IRVINE — Opportunities came and went for the Flintridge Prep girls’ water polo team in the CIF Southern Section Division VI championship game against Marina on Saturday.
In their second consecutive trip to the William Woolett Aquatic Center in Irvine, the eighth-seed Rebels hoped to capture CIF glory and a first-ever title against the No. 3-seed Vikings.
Flintridge Prep put itself in a position to do just that, trailing by one goal at the half.
Though the Rebels forced a trio of turnovers in the third quarter, they but were unable to score the game-tying goal in the frame.
Flintridge Prep was shut out in the second half and ultimately succumbed in a 6-4 loss to Marina in the championship contest.
It was a second-straight runner-up finish for the Rebels, who lost in the 2019 Division VII final to Ketella, 5-4.
“Execution,” Flintridge Prep coach Andrew Phillips said. “We’ve been talking about it all year, or at least all CIF playoffs. One team executed and one team didn’t. Statistically, I thought we had a better game. We drew more ejections, we had more six-on-five opportunities, we had more shot opportunities, we had more blocks, we had more steals — it is what it is.
“They executed, we didn’t. Hats off to them. They had a terrific season and it showed.”
The Rebels (18-12), the Prep League runner-up, reached their second straight title match with victories against No. 10 Western, Louisville, top-seed Laguna Hills and No. 4-seed Mark Keppel.
“Hats off to my girls,” Phillips said. “They’ve worked extremely hard. For a campus full of 500 people, we get to the CIF finals against a team that has 3,000 on their campus. Completely hats off to these girls. They’ve worked their butts off. They were committed the entire year. It’s crushing, especially two years in a row.”
Flintridge Prep was led by junior Natalie Kaplanyan with two goals. Junior Isabel Simons and senior Paige Nixon each scored once. Rebels senior goalkeeper Lauren Bennett stopped 13 shots.
Marina (21-11; third place in the Wave League) received two goals each from freshman Lily Ensley and sophomore Lana Kardos, while juniors Rebekah Macias and Maddison Clobes each scored once. Vikings goalkeeper Emma Marsh recorded 14 saves.
The Vikings topped Paloma Valley, Santa Paula, No. 6 Pasadena and No. 2 Modena on their way to a the Division VI championship.
The teams were scoreless after a defensive third quarter, as Marina maintained a 5-4 lead. The Rebels forced three turnovers in their end of the pool in a three-minute span in the third, but were unable to convert a goal.
Bennett posted four saves in the quarter, while Marsh recorded seven.
“The plan was to find ways to shoot around the goalie, not at the goalie or over the cage,” said Kaplanyan of the second half. “Just executing our shots was a big one in the second half because we were down.
”... We definitely knew that even though we kept missing and missing and she kept blocking them, she’s a really talented goalie, we had to keep going and we couldn’t give up. We had to keep trying because one of those would work in our favor.”
The Vikings took a two-goal cushion, 6-4, at the start of the fourth quarter with a goal from Kardos, which pressured the Rebels to be more aggressive.
The Rebels had two chances to mount an attack at the 1:58 and 1:16 marks of the fourth quarter, but the Vikings were able to quell the threats with a pair of steals on each play.
“We knew that they had two shooters: Natalie Kaplanyan and Elise Desjarlais,” Marina coach Tamara Towgood said. “They were making amazing goals and I had been tracking them all CIF.
“We had been working on defense the last two days just to be ready for them and be aware, be conscious and be helping. Defense was our main goal today. We knew that if we played great defense, we would win and our offense would come along, but we had to play defense first.”
The Vikings struck first in the game with a goal from Kardos with 28 seconds gone.
Kaplanyan muscled her way to goal to tie it at 1 at the 5:00 mark, before the Rebels took their only lead of the game, 2-1, with a goal from Simons with 1:38 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Vikings tied the score at 2 on a rebound goal from Ensley with 1:15 left in the first.
Marina struck first again to open the second quarter with a 3-2 lead early in the frame. BKaplanyan scored her second goal shortly thereafter to tie it up at 3 at 6:22.
The Vikings then scored two unanswered with goals from Macias and Clobes to take a 5-3 lead with 3:52 left.
The Rebels pulled one back with a goal from Nixon after sophomore Elise Desjarlais had her shot bounce off the crossbar.