HomeSportsSpotlight on Varsity Water Polo - Polo Approach Is “Three Seconds at...

Spotlight on Varsity Water Polo – Polo Approach Is “Three Seconds at A Time”

READY: AIM: FIRE: Senior Josh Tao has “a cannon for an arm,”
according to San Marino High School head water polo Coach Robert Zirovich. Tao is also known as a solid defender.

Please excuse Robert Zirovich if you see him reach into his back pocket for a roster to verify a name before sending one of his players into action. We learned last week how San Marino High School’s head varsity tennis Coach Melwin Pereira this summer had to replace five of his six top players, but to steal a line from a popular song from the 70s, b-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“Ten of twelve,” said Zirovich, who is entering his fourth year as the Titans’ boys’ water polo coach. “‘I have never had that happen before, but it’s the nature of the beast.”

That’s right, Zirovich watched as ten members of last year’s playoff squad donned cap and gown and received their diplomas on June 1. Couple that with water polo’s unique scheduling quirks and, at Labor Day, the line up has more questions than answers.

“We do things a little bit differently than the other fall sports,” Zirovich explained. “We finished our summer season on August 1, so we use the first two weeks of the school year as our pre-season when other sports are already well into their schedule. But right now, things are going great. We are so young, but I am anticipating these early season games to see what we have as far as team dynamics are concerned.”

The Titans passed the first test, a one-sided thumping of often-powerful Los Altos, during which Zirovich at one point pulled back the reins to make it  sportsmanlike.

“Crescenta Valley and Hoover will give us a much better idea of where we stand,” he added.

CONTER-ATTACKING SPECIALIST: Senior Joe Cates is usually the first one down the pool for the Titans, who hope to contend in the tough Rio Hondo League. Rafael Najarian Photos

In his new look lineup, Zirovich will go to battle with four seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen after having one of the more experienced teams in the CIF a year ago. One of those veterans is seniorJoshTao.

“Josh has a cannon for a shot that I think we can develop further,” Zirovich said. “He is super aware of what is going on and also a great defender. But he is also a good attacker who will also be called onto defend other center-forwards.”

Zirovich made a point of not assigning positions to his players at this juncture of the season.

“We are teaching everyone to play every position, except the goalkeepers,” he said.

Sophomore Ethan Mo has been a big surprise this season.

“Ethan is probably the fastest and biggest athlete we have and he can play multiple positions,” Zirovich said. “He is a natural attacker and perimeter player. Ethan is solid in his fundamentals and can drive and create on offense.”

Sophomore Gerard Ketelaar is also a rising contributor.

“Gerard might end up being our primary center forward and will definitely play center back for us,” Zirovich said. “He has come a long way in just a year and is probably our most improved player. His desire to learn and improve is phenomenal. It’s wonderful to have so much raw talent to mold.”

Freshman Haroon Elgabalawy is an experienced player for his age, having participated in the sport for several years.

“Having a left hander like Haroon gives us a ton of options,” Zirovich added. “He has typically played center back and point, but we are going to use him everywhere. Even as a fourteen-year-old, he will be a valuable addition to this team.”

Senior Will Cockrum is strong and smart.

“Will brings a high level of both athleticism and intelligence to the team,” the coach said.

“Will has a positive settling and grounding effect on us. He is an awesome defender who has come up with some big shots for us as well.”

Senior Joe Cates will get an opportunity to display his many skills.

“Joe is one of our most active players on the counter-attack,” Zirovich said. “If I had a video of our game against La Salle, I don’t know how many times he was the first one down the pool. Joe is smart, sneaky and he really creates a lot for us on transition. He will also drive in and post up at center-forward.”

Junior Elijah Carlton had a strong season last year for the Titan junior varsity and is looking to break through for the big club.

“Elijah brings a lot to the team both offensively and defensively,” Zirovich said.“He is one of the real leaders on the jayvee team and has already stepped in as a leader on varsity. Elijah is an offensive threat on the perimeter and a good defender. He is an all-around solid athlete who I am expecting big things from this year.”

Zirovich mentioned seniors Max Bradley and Max Winn, both of whom are currently out of commission due to injury.

“We will see how much they are able to play this year but both are great kids,” said the coach. “What impresses me most is that both of them are still working very hard. I am hoping they are able to return as soon as possible, because both can make tremendous contributions to the team.”

Junior Taylor Suetsugu made an impression last year and got a lot of varsity playing time for his efforts.

“Once again, he is the smallest kid on the varsity team, but his fundamentals are phenomenal. From his shot to his kick. He also has one of the biggest hearts on the team and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was one of our top scorers this year. In addition, he is one of our leading stealers. Taylor is like a pickpocket out there. He is a very strong defender and offensive threat.”

Senior Charleston Wong is back again and has been named team captain.

“Charleston is the only person with an assigned position and he is our starting defender,” Zirovich explained. “He will take the best player on the other team and his perimeter defense is exceptional. Charleston is our most experienced player. What makes him special is his ability to stop people.”

Sophomore Cole Campagnolo hopes to get the nod in goal.

“Cole really helped the junior varsity last year,” Zirovich said. “He is still growing into his body and refining his goalie skills, but he is very much ahead of the game for a sophomore.”

Freshman Idrif Elgabalawy, twin to Haroon, brings an equal arsenal of talent and experience to the team.

“Idrif practiced with the Junior Olympic team and was on the 14-and-under Junior Olympic team as well,” Zirovich said. “He is very raw, extremely athletic and super-competetive. The two brothers will be a great combination and push each other to improve.”

Which will probably be a necessity given the Titans’ relative youth in what for the past two years has been an exceptionally difficult water polo environment.

“At the Rio Hondo League coach’s meeting we took a poll,” Zirovich said. “This year the rest of the coaches chose us to finish last. To lose to everyone. That gives me internal motivation and I think it’s going to be an exciting season.”

Zirovich thinks his club can steal a playoff spot, but will have to approach the campaign “three seconds at a time.”

“That’s the way we have to look at this,” Zirovich said. “One quarter at a time, one game at a time. Our plan is to improve a little bit every day. Improve and push Temple City and South Pasadena and win those games at the end of the season.”

A feat probably best accomplished by those with young, uncluttered minds.

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