Editor’s note: This is the sixth in an eight-part series previewing the Davis High fall sports.
It’s not everyday that a team has to deal with the loss of a two-time Sac-Joaquin Section water polo player of the year and U.S. youth national team member. But’s that’s exactly what the defending section champions Davis High boys are tasked with this fall.
After seeing four-year varsity player, and reigning Davis High Male Athlete of the Year Connor Stapleton go on to Stanford, the Blue Devils will attempt to recreate last season’s success without their former star. According to DHS coach Tracy Stapleton, who happens to be that standout’s dad, the locals have already shown there is life without Connor:
“They’ve been playing in club play as a team this summer, without Connor. And they’ve done well, so I don’t think they’ll have too much of a problem.”
Last year’s SJS title was Davis’ first since 2008, and gave the returning players a feeling they are eager to duplicate. And the team’s quest to repeat at section will be made easier by the return of six of last year’s seven starters.
Three of them — goalie Jeff Stark, utilityman Conrad McCarthy and attacker Bradley Nicholson — are juniors who are expected to makes significant contributions alongside seniors Garrett Fisk, Graham Fullerton, and Tyler Ujifusa. All six have experience playing at the highest level, including Fisk, who is currently representing the U.S. at the Pan Am Games in Argentina.
In addition to the three senior starters, there are five more 12th-graders on the roster, meaning the Devils will have no shortage or experience and leadership.
“In order for us to be successful this year,” Stapleton said. “We’re going to need good leadership, especially from Garrett, Tyler and Jeff.”
And Stapleton certainly knows a thing or two about success. During his 25 years at the DHS helm, his teams have consistently been among the best in the region, usually due to a particular skill that nearly all of those squads have shared:
“We play defense,” Stapleton said. “Every team of mine plays aggressive defense.”
Stapleton’s eight section crowns prove the adage “defense wins championships,” and this year’s squad hopes to follow in those footsteps.
Standing in the Blue Devils’ way, however, is a formidable group of talented teams, many of which will be out for revenge. Jesuit, as always, poses a challenge for DHS. The Granite Bay Grizzlies, who the Devils beat, 13-5, in the SJS final last year, also feature a squad that is skilled and hungry for revenge.
Other strong opposition comes from St. Mary’s and Lodi.
As the defending champion, Davis will be the main target for all of those teams and can look forward to getting its opponents best game each time out. The Blue Devils also must be careful not to get overconfident, but their coach thinks that won’t be a problem.
“(We’re) just going to take it one game at a time,” Stapleton said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
Notes: DHS opens the season Thursday, when El Camino comes to town for a 4 p.m. matchup. … The section playoffs begin Nov. 9 at Johansen with the championship match set for Nov. 16 at Woodcreek.
— Reach Spencer Ault at [email protected]