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Huntington Beach High’s Ethan Crooks commits to UCLA for men’s water polo

Huntington Beach High's Ethan Crooks has committed to play for UCLA in water polo.
Huntington Beach High’s Ethan Crooks, set to become a senior, committed to the UCLA men’s water polo program.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ethan Crooks took official visits to USC and Cal.

As a complication of the coronavirus pandemic, those would be the only two visits that Crooks took during his recruitment, but neither wound up being his final decision.

Crooks, a standout left-handed attacker for the Huntington Beach High School boys’ water polo team, committed to the UCLA men’s water polo program earlier this month.

“You can’t go wrong going for one of the top schools in the nation, right?” Crooks said. “I know it’s a top-four school for water polo, one of the big four, and going to UCLA, it’s got so many benefits other than just being a good school.

“I’m close to home. My parents can come to my games. I’m still close to my family if I want to go home on a weekend.”

Describing his recruitment process during the pandemic, Crooks said that he had a number of Zoom meetings. He also said he talked to former Huntington Beach player Jake Cavano, an attacker and utility player for the Bruins.

Huntington Beach boys’ water polo coach Sasa Branisavljevic said that the Bruins are getting a player who provides the necessary commitment to be successful.

“You’re getting the whole package,” Branisavljevic said. “You know that you’re going to have a student for four years. He’s going to play for four years. He’s a system guy, and he fits well in a program like UCLA. That’s it. He is OK with working his way up and just starting at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Crooks, set to become a senior, helped the Oilers (19-11, 4-2 in the Surf League) advance to the semifinals of both the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and the CIF State Division I playoffs.

Boys’ and girls’ water polo are slated to be part of the fall sports schedule, beginning in December, after the CIF revised its sports calendar to adjust to the coronavirus. Crooks believes that the Oilers will be a force to be reckoned with should the season take place.

Coaches expressed their support for the new CIF sports calendar, which has provided a platform for all sports to be played in the upcoming school year. The calendar was created to adjust to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I have tons of expectations for my team this year,” Crooks said. “I’m super glad that they’re even giving us a chance still to play, and I think that if we do end up having [a season], it’s going to be a great year. [Huntington Beach] is going to be one of the top teams, maybe the top team hopefully.”

Attacker Chase Dodd, center Tyler Padua and defenders Ryan Elkhouri and Graham Cope, all rising seniors, are also among the top players returning for Huntington Beach.

The Oilers played Studio City Harvard-Westlake, the section and state regional champion in the top division, tough in the playoffs. The Wolverines won the teams’ section semifinal match 10-7 and narrowly avoided the upset in the regional playoffs by a score of 10-9.

Growing up with a soccer coach under the same roof, Crooks wound up taking the road less traveled, as he is the first member of his family to play water polo.

Crooks is the son of highly successful Edison girls’ soccer coach Kerry Crooks, who led the Chargers to the Division 1 semifinals before losing to top-seeded Upland 2-0 this past season. His father, Matthew, was a soccer player at Edison.

“I’m sure that the mental aspect of the game came a lot through [having a coach as a parent],” Branisavljevic said of Crooks, a second-team All-Surf League selection last season. “It manifested in the boy, so no doubt that [his parents] had a huge contribution in Ethan being where he is.

“My job really was and is to bring out his talent on a consistent basis, which we were able to do because he had good players to play with, we had tough practices, and he stepped up to the plate, and he was able to carry the team in multiple aspects, even last year.”

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