In a tough Sunset League, Huntington Beach High girls’ water polo coach Mark Canner had found a way to make it to the CIF Southern Section postseason three times in his first five seasons, but a playoff win proved elusive.
Canner said that his teams had often found themselves facing the top teams in their division to open the playoffs, but the Oilers’ luck changed after they were placed in the Wave League this season.
Huntington Beach won the new League, and it hosted Murrieta Valley in the first round of the Division 2 playoffs.
The Oilers used the stage to earn their first postseason victory in six years.
Freshman utility player Shanna Davidson scored two of her team-high four goals in overtime, and Huntington Beach held on to defeat Murrieta Valley 12-11 on Wednesday night.
“I think the big thing about [the league championship] was that when I first got here, we weren’t beating Marina and we weren’t beating Edison,” Canner said. “It’s been a long journey to get to that point, and I’m proud of the girls to win a league championship, no matter how you slice it. It gives you a home [playoff] game, too.”
The home crowd paid dividends for the Oilers (18-10), who rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the first half. Huntington Beach’s previous postseason win came in the wild-card round at Estancia on Feb. 12, 2013.
“It was just really exciting,” said junior goalkeeper Elaina Davey, who had 13 saves for the Oilers. “Just having the home crowd here was really awesome. I think everyone has put in so much effort to get to this point. We’ve worked so hard this season.
“We won our league. We’re going to do good this year in CIF. We’ve already made history, so why not just bring it all the way home?”
Davidson missed a penalty shot midway through the second quarter. The next time up the pool, the Southwestern League champion Nighthawks (13-13) extended their lead to 4-1 on a skip shot by Maryn Dempsey. The junior utility player matched Davidson for the game-high total in goals with four.
The third quarter saw the Oilers complete their comeback. Huntington Beach scored five times in the period, including three unanswered in the final four minutes to take an 8-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
Senior utility player Shanna Zuanich provided the tying and go-ahead goals during the run.
Murrieta Valley held a pair of one-goal leads in the fourth quarter, but the Oilers had the answer. Down 10-9 and facing their final possession, the Oilers drew an exclusion. Sophomore utility player Morgan O’Connell found senior attacker Chloe Reiner on a cross-cage pass, and the latter scored into a wide-open left side of the net with 22 seconds left in regulation.
Davidson scored the only goal of the first overtime. Nighthawks sophomore defender Sila Fedler scored at the 2:13 mark of the second overtime to tie the score at 11-11.
Then senior utility player Courtney Heydorff sent Davidson in on a breakaway for the game-winning goal with 42 seconds to go, allowing Huntington Beach to advance to the next round. Huntington Beach will go on the road to face No. 2-seeded San Clemente (14-13) in the quarterfinals. The match will be at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Vista Hermosa Sports Park.
Davidson reflected on how she got herself back into the game after missing an early penalty shot.
“It’s really hard,” Davidson said. “My main focus when I miss a goal, I miss a pass or I get the ball stolen from me, I think about, ‘I need to get back on defense. I need to help my team.’
“I make it up to them by doing that and just getting back and helping.”
Heydorff had three goals and three assists. O’Connell led Huntington Beach’s field players defensively with four steals, while junior center defender Emily Tucker added three steals.