Rio Mesa boys’ water polo team, No. 1 in CIF, wants to silence critics

Jake Hunter and Zach Morris work on defensive drills.
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The Spartans are fueled by disappointment.

Rio Mesa High’s boys’ water polo team didn’t win a sixth straight Pacific View League championship. Rival Camarillo won the league title last year, shattering the Spartans’ league sovereignty.

“It was an awful feeling not being league champions,” Rio Mesa driver Reece Koe said. “To make it worse, Camarillo was the one that took our title. We never had chemistry last season. That’s not the case this year.”

The motivated Spartans won’t get a chance to avenge Camarillo for Pacific View supremacy this fall: Camarillo is a member of the Coastal Canyon League.

Rio Mesa, however, has a shot at winning a CIF-Southern Section championship.

“Winning a CIF title would definitely make up for last year,” Koe said.

The Spartans (11-6 overall, 3-0 in league at press time) are ranked No. 1 in the Division 7 poll. Rio Mesa hasn’t been No. 1 since 2010, when it won a Division 6 section crown.

Head coach Derrick Timmons said the Pacific View dropped into the lowest division in the section because the league teams have struggled in the postseason.

Timmons won’t apologize to anyone if the Spartans hoist the section crown at the end of the season.

“We don’t want people knocking us for playing in Division 7,” Timmons said. “We didn’t ask to be there.

“We’ve lined up many good teams during our non-league schedule. We’ve proven we can play with the best.”

Rio Mesa has played Crescenta Valley, the No. 4 team in the Division

4 poll, twice this year. Rio Mesa also battled Malibu, the No. 1 team in Division 6. The Spartans came up short in all three games.

The Spartans captured the Oxnard Tournament championship earlier this month.

“We’re clicking this year,” senior captain Zander Lyskin said. “We have chemistry this year. We all know our roles. This is a much better team. We have some very talented freshmen and muchimproved juniors and seniors.”

Rio Mesa received a boost from freshmen Jake Ehrhardt and Peyton Collins.

Ehrhardt, a two-meter defender, is a man-child. He stands at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds and has experience playing for the U.S. U-18 national team.

“The varsity competition is nothing new to me,” said Ehrhardt, who led the team with 57 goals at press time. “I’ve played against top competition in club, but this is a new team so it took some time to adjust to the high school level.

“The guys welcomed me in, and we’ve clicked ever since.”

Collins creates havoc in the pool with his physical style of play. He recorded 50 steals in his first 17 games, and he’s on pace to break the single-season school record for steals, according to Timmons.

Collins and Ehrhardt grew up playing together on the Santa Barbara Water Polo Club.

“We play off each other,” Collins said of Ehrhardt. “He’s great at getting his shot off and I’m good at defending. We have a very good defensive team, and Jake takes care of the offense.”

Collins and Ehrhardt are built like linebackers. Robert Cervantes, a junior two-meter offense, plays like a defensive end.

“Robert is a big boy,” Collins said. “He’s so big and strong he can do whatever he wants in the pool. He creates space for us to operate.”

Dalton Escrofani, Joe Tinoco, Jake Hunter, Zach Morris and Tyler Nesbit are senior standouts. Tommy Corey and Kade Waller are top contributors. Trevor Mulvany is the assistant coach.

Timmons admitted that he’s worried about his players getting complacent before the postseason.

He held an intense scrimmage during Wednesday’s practice.

“Not every team is going to give us a challenge, but that doesn’t mean we should slack off,” Timmons said. “We need to play every team with the same intensity.

“We have to stay hungry.”

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