Jacob Pyle came into the Huntington Beach High boys’ water polo program as a freshman in 2016, when the Oilers were in the midst of their most successful season to date.
Huntington Beach made its only CIF championship match in program history that year, with senior leaders like center Quinten Osborne (UCLA), team captain and attacker Ethan Wojciechowski (Cal), goalkeeper Patrick Saunders (UCLA) and defender Ryan Hurst (Cal).
Saunders had a string of big-time playoff performances to help Huntington Beach go further than ever before. Though the Oilers lost the Division 1 final that year to Orange Lutheran, it’s easy to understand why Pyle, who was 14 years old at the time and also a goalkeeper, would be impressed.
“I was a freshman looking up to these giants, role models that in my eyes were so great and still are,” Pyle said. “They kind of put the seed in my brain, that it was where I wanted to be my senior year. I wanted to make it to the finals of CIF. Since my freshman year, that’s where I’ve been striving to be. I’ve just been training over the course of the years to be like them. They were the heroes.”
Fast forward three years, and Pyle is now the senior leader helping the Oilers make moves. Huntington Beach did not advance to its second CIF divisional final in program history, but the Oilers came close. They were tied headed into the fourth quarter against top-seeded defending champion Studio City Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday before suffering a 10-7 loss.
Huntington Beach (18-10) ended up fourth in Division 1 after losing 10-9 in sudden-death overtime to Los Angeles Loyola in the third-place match on Saturday.
It was a big performance from Pyle that helped the Oilers leap into the top four for the first time since that 2016 season.
He made a season-best 17 saves as Huntington Beach upset No. 4-seeded Orange Lutheran 11-5 in the quarterfinals on Nov. 7 at Santiago Canyon College. The Oilers held the Lancers to just a single goal in the second half.
Pyle came through, even playing in a smaller pool, which means more offensive possessions.
“He did a fantastic job,” Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “I mean, we shut down OLu. We talked about how we’re not going to be able to compete against teams if we eat over 10 goals, 11 or 12 or even 17 goals against Oaks Christian. We were very aware that we needed to step up in our defensive department, and we did. Jacob was obviously the backbone of that, with making these blocks.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Pyle said he was not happy after that nonleague loss to Westlake Village Oaks Christian, a 17-16 overtime setback on the road on Oct. 26. He certainly stepped up when it mattered, however.
“The whole team was upset, but yeah, I was upset,” Pyle said. “You can’t ever expect to win if you’re letting 17 goals in. That hit me pretty hard, but it just was more motivation to come back in the OLu quarterfinal game and more motivation to work on the things I need to work on in practices.”
Now Huntington Beach has qualified for the CIF State Southern California Regional playoffs, which begin Friday. Pyle will get a few more matches with his longtime friend, senior defender Josh Bowman. They’ve known each other since kindergarten, Pyle said, when they both attended Eader Elementary.
The senior class, which also includes Long Beach State-bound senior attacker Cooper Haddad and Garrett Lee, is small but close.
“I’ve played with these guys since I was little,” Pyle said. “Growing up with them and finally senior year, trying to come out with a bang, this season would be my favorite.”
Pyle, a two-year starter in goal for the Oilers, isn’t going too far to play college water polo. On Thursday he signed with UC Irvine, where he said he plans to major in economics.
That freshman has grown up to be a hero in his own right. Who knows who he’s inspiring? One person is probably his younger brother Jay, who also plays goalkeeper and will be a freshman next year.
“I think I’ve definitely stepped up to fill the role that the goalie needs to be, the commander, the defensive leader,” Jacob Pyle said. “I definitely think that my skill has grown over the course of four years, because I had that motivation when I was a freshman.”
Born: April 8, 2002
Hometown: Huntington Beach
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 165 pounds
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Sasa Branisavljevic
Favorite food: Hamburgers
Favorite movie: “Inception”
Favorite athletic moment: Making memories with his teammates this senior season.
Week in review: Pyle made a season-best 17 saves to help the Oilers earn an 11-5 win against No. 4-seeded Orange Lutheran in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, at Santiago Canyon College on Nov. 7.
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