A few months ago, Santa Monica High boys water polo coach Matt Flanders said this year presented his team’s best chance in years to reach the section finals.

And now comes the squad’s chance to capitalize.

After a standout season during which they earned a share of their conference title, the Vikings begin what they hope to be a prolonged run in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs.

Their journey starts with a first-round matchup at 5 p.m. Thursday at home against Burbank-Burroughs, which topped Atascadero 14-11 in a wild-card game Tuesday.

The winner will advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals against either Fullerton-Troy or Palos Verdes-Chadwick.

“It’s probably been one of our most successful seasons to date,” Flanders said. “It’s one of the better teams we’ve ever had. It’s very balanced. Now it’s up to us. … Hopefully, we’ll do pretty well.”

Buoyed by a large and talented senior class, Samohi (23-4, 7-1 in the Ocean League) has already done quite well this year.

The squad cruised through its 27-game schedule and lost just one conference contest, tying El Segundo for first place in the league standings. The Vikings have won at least a share of the last four conference crowns.

All four of the Vikings’ losses, which came by one goal each, “could’ve easily been wins,” Flanders said.

But Flanders is much less interested in those past performances than in what his team can do in the postseason. Samohi, which lost in the section quarterfinals last year, made the semifinals a couple seasons ago but hasn’t reached the title game in nearly 20 years.

“We are ready to go and mentally focused,” Flanders said. “We really want to make it to the finals. … We’re never out of a game. We can definitely turn it on.”

Powering the Vikings’ offense are Jackson Kennedy, Joseph Robson and Evan Blaney, who Flanders said “can score at any time.” They’re part of a 13-member senior class that is as skilled as it is experienced.

“It’s a mature group, and they work well together,” he said. “These guys have worked hard.”

But Samohi will likely have to shore up its defense and cut down on penalties to succeed in the playoffs. Too many times this year, Flanders said, the squad has played in five-on-six situations due to infractions.

“We tend to score lots of goals, but our offense sometimes stagnates,” he said.

The Vikings are competing in a bracket that also features Santa Maria-Righetti and Crescenta Valley, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year. Fellow Ocean League representative El Segundo will face Cerritos in a first-round game Thursday.

“It’s a very even field,” Flanders said.

Last month, members of Flanders’ team covered themselves in green paint and ran across the field before the Samohi football team’s homecoming game, extending a decades-long tradition in a program whose players are sometimes referred to as “Greenies.”

Last week, Flanders jumped into the pool after the Vikings secured a share of their conference title.

Whether Samohi will be celebrating in similar fashion Nov. 21 at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine remains to be seen.

jeff@www.smdp.com