As the newest member of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division, the Mountain View High boys water polo team approached this season without expectations.
“We came in with the mindset of, ‘Let’s test it out and have fun,’” junior Tony Nardelli said of taking on the difficult De Anza a year after winning the SCVAL’s easier El Camino Division. “We didn’t have any pressure or stress – there’s nothing to lose.”
That attitude appears to be working; the Spartans sit in first place and haven’t lost a game all season. They improved to 7-0 in league and 13-0 overall with Thursday’s 15-11 win over visiting Lynbrook.
“It’s by far the best start we’ve had in the upper division since I’ve been here,” said Rafael Alapont, who returned as varsity coach this season after running the frosh-soph squad in recent years and has been with the program for more than a decade. “This is potentially the best team I’ve had.”
If Mountain View’s triple-overtime win versus Los Gatos in the first week of league play didn’t grab the attention of the rest of the De Anza, then its victory over defending champ Los Altos two weeks later surely did. Nardelli ranks the Sept. 6 home game against Los Gatos – a 12-11 triumph decided on senior Ahram Ham’s sudden-death goal – as the Spartans’ best win of the season, with the 9-8 victory at rival Los Altos Sept. 13 close behind.
“Los Gatos is one of the top teams in league, and that was our first really difficult game of the season. We gave it our all and won, and we surprised ourselves; it was a boost of confidence,” he said. “Against Los Altos, we still played with a nothing-to-lose mentality, but we really wanted to show the league what we can do – and we went out and did it.”
Mountain View followed that with a 16-4 thrashing of Gunn Sept. 25. The home win capped the first half of league play for the Spartans, who outscored their foes 85-58 over those six games.
Alapont cited several reasons for Mountain View’s success, starting with the experience the boys gained by playing over the summer.
“Most of them play club year-round for West Valley,” the coach said of the Mountain View-based club he runs. “That’s helped them improve the team chemistry and their skills.”
Four Spartans – field players Nardelli, Nate Randolph and Kyle Do, along with goalie Sam Vincent – played on the under-16 squad that finished sixth at the Junior Olympics in July.
Nardelli, sophomore Randolph and senior Justin Bosset are Mountain View’s leading scorers. Nardelli and Randolph also serve as team captains, along with senior Jeremy Noel.
“They’re doing an extremely good job,” Alapont said of his team leaders. “They’re great at communicating with the other players and relaying what I’m looking for.”
Vincent, another senior, “has been having a great year” in goal, according to Alapont.
The Spartans get a spark off the bench from juniors Oren Joffe and Alex Wong.
“Owen has an offensive mindset and Alex has speed and is good on defense,” the coach said.
Alapont added that Mountain View is a tough team to defend because it has offensive threats all over the pool.
“We have six players who can shoot the ball and score,” he said. “Anyone we drop off the ball to can score.”
Alapont also raved about the Spartans’ work ethic.
“They’re very disciplined and train extremely hard,” he said. “They train two to three hours a day.”
That training should come in handy over these final three weeks of league, when Mountain View faces teams eager for payback. The Spartans are slated to host Palo Alto 3:30 p.m. Thursday and Los Altos 6:45 p.m. Tuesday.
“We surprised some teams the first time around, but they’ll be more prepared for us this time,” Nardelli said. “But no one is stressing – we’re just going to play our game and see how the other teams respond.”