COSTA MESA — Since the Orange Coast League started five years ago, the Costa Mesa High and Sage Hill School boys' water polo teams have been in some battles.
The league matchups have almost always been decided by a single goal. The Lightning have usually come out on top.
Neither was the case Wednesday.
The more experienced Mustangs jumped ahead early and won, 20-5, at Costa Mesa High.
Junior Wyatt Ferris scored five goals for Mesa, which scored the first nine goals of the game. Senior James Lewis added four.
"It's always been decided by a goal, maybe two at the most," Costa Mesa Coach Justin Taylor said. "It's just always close. This year, obviously, it's a little bit different. They're rebuilding, and we're having a pretty solid year so far. It's kind of nice to get a year off, where we don't have that intense battle."
This year, the Mustangs (11-3, 2-1 in league) are determined, and they have their pool back. Coach Tom Norton's Lightning (1-13, 0-3) are young, with no seniors.
Costa Mesa focused on stopping Sage sophomore Arya Nakhjavani, the Lightning's top scorer who scored 11 goals last week in a league game against Saddleback. He scored four of his team's five goals Wednesday, but Mesa also did an effective job dropping on him at two meters.
"Wyatt is a good set guard," said Mesa senior goalie Mitchell Grandia, who had a career-high 18 saves. "During practice we've been practicing a lot of that dropping, getting back and stuff like that. Today it was really good."
Grandia has been battling a sore left knee, but it didn't show against Sage. He had six saves in the first quarter alone as Mesa jumped out to an 8-0 lead. The Mustangs wanted this one, after losing to the Lightning by a goal each of the past two years.
Senior Matt Moore and junior Quinn Stone each scored three goals, and sophomore Tyler Connors scored twice.
Senior Jamie Sacco, junior Justin Velasquez and freshman Deighton Tachiki each added single goals for the Mustangs, who led, 12-2, at halftime and 17-3 after three quarters.
The counterattack was working for the Mustangs, who scored 20 goals for the second straight league game after beating Godinez, 20-6, last week. They also converted four of their five power-play opportunities.
"[Nakhjavani] is very capable of scoring, so we really tried to key on him and take him out of the game," Taylor said. "But I think probably the biggest strength that we had going today was the counterattack. That's one of the nice things about having our pool back. We have more hours to practice, and we can start swimming again. We can swim with teams, and we're starting to outswim teams. That was just something that we didn't have time to focus on when we didn't have the pool."
Sophomore Ryan Sung had a goal and three steals for Sage Hill. Junior Jace Broderick also had a pair of steals. Norton said before the game it was all about getting his young team some experience.
"We're starting to figure out the game of water polo," he said.
Mesa has a more prestigious goal, making the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs for the first time in three years. Next week's game at defending league and CIF champion Laguna Beach should be tough. The Breakers have not lost a league game since the league was created.
But the Mustangs play host to crosstown rival Estancia on Oct. 26. Should the Eagles defeat Sage Hill next week, it would likely set up a scenario in which the winner of the Battle for the Bell game would grab the league's final guaranteed spot into CIF.
Grandia believes Mesa will be ready.
"We've been talking and just trying to find that 'want to win,' you know?" he said. "These last couple of years, it was just, 'Oh yeah, I'm playing water polo just to play it.' But me and James [Lewis] and all the seniors, we want to have a good year. We want to go to CIF. That's like our main goal."