For the second year in a row, the North Allegheny High School boys water polo team reigns supreme among the 44 high schools in Pennsylvania that field teams in the sport.
Third-year coach Nikola Malezanov's Tigers secured the state title with a 12-11 victory against host Cumberland Valley from Mechanicsburg in the championship game Nov. 2. The Tigers advanced to the state championship game with victories against La Salle College High, 20-15, and Wilson High School from West Lawn, 15-7, in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.
North Allegheny is the only WPIAL school that offers water polo for male and female students. The school's girls team placed fifth in its state championship tournament, which took place a week prior to the boys tournament.
The state title was a nice turnaround for a team that found itself 4-3 after the first two weekends of the season.
"That was a real eye-opener for us," Malezanov said. "We took some teams for granted, and we learned that we have to work harder than we did before to compete at the highest level."
From that point on, the Tigers were 15-3. Their one-goal victory against Cumberland Valley gave them a final record of 19-6.
Not only did North Allegheny win its second consecutive state title, the Tigers also had the tournament most valuable player on their roster.
Max Staresenic, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior center from Bradford Woods, led the Tigers with 116 goals this season, seven in the state championship game.
He said the victory wasn't an easy one, recalling a 12-9 victory the Tigers had against the same team in the 2012 state championship game.
"[Cumberland Valley] kept fighting the entire game," he said. "We got up on them early [this year], and we thought the same thing would happen again. It was great that we were able to hold them off."
Staresenic, whose older brother, Evan, played for the Tigers before graduating in 2012 and now plays for the United States Naval Academy, had plenty of help offensively. Seniors Nemanja Pijevancic and Gabe Gaspar scored 64 and 51 goals, respectively, this season.
Gaspar was an effective playmaker with 51 assists. Junior goalie Charles Ross was an effective backstop with 301 saves.
In addition to Gaspar and Pijevancic, there are four other seniors on the roster, Ryan Pieton, Nate Horan, Zach Buerger and Dom Moore.
Staresenic, like many of his teammates, also competes for the North Allegheny swimming team and plays for the Tiger Water Polo club team in the offseason. He had plenty of praise for his teammates.
"We have a great group of players dedicated to getting better," he said. "We had a lot of players left from the first state championship team, and [coach Malezanov] gave us a way for us to do what we needed to get a second title."
Staresenic will swim the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events this winter for the Tigers' boys swimming team, but he plans to play water polo in college. He has competed in the sport for six years.
"I love swimming, but water polo is my main sport," he said. "I haven't narrowed down a college, but [water polo] is something I want to play in college."