By Gideon Rubin
Torrey Pines has been a consistent San Diego Section water polo contender for most of the last decade.
The Falcons have gone to the Div. I finals three times over that period, and have been to the semifinals in seven of the last nine years.
But the feeling within Falcons circles this season is that the program that’s never won a championship is poised to turn the corner.
The Falcons served notice winning the nonleague Poway Invitational earlier this season, and have continued gathering momentum ever since. Torrey Pines just completed a 24-5 regular season on Nov. 5 with a 10-8 nonleague victory over Santana.
Among the highlights of their season was going 10-0 in a Palomar League championship campaign. And although it wasn’t the Falcons first unbeaten league championship, the way the Falcons got there was different from past years.
Whereas the Falcons in recent years have relied on one dominant player to carry them, this year, they’re enjoying greater depth.
“I think we have more depth this year than we’ve ever had,” Torrey Pines water polo coach Rob Tilburg said. “We’ve had a couple of guys come through the program who from an individual standpoint are much stronger than some of the guys we have this year, but from a depth standpoint, we’re definitely more well-rounded this year than we maybe ever have been.
“I think it makes us more difficult to match up against because you can’t focus on one guy.”
The Falcons feature one player who’s on par with some of the standouts the Falcons have featured in recent years. Senior perimeter player Patrick Lenihan, who leads the team averaging nearly four goals, is a prohibitive favorite to win this year’s league MVP award.
But with a strong cast of complimentary offensive players, key on Lenihan at your own defensive peril.
Senior hole-set Peter Bergum and senior perimeter player Dustin Inada are among a deep group of legitimate offensive threats.
“You have to game-plan for Patrick, he’s our best player, but if you focus too much on him there are many other players out there who can beat you,” Tilburg said.
In addition to Bergum and Inada, other players who can beat you are perimeter/utility players Trevor Sauerbrey and Geoff Francis.
The Falcons play solid defense too.
Junior goalie Layne Moore is averaging over 10 saves.
“He’s had some key saves in key moments,” Tilburg said of Moore. “He quarterbacks the defense. He’s the backbone of our defense.”
The Falcons have also gotten big contributions from senior 2-meter defender Gus Avarello.
“It’s a fun group,” Tilburg said. “I think they’re having a lot of fun and the coaches are having a lot of fun too.”
Another factor in the team’s success is experience, with the Falcons led by a senior-heavy nucleus that’s been playing together on the varsity since most were sophomores.
“We’ve been playing together now for a few years with mostly the same group and so it’s been a nice culmination,” Tilburg said.
A crop of newcomers have contributed too, with sophomore Trevor Colbert perimeter player and sophomore 2-meter defender Zach Applegate making an impact off the bench.
Senior reserve hole-set Gabriel Freifeld has made big contributions too, Tilburg said.
“The strength and the focus of this team is that we have a lot of depth,” Tilburg said. “We have guys coming off the bench who are contributing and we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things, so I think that makes us dangerous in quite a few ways.
“We can beat you in many different ways.”
The Falcons depth has fostered greater camaraderie.
“I think it makes them feel like they have a bigger role in the success of the team,” Tilburg said.