After its finest season in half a decade, the La Cañada High boys' water polo team is looking for a new leader after first-year Spartans Coach Steven Neville resigned about two weeks ago, citing "personal reasons."
Neville guided La Cañada to the CIF Southern Section Division III semifinals for the first time since 2007 in his first year with the team.
"I will tell you what I told my guys, 'I did resign. It was not my choice, but I did resign,'" said Neville, who guided the Spartans to a 22-7, 8-0 in Rio Hondo League record. "That is pretty much all I am going to put out there."
La Cañada High Athletic Director Craig Franzen said he was "shocked" when Neville resigned.
"We did not ask for his resignation," Franzen said. "He came in and gave it. He gave me his resignation and gave me his keys."
Franzen said filling the open coaching positions for the fall in boys' water polo and boys' cross country, since first-year Coach Andy Ligeti stepped down at the end of the cross-country season, are his first priority.
"You never really want to see coaches go that quickly," said Franzen of losing a first-year coach. "We are always looking to build stability in our programs. …Constant changeover can have a detrimental effect on a program."
The Spartans dominated the Rio Hondo League again in 2011 under Neville and captured the league crown for the second year in a row after their six-year title run was snapped in 2009. Their season ended at the hand of eventual Division III champion Laguna Beach, 14-5, in the semis.
"That was my goal at the beginning of the season to at least get to the semifinals and we achieved that," Neville said. "Obviously, it would have been nice to get to the finals, but we ran into a really good team in Laguna Beach — losing in the semifinals was nothing to be ashamed of."
Neville is also no longer coaching for the La Cañada Water Polo Club, which competes year round and chose not to renew his year-to-year contract before its summer season began Friday.
Franzen stressed the delineation between the club and high school water polo programs.
"The club is a separate entity from the high school," Franzen said. "We employ the water polo coaches for 12-13 weeks depending on how long playoffs go. The club coaches — while they work with the kids and they are involved with the school — they're not school employees during the year."
Club President Derek Borisoff said he wasn't sure if the club's decision to go in a new direction impacted Neville's decision to step down at La Cañada High.
"It's his own decision so I wouldn't know what went into that process," Borisoff said. "I think Steven knows for us to compete at the level we want, the guys need to compete all year under the same coach.
"That has been our key to success all year. We are a small school competing against a lot bigger schools."
The father-son coaching duo of Todd Sprague and Jim Sprague was hired as the club's new coaches. Todd is the club's head coach with his dad, Jim, on board, as well.
According to the club's website, Todd previously coached at Los Alamitos, Whittier and Rosary high schools with three CIF Southern Section titles to his name. Jim, who has nine CIF titles and 12 runners-up to his name, coached at Sunny Hills and Servite high for 24 and 16 years, respectively. He also coached four years at USC before spending the last four years at Los Alamitos.
Borisoff said Todd will be — if he hasn't already — applying for the La Cañada High coaching position.
"They bring a combined 70 years of coaching experience," Borisoff said. "It just brings a new level to our program and I think we are lucky to have them."