Flintridge Prep girls water polo fans celebrate a goal in the CIF SS Division VII championship match vs. Katella High School, at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatrcs Center in Irvine on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)
IRVINE — In its first CIF Southern Section championship match in girls’ water polo, Flintridge Prep held its own against top-seeded Katella.
The Rebels and Knights battled to a scoreless draw in the opening quarter, but the Knights were able to break down the Rebels’ defense in the second quarter to establish a three-goal lead.
Flintridge Prep started to claw its way back in the second half, but a goal in the final quarter proved to be too late for the Rebels, as Katella hung on to claim a 5-4 victory Saturdayin the Division VII final at William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center.
The loss caps an historic season for Rebels, the No. 3 seed, who finished 19-9.
Flintridge Prep, which tied for second with Chadwick in the Prep League, knocked out Nogales, Heritage, Fontana and Carpinteria to make its way to the final.
“It’s unfortunate the way it ended, but we couldn’t ask for more,” Flintridge Prep coach Andrew Phillips said. “We made it to the CIF finals for the first time ever, finished with a 5-4 game, we fought the entire game on every possession and made little mistakes here and there. But that’s something expected from a growing class that’s sophomore-heavy.”
The hard-fought title is the first championship for Katella (26-7), the Orange League champion.
“It was a great game,” Katella coach OJ Vazquez said. “I give credit to Flintridge Prep. They came in and they battled the entire time. We’ve been No. 1 and No. 2 the entire year, so this was the matchup we were hoping for, so I give credit to them. They played a great game.”
Knights junior Neida Torres recorded a hat-trick, while Rebels junior Paige Nixon had two goals and one assist.
“I’m just proud that we got here,” Nixon said. “Obviously, this isn’t the result that we all wanted, but, huge congrats to Katella. They were amazing.
“Before I came here, we didn’t have enough girls to play a game. We’d walk around school and be like, ‘Hey, if you can swim, you should come play.’ The fact that we got here and we worked so hard and it was a close game, I’m just really proud of where we are as a launching off point for next year and future teams to come.”
Top-seed Katella tallied three goals in the second quarter to break the scoreless deadlock, but also shut out Flintridge Prep, which struggled to create chances on the opposite end of the pool
The Rebels regrouped in the second half and outscored the Knights, 2-1, in each of the final two quarters.
“We drew a lot of exclusions, we had a couple of exclusions, but it didn’t really sway the game too much,” Phillips said. “I think we could’ve finished a little bit more and ran a little bit more smoothly on our six-on-fives, and if we put a five-meter away, it’s a different game. The momentum shifts in the ebbs-and-flows of every direction.”
The Knights mustered five scoring chances in the first quarter, while the Rebels took four shots on goal.
The teams’ goalkeepers played well in the first to keep the match scoreless, with Lauren Bennett and Tess Robertson-Neel occupying goal for the Rebels and Raquel Enriquez for the Knights.
“We had a couple girls really step up today,” Phillips said. “Our goalie stepped up, Paige Nixon really stepped up as well and it ended the way it did, but we’re still happy with the result.
“We wish it would be a win, but it is what it is, so we’re looking forward. This is great experience for next year and it’s a great experience for league as well. It’s a taste of glory.”
Enriquez saved 11 shots, Bennett tallied six saves and Robertson-Neel recorded four.
The Rebels’ best opportunity to score in the opening frame came with 1:36 left, but sophomore Natalie Kaplanyan saw her five-meter penalty shot bounce wide left.
“We were there,” Phillips said. “That first quarter was an absolute dog-battle. Block here, block there, steal here, steal there the whole time. I was sweating after the first quarter and I’m sure everyone was. It’s not just the sun.”
The Knights got on the board early in the second quarter as Torres opened the scoring at the 6:27 mark.
The junior scored her second one minute later, before senior Berenice Rumbo capped the second-quarter scoring with a 3-0 lead with 13 seconds in the half.
“We were trying to isolate Neida Torres as much as possible and try to get her best shot opportunity with that,” Vazquez said. “We also tried to take [Flintridge Prep’s Natalie Kaplanyan] into two-meters and force her to play both ends of the pool to try to wear her down as much as possible.”
The Rebels scored at 3:44 in the third quarter with Nixon’s first goal to make it a 3-1. But Knights freshman Angela Enriquez quickly responded to restore the three-goal lead.
Rebels sophomore Isabel Simons found Kaplanyan in the center of the pool to cut the Knights’ lead to 4-2 with 1:28 left in the third.
“We were trying to counter-act what they were doing,” said Vazquez on the Rebels’ third-quarter battle. “They went to a drop, kind of like a soft zone, so we were trying, again, to isolate Torres and get her shots as much as possible. It was just a defensive battle the whole way through, just trying to match things left and right.”
Torres completed her hat rick with 2:17 left in the match to restore Katella’s three-goal lead, but Nixon cut the lead to 5-3.
“Katella has a really good hole-set,” said Nixon of Torres. “We were really aware of where she was in the pool and how many people were on her, just as well as being aware of their ball movement and not trying to let them pass across the pool so easily.”
Rebels senior Lara Friedman scored with 16 seconds left to pull within 5-4, but the Knights ran the clock out on their next possession to seal the title.