Only four fall seasons ago a genuine discussion took place among observers that went something like: I can’t see how any team can catch up to Mater Dei. At the time the Monarchs’ boys water polo team from Santa Ana, CA had won 105 consecutive matches and had a trophy case full of CIF section championships (they added another in 2015).
…105 consecutive matches, didn’t lose to an Orange County team for nearly six years and claimed five straight CIF titles…
Since that 2012-13 time frame the team has fallen rarely, to Harvard-Westlake, Cathedral Catholic, and now perhaps most significantly, Orange Lutheran. The Lancers took down their Trinity League foes 13-11 on Wednesday in an overtime thriller.
And so it’s clearly “time” for Orange Lutheran, whose coach, Steve Carrera, already stunned the community by leading his girls team to a CIF-SS Division 1 championship in only the program’s third year. Fans have been awaiting the Lancers’ rise, both boys and girls.
The significance lies in the parity (relative for sure) that OLu’s rise implies. Harvard-Westlake appears to remain the class of the nation in 2016. But the Mater Dei loss should be reason for contemplation if not concern among H-W coaches. Their dominance is as tenuous as any program’s.
So a slight change in the top-ranked teams is entertaining at least, important for the sport at most. Hard not to notice, though, is that this limited parity comes with a distinctive marker: private school affiliation. For years the public-private school debate, so pronounced in football and basketball, evaded water polo in California. It has crept in to the discussion for obvious reasons, though the CIF polls are still dominated overall by public institutions. The elite programs appear to be consistently private, and Orange Lutheran’s ascendency only emphasizes that observation.