A little more than 2 1/2 years after Servite broke ground on a new $5.7 million on-campus aquatics complex, the water polo team struck gold.
The Friars beat Los Osos 13-11 on Nov. 10 at the Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine to clinch the CIF-SS Division 3 championship, the program’s first since 2005.
“Winning a championship in your division is the pinnacle of what high school sports is about. I think it’s huge for our program. It’s great for our school,” said Servite coach Andy Coffman, who was also celebrating his birthday. “I just told the guys after the game to enjoy the moment. They created the memory that they’re going to have, and the friendships they’re going to have for the rest of their lives. That’s something pretty special.”
Servite opened up a 5-2 lead in the second quarter on three straight goals by junior Guillermo Ocasio, senior Christian Martinez and sophomore Jack Dunbar.
Senior goalkepper Matt Kuehl made a spectacular save from point-blank range late in the first half to prevent Los Osos from cutting the deficit back to one. Ocasio then scored on a no-look backhand shot with four seconds left in the half to give the Friars a 6-3 lead at the break.
Los Osos would cut the deficit to two on three occasions in the third quarter, but Servite would never let the Grizzlies creep any closer.
Martinez scored his season-high sixth goal of the game with 2:04 left to give the Friars a 13-9 lead, which provided enough of a cushion for Servite to begin relishing the moment.
“The hard work that we’ve all put in, waking up early mornings, even after tough losses like Long Beach Wilson earlier in the year, our guys never gave up on each other,” Martinez said. “That’s why we have this feeling right now. We’re ecstatic.”
The Friars know how precarious leads can be.
They led Dos Pueblos 4-0 in the first quarter last season in the Division 3 semifinals, only for Dos Pueblos to storm back and win, 13-7.
Servite was down 3-0 to Segerstrom in the semifinals on Nov. 7. The Friars rallied to win 16-12 and advance to their first section final since 2008.
“When we took that loss to Dos Pueblos, it stung, and for a year now it’s been in the back of our minds,” Martinez said. “When we played Segerstrom, and we were down by three early, we kept telling each other, ‘We’re going to get back in this, we’ve just to keep hoping and believing.’ “
Servite had just a small on-campus pool when Martinez arrived as a freshman three years ago, but a large portion of a school-wide fundraising effort went towards building a state-of-the art aquatics facility.
The Fr. Kevin Fitzpatrick Aquatic Center features a 51-meter, seven-lane Olympic-sized pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, storage rooms, a coaches’ office with team room, two outdoor showers and spectator-friendly amenities. The Friars played their first game in the pool in August of 2017.
“First, I want to say thank you to all donors, for everything that they’ve done for us, giving us that great facility, giving us the ability to make ourselves better,” Martinez said. “With that new pool, we are able to space better, run new things with each other and the freshman are able to practice as well, so it’s a great facility.”
The investment is already paying dividends.