Newer-look La Cañada High boys' water polo still has lofty expectations

Fresh off their finest seasons in recent memory, both the La Cañada High and Flintridge Prep boys’ water polo teams are intent on matching that success.

The Spartans and Rebels find themselves in very different positions to do so, however. La Cañada graduated five All-Rio Hondo League players and essentially its entire offense from a year ago, while Prep returns everyone except its two goalkeepers.

There’s plenty of new for the Spartans this year, including new coach Christian Flores, who is La Cañada’s fourth coach in three years.

“I plan on sticking around with the high school, hopefully getting up to the championship, I love winning,” said Flores, who previously played against La Cañada at Montebello, where he won CIF championships in 2003 and 2004 and served as an assistant coach.

Despite graduating co-league most valuable players Chase Borisoff and Symeon Stefan, first-teamers Bryce Hopkins and Alden Geller and second-teamer Johnny Louk, the Spartans do return three outstanding defensive players in senior two-meter defenders Justin Moh and Peter Loakes and senior goalie Jeff Lee.

Moh and Loakes will likely step into bigger offensive roles, while juniors Reed Buck (center), Connor Shankwiler (driver) and Ben Whitefield (center defender) look to make an impact at the varsity level.

A challenge for Flores is preparing his players for new roles or developing his junior varsity call-ups for the next level. So far, they seem to be doing well with the La Cañada Water Polo Club, which includes most of the high school team, winning a championship in the 18-and-under California State Games in July.

On offense and defense, Flores will look to exploit one-on-one matchups. Defensively, the Spartans will man up and press like they have for years. Offensively, they will drive each time it sets up to create space and scoring opportunities.

Expectations are as high as ever for the high school campaign, as Flores plans on a return to the CIF Southern Section Division III championship game after last season’s 14-9 loss to M.L. King in the title bout.

“You never want to discourage the kids if they’ve already had that feeling and the school is known to go to the semifinals and even the finals at times. They have won CIF and they know how to be successful in this division,” Flores said of the team’s championship goals. “We don’t want to tell them to set the expectations lower, we want to keep at No. 1, keep them at the top.”

Nearby Flintridge Prep is also aiming to nab a high seed for playoffs by knocking off perennial power and defending Division V champion Pasadena Poly in the Prep League.

Flintridge Prep advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Riverside Poly, 17-9, and taking second in the Prep League, behind the eventual CIF champion.

Coming off his finest season at the Rebels’ helm, Dan Hare’s hopes are higher than ever and for good reason. The fourth-year coach returns six field players and 12 seniors, including Jamie Walker, Connor O’Malley, Carlo Sivilotti, Ethan Vandeventer and John Treinen.

The only real hole left from last season is in the cage. Senior Anton Verbinski has changed positions in an attempt to fill that gap, along with junior varsity call-up Alex Hirsch-Marin.

Coming off the busiest summer under Hare’s tenure, the Rebels are looking to build on last year’s runner-up finish in league with their depth.

“Prep always wants to beat Poly, but I think this year we have a shot,” said Hare, whose team went 17-9, 7-3 last year. “I think we will be right up there with Chadwick, which is having a bit of a rebirth. It’s nice having teams like that in the league and area, because if we can compete with Poly then we know can compete in CIF on a greater scale.

“We might be able to get them — and this may just be me the optimistic coach talking — because we maybe have more depth than they do and we’ve had in the past. One to two, we can’t touch them, nobody can, but three to 10 we can make up some ground them.”

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