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By Zach Cavanagh

The San Clemente boys water polo team has understood its assignment in its return to a full South Coast League schedule.

In the spring, the South Coast League salvaged a two-week sprint of a season after pandemic delays, but the Tritons were not up to their usual form. San Clemente posted its first losing record in league since 2016 to snap its streak of three straight South Coast League titles.

This fall, under new head coach Ikaika Aki, San Clemente is back in its form and on top of the South Coast League through the first round of league play.

San Clemente is 14-3 overall and 4-0 in the South Coast League. The Tritons posted a 20-6 win over Capistrano Valley on Sept. 28 and an 18-11 win over Tesoro on Oct. 15. San Clemente outlasted rival Dana Hills in a 13-11 win on Oct. 7 and drubbed El Toro in a 14-5 win on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

“We’re balancing so many new parts,” Aki said after the Tritons’ win over Dana Hills. “New coach, new system, even some players not returning. I’m really proud of how our guys are responding and how much they’re willing and bought into what I’m doing.”

San Clemente has leaned on strong offensive performances by senior Derek Budge and junior Ray Hickman, who have been dangerous in close and outside for the Tritons.

“I want to give them the ball every single time,” Aki said, “but it’s also all the little things our other players are doing that open them up that don’t always get noticed. We try to preach that team concept.”

Aki also said there is still plenty for San Clemente to correct as the Tritons look to retake the South Coast League championship and move on to the CIF-SS playoffs.

San Clemente hosts Capistrano Valley to start the second-round league play on Thursday, Oct. 14. The Tritons also take on local rival San Juan Hills on the road in a nonleague game on Saturday morning, Oct. 16.

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