From an early age, Max Klein’s parents stressed the importance of academics. Those lessons were ingrained in Klein’s memory as he got older, to the point where Klein’s mom, Julee, hasn’t had to give her son a nudge toward excelling in school since he got to high school.
“It’s been ingrained in me so I don’t need the whip being cracked or anything on the expectation to get good grades,” said Klein, a Live Oak High senior who carries a 4.05 GPA and for two years running has been named a USA Water Polo Academic All-American, the last with outstanding honors. “It’s good to get it, especially with outstanding distinction.”
To be eligible for the award, Klein had to maintain a 4.0 GPA in the last school year while also competing in a national tournament. Klein played with Morgan Hill’s Manta in the Junior Olympics last summer. Klein is part of a 10-player roster for the Acorns, who have remained competitive in the ultra-tough Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division.
Live Oak usually stays within striking distance against their league opponents until their lack of depth costs them.
“Due to the lack of numbers, we get tired and it’s hard to compete against teams that can sub in three to four players at any position,” Acorns coach Ryan Gautschi said. “For the numbers that we do have, they’re very strong players and we’ve been playing well despite the small numbers,” Gautschi said.
Gautschi feels confident the team will produce better results as the season goes along, as he banks on the team’s improved conditioning level.
“We want to get conditioned to the point where we have the endurance to make it through the fourth quarter strong,” he said.
The Acorns have been paced by the play of hole-set Andrew Hitchcock, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound sophomore who is an absolute load to handle for the opposition. Hitchcock missed his entire freshman season due to shoulder surgery, but he’s come on strong this season. In a match against Pioneer earlier this season, Hitchcock scored all six of the team’s goals.
“You see glimpses of something amazing,” Gautschi said.
Colin Edgar and Klein are the team captains, with Edgar playing the all-important hole-guard position and being a premier defender. Edgar’s ability to play offense and defend the hole-set allows Hitchcock the freedom and latitude to situate himself in front of the opposing team’s goal and get in position to score. Goalie Tyler Wilde has been solid in the cage, and his brother, Brian, has done likewise as a field player. Ethan Caspillo and Nicholas Shannon are first-year varsity players who have impressed, especially Caspillo.
“Ethan is a quick learner in terms of the aggressive part of water polo,” Gautschi said.
Michael Tellez and Karinne Leong are the first two players to sub in and have made vital contributions.
“Karinne’s swimming background and her speed equates well to water polo in all of the conditioning aspects,” Gautschi said.
Klein, who through last week had scored six goals, plays utility and relishes the challenge of playing every position well. Klein’s individual highlight so far this season came when he scored on a 6-on-5 advantage against Gilroy. However, Klein didn’t hear the referee’s whistle, so he quickly retrieved the ball and was about to slam the ball into the cage before people started telling him to calm down.
“That was definitely a comical moment,” Klein said.
The Acorns have risen to the challenge against A-level squads, but haven’t seen the results on the scoreboard. As the second half of the league season starts soon, Live Oak seeks to turn the tide on the opposition.