But his biggest asset this year has been his maturity. He took better care of himself physically, got himself in great shape, and he became a real leader this year.”
Though a skilled passer and defender, Bergeson is most dangerous when facing the cage with the ball in his hand, O’Dea said.
“He has one of the quickest shots out there,” O’Dea said. “He has a great release and he’s very deceptive. He can hit any kind of shot without changing his release point. He has a heck of a sidearm shot and he has developed an affinity for lob shots, adjusting to goalies who come out on him to try to cut down the angles.”
Bergeson credits much of his development to the wisdom passed down from his father and uncle.
“I really think most of the reason why I’m effective is because they taught me a lot of stuff I would have had no idea about if they hadn’t taken the time to explain it to me,” Bergeson said.