Mustang on the attack with the intent to score

A whistle is blown from the referee as he signals that the ball is outside the five meter line. Sophomore Brandon Fabrega picks up the ball and attempts a high corner shot on the goalie. He scores. He swims back to the half-court line and the game continues. 

Fabrega is starting his second year on varsity water polo as a starter and a captain. He qualified for the Water Polo Olympic Development Program (ODP) under the 15 year old bracket in July of 2019. To qualify, he first had to try out for the California Coastal Zone team which is comprised of the Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. 

“I was kind of nervous at first [when] I tried out for the [Coastal] Zone Team. There were lots of other people who all seemed to be good players,” Fabrega said. “But I felt more comfortable knowing that all [we] were [all athletes] trying out for the same thing, [regardless] of our skill level or experience.”

Fabrega was first introduced to the sport through his older brother, alumni Nicholas Fabrega. He attended the former Racers water polo club where they practiced at Nogales High School. There he was first learned the fundamentals and basics of water polo such as passing, shooting, ball handling and the rulebook.

“When my brother got into [the sport], he was like ‘Do you want to come along?’ and [I thought since] it was a water sport so why not try it?” Fabrega said. “I went and had a good time from the start, which has brought me to [where I am today].”

After qualifying for the zone team, he was entered into a tournament where he competed against the other 10 zone teams across the country at Huntington Beach. At the tournament, a national team head coach would determine who made it onto the consideration list. Fabrega was chosen and was invited to a practice comprised of two four-hour sessions. Within each session, coaches focused on what each individual player could improve on and which position they would play on the national team. Fabrega was tasked with working on his attack moves and how he could score more efficiently.

“The national team practices were tiring because of the drills we worked on [such as] positioning ourselves, moving the ball around, [efficient] passes and separating from our [opponent] for a shooting opportunity,” Fabrega said. “Even though the practices were much more tiring, I was able to [continue] by telling myself ‘I’m playing with better people [now], so I have to [pay attention] and learn.”

Outside of ODP, Fabrega practices with the high school team every Monday through Friday, from 3-6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8-11 a.m. During the offseason, he attends club practices with the Costa Mesa Aquatics Club in the afternoons for two and a half hours everyday. 

“[Definitely] longer hours and more repetition in national team [while] high school is more fundamental and getting [them] down to get better,” Fabrega said. “School practices are more fun because I can talk to my teammates instead of always practicing and working on plays like in club.”

Even though Fabrega practices water polo most days of the year, he continues to put school first. In order to work with his water polo schedule, Fabrega often completes homework before practices to attend the club or school training each day. 

“It’s important to [manage my time] so that [I] can pass my classes and still play [water polo],” Fabrega said. “If I don’t pass my classes, then the [coach] will talk to me, and I won’t be able to play because [academics] come first.”

Fabrega has had many influential role models through his years of playing water polo; the most memorable of them being Tyler Watkins and Nicholas. Watkins is a head coach for the Boys Water Polo team and has coached Fabrega ever since he started. He also works with Fabrega on what there is to improve on and motivates him through his high school and ODP journey. Since Nicholas is playing at Mount San Antonio College in its upcoming water polo season, he can help Brandon improve by reviewing game footage on what to do better. 

“[My brother] plays in college now [and that’s something] I want to do [as well]. I still look up to him and have conversations on things I mess up on [in the pool] and things he messes up on too. He’s always encouraging and [helpful] with whatever questions I have,” Fabrega said. “[Coach Tyler] always [coaches] me in and out of the pool and to [always] act like a leader [when] I play. He’s taught me many life lessons such as how to control my temper and to not let my frustration show.”

Outside of high school, Fabrega plans to continue playing water polo in college. He hopes to get scouted and receive a scholarship to play at a Division I water polo college, while focusing on his studies and future career within the medical field of sports field.

“[Water polo] has taught me a lot of things [such as] how to be a leader in the pool, outside of it and how to deal with frustrating situations,” Fabrega said. “I’ve gotten a positive experience out of water polo and learned many life lessons along the way, like always putting all your effort into something and always do what you enjoy.”

By Matthew Au, Sports editor
Photo by Tristan Gonzalez