BOYS WATER POLO PREVIEW: Lancers plunge into the 2022-2023 season with goal of qualifying for CIF playoffs


Asaph Li

Utility player junior Brandon Koh (left) gets ready to fire the ball toward the goal in an Aug. 25 home game against Chino Hills at the Sunny Hills pool.

Coaches: Keith Nighswonger (head coach), Jordan Jaime (assistant coach)

Top Returning Players: Jacob Aguilar (12), Matthew Barboza (11), Ben Blodgett (11), Brandon Koh (11), Dylan Loh (11), Matthew Lucio (12), Brenden Pavlik (12)

Top Newcomers: Rowan Darrah (10), Evan Sereg (10)

Last season: The team finished 3-5 in the Freeway League last season and 13-16 overall and fell short of qualifying for CIF playoffs.

Outlook: Despite being a young team with only three seniors, the Sunny Hills boys water polo team hopes to earn a spot in CIF by performing well in the Freeway League, 

“We have a pretty young group that needs experience, and the coaches expect the team to continuously get better,” Nighswonger said. “We’re looking forward to this season because it’s going to provide us with a lot of opportunities to play and learn.”

Instead of solely targeting fast swimming, he said he also heavily emphasizes game strategies, pushing his team to work on overlooked, yet crucial skills during practices.

“We’re focusing on an organized transition from defense to offense — it’s the part of the game where you can take advantage of other teams,” Nighswonger said.” “It’s not something that a lot of teams are very good at. A lot of teams are only good at swimming fast.”

Though he reiterates that the players need to constantly work harder for improvement, Nighswonger said he is still happy with the current work ethic of this team.

“Most of our members attend all the practices, which is very important,” he said. “Everybody’s working very hard right now, so right now, it feels pretty good.”

Alongside other teammates, co-captain and utility player Lucio engages in water polo activities even outside of school practices in hopes for a successful season.

“I spent the entire period from the end of our last season through summer attending practices at my water polo club trying to learn as many skills to bring to Sunny Hills to pass on,” he said. “I feel very confident [for] our 2022 fall season.”

Co-captain and utility player Koh agrees with Nighswonger’s approach to practices. 

“We have been developing our defense as well as our offense, and the team has focused a lot on improving our advantage plays,” he said. “We have been practicing daily to stay conditioned and in top shape for our season.”

Nighswonger said he is optimistic for a chance to make the playoffs this season.

“Troy is looking very strong right now, and so is Fullerton, so we have to find a way to get into the Top 3 of our league,” he said. “The other way we can make the playoffs is if we can win more games than we lose, and I think we have a chance to do that.”

No matter what the outcome, many of the players see the value of playing for each other.

“Water polo has been a great experience for everybody who plays here at Sunny Hills,” Blodgett said. “The bond that we have is incredible, and it really helps us to do well through knowing each other’s strengths as well as communicating better.”

The Lancers (3-4) will play their first Freeway League game Wednesday, Sept. 21 against Fullerton at 6 p.m. at Buena Park High School.