Chris Critzer’s water polo career at Christopher High is coming to an end soon, and coach Paul Wells knows he’ll be losing a special player.
“Chris is like the third real standout we’ve had at Christopher,” Wells said. “Often times what happens is everyone else defers to him, and I don’t blame them one bit.”
Even though Critzer attracts a bulk of the defense’s attention, his teammates have also stepped up to make this season a successful one for the Cougars, who are projected to finish in third place in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division. Should that hold true, Christopher will play the Mission Division champion with a Central Coast Section playoff berth at stake. Christopher will finish behind Stevenson and Carmel, two programs with strong water polo traditions. No shame in that, especially considering the team’s practice times have been cut in half due to the school having to share a pool with Gilroy High after Gilroy’s aquatic facility was shut down for the season.
“I get the necessity of it (the Gilroy Unified School District having the two schools share the pool on the Christopher campus), but I’m just making a statement of fact, that it has been a significant impact in how it has affected us,” Wells said. “You would not believe how much taking half your practice time away affects you.”
With a varsity roster of 15 players and an equally sized junior varsity team, the Christopher program remains healthy and viable. In Critzer, the Cougars have a dominant player who leads the team in goals and steals.
“Chris is a tremendous contributor and a pure talent,” Wells said. “Obviously he’s on everyone’s radar, and they’re always saying, ‘Let’s shut down No. 11.’ But he still manages to make a solid contribution.”
Critzer is one of only two seniors on the team, with the other being Alexander Swenson. Wells said Swenson has made dramatic improvement in every phase of the game, including a cannon for a shot and a game awareness that seems uncanny at times.
“He’s really developed a significant style of his own,” Wells said. “He’s got long arms and a strong water polo IQ. He understands the game and can be a step ahead, which is where you have to be. He can anticipate what is likely to happen and be there to make something happen. He’s come a long way in an incredibly short amount of time.”
Wells has seen strong play from Luke Sutter, Decklin Byrd, Christian Crowley, Jacob DeMare, Charlie Wheat, Emiliano Grieco and junior Casey O’Callaghan, who has been the unsung hero on the team at goalie. The position was a big question mark before the season started only to see it become a strength after O’Callaghan volunteered to play the position. O’Callaghan has been a revelation in the cage, making tremendous saves and looking like someone who has played the position for a while.
“He’s a quality, quality field player, but it goes to his commitment to the team and his leadership that he stepped up and said I’ll be your goalie,” Wells said. “He’s worked hard at it and God love him he’s done a great job. I appreciate his leadership, talent and commitment to the team—it’s quite remarkable. He’s turned out to be a real take charge kind of goalie, aggressive and someone who will go after the ball. He’ll move and guide people around and yell at them to reposition them. He’s made a huge contribution, and we would be nothing without him at this point were he not in goal.”
Wells has been encouraged by several players, especially a sophomore like Grieco, who is in his first year of playing the sport and has caught on fast. That is somewhat appropriate considering speed is his No. 1 asset.
“He made the varsity just because of his speed,” Wells said. “We try to get him in games where feasible, but he’s going to be a good one. He’s picked up the game real fast.”
DeMare has been excellent shooting from the left wing, boosting the team as a potent offensive threat from five meters in. Even though Wells doesn’t foresee having a top standout like Critzer on the team next year, he said DeMare would be the closest thing, a high compliment indeed. Crowley and Wheat have also shown plenty of potential, which bodes well for next year and beyond.
“Christian has shown some real courage and has developed a real good water polo sense,” Wells said. “I’m excited about how he’s come on. And Charlie has been a really strong and aggressive player.”
Wells is also high on sophomore Luke Sutter, a lefty who has tons of potential. Sutter’s older brother, Logan, is playing at UC Santa Barbara and prepped at Christopher and Valley Christian.
“Luke is a tough player,” Wells said. “He’s a good swimmer, sticks his nose in there and shoots it strong. He is nothing but upside and has come on strong this year, and we certainly expect big things from him next year.”