Corona del Mar High boys' water polo player Matt Sherburne is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / November 12, 2013)

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Matt Sherburne grew up playing basketball and baseball, but his father Rick always wanted him to try water polo.

Rick was certainly successful in the water. He played water polo for Sunny Hills High and UCLA in the 1970s. While in Westwood, he was part of the Bruins' 1979 national finalist team, and he earned all-NCAA Tournament honors.

Matt was fine with trying out water polo. He got his feet wet, so to speak, in the seventh grade with longtime Coach Ted Bandaruk.

Matt grew to love water polo. Plus, he was a realist.

"I kind of realized when I was young that I wasn't going to go very far playing basketball," he said. "I wasn't going to be very tall, you know what I mean? I'm a white kid from Newport Beach. I probably wouldn't get very far."

Matt Sherburne still gets to play center, just in water polo, not hoops. He has grown to an even 6-feet tall.

More importantly to the Corona del Mar High boys' water polo team, Sherburne has grown into a team captain and leader. The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week will need to play big Saturday, as CdM plays host to top-seeded Mater Dei in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal match at 1 p.m.

Sherburne scored twice in Wednesday's 15-10 first-round win over Huntington Beach. Last week, he also certainly stepped up in a big situation.

A lot was at stake. The Sea Kings were on the verge of losing at Northwood, and on the verge of not winning the Pacific Coast League for the first time in 15 years.

Sherburne had something to say about it. He scored a game-high five goals as CdM won, 9-8, sharing the league title with the Timberwolves.

He also battled through adversity in the game. Sherburne was excluded twice in the first quarter. In the second half, he hit the crossbar several times, and had a five-meter penalty shot blocked by Northwood goalie Tim Shaw.

Yet CdM Coach Barry O'Dea kept Sherburne in the offensive end. And Sherburne kept shooting. After Northwood built a 6-4 lead in the third quarter, he beat a double team to score on a sweep shot. Sherburne then scored on a counterattack, tying the score at 6-6.

"It's fun," Sherburne said. "I know I'm going to get the ball usually, and I'm playing one-on-one. I usually have confidence that when I get the ball, it's a pretty easy goal. I know I didn't really show that in the last game — I hit a lot of bars — but I like getting set. It's fun."

Early in the fourth quarter, Sherburne earned an exclusion then scored on the power play, again knotting the score at 7-7. After another of CdM's captains, junior Jack Trush, drew an exclusion, Sherburne scored from five meters, giving CdM its first lead of the second half.

Sure, later Sherburne had that penalty shot blocked. And his final shot of the game also went off the bar, on a lob. But there was yet another senior captain, Charlie Rodosky, scoring the winning goal on a rebound with 1:08 left.

"He got a lot of shots," O'Dea said of Sherburne's game. "He missed some that he doesn't normally miss, but he just creates opportunity for us when I can get him in some different situations. We say to the guys all the time, you play the game of water polo, you're going to miss a lot of shots. You can't ponder on the one you miss, because you're going to have another one coming up pretty soon.

"One thing he does, he takes smart shots. He rarely takes a bad shot."

O'Dea gave Sherburne a shot last year, as the only junior on a team full of seniors. He was ready for it, after being called up for a few varsity games during his sophomore year of 2011, when the Sea Kings advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title match before falling to Long Beach Wilson.

Last year Sherburne got to share time with CdM's other centers, Armen Mavusi (now at UCLA) and Ty Hack (UCI), and perfect his craft.

"It was fun playing with older guys," said Sherburne, who turned 18 in July and is actually not that much younger than many of those graduates. "It made everything more fun. I had always been friends with those guys playing in junior polo. It never really was weird."