Cabrillo High's boys water polo team has balance of proven talent and potential as last year's runner-up finishers in the Los Padres League aim to improve.
The Conqs were pushed around in the pool by perennial league champion Santa Ynez last season during the LPL tournament final, which was a painful lesson for the players who return from that team, said head coach Jeff Dacus. The Conqs then bowed out of the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs to eventual champion Malibu.
The Sharks were moved up to Division 3 this year and Cabrillo is in Division 5 after the CIF shook up the playoff division format with a new power rankings system.
To reach CIF this season the Conqs have to remember what happened last year.
"You have to adjust to officiating and you can't allow a game to get out of hand," he said. "You can't expect to be bailed out by officials that have been calling ticky, tack games and all of a sudden they don't. Just play hard. I think they're ready to step up but not play stupid. Keep the physicality at a water polo level."
Which means no finesse in the water once the whistle sounds.
The Conqs are working on conditioning until Monday when Dacus will throw the Xs and Os of the offense on the board and work on executing in the pool. If they could vote the Conqs would already be working on the offense and defense in game situations.
"They're starving for actual water polo at this point," Dacus said. "They like the game strategy stuff. And they're a smart group."
It's a roster with varying levels of varsity experience, there's even a freshman, Luke Benchek, vying for playing time.
"He's played water polo before so he has a little bit of a background," Dacus said. "Maybe he doesn't have the varsity level of physicality, yet, but we'll see because he'll be tested in the preseason."
One grade older, sophomore Josh Rowe "can play with anybody" and "he doesn't shy away (from contact)," Dacus said.
While new faces in the pool often bring intrigue as fans wonder how they'll perform, there are several players who were in score books last season who Dacus is counting on to assume greater roles.
Will Heath "has that senior mentality that this is his year and his team."
Olat Luna, a junior, played JV and varsity last season, and "he proved during swim season and summer water polo that he's ready for the varsity level."
Senior Michael Wulfestieg, a three year varsity player, is "a big powerhouse at set." Devan Rosales also is a senior hole set who has strength and "a good view of the pool. He's a really good athlete."
Together the group offers some depth and ability to compete in the area.
"I think our dynamic is looking good for a moving offense and smart play," Dacus said. "They do smart things when they play."