Just curious. Why do you think that Lamo has a good chance to finish top 3 or win JOs? On paper, it looks like a finish in 6-10 range would be more likely.
Here is my attempt to answer your question. Last year, Lamorinda probably over-achieved when it finished 6th in the 18u division at the Junior Olympics. Four other Pacific Zone teams finished in the top 12: Stanford (2), SHAQ (7), CCU (8), and San Jose WPF (12). This is a down year for SHAQ; I don’t see them finishing in the top 12. Colin Mello, the head coach at Bellarmine, has done a great job with the San Jose WPF. For years, Stanford has had its pick of the top CCS players. That is changing now, with many of the top Bellarmine and Valley Christian players choosing to play for the San Jose WPC. San Jose is also drawing players from other South Bay high schools. If this trend continues, Stanford will have significant competition in its own backyard, but I think it will be difficult for San Jose to finish in the top 12 this year.
This will be Lamorinda’s best 18u team in years. Lamorinda has excellent depth and coaching. I’m agnostic on the “closed-club” v. “open-club” debate, but Lamorinda has a good mix of players from six high schools: 7 from Miramonte, 3 from De La Salle, 2 from Acalanes, 1 from San Ramon Valley, 1 from Campo, and 1 from St. Ignatius. Other than Stanford, I can’t think of another team with as much depth as Lamorinda, and I believe Lamorinda’s second group is stronger than Stanford’s second group. Seven of the 10 graduating seniors likely to be on Lamorinda’s roster for the JOs will play college water polo (Cal, UCSB, Davis, Brown, Long Beach State, Pomona, and Occidental). One of the other graduating seniors was recruited to play water polo in college, but has elected to focus on swimming. Another Lamorinda player, Nick Shroeder (Campo, 2018), started as a freshman at George Washington last year. He was probably the most underrated player on Campo’s excellent 2017 team, and he will be one of the top center defenders at the JOs. I think there will be four rising seniors on the Lamorinda roster and each of them is likely to play Division 1 water polo, including Jackson Painter, a LH attacker from Miramonte. Painter is on the ODP academy team and will be recruited by every good college water polo program. Liam Ward (De La Salle, LBSU) was the top senior goalie in northern California last year. With Ward and Miramonte’s rising senior, Oliver Von Karl, Lamorinda’s goaltending will be among the best at the JOs.
Lamorinda swims well. Three of their players have sub-22 50 free times. Of the three players likely to get significant playing time at center, the slowest swims the 50 in 22.65. Lamorinda will counter-attack at every opportunity and will play a strong pressing defense. Lamorinda’s coach, James Lathrop, is among the best in the country and he knows what to do with talented players. The core Stanford and CCU players have been playing together for many years. Lathrop’s challenge, and it won’t be easy, will be to get the former 680 players used to playing within his system and to get the team to gel in time for the Junior Olympics. I think the keys to Lamorinda’s success will be the center play, the 6-on-5 and the 5-on-6 play, and how well the players are able to transition from a pressing defense to a zone defense.
If I did this correctly and all goes according to form (and it won’t because the No. 5 team in the Pacific Zone will not make the top 12), here is what the final group of 12 teams will look like at the JOs:
If the JOs hold true to form, the top three teams from the Pacific Zone (Stanford, Lamorinda, and CCU) will play in what appear to be two of the three toughest groups. To borrow a phrase used to describe the most challenging group at the World Cups, the third group is likely to be the “group of death,” with Newport or OCWPC; Stanford, Lamorinda, or CCU; and Del Mar. That is a brutal draw. To maximize its chances, it would be better for Lamorinda to finish first or third in the Pacific Zone and to play in the second group. That would be a tough draw, but not as tough as the third group.
I will post my predictions and a more detailed analysis of the other teams after the Futures League finals.