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High Schools: And so they meet again

October 20, 2011|By Matt Szabo
(Scott Smeltzer…)

They will be on opposing sides Saturday in the Battle of the Bay for boys' water polo.

Corona del Mar High seniors Ben Zepfel and Charlie Howarth, as well as Newport Harbor juniors Dan Stevens and Curtis Fink, will be trying to lead their respective high school teams to victory in the rivalry match, at Newport Harbor at 2 p.m.

But before they split sides for high school, the four players were just part of Club Split OC.

They were part of a powerful 14-and-under age group team for the club, now called Orange County Water Polo Club. Also on the team were such current high school standouts as Newport Beach residents Jon and James Walters, now at Mater Dei, as well as Max Merrill and goalie Luke Weiser from Los Alamitos and Eric Silcock from El Toro.

The team was impressive. It won a Speedo Cup title in November, 2006, in Missouri, and finished second the next year. The team took bronze at the Junior Olympics in San Jose in 2007. Though Howarth played in older age group due to his Dec. 31 birthday, much of the core of the team also won the title at the U.S. Club Water Polo Championships in July, 2008.

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Zepfel and Stevens will likely be battling at two meters on Saturday, Zepfel as the center and Stevens as the guard. It wasn't always that way; at the time both played two-meter guard. They competed for playing time on Club Split OC, which started with practices at Laguna Hills, Villa Park and Orange high schools before settling in as OCWPC at JSerra.

"We would basically sub for each other when we messed up," Stevens said. "We were competing for the same spot, but it was a healthy competition. [Coach] Peter [Asic] promoted healthy competition."

The Battle of the Bay is a more intense competition. When Newport Harbor defeated CdM, 9-7, in the final of the S&R Sport Cup on Oct. 8, it was a very physical game. But there remains a certain amount of respect in the water.

Not that both players aren't looking for advantages.

"It sort of goes both ways," Zepfel said. "Sometimes I know what he's going to do, but he also knows what I'm going to do. It balances it out … It's just kind of funny. We both started out doing the same thing, and now we're doing the opposite thing."

Zepfel is CdM's leading scorer. He and Howarth will be trying to lead the Sea Kings (15-4) to their third Battle of the Bay triumph in four years.

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