In the midst of what could go down as a truly historic season, Los Gatos High boys water polo coach Davor Koret said the team has yet to hit its peak in the 2023 campaign.
Should that happen and the Wildcats go on to win the league tournament title and a game or two in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, this year’s team can rightfully lay claim as the greatest in program history. The Wildcats entered the week 23-1 overall and a perfect 10-0 to win the Santa Clara Athletic League De Anza Division regular-season round-robin championship.
This was just the second time in program history they’ve won an A-league title, the first coming in the year Koret was born: in 1994, 29 years ago. Now they’re squarely focused this week on putting an exclamation mark on their regular-season dominance and winning the program’s first-ever A-league tournament championship.
As the top seed, Los Gatos has a bye in the opening round and plays a semifinal contest against the Gunn-Los Altos winner. Should the Wildcats win that game, they’ll most likely play either Palo Alto or Harker for the title on Oct. 28 at Gunn High.
Knowing he’s coaching a special group, Koret said he’s cherishing each day but at the same time knows further history is well within reach.
“The year has been great so far,” he said. “I definitely think we over-accomplished in the results, at least what we were expecting performance-wise [before the season started]. But now, I still don’t think we have hit the peak, I still think we can be better. Still waiting for the game where everyone performs at their best level and I hope that will come in the next few games and the season goes on as long as possible.”
Los Gatos has gone a combined 4-0 against Harker and Palo Alto; last season, it went a combined 0-5 against those two squads. The Wildcats edged Harker 12-11 on Sept. 26 and followed that up with a decisive 18-14 victory in the rematch on Oct. 17.
They beat Palo Alto 17-10 and 15-9, and their lone loss of the season came to Bellarmine, 13-7, on Oct. 13. The Bells are the No. 2 team in the CCS and narrowly lost to No. 1 Sacred Heart Prep, 12-10, on Sept. 27. Los Gatos is ranked No. 3 and Koret said he wasn’t terribly disappointed in their six-goal loss to Bellarmine, noting the team fought hard and responded nicely the following week.
“The Bellarmine loss was great timing,” Koret said. “If you want one game where you’re going to shake their hand and say, ‘OK, you were definitely the better team on that day,’ that Bellarmine game was it. But we got that loss out of the way and bounced back with confidence and beat Harker. And hopefully now we continue to roll.”
The highlight of the season so far was the second win over Harker on Senior Night. Seniors Connor Sullivan, Liam Amburgey, Joseph Lonergan, Riley Tomlin, Jake Walton, Eric Caplener and junior Jacob Weber started and ended the contest.
“After three Senior Nights where we lost, finally to be able to win and really acknowledge the seniors, both in the games and outside of the pool was a great night for the team, but for the seniors especially,” Koret said.
The coach noted Sullivan and sophomore standout Mathijs Dirven—“Mathijs had an amazing game,” Koret said—were the best players in the match. Sullivan had three goals and three assists, and Dirven had three goals and two assists.
Another sophomore standout, Ryan Madsen, had four goals. He produces in numbers and in the ever-valuable intangibles category.
“Ryan is always consistent and brings intensity and energy both offensively and defensively,” Koret said. “He’s an amazing player to have on the team.”
As is freshman sensation Richard Runge, who tallied three goals and played well on both ends of the pool. Sophomore Henry Bakota has provided solid support both offensively and defensively all season, and junior Weber has been solid as well. Amburgey is a catalyst and big-time difference-maker and finished with four goals vs. Harker. Sullivan has a rocket for a shot and is capable of scoring from anywhere inside 7 meters.
Now, potential history awaits. This year’s team can be the first in program history to win an upper division SCVAL tournament championship, a game in the Open Division and earn a CIF State Tournament berth. Koret said the team needs to stay humble and execute, and everything is within reach.
If the Wildcats win the De Anza Division tournament title, they most likely will earn a top four seed and avoid playing Sacred Heart Prep or Bellarmine—the consensus two best teams in the section—in the opening round.
However, if and when Los Gatos does see one of those powerhouse squads, he’s confident with his team’s ability to compete with the best.
“I think we can beat Bellarmine,” he said. “This season is very unique in that the difference between the Nos. 1 and 2 teams and Nos. 3, 4 and 5 teams isn’t as great as it was last year, where the difference was 10 goals. That’s why I don’t think it’s impossible or unrealistic to think we can beat any team. Whatever seed we get, it doesn’t really matter because I think we can compete with any of those teams. It’s there.”