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Girls water polo grabs tough win over Ayala

The mural celebrating Ayala’s water polo championship may be old and faded, but the Bulldogs still played like winners during their match Tuesday night against the Claremont Wolfpack.

In fact, Ayala scored first and controlled the tempo during the first quarter, exiting the pool after seven minutes of play up by two goals at 5-3. Despite the shaky start Claremont did eventually find its form, and outlasted the tenacious Bulldogs to earn the 14-12 victory.

The second quarter was a different story as Claremont figured out how to penetrate the Bulldogs’ defense, setting up much better opportunities and outscoring Ayala 4-1 while taking the lead and the momentum. Ayala’s stumble was in part self-inflicted as they piled on repeated penalties, one of which resulted in a penalty throw and a Claremont goal.

Starting the second half with a narrow 7-6 lead, victory for the Pack was by no means assured. Ayala tied the score twice before the Pack eventually pulled away with goals from Megan DePrez, Lauren Hoyle and Helena Sandhagen.

The girls eventually stretched their advantage to four goals with just three minutes to play, and at that point there was simply not enough time for the Bulldogs to stage a comeback.

Of the 11 girls on the roster, eight scored at least one goal Tuesday night demonstrating the breadth of Claremont’s strength. Hoyle and Maddie Waasdorp led the charge with identical stats for the night: three goals, two assists and four steals. Three girls scored two goals, Sandhagen, Alijah Dudart and Makenna Moore, and three more each scored a single goal: DePrez, Amber Cui and Aurora Sheridan. Goalkeeper Charlotte Cheng had eight saves.

“That was kind of scary,” Coach Gary Cheever said after the game, expressing some concern over the close score and his team’s poor performance early on.

“We came out kind of slow. We had some lazy passing and did not play as aggressive or as physical as we normally play,” Coach Cheever said. “Instead of advancing and driving them through, we were settling for 8- and 9-meter shots and shooting at the best goalie in the league.”

The Pack is having a banner year with a 4-2 Palomares League record, 19-7 overall, and a third-place ranking in CIF Southern Section Division 4.

The undefeated Bonita Bearcats will almost certainly be the Palomares League champions as the regular season wraps up next week. Claremont, whose only league losses were to the Bearcats, will likely be second with Diamond Bar and Ayala battling it out for third.

This season’s solid performance is even more remarkable given that the CHS pool closed down in early December when the heater failed. As a result, all of Claremont’s home matches became away games. The girls were also forced to practice at Montclair High, which took time away from their studies, according to Coach Cheever.

“Not being able to play at home, not being able to practice, has been rough. All of our games are away, so it’s always home pool advantage for the other team. But we have dealt with it. I think with the season we are having, we’ve done a good job,” he said.

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com