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CdM boys’ water polo a contender at California State Championships

Tanner Pulice has been a sharpshooter since he was a freshman on the Corona del Mar High boys’ water polo team.

Three years later, Pulice has developed his scoring skills even more. The attacker is committed to UCLA headed into his senior season.

Now, though, he’s far from the only member of the class of 2020 making noise for the Sea Kings.

CdM boasts a talented senior class and looks to contend at the three-day, 48-team California State High School Championships tournament. The Sea Kings certainly made it look easy on day one.

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Corona del Mar breezed through two pool-play games at Yorba Linda High, beating Villa Park 17-1 before getting past Cerritos Valley Christian 15-5.

The Sea Kings won their group and will play the Group P winner on Saturday at 8 a.m. at Newport Harbor High. A victory in that game would mean that CdM will advance to the quarterfinals and clinch a top-eight spot in the tournament.

CdM is in the midst of a busy summer, leaving right after USA Water Polo Junior Olympics qualifying last month for a 10-day training trip in Italy. Next weekend are the Junior Olympics, which will be played locally in Orange County.

With a roster that boasts 13 seniors and three juniors, the Sea Kings don’t lack for experience. They hope to take momentum from the summer into the high school season, where CdM was a CIF Southern Section Division 2 finalist in 2017 and a Division 2 semifinalist last year.

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“It’s something we’ve been working for our whole time at CdM,” Pulice said. “Even before we got into high school, it’s kind of been the same group of seven or eight of us. This is kind of our last hurrah in a sense. We’re taking it very seriously, and we want the best outcome come the end of the season. We’re putting in the work and playing to our potential right now.”

Pulice certainly did his part on Thursday, scoring a team-high five goals in the win over Villa Park and adding eight more in the victory over Valley Christian. Seniors Gavin Reed, Aden Mina and Logan Bernhoit each scored twice against Valley Christian.

Senior Tyler Harvey, another returning starter, added the final goal, which came off a nice pass from junior Eamon Hennessey. Senior Harrison Smith, who returns as the starting goalkeeper, made six saves in the first half and backup Luca O’Brien, another senior, made six saves in the second half.

Haig Mavusi is another senior who has seen his minutes increase for CdM, which led 6-1 after the first quarter and 10-2 at halftime.

“For the tournament, we’re just focused on really trying to play some of the better water polo we have this whole offseason,” CdM coach Kareem Captan said. “Regardless of the game, we’re trying to focus in on what kind of habits we are bringing every game, that are hopefully going to show up during the season.

“The boys are excited to do well, but we’ve kind of put our focus on more on ourselves. If we play good water polo, the rest will take care of itself. As far as us trying to make top eight [of the tournament] or top four … that’s a byproduct of us playing well. We’re just really focused on us growing as a team toward the end of the offseason. That’s the biggest thing for us right now.”

Still, the Sea Kings definitely appear to be at least contenders in the tournament, for which Mater Dei, Foothill and San Jose Bellarmine Prep are the top three seeds. CdM has an advantage in that its high school team trains together in the offseason, rather than leaving for other clubs.

“Almost all of the starters have been playing together for four years for the same team,” Reed said. “No one has strayed off to any other club or high school or anything. We’ve all been able to stick together. We’ve been together for four or five straight years, which I think is huge, coming together now. We’re all so used to each other’s play styles.”

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matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo


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