The schedule says the boys’ water polo season begins in September, but Mater Dei knows it really gets rolling in November.
That’s when the CIF-SS playoffs are on the docket, and the Monarchs have become very proficient at peaking at the right time. They’ve advanced to the section finals in each of the last nine years, winning Division 2 titles in 2008 and 2009, and Division 1 championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
Mater Dei won the Trinity League each of those nine years as well, but those banners don’t fly as high as the ones they’ve earned in the postseason.
“Our focus is not the Trinity League, our focus is CIF,” said Mater Dei coach Chris Segesman.
That mentality helped dull the sting of Mater Dei’s overtime loss Oct. 12 to visiting Orange Lutheran, ending a 41-game league winning streak that dated back to 2006. Though that loss will likely cause the Monarchs to miss out on their first league title in a decade, November is still on the horizon and Segesman believes his team will be ready for the most important stretch of the season.
“This year, we have a good crop of kids, we’re just missing a little bit of the big game experience,” he said. “But, really, our focus this year is on the big picture, which is preparing for November. So, we know in November we’re going to have to see some good teams.”
Most of the current Monarchs are short on big-game experience because last season’s team was senior-dominated. Six of the seven starters for the Monarchs were seniors, led by Thomas Dunstan, who went on to play for the U.S. Olympic team last summer in Rio de Janeiro, and his current USC teammate Luke Wyatt.
Segesman, who has been at Mater Dei since 2005, prefers a layer of starters and key backups from each class, just to ensure there’s some experience coming into each season. Last season was unique, however.
“We really went for it last year,” Segesman said. “It’s not like what we traditionally do here at Mater Dei.”
The lone returning starter for the Monarchs this season is sophomore Ian Minsterman, who scored the tying goal with 4:15 remaining in last season’s section final against Harvard-Westlake before Wyatt notched the game-winner in the 9-8 victory.
Jack Seybold has emerged as the top player for the Monarchs. He demonstrated his all-around game at the most prestigious tournament of the regular season, totaling 15 goals, six assists and seven steals over five games at last month’s S & R Sport Elite 8 at Harvard-Westlake.
“With all the seniors we lost last year, it’s kind of Jack’s moment to shine,” Segesman said. “He had a great tournament at Elite 8, not only as a goal scorer, but just his entire game.”
Christian Hockenbury is another player who’s come a long way in water polo, though he’s already well-decorated in another sport. He won a CIF-SS Division 1 swimming title last May in the 50 freestyle and posted a meet record of 20.69 seconds in the same event nine days earlier at the Trinity League finals.
“Christian exploded on the scene last year with swimming, and he’s someone we had an eye on for water polo to come in and help the varsity his senior year,” Segesman said. “He’s done a great job.”