Members of the Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high school boys' water polo programs have returned just in time from overseas trips.
The Sailors trained for a dozen days with some of the elite teams in Croatia and Hungary.
The Sea Kings played against some of the best teams in the world during a 12-day span in New Zealand.
The Back Bay rivals are now about to face the top high school programs in California.
The California State High School Championships start today. Newport Harbor and CdM each have teams in the boys' and girls' three-day tournaments.
Newport Harbor's boys and girls won their respective events last year. The girls are the top seed, while the boys are not at full strength this time, as Farrel South and goalie Chris Whitelegge are competing with the U.S. men's junior national team at an eight-nation tournament in Italy.
The Sailors enter the boys' competition as the third seed, behind No. 1 Mater Dei and No. 2 El Toro. The two programs ahead of Newport Harbor enter the tournament in a similar situation as the Sailors.
"El Toro has a goalie and field player in Italy as well, and the same goes for Mater Dei, which is missing two guys," said Newport Harbor Coach Jason Lynch, who does not believe Mater Dei and El Toro are the favorites. "We're all in the same boat."
Newport Harbor's path to defending its boys' title begins with a pool-play match at home against Palo Alto at noon. The Sailors' second match of the day is at home against Foothill at 4 p.m.
The Sea Kings' boys play at Capistrano Valley High at noon, followed by a meeting at the same site with Clovis West of Fresno at 4 p.m.
Newport Harbor's girls open against Westlake at Santa Ana Valley High at 2 p.m. The second game is against El Toro at 6 p.m.
CdM's girls play host to San Marcos of Santa Barbara at noon, and then the fifth-seeded Sea Kings face Buchanan of Clovis at 4 p.m.
The match today for the CdM boys' team is going to be its first since it finished third at the Pan Pacific Youth Water Polo Festival last week in New Zealand. Coach Barry O'Dea said Emery Molnar, Evan Ramsey and goalie Bruce Bearer played well during the tournament.
O'Dea gave his players enough time to recover from the tournament and long flight home.
The Sailors' trip was lengthy as well.
Lynch said South and Whitelegge stayed in Hungary because of the proximity to Italy, where the two joined Team USA and played in its first game, only to lose to the host country, 15-6. The rest of the Sailors flew home.
Lynch is looking forward to seeing other players step up with South and Whitelegge out of the lineup. Lynch said Andrew Duhoux, the Sailors' most improved player from last season, is one of the emerging leaders. Lynch is also counting on David Jorth, an attacker.
"This is the time we get to see everybody's high school team and not all-star or club teams," Lynch said. "We're ready to play."