When it comes to 2015 Miami Dade and Broward water polo, it’s all about the seniors.
This is the final high school season for such standouts as Eric Goldenberg and Gal Ben Kiki of state runner-up St. Thomas Aquinas; Alex and Andre Guerra and Jan Strusinski of state champion Gulliver; and Santiago Nuñez and Ryan Guso of state quarterfinalist Belen.
All seven of those players were first-team All-County last season.
Also in the group of Gulliver standouts is senior goalie Brett Gilbert, who made second-team All-Dade last season.
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“This core group of kids has been playing together for eight years,” Gulliver coach Carroll Vaughan said. “Jan is the team captain, and they are ready to defend their state title – at least that’s what they tell me.
“I know they are motivated, but there are a lot of strong teams out there.”
Vaughan said her team’s main competition will come from Aquinas, Belen, Columbus, St. Andrews and Orlando Dr. Phillips.
Gulliver blitzed through state last year, beating MAST, Riviera Beach Suncoast, Dr. Phillips and Aquinas. No team got closer than three points on the final tally.
But it could be tough for Gulliver to repeat without graduated standout Jonathon Chow, who is now at Cal. He was the team captain and a left-hander, which served to battle the attack.
This year, instead of having two top left-handers, Gulliver has just one in Alex Guerra.
For Aquinas, Goldenber had 55 goals and 41 steals last year. Ben Kiki had 38 goals and 30 steals. Their return makes Aquinas dangerous.
Meanwhile, coach Jimmy Aguilera, whose Belen team was eliminated 9-4 by Aquinas last year, said this season’s team is better.
“I believe we are the team to beat – better than Gulliver and Aquinas,” Aguilera said in Spanish. “We have an excellent team, and our coaches are very demanding in the technical aspects of the game.”
Outside of his players, Aguilera said Goldenberg is the best in the state.
As for his own players, Nuñez, who had 72 goals and 25 assists last season, has agreed to play for Brown University next year. Guso, who has been offered a scholarship to Santa Clara but has yet to accept, had 44 goals and 30 assists.
Belen’s goalie is Eddy Labrador, a sophomore who had shared the position in the past with Guso.
“Ryan is a spectacular utility player,” Aguilera said. “He’s one of the best goalies around, but we need him more as a field player.”
Joining Gulliver, Aquinas and Belen as a Dade-Broward power is Cypress Bay, which got eliminated in the state quarterfinals last season, falling 11-10 to Winter Park.
Cypress Bay’s best player is not a senior, however. He’s junior defender Andres Schmidt, who had 107 steals and 68 goals last year, making first-team All-Broward. He has also played for the Olympic Developmental Program the past four years.
“He’s one of only two kids from South Florida [Goldenberg is the other] on the U.S. Youth National Team,” Cypress Bay coach Jake Muller said. “Andres is very committed to the sport, he’s very aware in the water, and he’s in great shape.”
Boys’ season overview
Monday: Regular season began.
Feb. 20-21: St. Andrews tournament
Feb. 27-28: Boca Raton and Miami Beach Invitationals
March 6-7: Ransom Invitational
March 13-14: Wildcat Invitational in Winter Park
March 20-21: Gulliver Invitational
March 31: GMAC championship
April 6-8: District playoffs
April 11: State play-in games
April 17-18: State finals at Ransom Everglades
Defending state champions
Boys: Gulliver Prep; Girls: Ransom Everglades
Top returning players
Gal Ben Kiki, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.
Eric Goldenberg, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.
Alexander Guerra, Gulliver, Sr.
Andres Guerra, Gulliver, Sr.
Ryan Guso, Belen, Sr.
Santiago Nuñez, Belen, Sr.
Jorge Rizo, Columbus, Sr.
Andres Schmidt, Cypress Bay, Jr.
Jan Strusinski, Gulliver, Sr.
GK Brett Gilbert, Gulliver, Sr.
Others to watch
Mohammed Alsabbaghe, Krop, Jr.; Fisher Crist, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.; Ryan Dawson, Columbus, Sr.; Arturo Freitas, Cypress Bay, Jr.; Jason Gould, Ransom, So.; Will Scassera, Westminster Academy, Sr.; Carter Shoer, Ransom Everglades, Jr.; Parker Strickman, St. Thomas Aquinas, So.; GK Eddy Labrador, Belen, So.; Jason Woodburn, Westminster Academy, Sr.
BOYS’ TEAM-BY-TEAM OUTLOOKS
BELEN: Coach: Jimmy Aguilera; Last year: 20-3; Top players: Ryan Guso (sr.); Santiago Nuñez (sr.); Cesar Gonzalez (sr.); Noteworthy: Nuñez has played for the Peruvian National Team the past two years.
CYPRESS BAY: Coach: Jake Muller; Last year: 8-2; Top players: Andres Schmidt (jr.); Arturo Freitas (jr.); Nico Schwarz (sr.); Noteworthy: Schmidt leads the way on a team that has great postseason aspirations.
FORT LAUDERDALE: Coach: Debbie Cavanaugh; Last year: 10-4; Top players: Andre Williams (jr.); Louis Giroire (jr.); Anthony Telneliescu (sr.); Noteworthy: Lost goalie to graduation and two strong field players.
GOLEMAN: Coach: Katy Webb; Last year: 8-3; Top players: Luis Rodriguez (sr.); Carlos Bello (jr.); Sebastian Molina (jr.); Noteworthy: Rodriguez has been the team’s goalie for four years running.
GULLIVER PREP: Carroll Vaughan; Last year; 24-6; Top players: Andres Guerra (sr.); Alex Guerra (sr.); Jan Strusinski (sr.); Noteworthy: The Raiders are looking to repeat as state champions.
KROP: Coach: Ann Gordon / Gayle Steiner; Last year: 18-7; Top players: Mohamad Alsabbaghe (sr.); Blake Edwards (sr.); Samuel Sacal (jr.); Noteworthy: This team has played together for a while and seeks a break-through year.
MAST ACADEMY: Coach: Yuniel Usin; Last year: 10-5; Top players: Diego Garcia (sr.); Miguel Hernandez (so.); John Nieves (jr.); Noteworthy: Usin said his team is young, big and talented but needs more speed.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL: Coach: David Tinkham; Last year: 4-17; Top players: Lucas Cea (jr.); Christian Claramonte (so.); Sebastian Mellado (jr.); Noteworthy: The team has a new coach and a young goalie in Claramonte.
RANSOM: Coach: Eric Lefebvre; Last year: second in district; Top players: Jason Gould (so.); Carter Schoer (sr.); Will Danon (so.); Noteworthy: Lefebvre said this team is young but balanced and with good chemistry.
SOUTH PLANTATION: Coach: Ben Diaz; Last year: 0-0; Top players: Tristan Ashworth (so.); Brian Gomez (jr.); Cameron Lindsey (so.); Noteworthy: This is the first official year for the team.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: Coach: Michael Goldenberg; Last year: 22-3; Top players: Eric Goldenberg (sr.); Gal Ben Kiki (sr.); Parker Strickman (so.); Noteworthy: Three starters are gone from a team that finished second at state, but talent remains.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY: Coach: Denise Israels; Last year: 11-12; Top players: Jason Woodburn (sr.); Will Scasserra (sr.); Billy Bevill (fr.); Noteworthy: Woodburn scores the goals, and Bevill, the goalie, prevents them.