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Water Polo Title Validates Boast by Coach

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At the outset of the season, Royal High water polo Coach Steve Snyder made a bold statement.

“This is the best team we’ve ever had,” he proclaimed.

That’s no small claim, considering Snyder has built a dynasty at Royal. The Highlanders began the season having won 14 consecutive Marmonte League championships.

After winning the 15th, Snyder repeated his bold statement and made the point again after a Southern Section Division IV semifinal victory last week over Santa Barbara.

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On Wednesday at UC Santa Barbara, the Highlanders backed up Snyder’s claim by defeating San Marcos, 11-8, in the division final, giving Royal its first section water polo championship.

“I’ve waited a long time for this one,” Snyder said, emerging from the pool sopping wet after his team had thrown him in. “I am ecstatic. This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

The make-or-break point for the Highlanders came when Kris Kunkel, the team’s top defender, committed his third ejection foul with 6 minutes 24 seconds to play, disqualifying him from the match.

Right away San Marcos (21-6) tied the match at 7-7 on a Jeff Kircos bounce shot with 6:19 left. But Zack Finley and the Highlanders (26-4) responded.

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Royal scored three times in the next two minutes, including a bloop shot by Finley from six feet with a defender draped on his shoulders and then on an alley-oop from John Voegtli to Finley that put Royal up, 10-8, with 4:08 left to play. Finley added his third goal with three seconds remaining.

“Last week we let Santa Barbara back in the game,” Finley said. “I didn’t want another close game.”

After the final buzzer fans poured out of the stands and joined the team celebration in the pool. Kunkel led the party.

“This is the greatest way to end my high school career,” he said. “When I was kicked out I was worried, but the guys stepped up.”

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Finley’s three goals led the Royal scoring. Kunkel, Bill Bruininga and Chris Richeson each added two. Goalie Kyle Finley, Zack’s brother, had 11 saves, including seven on San Marcos 6-on-5 advantages.

“Our kids really came forward,” Snyder said. “We could have folded but we didn’t.”

During a 14-minute stretch from the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the third, the Highlanders held San Marcos scoreless.

Defensively, Royal controlled the pace from the first possession when Richeson stole the ball. It was the first of five steals for Richeson and 23 for the team.

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After the match, Snyder came out with another bold statement.

“Before anyone writes us off, we may end up right back here next year.”


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