Varsity boys’ water polo makes a splash, winning first NCS title in seven years

Will Baker

The Redwood bench, along with head coach Rudy Kardos, leaped into the De la Salle Aquatic Center pool in celebration as the varsity boys’ water polo team outlasted Acalanes High School 10-7 en route to winning the North Coast Section (NCS) title on Nov. 13. It marks the team’s second NCS win under Kardos and their third trip to the championship in his tenure.

Surveying his options, goalie Charlie Mills looks to push the ball forward.

Kardos looked on in his drenched clothes as his boys hoisted the pennant, posing for celebratory photos.

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for since 2014,” Kardos said. “We were coming into the game as the favorite, but it’s high school sports, so you never know. Acalanes has a solid team so we [couldn’t] take anything for granted.” 

As Kardos anticipated, the game came with bouts of adversity. The most immediate of which surrounded the dimensions of the pool. At 25 meters in length, the championship venue’s pool was drastically shorter than Redwood’s water polo pool of 30 meters. According to Kardos, Redwood’s swimming approach to the game favors a larger area of play.

Still, Redwood was first to score with a Max Matthews goal that found the back of the net, provoking a roar from fans poolside. After an Acalanes score, junior Preston Page put the Giants ahead again to end the first quarter at a score of 2-1. The back-and-forth scoring continued into the second quarter, but Redwood began to wear down Acalanes’ advances, securing a 5-4 lead at halftime.

“Our goal was to just slowly, patiently keep grinding away,” Kardos said. “At the end, it was just a game of patience to try to make sure not to give them opportunity or hope.”

Jumping from the pool deck after the game, Redwood celebrates its first boys’ water polo NCS title since 2014.

Helping this effort was Page who added two more goals in the second quarter. His performance was applauded by his teammates and coaches. 

“Page is always doing the dirty jobs and stepped up in the moments when we needed him,” Kardos said.

Page’s play was timely as Redwood faced another setback with ample time remaining for an Acalanes comeback. After netting a goal in the second quarter, senior captain Marco Asiano fouled out with his third exclusion with 6:36 remaining in the third. 

“As a captain, it’s really painful to be fouled out on the first play of the third quarter—you can’t captain from the bench,” Asiano said. “I was just frustrated. You’re watching your team play in the championship game and you have to sit there on the bench.”

The Giants turned to Matthews to lead the team as he went on to score back-to-back goals in the third quarter, both products of sharp instincts, skipping across the water and into the net. Matthews says his role had grown to be more than just a key threat in the water with Asiano out.

“[Asiano] is a leader on the team and he’s super loud and vocal. When he’s out, you can definitely hear him from the bench but there still needs to be someone filling in that spot in the pool. I think on Saturday I did my best to take over in his absence,” Matthews said.

Looking to extend Redwood’s lead, senior Travis Hughes winds up for his second goal of the game.

The Giants maintained a steady lead behind goals from senior Travis Hughes while Matthews added a fourth with 2:09 left in the game. While the starting six and goalie Charlie Mills continued to impress, junior Zac Zedlitz and senior Dante Salvetti stepped in to fill the physical void left behind by Asiano.

“I’m really proud of those boys because they aren’t always in the spotlight, … but they continue to put in the work this season and capitalized,” Matthews said.

While the importance of Redwood’s unsung heroes cannot be overlooked, a summary of the game would not be complete without mention of junior center, Billy Zech, who currently stands with a monstrous 99 goals on the season. While Zech went scoreless in the championship, his presence was felt throughout the game.

“[Billy’s] stats are just [one aspect] of his performance because he’s either doing something on his own or making it so that the rest of us on the outside have an advantage,” Matthews said.

 Despite miscues, including a missed penalty shot, Redwood found the selflessness that has characterized the demeanor of the group throughout the season to lead them to the pennant. 

Showing off the championship plaque, Senior Marco Asiano smiles big alongside his teammates.

“There was a pass I made to [Zech] in set and he drew a five meter from it … that was one of the first times we had gotten the ball to [Zech] that whole game,” Matthews said. “It’s easier to play selfishly than not … The team will always get the job done more often than any single player can. A play like that really shows the guys what we can all accomplish when we work together.” 

With a 10-7 lead, the Giants stalled out the remaining minutes of the game, cementing a trip to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) NorCal championship tournament. The tight bonds between such a talented group that has grown up in the pool together added meaning to the win. 

“You have the grind of swimming but the connection of a team sport. I find it so nice when we win with local kids who all hang out with each other instead of making some club superteam; it’s a little more meaningful,” Asiano said.

The team will have its sights set on its Nov. 16 game versus Northgate, eyeing a run at the CIF NorCal Division II crown.

“We’re hungry to win again, and we’re gonna keep winning until we win out,” Asiano said.