By Joe Naiman
Coaches generally lament when their players are unable to communicate with each other during play, but Ramona High School boys water polo Coach Donnie Williams has a situation he’s willing to accept.
CIF approved the transfer clearance of Italian exchange student Matteo Franchello, who will be improving his English oral communication skills during the year but is still struggling to understand and be understood by his English-speaking Ramona teammates in the pool. Franchello will also be adjusting to the American style of water polo, although his significant experience in Italy has been more of a benefit than a hindrance to the Bulldogs.
During the Bulldogs’ first week of play, Franchello scored 21 of the Bulldogs’ 54 goals and had assists on several others. When Ramona’s 14-5 win in which eight different players had goals excluded, he had 19 of Ramona’s 40 successful shots.
Ramona had a 3-3 record for the first week of play, including a 2-3 performance at the Poway Invitational tournament.
“The team’s been growing every day,” Williams said. “They’re young but they’re willing to learn, they’re willing to practice.”
Ramona’s only returning starters from 2011 are goalie Isaac Gross and junior Jesse Reiling. Franchello has senior status, making him one of three 12th-graders on the team along with Gross and Ian Jacoway.
The Bulldogs began their season with a Sept. 4 home match against La Costa Canyon, which took an 11-10 victory at Ramona’s expense.
“It was a close game,” Williams said. “I thought it was a good game for both teams.”
Ramona’s game in the CIF Division II playoffs last year was also against La Costa Canyon. The Mavericks advanced to the quarterfinals with a 16-11 triumph over the Bulldogs.
The game last week was tied at two goals apiece after the first period. The Mavericks led 6-4 at halftime and 8-6 after three quarters, but with 2:59 remaining Ramona tied the game at 10-10.
La Costa Canyon scored the winning goal with 1:30 left in the game.
“We made a lot of mistakes, which I knew we were going to, but they fought back hard and kept themselves in the game,” Williams said.
Franchello and Reiling each scored four goals with Ryan Hall and Carl Schwettman scoring once apiece. Although Ramona only converted two of seven extra-player opportunities, when the Bulldogs were penalized they limited La Costa Canyon to two goals in eight man-up situations.
All five of Ramona’s Poway Invitational matches were played at Granite Hills High School. The first of two Sept. 6 games was a 9-5 loss to Mission Bay, which broke a 1-1 deadlock in the first period with six unanswered goals.
“We struggled with our offense and ball control,” Williams said.
Franchello had three of Ramona’s scores while Reiling and Thomas Abbott each placed one ball into the net.
Ramona ended Sept. 6 with an 8-6 win over Mar Vista.
The Bulldogs scored both first-quarter goals. Mar Vista tied the game with two goals in the second period before a Ramona goal gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 halftime cushion. Ramona increased its margin to 8-3 by the end of the third period.
“They went on a little bit of a tear,” Williams said.
Franchello had three goals against the Mariners while Abbott scored twice and Reiling, Austin Benke, and Levi Vermeulen each had one successful shot.
“That was good because we spread the scoring out,” Williams said.
Franchello and Reiling scored five goals apiece in the Bulldogs’ 10-5 win over Point Loma on Sept. 7. Ramona scored the game’s first four goals, including all three first-period tallies, and led 6-2 at halftime and 8-4 after three quarters.
The Bulldogs scored on five of eight man-up situations and on both five-meter penalty shots while holding Point Loma scoreless on six extra-player opportunities.
“That was a big part of the game,” Williams said. “We put a real solid defense on them.”
The 14-5 win took place Sept. 8 against El Camino. Ramona led 4-2 after the first period and 7-2 at halftime.
“We were attacking, playing real solid defense,” Williams said.
During the third quarter Ramona took an 11-2 lead and was ahead by a 12-4 margin entering the final period.
“Our guys just played solid,” Williams said. “They really shut them down.”
Reiling led the team with four goals. Franchello had two goals and three assists. Schwettman and Garrett Klem scored two goals apiece while Benke, Vermeulen, Jacoway, and Cory Davison tallied a score apiece against the Wildcats.
Ramona closed out tournament play Sept. 8 against Valley Center. “I knew we were going to be tired and fatigued,” Williams said.
The Jaguars, who will be Valley League opponents of the Bulldogs this year, scored the first goal on a five-meter penalty shot and had a 2-0 lead after the first period.
Valley Center led by a 3-0 margin before Ramona put a positive number on the scoreboard, and the Jaguars were ahead by a 5-1 cushion at halftime. In the second half the Bulldogs narrowed the final deficit to 10-7.
“I thought it was a decent game,” Williams said. “I was proud of the boys. They all played solid.”
Franchello had a hand in all seven of Ramona’s scores with four goals and three assists. Vermeulen scored twice and Davison had one goal and one assist. Abbott added two assists.
“I’m proud of where we’re going,” Williams said.
The Bulldogs travel to Westview for Thursday’s game.