Sharks looking sharp, lean ahead of water polo season

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Cooper Bell (right, #10) pressures a Crespi player on defense 

It may only be mid-July, but the Malibu High boys’ water polo team has the look of a November champion. With the start of the regular season just six weeks away, the Sharks have enjoyed a productive summer that bodes well in their quest to win a fourth consecutive league title and the program’s first CIF championship. 

The 2012 season saw Malibu dominate with a 25-5 overall record en route to a third straight Tri-Valley League title, but the top-seeded Sharks’ dreams of CIF glory were dashed when they ran into a hot La Quinta side in the semi-finals in a 10-6 upset loss. 

This summer they’ve been hard at work to erase the memory. They took part in two tournaments, finishing first and second, and are rounding up an undefeated streak in the seven-team Malibu summer league featuring tough competition such as Crespi, Santa Monica, Rio Mesa and Notre Dame. 

“We’ve been demolishing basically every team,” said senior Henry Buckley. “It’s a real confidence booster.” 

The latest boost came last week against Crespi, a division one program that plays in the tough Mission League, compared to the Sharks, who hail from division six and the less-heralded Tri- Valley League. 

No matter, the end result: 15-6 Malibu, with the home team pulling away after a tight first half that ended with Malibu leading 7-5 at the break. 

“We switched our defense and went to a pressure defense because we knew they were a little young and inexperienced,” Malibu coach Mike Mulligan explained. “That fueled our counterattack and gave us some turnovers that we could counter out of.” 

Malibu outscored Crespi, 6-0, in the third period to take a commanding 13-5 lead and pull away. Senior Jens Cole scored all three of his goals in the period while junior Owen Franz added two of his game-high five goals in the quick outburst. 

Seniors Cooper Bell and Buckley contributed as well, scoring three and two goals, respectively, in the contest. 

Buckley, Cole, Bell and Franz have been playing together since they were 12 years old. The timing and rhythm between the foursome is crisp and impeccable. Along with talented senior goalie Jack Thompson, the Sharks have a core of players that will push each other to be the best they can be. 

“We really have the chemistry going and that’s the main aspect of our team,” Buckley said. 

Mulligan echoed the same sentiments as Buckley. 

“It’s been a great summer. The cohesiveness and the chemistry have really come together,” Mulligan said. “The kids are getting a lot of water time. The guys are really enjoying playing together.” 

Summer league play has allowed Mulligan the opportunity to look at younger players who didn’t play much on the varsity in the previous year or have been promoted from the junior varsity team. Twins Max and Jake Ney and a host of other young Sharks are getting the chance to make an impression before the stakes are raised come the regular season.

“It’s a chance for our younger players to get in and see what they can do,” Buckley explained. “It’s more of a younger players showcase.” 

In other action during the summer, Malibu took first place in the Nogales Tournament defeating Valencia High School of Placentia in the championship game. The Sharks fell short in the Santa Monica Tournament, losing to El Segundo by a goal for the title. 

“Hopefully this will carry us through the fall and we can have a successful high school season,” Mulligan said.