Sharks finish second in CIF

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Passionate Sharks fans cheer loudly in support of their team.

The Malibu High School boys water polo team lost to the Cerritos Dons, 13-6, in the CIF Southern Section, Division IV championship game at the Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine on Saturday. This marks the farthest that any Malibu water polo team has ever advanced in the playoffs.

“This is a great season, these kids need to hold their heads up high and be proud of themselves Malibu head coach Mike Mulligan said. Sure, the goal is to be champions, and we fell one game short of that, but they have a lot to be proud of. They played a great game.”

The Dons got off to a commanding start, scoring three quick goals. However, Sean Merrick responded with three goals for the Sharks (28-3), which tied the score at three by the end of the first quarter. In the second and third quarters, the Sharks scored only one goal and struggled to stop their speedy opponents, which allowed the Dons to put the game out of reach.

The Sharks were led by Merrick, who had five goals. “[Merrick] is a champion,” Coach Mulligan said. “He puts his heart and soul into everything, he has a never-say-die attitude, and he plays 100 percent all four quarters.”

Carter Baldwin had the only other goal for the Sharks.

Some members of the Sharks admitted to feeling overconfident entering the game after they learned the Dons had lost to a team that the Sharks beat by a large margin earlier in the season.

“We won the semifinals, and then we thought we were going to win CIF, and we were talking about getting our rings,” senior Sean Merrick said. “We went into the game a little too cocky instead of just following our game plan and executing. We overlooked [Cerritos] too much.”

Although many players were sad and frustrated after the game, they realized that their success this season could inspire future generations of water polo players.

“I have been playing water polo since fifth grade, and growing up, there was this ‘Dream Team’ that I looked up to,” Jacob Vandor said. “Those guys got the furthest that Malibu had ever gotten. Growing up, that is what I wanted to be like. I hope that people growing up now will remember our team as the furthest that Malibu has ever gotten, the new ‘Dream Team.’ One day, my little brother’s friends will come up to me and say, ‘You were on that team!'”

Many Malibu fans made the trip to Irvine to support their team. The Shark fans were loud and brought large signs to encourage the players. “They were great,” senior Alex Greenberg said. “I did not expect so many fans to come out and support us.”

The road to the CIF championship game was not an easy one for the Sharks. In the first round, Malibu beat Peninsula, 16-5, but in the next round, the Sharks narrowly defeated Righetti, 11-9. In the semifinals at UC Santa Barbara, the Sharks beat Mira Costa in a tight game, 5-4, which allowed Malibu to advance to the finals against Cerritos.

The loss to Cerritos ended the most successful season the Sharks have ever had. This is only the second team in Malibu history to advance to the semifinals of CIF, and the first team to play in the championship game. The Sharks lost only two games during the regular season, and won the Tri-Valley League title. The Sharks’ success this season is a testament to the sacrifices of seniors Blake Baldwin, Carter Baldwin, Michael Galate, Greenberg, Merrick, Jake Philbrick and Vandor, who have spent countless hours before and after school practicing and becoming better players during their four years on the team.

“We were never expected to make it to the finals,” Merrick said. “We worked hard in the off-season, and it paid off. I am really proud of our group.”

Coach Mulligan said this team is the best he has ever coached. “They got the furthest, did the best of any team I have had and had the best record. In my eyes, they are number one today.”