In his third year as the La Cañada High boys’ water polo coach, Gil Millanes hopes the talent he has will translate to success over the course of the season.
In a tough Rio Hondo League with experienced competition, the Spartans’ young core will be key to the team’s performance this year and that all starts with well-conditioned practices.
“We’re going to train a lot,” Millanes said. “We have two practices, one in the morning and one in the evening. Every other day, we’re in the gym lifting, so just staying in good shape and being fast. Being fast and well-conditioned — that’s how we’re going to succeed.”
For Flintridge Prep, it will look to get back on top of the Prep League after losing its championship grip last season, while St. Francis continues to grow as a program and will be pushing for a first-ever playoff berth.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
The Spartans are coming off of a season in which they finished 11-15 overall and 5-6 in Rio Hondo League action for fourth place, securing the final playoff spot.
La Cañada, which fell to Sonora High, 10-7, in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division V first-playoffs in 2018, has been moved to Division IV this season.
“It’s going to be tough competing against an experienced team like South Pasadena or Temple City,” Millanes said. “Our goal is to make CIF and do well in our league. San Marino and Monrovia are the two teams that we must beat. Those two teams are definitely on our level and it can go both ways.”
The Spartans will rely on sophomore pair Lucas Quion and Miles Peters, who are teammates on the Rose Bowl Aquatics team.
“They are the most experienced on our team,” Millanes said. “They’re going to be part of our offense 95 % of the time. We’re going to have goal-play set up for them and time-out plays designed for all those players.”
“Their ability to score [separates them from others]. Those two can definitely score a lot and they work well with each other, so that’s going to help. They’re familiar with each other’s play.”
A notable addition is sophomore Jack Clark, who makes his ascendance to the varsity level after a year on junior varsity.
“He’s left-handed, which really caught my eye because lefty’s in water polo are huge,” Millanes said. “The amount of time that he’s been playing doesn’t show. It looks like he’s been playing for more than two years. He’s super smart, can handle the ball, can pass very well and I think he’s going to have a break-out season for us. He’s going to be the first one off the bench and could start even.”
Key returners will be juniors Lonnie Blachard, Alexander Nwoaczek and Gavin Choi, while Millanes will also rely on senior David Maketta.
Flintridge Prep saw its run of four Prep League championships in a row conclude with a third-place finish last season.
Coming up short has left the Rebels motivated to climb back to the top.
“We definitely want to get the league championship back,” Flintridge Prep coach Andrew Phillips said. “We think we have the group here to do that and we look forward to that opportunity.
“I think we have a well-rounded group and we’ll be young like last year. We’ll see where we are at. I think there’s a lot of capability with this group.”
Flintridge Prep finished 10-14, 4-4 in league and lost, 12-6, to Claremont in a Division IV first-round match in 2018. Flintridge Prep will stay in Division IV.
The Rebels return senior utility/driver Hakop Kaplanyan, sophomore hole/set Will Fosselman and sophomore hole/guard Diego Barraclough.
The Golden Knights start their fourth season hungry in their quest to make the postseason for the first time in program history. St. Francis went 10-13, 2-3 in the competitive Mission League for fourth place last season.
A playoff appearance might not be far-fetched for the Golden Knights, who will reside in Division V after previously being in VI.
“We had a lot of great workouts during the summer and we have guys here who want to play water polo,” St. Francis coach Brady Lowermilk said. “We think we are capable of moving up a spot in league and that will put us in position to achieve our goal of making the playoffs. Our guys are very motivated.”
The Golden Knights will be paced by senior goalkeeper Cole Marston, junior driver Robert Alietti, junior driver/utility Jack Wilson and sophomore point Jared sin, who transferred from South Pasadena.