by Geoff Lepper
With the post-"P" era in local water polo--dominated by hole-setters Paul Javier (Gunn) and Peter Osborn (Palo Alto)--just beginning, the Titans and Vikings find themselves for the first time in years both looking up at rivals in both the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League and the Central Coast Section. For five consecutive years, either Palo Alto (1989, 1992, 1993) or Gunn (1990, 1991) had brought home a CCS crown. Last season, despite the scoring touch of Javier and Osborn, SCVAL De Anza Division rival Mountain View knocked them both off during a run that ended the city's dominance and closed the careers of Javier and Osborn.
Don't bet on a new run beginning in 1995. Gunn would have had the better chance, with a senior trio of Cody Cannon, Ross Mecham and Andy Sikic up front, providing the Titans with one of the best lines in the CCS.
But Cannon has been declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, and while he could be back for the CCS tournament, Gunn must first qualify without him.
"I think we can do it," explained Gunn coach Matt Stoll. "It's going to be a little hairy, but it just depends on what we do. We have to play consistently, have to play with intensity and have to play with intelligence."
Gunn has the last two but not necessarily the first as the Titans fluctuated wildly en route to a fourth-place finish at last weekend's Palo Alto Invitational tournament.
Mecham and Sikic will have to hold the fort until some of Gunn's youngsters--sophomores David Swinehart and Brad Lefkowits join junior David Nabti and senior Roddy McCalley as the other starters--can help shoulder the scoring responsibility.
"Ross and Andy have got to take an awful load right now," Stoll said. "With three guys, we had enough to make things happen and the younger guys could be brought along slowly. With two . . . we need a whole lot more from the younger kids."
In goal for the Titans, Gerard Gust replaces graduated senior Kevin Cantwell.
Stoll lists Los Gatos and Mountain View as favorites for the SCVAL De Anza title, with Gunn and Palo Alto a step behind. "Palo Alto looks a notch down from their last couple of years," he said. "Without Cody, we are (also)."
For Palo Alto, coach Craig Ackley will be constantly searching for the hot hand. Senior Tom Elke and three juniors--Jon Barnea, Dave Marzoni, Eric Vlasic--will be joined by a rotating cast in the remaining two starting spots. Junior Moey Osborn, Peter's sister, has made some contributions already--including two goals in a 5-4 win over Harbor on Saturday.
"We need more experience in the water," Ackley said. "We're a young team and it shows. We're making little mistakes, just real basic things. But they've improved greatly, with every game."
The one true certainty, barring injury, is senior captain Paolo Resmini in the cage. "When he has a good game," Ackley said, "he's a really good goalie. He can be a big asset for us."
The Vikings ended up tied for fifth place in their own tournament, but Ackley wasn't very concerned, saying "it's just practice" for regular- and post-season games.
But the tournament did point out some important problems to Ackley. "They're getting used to getting prepared mentally for a game, which is one of our biggest problems right now," he said. "They have the skills, they just need to get connected as a team."
In the Peninsula Athletic League, all three of Menlo Park's teams could finish in the top four. Perennial title hopefuls Menlo and Menlo-Atherton are now facing competition from newcomer Sacred Heart Prep.
"This is the first year that I would call us a legitimate team, rather than a recreational team," SHP coach Karl McCrary said. The Gators enter their fourth year of varsity play coming off a 12-win season, a fourfold jump from 1993.
"We finished in fifth place last year," McCrary pointed out. "This year, our goal is the top four."
The senior class of Adam Barycza, Mike Barry, Jason Clark, Matt Cummings, Edgar Robello and Terrence Rohan--it lived through winning only four games total in 1992 and 1993--will have to lead the Gators.
"The biggest thing is the mental side," McCrary explained, "learning how to win. Once our players realize that we're getting better, it gets easier."
In the pool, Sacred Heart has talented juniors Ryan Walker, John Bartels, Steve Chew and Jeremy Clark (brother of Jason) and a transfer from Serra, but most important will be Boyd McGowan. McGowan replaces graduated Blake Westrate, the only goalie in Gator history before this season.
Menlo-Atherton coach Ted Minnis is thinking big and selling his players on the plan that he feels will get them there.
"I don't mind winning 1-0," Minnis said. "We've got to play defense, got to hold teams to our tempo. They understand, because they they want to win, want to win CCS, be competitive against teams like Bellarmine, St. Francis, Paly, Gunn. They know if they're going to compete against teams with those kinds of horses, they have to play defense."
The Bears are young, small and fast, starting six juniors out in front of senior goalie Nick Noyes. Tom Pickard, Chris Rubin and Daniel Barker will lead the charge, but Minnis feels Noyes may be the key.
"You can only go as fas as your goalie will take you, and we've got a real solid one," he said.
The Bears' best-ever finish (3-3) in the Palo Alto Invitational left Minnis guardedly optimistic about his team's chances. "Last year, we had the league MVP, but the young kids were just playing around him, watching. They're ready to step up this year," he said.
At Menlo School, the Knights are unlikely to repeat last year's second-place PAL finish. Nine seniors graduated and Ben Mullin is this year's only senior.
Key contributions will have to come from juniors Paul Rosenberg, Kraig Salvesen and L.J. Samuels along with sophomore Lance Fenton.
"Of all the teams out there, we're going to have the toughest time to make the top two," Menlo coach Kevin Newman said of the CCS qualifying berths.
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