By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
Almost everything fell into place for the Nogales High School boys water polo team last season. The Nobles challenged traditional power Walnut for supremacy in the San Antonio League before finishing second and advancing to their first CIF-Southern Section playoff appearance in more than a decade. They also won their first postseason encounter in recent memory.
Nogales is back for more, and the Nobles are expecting to exceed last year’s accomplishments.
“We return six of seven starters,” said Nogales coach Alex Matal, who earned area Coach of the Year honors after the Nobles’ turnaround in 2009. “As a team, we are focused and dedicated to earn our first league title in 22 years, as well as making a deep playoff run.”
The Nobles move from the San Antonio League and competing against traditional powers Walnut and Rowland to the Valle Vista League, where they are expected to be a favorite in the title chase along with Wilson, which moves over from the Miramonte League, and San Dimas, which competed in the Sierra League last season.
Nogales, which has won six of its first seven games, began the week ranked No. 2 in Division 7. The Nobles’ optimism lies in the return of juniors Nick Estevez and Ramon Sanchez, who have 25 and 17 goals, respectively; seniors Raul Castaneda and Danny Morales, who have 13 and 11 goals, respectively, and senior goalie Matt Hernandez, who has 69 saves and 14 steals. Castaneda and Morales also have been a force on defense in combining to draw 25 exclusions.
Nogales also went 4-1 to place seventh in the Gold Division of the Conejo Valley Classic two weekends ago. The team’s only loss came in a 6-5 setback to Santa Ynez, which is ranked No. 1 in Division 7.
Nogales opened league play with a 15-5 victory over San Dimas on Monday.
“We are off to a fast start,” Matal said. “We plan on using our momentum to continue our early success into this weekend’s (Nogales) tournament, October and playoffs.”
The Nobles’ tournament will include 28 teams and is scheduled for Friday and Saturday. It will be held at Nogales, Walnut, Rowland and Workman and feature some of the top teams from divisions 5, 6 and 7.
They include Division 7 teams Wilson, Brentwood, Cajon and Ocean View; Division 6 teams Kennedy, Pacifica of Oxnard, Hemet and Walnut, which is ranked fourth in Division 5.