The Stanford 18A boys play for a water polo gold medal at the 50th annual National Junior Olympics on Tuesday at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine against LA Premier at 4:45 p.m. after beating CC United Black 6-5 Tuesday morning.
Some of the current team members who played at this level reached the championship game last season, albeit losing. In 2017, many of the current guys played on the 16A squad that claimed a national title. A year earlier, the 16s won and the 14A team took the crown in 2015.
"They won as 14s, 16s and were second last year," said Brandon Johnson, head coach of the 18A squad. "They know what it takes to get to the championship game."
Stanford is still one victory away from playing for yet another crown, but a top-four finish is already wrapped up following a 10-6 quarterfinal victory over Newport Beach on a warm Monday afternoon at Foothill High in Tustin.
The impressive victory by Stanford clinched a berth in Tuesday's semifinals, at the Woollett Center at 10:45 a.m. Stanford will play CC United Black A, which won in a shootout over Orange County Water Polo Blue A.
The semifinal winner will play for the gold at 4:45 p.m. while the loser will compete in the third-place match at 4:30. Two pools will be in use at nearly the same time to give fans a chance to watch both medal games.
Johnson, who coached the 18A team to the silver medal last year, was thrilled with Monday's big win over Newport Beach.
"It was awesome," he said. "The key was just team defense. That's our biggest focus each game, hold the opposing team to six goals or less."
Stanford allowed six goals total in identical 13-3 wins on the opening day of the four-day tournament, the largest such event in the world with hundreds of teams and thousands of players. The girls' four-day tourney will begin Thursday following a break day Wednesday.
Stanford posted a 7-6 win over Del Mar A on Sunday followed by a 10-7 triumph over San Jose Water Polo Foundation. Stanford takes a 5-0 record into the semifinals while holding opponents to an average of five goals a match. Stanford, meanwhile, has scored 53 goals during that time.
Monday's win over Newport Beach matched two of the best players in the state -- Stanford's Larsen Weigle from Sacred Heart Prep and Newport's 6-foot-7, 250-pound Ike Love from Newport Harbor High. Weigle was the Central Coast Section Player of the Year while Love won the same award on the Orange County Register's All-County Team. As a junior this past season, Love scored 85 goals while helping his team win a section title with a 32-2 record.
Weigle, who is headed to Stanford this fall, got the better of Love on Monday as he tallied four goals to keep his team undefeated. While Newport Beach had three players from its all-county team, Stanford featured six first-team All-CCS players and 12 who earned first-team through honorable mention.
Moreover, Stanford had a great game plan and an even better defense -- one that limited the hulking Love to just one goal, which came with 2:07 left in the game. It was too little, too late by that time. Johnson applauded the efforts of hole defenders Maxwell Patterson from Menlo School and JT Kujawa for shutting down Love. Patterson did most of the work after Kujawa spent bench time following two exclusions.
The other key to Stanford's victory was taking away Newport's man advantages after the first quarter. Newport Beach drew exclusions on its first three goals and grabbed a 3-2 first-quarter lead. After that, Newport had no man advantages.
"The biggest thing was not to take ejections," said Johnson. "That's always the game plan."
In addition to Weigle, Stanford 18A got two goals from Gabe Discipulo (Bellarmine) and one each from William Riley (Sacred Heart Prep), Connor Enright (Menlo), Walker Seymour (Sacred Heart Prep) and Sam Untrecht (Menlo).
Goalie Paul Gouchon, headed to UC Davis in the fall, was a standout once again as he played the entire match and came up with key saves while blanking Newport Beach in the third period while Stanford grabbed a 6-5 lead. A four-goal outburst in the final period wrapped things up for Stanford.
In other Stanford age group finals Tuesday:
The 18B boys will be playing for seventh place in the Classic Division at Cerritos College at 10 a.m. against OCWPC Red B.
The 16As face American River for 15th place in the Championship platinum division at 11 a.m. at Cypress College.
The 16Bs play for fifth place in the Championship gold division against CC United Blue at 2 p.m. at Westminster High.
The 14As travel to Mater Dei High for a 1 p.m. showdown for 15th place in platinum against Admiral.
The 14Bs meet San Jose Alamden at 9 a.m. at Capistrano Valley High with ninth place in gold on the line.
The 14Cs, seeded 44th in the Classic Division, will be playing for 11th place against Olympus at JSerra High at 11 a.m.
The 12As meet Costa Mesa A for 15th place in platinum at noon at Woodbridge High.
The 12Bs are going for 11th place in gold at Tustin High at 9 a.m. against Foothill Black B.