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High School Male Athlete of the Week: Vincent Labonte a young gun for Marina water polo

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Vincent Labonte leads the Marina High boys’ water polo team with 29 goals and nine assists this season.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Vincent Labonte’s parents have each had a key role in his athletic progression.

The Marina High sophomore cited his mother, Katie, as a big reason why he and his freshman brother Frank started playing Splashball for Huntington Beach Water Polo Club when Vincent was about 8 years old.

Vincent said he was playing Little League at the time, but didn’t really like it. Why not try water polo, the sport Katie and her brothers Robby and Tommy played at Rancho Cucamonga Alta Loma?

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Vincent Labonte said. “We didn’t know whether it was going to be fun or not, but after a couple of practices it was fun. We started making new friends and really getting into the sport.”

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Vincent’s father, Ryan, had something to say as well. Ryan Labonte was a defensive end for the Marina High football team before graduating in 1995, and he told his son to make the most of his high school experience.

“He didn’t really try until his senior year, and his senior year he really went all-in and got first-team all-league,” Vincent Labonte said. “He really regretted not going all-in since his freshman year, so he really wanted me to do that, because he knew I had the potential to be really good on this team.”

Vincent came right in as a freshman last year and played center for the Vikings, a physically demanding position, earning second-team All-Wave League honors. He’s back there as a sophomore, and though the Vikings have junior Kolby Burke as their main set guard, Labonte also is a lockdown defender when Marina needs it.

He is a rising star who leads Marina (6-5) with 29 goals and nine assists. His growth has mirrored the growth of the Vikings, who have already matched their win total from last year’s 6-21 campaign.

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Brian Baier’s second year in charge of the program has brought more stability, more cohesiveness as a unit. Senior leadership from players like attacker Sam Capifoni and goalkeeper Tanner Powell has helped.

Labonte also has had a sizable role in that, Baier said, in part because of his durability.

“He doesn’t come out,” said Baier, a former standout player in Northern California at Orinda Miramonte who went on to play at Claremont McKenna College. “He’s going to play four quarters, and he’s not going to come out of the game. He can go two [meters offense] to two [meters defense]. As a center, he’s great at getting position. Against teams that run a zone he’s good at spacing the pool, so he’ll slide or communicate with the guys on the perimeter, so that we can identify the zone defense quickly and attack it the way we attack it.

“Then, he’s also very smart on the defensive end. Kolby is guarding center and Vincent will be guarding someone on the perimeter, and he and Kolby are really good at communicating and figuring out what defense we need to run.”

Baier said that players like Labonte, Powell and Burke will pump up their teammates between quarters or during timeouts. Recently, there have been more positive things to say.

Marina, ranked No. 9 in CIF Southern Section Division 5, had won four straight matches before Wednesday’s 11-4 loss to Pacifica.

“I feel like we’ve been doing worlds better,” Labonte said. “We’re making decisions on defense to come back, crashing on the other team’s center. And we’ve been making better passes, we’ve been getting faster and we’ve been able to shoot a lot better too. Everything is just getting a lot better.”

The Vikings, who start Wave League play against Fountain Valley on Sept. 25, finished third in the four-team league last season. A top-two finish would help ensure a spot in the CIF playoffs.

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“Edison beat us pretty bad last year, but I think they had a lot of seniors,” Labonte said. “If a lot of their seniors left, we may have a good shot this year, especially with how we’ve been playing so far.”

Labonte has been playing like someone with a lot of confidence, and it’s definitely something his parents can be proud of.

“They’ve really pushed me to be my best,” he said.

Vincent Labonte

Born: Nov. 4, 2003

Hometown: Huntington Beach

Height: 6 foot

Weight: 195 pounds

Sport: Water polo

Year: Sophomore

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Coach: Brian Baier

Favorite food: Pasta

Favorite movie: “Avengers: Infinity War”

Favorite athletic moment: Helping the team get better with his play or making a good assist.

Week in review: Labonte scored eight total goals as Marina won a pair of nonleague matches, 12-4 over Estancia on Sept. 4 at Westminster High and 9-7 at Long Beach Poly on Sept. 6.

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