Ethan Wojciechowski’s favorite water polo memory was nearly two years ago now. When he was a sophomore, his Huntington Beach High team edged Los Angeles Loyola in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1958.
The Oilers crashed the party then. But the party they really want — in which the whole team jumps into the water after winning the CIF title — has eluded them the last two years. Each time, Huntington Beach made it to the final four before losing.
Wojciechowski is now a senior and two-year team captain for Huntington Beach. This year needs to be different, he said. This year, he and his teammates need to step up.
“The last year or so has been fairly disappointing with our finishes in big club tournaments, and high school,” Wojciechowski said. “I mean, last year getting to the semis wasn’t too much of a failure, but I think the summer going into this year was fairly disappointing. We definitely need to turn it around this fall.”
The Oilers, most of whom were playing as a club team for Vanguard, finished fourth at this summer’s USA Water Polo Junior Olympics in the Bay Area. They lost to Los Angeles Premier, a team consisting of players from Harvard-Westlake, in the third-place match. Regency, featuring players from Mater Dei High, won the title.
Wojciechowski said that Huntington Beach has never beaten Harvard-Westlake or defending Division 1 champion Mater Dei in high school or a big showcase tournament. That likely needs to change if the Oilers want to finish this season on top. And they aren’t afraid to say it.
“There’s really no excuse as to why we couldn’t [win CIF],” said Wojciechowski, who is bound for Cal. “I think the expectation for our group of kids since we came to this school was to get to the top and see if we could win. I know that’s why I chose this school.”
The Oilers are competing in a tournament with both the Wolverines and Monarchs this weekend, the Elite Eight tournament. Wojciechowski helped ensure Huntington Beach went into that tournament with a 1-0 record. He had two goals, an assist and a steal as the Oilers beat Corona del Mar, 8-5, in their season opener last Saturday at home.
Wojciechowski, who typically just goes by “Wojo,” made plays down the stretch. His steal in the closing moments of the third quarter led to a power-play opportunity, which he made sure the Oilers kept after winning the fourth-quarter sprint. Then, it was his six-on-five goal that gave the Oilers a 5-4 lead. They would score twice more later in the quarter to open up a three-goal advantage.
He is that type of smart player for Oilers Coach Sasa Branisavljevic, who is in his second year as head coach but has coached Wojciechowski for several years through the Vanguard club.
“Ethan is the engine of the team,” Branisavljevic said. “He definitely generates our offense. He’s able to post up, shoot from the outside, he makes steals and sprints for the ball. I mean, Ethan is kind of an all-around guy that is just very valuable for any team ... He’s going to be a force for Berkeley next year as a freshman already.”
Branisavljevic said Wojciechowski was just an “average” player when he started at Vanguard prior to high school. In a way, it makes sense, as he got a bit of a late start in the sport. He grew up as a club swimmer in Virginia and Arizona. His older brother John went on to swim at Michigan, and his other older brother Louis swam at North Carolina State and Cal State Bakersfield.
Things changed. Water polo became an option.
“When my oldest brother went to college, my dad moved us to Pasadena,” Ethan Wojciechowski said. “I started playing for Rose Bowl Water Polo Club when I was turning 11, then I started focusing solely on water polo. I had never been a part of a water polo team. It was exciting, changing from the culture of swimming to trying a new thing that I really enjoyed.”
Ethan moved to Huntington Beach going into his eighth-grade year. He said he wanted to play at a Division 1 public school, and he saw that the Oilers were going to be a team on the rise.
There have been other highlights along the way. The Sunset League has traditionally been dominated by Newport Harbor, but Huntington Beach has claimed the league title each of the last two years. As a junior, Wojciechowski earned Sunset League MVP honors.
The CIF title is the one Wojciechowski wants most, before going to play for the Golden Bears.
Huntington Beach has never won a CIF title in boys’ water polo, not even advanced to the championship game. This year the Oilers appear stacked, with other talented seniors like goalie Patrick Saunders and center Quinten Osborne, who are both UCLA commits. Defender Ryan Hurst, a transfer from Newport Harbor who is not yet eligible to play for the Oilers, will join Wojciechowski at Cal.
As the team captain and leader, “Wojo” will do everything in his power to bring that title home.
“I take it very seriously, more so even this year,” he said of his team captain position. “It’s my role to bring the guys together and make sure everyone’s clicking, more so than past years. I think it’s definitely highlighted now. That’s of huge importance, and that falls on the coaches and the team captain for sure.”
Born: July 9, 1998
Hometown: Manassas, Va.
Weight: 205 pounds
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Sasa Branisavljevic
Favorite food: Chipotle
Favorite movie: “Goodfellas”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping Huntington Beach beat Loyola in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal playoff match in 2014.
Week in review: Wojciechowski had two goals, an assist and a steal as Huntington Beach beat Corona del Mar, 8-5, in its season opener Saturday at home.