Late goal secures playoff victory for La Cañada girls’ water polo

PASADENA — A last-minute shot coupled with a pair of late defensive stands propelled the La Cañada High girls’ water polo team into uncharted territory Thursday afternoon.

The Spartans held on for a thrilling 8-7 victory over visiting Dana Hills in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs at Pasadena City College.

Not only are the No. 5-ranked Spartans the area’s last girls’ water polo team standing, but they earned a berth into Saturday’s quarterfinal round.

Rio Hondo League champion La Cañada (21-7) will face fourth-seeded host Schurr (27-2) at 2 p.m. at Diamond Bar High. The game is a rematch from a Feb. 4 contest in Montebello won by Schurr, 10-8.

Thursday’s match was also continued validation for a La Cañada club that was moved up from Division V to Division II in the offseason.

“I think we’ve proven throughout the entire season and up until now that we can play in Division II,” said Spartans first-year Coach Nicole Davidson. “I’m really excited with how we played today and hopefully we have another great game Saturday.”

Momentum was fickle Thursday, but appeared to be on the side of South Coast League third-place finisher Dana Hills (15-14), which advanced to the Division II quarterfinals last season.

The Dolphins rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the match at 7 on a five-meter penalty goal from senior Sydney Baba, who scored a game-high five goals, with 1:44 remaining.

La Cañada turned the ball over on its next possession, which afforded the Dolphins a chance to jump ahead.

Yet, Dana Hills turned the ball over with 1:12 left. The gaffe was converted into gold when sophomore Michelle Zwaneveld scored with 59 seconds left off an assist from Julia Nicholls to give La Cañada the lead for good, 8-7.

Dana Hills had two possessions in the final 59 seconds, but took two shots over the net, including a half-court chuck from Baba as time expired.

“It’s hard to explain the last minute, it was just my turn to shoot and I took my shot,” Zwaneveld said. “I just wanted to win the game for my team. Once I made that shot, we just had to play defense.”

The Spartans led, 3-2, at halftime but struggled in the third quarter as their five shots were countered by five turnovers.

On the flip side, Dana Hills tried to make a run, as it attempted nine shots and was awarded four six-on-five chances.

Fortunately for La Cañada, while the offense sputtered, the defense could still rely on the steely services of sophomore Carolyne Stern.

The goalie tallied six of her eight saves in the third quarter, directly blocking two man-advantage shots, while keeping Dana Hills one for four in the third.

“I just have to respond when my teammates need me,” Stern said. “They’re working just as hard as me on defense, so I have to match their intensity.”

Despite all the statistical advantages, both teams netted two goals each in the third, with a score from Genevieve Fraipoint (team-high four goals) off a pass from Madison Solares (two goals) with 13 seconds left giving La Cañada a 5-4 lead after three.

The contest was pretty even throughout with both teams tied at 1 after one quarter and La Cañada holding a 3-2 advantage at halftime.

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