During a season that hardly gets recognized because of its brevity, the Gunn boys water polo team learned what it took to win a title.
These days the Titans are implementing those lessons and reaching new heights. After beating Los Gatos 11-8 at home Thursday, Gunn remains firmly entrenched in first place of the SCVAL De Anza Division with an 8-0 mark (9-4 overall), two games ahead of Harker and three ahead of Los Gatos with six to play.
"Basically the same group of guys who played well last season and have nothing to show for it, are back this season with the incentives of a possible SCVAL title, the CCS and beyond," Titans coach Jamie Olsen said. "Our focus is on the SCVAL championship but these guys want to make it to the top (CCS) division, hopefully win that game and get a bid into NorCals."
The five seniors, and some of the juniors, have been playing together for years, suffering through a sub par season in 2019 and then seeing their 2020 season get blown up by the pandemic.
The Titans went 10-2 in an abbreviated season in the spring, played largely without fanfare, and tied for first with Los Altos. Gunn earned the 'title' on goal differential. The league did not recognize champions but the school celebrated it.
Gunn suffered two losing seasons, in which the Titans went a combined 6-36 overall (2-21 in the SCVAL), before making progression in the spring of 2021.
They are not about to let that experience go to waste.
"How you achieve your long term goal is to focus, incrementally, on what's in front of you," Gunn senior goalie Isaac Zelkha said. "Being a goalie and playing with these guys for years I feel like I have a good perspective on just how much they've improved. All of them have skyrocketed."
After trailing early in Thursday's game, Rowan Brougham, Jordan Affeld and Colton Vale hit back-to-back-to-back goals and Gunn controlled the game the rest of the way.
A couple of years ago, that might not have happened.
"Right now the big thing is we are all together," Zelkha said. "We didn't work as a team before; we were individuals. We might not have our names on a school placard but last season still allowed us to go from (2-10) to 10-2. We learned what it meant to win as a team."
Gunn looks forward to playing in the North-South Tournament, which begins next Friday. Gunn is co-hosting it with Sacred Heart Prep, one of the top water polo programs in the nation. The tournament attracts top teams from SoCal as well as NorCal.
"We'll see what we can do against the top teams," Zelkha said.
Vale led Gunn with four goals. He was followed by Brougham and Affeld, each with three. Wolfgang Edholm also scored.
Olsen and his brother Peter, an assistant at SHP, are experienced club level coaches who have qualified, with their teams, for the USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics, the largest water polo tournament in the nation every year.
Gunn, a SCVAL powerhouse in the past, is back on top and the Titans are determined to take it to the next level.
Sacred Heart Prep opened the S&R Elite 12 Tournament with a 16-7 victory over Buchanan at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village on Thursday.
Grif Price stopped eight of the 11 shots he faced in three quarters of play, a .727 save percentage. He also added a team-high, with Will Swart, two assists.
Luke Weigle led a balanced scoring attack with three goals while Luke Johnston, Gavin West and Hassan Hove each netted a pair of goals. A total of 11 Gators scored.
SHP (10-1) has a game scheduled Friday morning against Loyola Los Angeles.
In the PAL Ocean Division, Sequoia fell to Capuchino 5-4 and Priory dropped a 24-6 decision to Hillsdale.
Girls water polo
Sydney Lowell scored eight goals and Sutchie Ofori-Nyako recorded 12 saves as Castilleja beat host Harker 17-9 in a SCVAL De Anza Division match to remain atop the league standings.
Castilleja (11-4, 10-0) has a game on Los Gatos (12-2, 8-1) with four remaining to play.
Gabby Lewis and Talula Seale each added three goals and Aria Kapoor also netted a goal fort Casti, which hosts Los Altos on Tuesday and Los Gatos on Thursday.
Also in the SCVAL, Gunn (10-5, 6-4) fell to visiting Los Gatos 12-5. Sawyer McKenna had a pair of goals while Pooja Bucklin, Siham Arsalane and Kenza Ashworth also scored. Goalie Jayden Kratt made 11 saves.
St. Francis split two games in the Arroyo Grande Invitational, beating Righetti 13-3 and losing to Leland 9-5.
Isabelle Marco had 12 kills, 15 assists and six digs as visiting Sacred Heart Prep beat Palo Alto 25-23, 25-16, 25-21 Thursday night in a non league affair.
Millie Muir added eight kills, 20 assists and eight digs. Sara Alnajjar had five kills and four blocks while Iris O'Connor added 11 digs. Tatum Baker, Mia Radeff and Kellyn Zim combined for another 11 kills.
Setter-hitters Evielina Pasmooij and Claire Sun combined for 31 assists, 11 kills, 2 aces, four blocks and 16 digs to help Castilleja beat host Priory 25-20, 25-17, 25-11 in a WBAL Skyline Division match Thursday.
Devin Nuckles added 10 digs and Jordan Amos-Grosser and Hadley Nunn combined for 14 kills, two aces and 12 digs for Castilleja (19-5, 4-0), which travels to Harker for a non league match Saturday.
In the WCAL, St. Francis swept visiting Sacred Heart Cathedral, improving to 10-8, 3-2.
In the PAL, Menlo-Atherton (12-11, 5-3) swept Carlmont 25-14, 25-21, 25-20; Burlingame beat Woodside in four sets and Aragon topped Sequoia in four sets.
In the SCVAL, Mountain View needed four sets to beat Monta Vista, 25-22, 22-25, 25-19, 25-21.
Tessa Hunter led the team with 13 kills and 13 digs. Andisheh Turner and Lyric Manson followed with 12 each and Millie Kopp added 11 kills and 11 digs.
Lydia Weeks topped the team with 21 digs and Hunter added 13.
Sara Waddell scored in the first half and Evelyn Fuelscher scored in the second half of St. Francis' 2-0 victory over St. Ignatius.