IRVINE — The CIF Southern Section Division 7 girls' water polo championship game matched the top two teams from the Golden West League and like the previous two meetings this season between Segerstrom and Ocean View, Saturday's final favored Segerstrom.
Second-seeded Ocean View stayed with the Golden West League champions late into the third quarter but the top-seeded Jaguars were able to pull away to record a 7-4 victory that gave the program its first Southern Section title in the sport.
For Ocean View, Saturday marked the second straight time Coach Melissa Fernandez had guided the Seahawks to the division final at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine. Last year, the Seahawks finished runner-up to top-ranked Hemet for the crown.
This year's return trip to Woollett Center surprised even Fernandez.
"We had lost so many players from last year's team and we are so young this year that getting here, in itself, was great," Fernandez said, holding on to the CIF runner-up plaque. "I told the girls after the game to put into perspective the fact that they got us back here. It's a credit to them what they accomplished. Hopefully, they'll look back and realize what a successful season it's been."
The Seahawks and Jaguars knew what to expect from one another. Twice during the regular season, Segerstrom took league games from Ocean View winning by scores of 10-3 and 9-7. Saturday's third meeting had much the same feel to it and the Jaguars never trailed in a game against the Seahawks for the second time this year.
Ocean View pulled into a 1-1 tie early in the second quarter when sophomore utility Elena Isogawa converted a penalty shot. The Seahawks again drew even at 2-2 when senior two-meter Raquel Zorich scored off a rebound with the Seahawks in a 6-on-5 advantage with 1:44 left until halftime.
The Jaguars were able to take a 3-2 lead at the half when junior two-meter Justine Mills drew a foul on Ocean View sophomore Shannon Graham, and Mills hit her penalty shot for what turned out to be the go-ahead and winning goal with a minute left on the first-half clock.
Ocean View had a chance at the outset of the second half to pull into a tie but with the Seahawks holding a 6-4 player advantage, Segerstrom senior utility Gillian Robles came up with a big steal to give the Jaguars possession.
The Jaguars took their first two-goal lead of the game when a shot by senior defender Michelle Gonzalez went off the finger tips of Ocean View junior goalie Alyssa Welfringer and into the cage. Welfringer then came up with consecutive shot blocks over the next minute, but the Jaguars were able to increase their lead to 5-2 when freshman defender Brooke Branum scored from up top with 1:36 left in the third quarter.
Ocean View closed to within 6-3 when Isogawa scored from mid-pool range with five seconds left in the quarter.
Isogawa scored on another penalty shot one minute into the fourth quarter to draw the Seahawks to within 7-4. In control, Segerstrom slowed its offense to a deliberate pace with 2:45 to play and neither team would score again.
Segerstrom Coach Tim Frederickson, who led the Jaguars boys' program to a Southern Section title last fall, was impressed with the Seahawks.
His Jaguars had dethroned defending champion Hemet in Wednesday's semifinals, winning by a 13-6 score.
"I thought Ocean View played a great game," he said. "Melissa [Fernandez] does a great job over there and her girls came ready to play.
"It was fun to play them in the final. I thought the two best teams in our division played today for the championship."
Ocean View's road to the Division 7 title game included postseason victories over Ontario Colony (18-7), Riverside Notre Dame (10-7), and Riverside La Sierra (7-4).
Fernandez, in her 10th year at Ocean View, has taken a program that had been winless in league play, to one that has reached a Southern Section title in consecutive years.
The youthful Seahawks, whose lineup has only one senior (Zorich), figure to make a push toward the top of the division next year, as well.
"I was trying to express to the girls after the game just how far Ocean View water polo has come, and they are a big part of that," Fernandez said. "This team has a mental toughness, far more than any team I have coached. They go for it and give it their all from the starting whistle to the end of the game. It's a great group of girls that has worked hard to get where they are."