“We’re all super excited,” Price said “We’ve been training hard all summer and hard all season. We’re ready to compete. We have all the puzzle pieces that we need. We have shooters, hole sets, attackers and lefties
Beyond that core four, there’s also senior Gavin West, a transfer from Connecticut and current member of the US Youth National Team. West came in prior to last season. There’s also junior Jake Tsotadze who also has national team experience.
There’s a very real chance that at least 7-8 members of this team will play major college water polo. A few are even on track for significant international careers. All of them know how close they came to missing this window of opportunity.
It was just eight months ago that Price recorded a video plea to Governor Gavin Newsom that was shared by the Let Them Play CA lobbying group. While he’s unsure if the governor ever saw it, he knows every little bit helped in the movement to get the state’s high school sports back in action last spring.
“Things definitely weren’t normal for any of us last year,” Price said. “We weren’t able to play or practice — and we were happy to do that for the overall healthiness of our community. But once we got that abbreviated season, we were stoked.”
The Gators went 13-0 during the shortened spring season that primarily included just local league games and no postseason. But they made it special for their 2021 seniors while also using it as a tune-up for what they knew could be a special fall campaign.
“What we got out of it were some of the best practices I’ve seen in the course of my career,” Kreutzkamp said of the spring season. “We got a lot out of it, and got a lot better coming into this year.”
The Gators opened their fall season with a 17-4 drubbing of St. Francis-Mountain View on Sept. 8. They will visit Menlo School-Atherton on Sept. 15 as a tuneup before they hit the road for their first major tournament on the state and national level. The team travels to Newport Beach for the South Coast Invitational which will run from Sept. 16-18.
Playing in elite Southern California tournaments has been a staple of Kreutzkamp’s program during its current CCS dynasty run. And the South Coast invite will be the first in close to two years.
“I never thought I’d be so eager to go to the embassy suites in Orange County,” the coach said with a laugh. “But I’m really looking forward to it.
“Every couple years you have a chance to make a difference, nationally. We’re making that a goal this year to be one of the best teams in the country. These tournaments, these teams from SoCal are so good that there’s only certain years that you’re able to compete, and this is definitely one of them.”
Price is a big reason for that. He’s the backbone of the defense and often the igniter of the Gators’ devastating counterattack.
“I’ve never had a four year starter in goal before,” Kreutzkamp said. “He’s considered the best goalie in the country. Everything that we do centers around him. We have a very fast counter system, and that’s just because Griff is in the goal and we trust him to block the ball.
“His overall quickness to the ball is something I haven’t seen in a long time. More importantly for me, he’s an amazing passer. He puts the ball where it’s needed on the counter attack and gets our offense going as well.”
Weigle is Kreutzkam’s swiss army knife, a utility player who can play the 2-meter or create from the perimeter. Vort is a lefty who acts as the point guard of the offense. Johnston, the co-captain alongside Price, is the team’s primary 2-meter player now that he’s finally 100 percent healthy after battling some back issues.
That core four alone was a group bound to win a lot of water polo matches, but then West came aboard and supercharged it.
“He’s the finishing puzzle piece to this core group of seniors,” Price said. “He’s super quick and super crafty.”
Kreutzkamp marveled at West’s speed as well.
“He’s super fast in the water,” the coach said. “He gives us another level of explosiveness on the counter and just movement at all times.”
Juniors will play a role too. Tsotadze will be unavailable at South Coast as he recovers from his own back issues, but Kreutzkamp expects him to return by mid-October. Another junior Will Swart is a three-year starter this season and maybe the second-fastest player in the pool after West.
And though the front line has all the firepower, it’s depth that wins in elite tournaments. The play of the Gators’ second unit might have been the area Kreutzkamp was most pleased with in the team’s season-opening win over St. Francis.
“I came away feeling really good about that,” the coach said, specifically mentioning a five-goal effort from Hassan Hove. “I played my second unit for most of the game and they did great. These are kids who will be coming off the bench in the major tournaments, and it’s good to see they’re going to be ready.”
Price is confident in the team as a whole, also. He and his teammates have never been more aware that the waiting part is over. It’s time for the Gators to find deeper waters.
“People will tell us we’re good. We’ll hear that we’re good from people around us. We don’t want that to get to our head,” the senior goalkeeper said. “We’re going to let the season talk for itself from game to game and practice to practice.
“Despite obstacles and what might be thrown our way, we’re going to do whatever we can to win — with whoever we have. It’s just a mentality of no excuses. We’re going to use what we have in front of us and we’re going to win.”