Spartans begin title defense

Pass the Pill | © Iris Smoot/Acorn Newspapers
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© Iris Smoot/Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa High’s Zack Davis lofts a pass during Tuesday’s boys’ water polo match against Thousand Oaks. The Spartans won last year’s CIF-Southern Section Division 6 title. © Iris Smoot/Acorn Newspapers
Derrick Timmons was on his honeymoon in Bermuda during Hell Week.

Of course, the Rio Mesa High boys’ water polo coach didn’t escape paradise unscathed.

Hurricane Irene kept Timmons and his wife, Leah, on the tropical island an extra day. The couple married Aug. 6 in San Diego.

Okay, maybe the lovebirds fared well after all.

Timmons and the Spartans have begun defense of last fall’s CIF-Southern Section Division 6 championship.

“They’re committed to getting better every day,” Timmons said of his charges.

“They’re smart kids and really learning every day. They’re getting it—and they know what it takes to play good water polo.”

Although repeating is always challenging, Rio Mesa hopes to build toward another title with the help of five returning senior standouts.

Goalkeeper Kyle Walthall, driver Joe Yamamoto, whole set Zack Davis, 2-meter defender Brendan Kirk and utility Zac Womack are back.

Yamamoto and Davis are team captains.

Womack is nursing an injury, but he’s expected to return in October for the stretch run, according to the coach.

Rio Mesa rocks another strong goalie in the cage.

Walthall, who started in last year’s section title tussle against Malibu, is back.

In his 12 years coaching water polo, Timmons said Walthall is “the best passing goalie I’ve ever had.”

The third-year varsity star is happy to be in the water.

“ We can work well as a team,” Walthall said. “There are some great moments of perfect chemistry.”

Walthall, who set a school record in the 100-yard breaststroke at 59.69 seconds in the spring, said he’s worked on his strength, flexibility and mental fortitude, especially keeping calm under pressure.

The one thing Rio Mesa has in its favor is that the team knows how much work it takes to win a section championship.

“We’re not quite there,” the goalie said. “We can get there. It takes a lot of work outside practice.”

Davis said the Spartans are a close team.

“We call ourselves a family,” the second-year varsity player said. “We’re like brothers out there. We feel it in the pool.

“When we’re playing well, it’s really fun to watch and it’s really fun to be a part of.”

Davis said he’s trying to become a better leader.

Timmons said the captain is developing the skills to communicate with teammates in a cogent and positive manner.

Rio Mesa relies on Davis for offensive consistency.

Davis, a 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley swimmer, hopes to play Division I water polo. He’s received interest from Santa Clara University.

“I’m excited to see what we can do this season,” Davis said.

Yamamoto is a strong allaround player.

The fourth-year varsity standout’s a terrific one-on-one defender who can play defense from behind without getting ejected.

The fast driver is a dynamo on the counterattack and at ballcontrol.

Yamamoto’s dad, Dean, tapes matches. The father and son watch and analyze film together.

Timmons has tried to lure Dean Yamamoto to join his coaching staff for years, and although Yamamoto has declined, he still offers valuable tips to the Spartans.

Kirk anchors the defense.

The senior does a great job fronting the whole set offense while receiving positioning instructions from Walthall.

When Womack is healthy, his unorthodox offensive style frustrates opponents.

Womack’s a strong athlete with an accurate shot. He’s this team’s x-factor, Timmons said.

Other Spartans are finding their groove.

Dominic Tassano captained last fall’s junior varsity squad.

The sophomore utility said physical practices prepare him for games.

“We play more physical in practices than in games,” said Tassano, who wants to improve his swim speed.

“I’m one of the younger kids. It helps me toughen up when facing bigger guys. That’s how I get better.”

Senior driver Zach Malan played soccer for six years before a knee condition forced him out of land sports. He gave water polo a shot as a freshman.

“It’s worked out well,” said Malan, who also partook in volleyball, football and basketball.

“Water polo is the hardest sport I’ve ever played.”

Malan said the team’s confi- dence is growing. He hopes the squad can win another Pacific View League title and make a strong playoff run.

One of nine seniors, Malan, who also swims and dives, understands the team’s urgency to win now.

“We know this is it,” he said.

Josh Morris, a junior, backs up Walthall at goalie.

Timmons expects Morris to shine when his moment in the sun arrives.

Morris, a swimming sprinter in the spring, understands his role on the team. He is a gracious, humble teammate.

“He’s taught me everything I know,” Morris said of Walthall. “Kyle’s open with everyone. When I do something wrong, he’ll go over it with me. He’s always there. . . .

“When I go in, I’m thankful for even a little bit of playing time. I try to give it my all and support the team.”

Tanner Markham, a senior utility, worked on his shot and speed this offseason.

“ We’re all close friends,” Markham said. “We help each other. We get along well.”

Frank Tomasello, a sophomore whole set offense/utility, has strong hands and is an adept goal-scorer.

Senior driver Austin Navarro is a crafty scorer who draws ejections. Zibe Deforest, a senior, is a physically strong driver.

Despite limited playing time, junior David Beauvais uses his 6-foot-5 frame to score goals at whole set offense and defense.

Cecilio Murillo, a Camarillo Titan Water Polo Club coach, helped the Spartans during Hell Week. Cory Gustafson and Erick Webb bolster the coaching staff.

With a positive attitude and teamwork, a CIF title is plausible, Timmons said.

“We have the potential to be there,” the coach said. “I feel good—but we always need to improve.”

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