Mesa new and improved

COSTA MESA — On Oct. 5, 2010, Costa Mesa High opened its new aquatics center with a 50-meter pool.

A year to the day later at the same spot, Mesa got its first Orange Coast League boys' water polo win in two years.

Costa Mesa Coach Justin Taylor does not see the two events as mutually exclusive. The Mustangs no longer have to have shorter practices at other venues, like they did when the new pool was under construction. They have benefited from more practice time in their first full year with the Olympic-size pool.

They showed their progress to visiting Godinez on Wednesday, jumping on the Grizzlies early before posting a 20-6 victory in a steady light rain.

"There wasn't a lot of practice time and pool space available, and that really hurt our program the last two years," Taylor said. "We just didn't have the right time and the right resources to put together a successful program, and you can see the results. It was tough for the kids in the program and it was tough as a coach, but we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel [with the new pool]."

The program has struggled since the last year at the old pool in 2008. That year was the last time Costa Mesa made the CIF playoffs; last year the Mustangs were winless in league.

Mesa (10-3, 1-1 in league) lost to Saddleback in its league opener last week. An 0-2 start in league would have meant an uphill climb back to the playoffs out of the six-team Orange Coast League, where the top three teams are guaranteed spots.

But the Mustangs came out strong against Godinez (5-9, 0-2). They scored the first seven goals of the game and had a 9-1 lead at halftime when senior James Lewis scored just before the buzzer.

Junior Wyatt Ferris (eight goals) and Lewis (seven) provided all the scoring the Mustangs would need. Ferris is the team's leading scorer and Taylor said he's improved a lot from last year, when he was mostly a defensive player.

"He was our two-meter guard and led the team in steals," Taylor said. "This year he really rounded out his game."

Lewis suffered a strained hip flexor earlier this season, but the MRI results were encouraging and he avoided possible season-ending surgery. He's doing physical therapy instead.

"Mylegs are kind of weak, but I'm getting back into it," said Lewis, who led Mesa in scoring last year. "I'm working out my legs, trying to get stronger."

The Mustangs feel the whole team is stronger this year. Senior Matt Moore and junior Quinn Stone each scored twice Wednesday, and freshman Deighton Tachiki contributed a goal and three steals.

Moore had the goal of the day, tipping in Stone's pass into two meters just as the shot clock expired.

Senior goalie Mitchell Grandia made eight saves for the Mustangs, who led 14-4 late in the third quarter when Costa Mesa Principal Phil D'Agostino turned to girls' Coach Tim Postiff, working the scoreboard.

D'Agostino asked Postiff if there was a running clock with the lead so big. Postiff replied that there wasn't.

The Mustangs would earn their first league win soon enough. One area Taylor said more practice time has helped has been power plays, where the Mustangs were six for nine against Godinez.

"Overall, the team has gotten a lot faster," Ferris said. "A lot of people have stepped up."

Jason Diaz and Brian Florido led Godinez with two goals each. Junior goalie Alex Han made six saves.

Costa Mesa dealt with the rain against Godinez. Next week it will have to deal with the Lightning, as Sage Hill visits on Wednesday.

Taylor said Sage Hill is rebuilding this year but he doesn't expect his team to overlook the Lightning, and for good reason. Nobody on the Costa Mesa roster has ever been to the CIF playoffs.

"For a lot of them, they know it's their last year and their last chance," Taylor said. "They're hungry; they want it. They understand there's a couple of games they're going to have to get through to make that happen, and today was one of them."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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