New coach energizes CHS boys water polo team

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

The success achieved within a team’s season can be attributed to numerous factors. But if there’s one reason why the Claremont High School boys’ water polo team had a standout 2022 campaign, it was thanks in part to the program’s new head coach: Gary Cheever.

On January 7, 2022, CHS announced then varsity boys coach Robert Green had stepped down after just one season. In came Cheever, the Wolfpack’s girls water polo coach at the time, to fill the vacant opening for the upcoming 2022 season.

Last season under interim coach Green, the boys program placed fourth in the Palomares League, made it to the second round of the Division III CIF-Southern Section playoffs, and finished with a 15-11 overall record.

A tough act to follow, but Cheever built on the foundation.

In his first season, Cheever guided the boys to a Palomares League runner-up spot — losing 17-10 at [Division I opposition] Alta Loma High School on October 26 — and back to the Division III playoffs. Unfortunately, the team lost to Irvine High School, 17-11, in the quarterfinals on November 5 despite a first-round bye and high hopes of reaching the finals. Although the team had fewer games scheduled under Cheever, the team’s overall record improved to an outstanding 19-4.

When any team is able to jump two league spots, finish a round higher in CIF playoffs and dramatically improve their overall, it begs the question: what exactly has been the secret sauce?

Cheever said he didn’t overhaul the program, since the team he inherited from Green already contained lots of talent.

“They’ve been playing together for a long time. They have a lot of team chemistry,” Cheever said. “They really just needed someone to just push them.”

Claremont High School boys water polo coach Gary Cheever speaking to his players during a home game against Bonita in October. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo

And push them he has according to senior center Wyatt Brandt, who said Cheever has instilled the team with a newfound work ethic, numerous conditioning sets and sound structure.

“We saw the drastic change instantly from having Cheever versus Rob [Green]. With the implementation of coach Cheever, I feel like we’ve become a lot more focused,” Brandt said.

“Right off the bat our offense was a lot more structured, before it was a lot of like solo ball last year,” said captain and senior attacker Davin Castillo. “Our players didn’t know where to be. [Cheever’s] really implemented structure into our offensive as well as the defense too and knowing our roles as players.”

Cheever said the most difficult parts about being the program’s first year coach was learning the team’s personnel, their strengths, and how to “plug them into areas of the game where they’d be successful.” He added getting them to realize their potential was another difficult factor, but he seems to have been successful, given the results.

“We’re very, very talented on the offensive side,” Cheever said. “If you look at our scores, they’re usually pretty high scoring. Luckily, we have a very talented goalie in Aaron Alvarado, so anytime we make mistakes he’s there to save us a majority of the time. The biggest thing we struggle with is the defensive side of the ball. But our defense has gotten better as the season’s been progressing.”

Claremont High School boys water polo senior center Wyatt Brandt during a practice earlier this season. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo

This past spring, Cheever filled in as CHS’s head swim coach and got to know a few of the boys from the water polo team who came out to participate.

“During swim season I got a chance to see how competitive they are competing in a sport they are not as passionate about as water polo,” he said. “So, I knew going in that they’re going to be very competitive and play hard.”

Before taking over the boys program, Cheever built a winning reputation with the Wolfpack’s girls team. In his last seven years with the team, he brought home back-to-back Palomares League titles in 2018 and 2019 and guided the team to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division III and IV tournaments in 2017 and 2018.

“We’ve had four league MVPs from our [girls] program the last four years,” Cheever added. “Several of the girls went on to play [Division 1], D-II and D-III ball.”

Asked if it’s been difficult to replicate his success with the girls team with the boys, Cheever said it’s been nothing like that.

“I think we’re right where we want to be,” he said describing the boy’s program.

Following the boy’s season — which occurs in the fall — Cheever will return to the pool as the girl’s water polo coach in the winter. He said when CHS fans and water polo spectators come out to either team’s matches, they’ll be treated to hard fought games.

In fall of 2021 before taking the CHS job, Cheever was coaching the boys team over at Diamond Bar High School. He remembers after a playoff game last year being pelted by questions from all asking if he was going to switch allegiances to Claremont. His kept his answer secret until the announcement earlier this year.

That January 7 post from CHS athletic director Mike Collins read, “During his thirteen years of coaching water polo [Cheever] has coached in four CIF finals games and won eight league championship teams. In 2014 Coach Cheever was named CIF-SS Coach of the Year. In 2018 he was named Inland Area Water Polo Coach of the Year.”

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