High School Boys’ Water Polo Preview: Laguna Beach out for respect

Colton Gregory, shown during a Laguna Beach High practice on Aug. 29, has led the Breakers in scoring each of the last two seasons.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach High boys’ water polo team never lost a match in 12 years in the Orange Coast League.

The Breakers’ school logo is a wave, and now they have a league to match it.

Laguna Beach moves to the Wave League, part of the eight-team Sunset Conference, for 2018. The Wave League is the top one in the conference and it includes Newport Harbor, Corona del Mar and Huntington Beach for boys’ water polo.

Edison, Marina, Fountain Valley and Los Alamitos will compete in the Sunset Conference’s Surf League.

The Breakers also have a new coach to go with their new league. Robert Grayeli, 40, takes the reins after Trevor Lyle resigned. Grayeli, a former player and coach at Costa Mesa High, is the general manager of the Laguna Beach Water Polo Foundation on the club side of things.

Grayeli, who was the 1995 CIF Southern Section Division 2 Co-Player of the Year, helped Costa Mesa win the CIF title that season. He won’t have to play against his alma mater in the Wave League, which kicks off with showcase games at Newport Harbor High on Monday. Laguna Beach opens against league favorite Newport Harbor at 4 p.m.

“The biggest thing I’ve stressed to them this year is that every game is going to be an important game,” Grayeli said. “There are no easy games, no days off, and that’s good for us. I’d rather have a one-goal game, and if we lose we lose, but we’re learning from it. I do think people are going to underestimate us in our league. At the end of the day, we’re going to swim our [behinds] off, we’re going to have great legs, and we’re going to be good at six-on-five. Those are going to be our keys.”

Colton Gregory, the Breakers’ leading scorer each of the last two years, returns for his senior season. He’s one of two seniors on the team, along with left-hander Will Clark. Junior goalkeeper Caden Capobianco also is back, while the team has a pair of talented freshmen in Logan McCarroll and Will Kelly.

McCarroll is on the USA Water Polo Cadet National Team, and he and Kelly were also on the Vanguard Aquatics club team that won the 14-and-under division at the Junior Olympics last summer.

The Breakers, ranked No. 6 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, want to fare well in their new league, and qualify for the Division 1 playoffs. Last year, Laguna Beach lost to Redlands East Valley in the Division 2 quarterfinals.

“I don’t think playing at this level is new to any of us,” Gregory said. “I mean, we’ve all been playing against all of these kids from Newport, CdM, Huntington in club for the past five, six years. It’s not like we’re seeing any new faces. I think we’re ready to go.”

Newport Harbor, which won the Sunset League last year under the previous six-team, one-league format, opened the season as the top-ranked team in Orange County. The Sailors seemed to validate that ranking with an early-season 7-5 victory over defending Division 1 champion Mater Dei, which beat the Sailors last year in the CIF semifinals.

Coach Ross Sinclair’s Sailors, ranked No. 2 in Division 1 and 2 behind Studio City Harvard-Westlake, return junior driver Makoto Kenney, last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year, and senior Jack White is another key returner. Newport Harbor lost Sunset League MVP Max Sandberg, their goalkeeper, to graduation. Junior Blake Jackson now has the starting keeper job.

Corona del Mar was Division 2 runner-up last year, and could again be on the border between Division 1 and Division 2. Like Laguna Beach, CdM moves on from a league it dominated over the years, the Pacific Coast League. The Sea Kings, No. 12 in Division 1 and 2, have a talented junior class, including Tanner Pulice, Gavin Reed and goalkeeper Harrison Smith, who started much of last season.

Huntington Beach also appears young, with juniors Myles Simpson and Josh Bowman as returners who received significant playing time last year. The Oilers, No. 9 in Division 1 and 2, open Wave League play against CdM on Wednesday.

With the 12-time defending league champion Breakers gone, Costa Mesa and Estancia will look to contend in an Orange Coast League that now also includes Orange and Santa Ana. The Mustangs finished second in league last season and last won a league title in 2004, in the Golden West League.

Senior left-hander Caedmon Fisher, last year’s league MVP, is a key returner for the Mustangs. He’s a four-year starter along with senior Teak Zachary. Sophomore Gavin Fisher is another key player for Costa Mesa, ranked No. 8 in Division 3, along with returning junior goalkeeper Joey Palmblade.

Estancia, led by first-year coach Matt Frazier, is young. Center Jake Blinn and utility player Jose Castaneda are the only two seniors for the Eagles, ranked No. 8 in Division 6. Sophomore Griffin Beth, who broke his left hand last year and missed nearly the whole season, leads the Eagles at goalkeeper.

The Battle for the Bell game between the rival schools is also the Orange Coast League finale, on Oct. 24 at Estancia.

Los Amigos is the other local team ranked in its CIF division to open the season. The Lobos are No. 3 in Division 6.

Twitter: @mjszabo