Stevenson embraces expectations – Monterey Herald

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PEBBLE BEACH – A trip to Southern California for an invitation-only water polo tournament was more than a homecoming for Frank Reynolds.

The Stevenson boys’ water polo coach wanted his players to experience national level play and test their mental toughness while challenging them to take the next hurdle.

A little recognition didn’t hurt as the Pirates came back with a pair of wins while showing courage in battles against two nationally ranked programs at Huntington Beach and Foothill.

“What I’ve learned about this team is that they’re fearless,” said Reynolds. “I wanted to open their eyes to another level. We played fearlessly and for each other. Every team we’ve faced has a group of players heading to Division I schools. ”

It could be argued that the Pirates were that schedule in 2020, when the invitation to the S&R Sports Cup was first extended – as two of its players are now playing Division I water polo.

Except that 2020 never happened because the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season. Still, the invitation was still good, and Reynolds embraced the task of putting barriers in Stevenson’s path.

“Last year was meant to be our year,” said Reynolds, who has played at Cal and professionally in Australia. “I am impressed with the way this group has come together and taken ownership. ”

On the heels of a record-breaking 23-game winning season and a Gabilan Division title in 2019, Reynolds still had a pair of building blocks on the roster to retool brothers Jasper and Wylie Dale.

Over the summer, Wylie was named All-American at the National Junior Olympics in the under-16 division – one of 29 out of more than 1,000 players who participated.

His other brother Dale has sparked interest from USC, Santa Barbara, Pepperdine and UC Irvine, as well as two Ivy League institutions.

“Being complacent is the downfall for any athlete,” said Jasper Dale. “We are always looking for ways to improve. This tournament has shown that we are moving in the right direction.

Showing off a cannon for an arm and smothering opponents on defense, the Dale Brothers have combined more than 120 goals in the Pirates’ first 16 games.

“The core of this team is very committed and the backbone of the program,” said goalkeeper Luka Zaninovich. “We had players who needed to step up a lot, including myself.”

Around the same time last year, Stevenson’s players were scattered as Jasper and Wylie Dale trained with SOCAL Club Orange County for three months, while attending an online school.

“We were grinding out there,” Jasper Dale said.

Zaninovich transformed during the pandemic, returning to his Bakersfield home, where he trained with a club team and lost 30 pounds from his chiseled frame.

“I had specific days where we just worked on the technique of the goalkeeper,” said Zaninovich. “I redid my form. I improved my passage. I did a lot of weight training.

Zaninovich has become the heart and soul of the Pirates’ defense, with more than 100 saves between the posts, having held six league opponents to a total of 25 goals.

“He came to training camp with a different look in his eyes,” Reynolds said. “Luka blew us away. It anchors our defense. He brings a special atmosphere with his work ethic.

Reynolds echoed similar sentiments about Jayden Franz, a low-key assassin, who provided the Pirates with a third option in the water, forcing opponents to pay attention to the sniper.

“He’s a baseball player,” Reynolds said. “So he has a living arm. Jayden grew up where he fits into the offense as a threat anytime, anywhere. He has quiet leadership.

With Franz providing another offensive boost, the Pirates are averaging 18.5 goals per game in the Gabilan Division, overtaking their opponents by 13 goals on average.

With Jasper and Wylie emerging as two of the section’s top scorers, Stevenson has claimed 18 straight league wins.

“There is no doubt that these two provided a great starting point, a great foundation for our return,” said Reynolds. “But a lot of amazing guys have stepped up this year.”

This would include Zach Robinson, a boarding school student from Merced, who has adopted a no-frills demeanor and a bucket of lunch to train each day.

“Zach brings that farm work ethic into the pool,” Reynolds said. “He and Luka both have that quiet leadership and program strength that is so essential to our success. ”

Especially on the defensive side of the pool. The magic of the Dale Brothers begins in transition as the defense stops and pushes the ball up to the two snipers.

“When we limit the transition attack and the counterattack of our opponents, we have a chance to establish our attack in the frontcourt,” said Reynolds.

As impressive as Stevenson’s winning streak in the league was, taking that next step ended the last two years in the Central Coast Section semi-finals.

Every loss has been a goal against West Catholic Athletic League nemesis Mitty in 2018 and St. Ignatius in 2019.

“The memories are still there for those of us who are back,” Zaninovich said. “You learn from it. We are like a bunch of brothers. We are optimistic about the direction we are taking.

The competition Stevenson faced dividing four games in Orange County is another building block not only of the future of the program, but of the present as well.

“You get better in big game situations,” said Jasper Dale. “Our guys have traction. But the IQ has increased. What we have learned as a team is that we can only improve.

With the playoffs still three weeks off, Reynolds took away fears of disappointment by sprinkling in non-league games against potential playoff opponents.

“We’ll be incorporating different things to keep this team prepared,” said Reynolds. “What I can control is our schedule. We might see some of these teams on the road. ”

Reynolds cautioned his players against looking too far into the future, instead of focusing on the goals at hand, like defending the league title, while chasing perfection for a second year in a row.

“We’re trying to give the boys some perspective,” Reynolds said. “We have done a great job so far. But we still have a long way to go. We have to find other equipment.


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