By Fred J. Robledo, SGVN
It’s been a while since Grant Miller led the Damien High School boys water polo team to its only CIF-Southern Section title, beating Riverside Poly 10-9 for the Division 5 crown in 2002.
Miller was an unstoppable force then, scoring 124 goals with 141 steals to earn Division 5 player of the year honors.
A decade later, Miller’s trying to lead the Spartans to the school’s second title as their head coach. Miller took over last season and led the Spartans to the finals, but came up short.
“It’s not easy,” Miller said. “Of all the time’s we’ve been to the CIF finals we’ve probably only been favored once.
“But we’re always striving to get back. That’s why you play, to have an opportunity to win a championship.
The Sierra League champion Spartans (21-10) edged fourth-seeded Foothill 6-5 in the Division 2 quarterfinals to advance to today’s semifinal against top seed Agoura (24-4), an 11-4 quarterfinal winner over Dos Pueblos.
Agoura is going for its third straight division title, having moved to Division 2 after winning back-to-back Division 4 titles.
Damien and Agoura will square off at the William Woollett Jr., Aquatic Center in Irvine at 6:30 p.m.
In the other semifinal, Laguna Beach will face Santa Barbara at 5 p.m.
Damien has lost four straight title games since winning its only crown in 2002, but it keeps knocking on the door, looking to advance to its third straight final.
The Spartans lost in back-to-back final appearances in 2003 and 2004 and lost back-to-back Division 3 titles to Laguna Beach, losing 11-9 in 2010 and 14-8 in 2011.
“I don’t necessarily think there’s more pressure on us than anyone else, simply because we’ve moved to a more difficult division with a lot parity,” Miller said. “Realistically, there are five or six teams that could win this division. We beat Foothill (in the quarterfinals) but they beat us earlier in the season.
“We beat Laguna Hills this season, but that doesn’t mean if we play them again we’ll beat them. There’s a lot of great teams and the one playing the best defense on that day is going to win.”
In Damien’s quarterfinal 6-5 win over Foothill, Trevor Adkins, Travis Carnochan and Stephen Osterberg each scored two goals and goalkeeper Kyle Garwick made 14 saves in allowing the Spartans to hold on.
“I personally think he’s (Garwick) the best goalkeeper in the division,” Miller said. “He’s one of the main reason’s we’re on this great run.”