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It wasn’t particularly noteworthy when a large group of freshmen joined the Santa Monica High boys water polo team three years ago.

Some would probably find another sport or activity. Some would make new friends and go their separate ways.

But as the Vikings enter their upcoming fall campaign, those hypothetical scenarios haven’t panned out, and the ninth-graders who jumped in the pool back in 2012 haven’t gone anywhere.

“They love the sport, and they’re all really good friends,” coach Matt Flanders said. “It’s such a big group, but they all stuck together.”

Their talent and experience suggest an anticipated campaign for senior-heavy Samohi, which is hoping to make a deep postseason run after losing to Crescenta Valley in the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals last year.

Although the Vikings have won three consecutive Ocean League titles and four of the last five, they are seeking the playoff success that has eluded them. The program made it to the semifinals a couple seasons ago, but hasn’t reached the section title game in nearly 20 years.

“This is our best shot in the last four years to get back to the CIF finals,” Flanders said.

Flanders’ optimism is due largely to the presence of the returning seniors, including Jackson Kennedy, Joseph Robson and Matthew Holt. Kennedy earned all-CIF section recognition in Division 4 last year and also joined Robson on the all-conference first team, while Holt was a second-team all-league honoree.

The entire senior corps, Flanders said, has improved dramatically over the last several seasons.

“They’ve been playing together the last four years, and they’ve really matured,” Flanders said. “Most of them played club in the offseason, so they’re bringing in a lot of experience. We’ve got a lot of athletic talent. The skill level is very high.”

The players’ hunger for success this season was on display during the offseason, when they turned in what Flanders called several “dominant” performances in the Malibu summer league.

Flanders said the students are able to hold each other accountable because they are so accustomed to playing with one another.

“They’ve learned what to expect out of each other,” he said. “It’s been instrumental in our recent success.”

Even with such a seasoned roster, Samohi is working on fundamentals as it heads into the season, “making sure the little stuff is under our control,” Flanders said, “because that’s the stuff that wins games.”

The Vikings’ campaign starts off with a few tournaments and officially begins Sept. 16 with a road game against Palisades. The team’s first home game is scheduled for Sept. 17 against Hoover, and its first conference match is set for Oct. 7 against Torrance.

El Segundo will be Samohi’s toughest league opponent, Flanders said.

“They’re big, they’re strong and they’re aggressive,” he said. “Those games will be tough.”

Overconfidence could also be an obstacle for the Vikings this season, Flanders said.

“They’re very good, and they know they’re very good, so that could be a bit of a challenge,” he said. “But they work very hard.”

jeff@www.smdp.com

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