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CHS water polo digs deep for a win in overtime

The Claremont boys water polo team went into Tuesday’s CIF play-in game with high hopes after winning their last 5 games and finishing 2nd place in the Sierra League.

The Wolfpack squared off against the Thousand Oaks Lancers in a Division 2 Wild Card match. After a defensive battle and 2 overtime periods, Claremont emerged as victors by a score of 7-5.

The game started with a roar from CHS supporters. A flurry of shots by both teams quickly followed the opening tip-off sprint, which Claremont controlled. Working their wide home pool, the Wolfpack saw 3 close range shots saved by the Lancers goalie. Thousand Oaks scored first, but after 2 more Lancers goals were disallowed for fouls Claremont answered with a Max Garver goal. It was clear that officiating would be tight for this charged playoff encounter, and the teams would not be able to gain much of a physical advantage.

In the second quarter, the teams exchanged goals again, with Nick Garcia getting on the scoresheet. Thousand Oaks tied the game at 2-2 with a penalty shot. Goalie Steven Cagle almost saved the penalty, an indication of what would come later in the match. Before the break, winger Stephen Zetterberg finished a cross from close range to give Claremont a 3-2 halftime advantage.

Coach Kristin McKown knew that Claremont’s goals-to-shots ratio was frustratingly low, but that putting shots on frame would eventually reap rewards for her team. Claremont had hit the post 4 times in the 1st quarter alone, and the Thousand Oaks goalie was putting in a stellar performance as a shot-stopper with 7 first half saves. McKown communicated to her team that they must continue to absorb pressure and use their speed to catch the Lancers on the counter-attack.

The scoring duly increased in the second half, with Zetterberg scoring his second goal a mere 10 seconds in. He then received a pass during a half-court set-up, and sent it through to flat driver Adam Ward for a beautiful team goal. Nonetheless, Thousand Oaks refused to lie down. The Lancers scored 2 close-range goals of their own to keep the game within one score.

The final quarter consisted of Claremont trying to hold on to a slender lead. McKown took timeouts to offset a couple late power play opportunities for Thousand Oaks, telling her team to fight across the line when rotating on defense.

The Wolfpack’s box-defending proved resilient, with defenders throwing themselves in front of shots to keep the lead. But, they were caught out when the Lancers  finished a breakaway opportunity to tie the score at 5. The game would go to overtime, and bring out a chorus of “This is our season, 100 percent for 6 minutes!” from the captains during the break.

The Wolfpack won the overtime sprint, but were outplayed, possession-wise, in the first of 2 3-minute periods. Defensive specialists Brian Fox and Thomas Randles commanded the rotation while the Lancers tried to pass their way through. The Wolfpack suffered one miscommunication, though, and Thousand Oaks earned another penalty with a minute left in the period. Cagle dived to his right to block the low shot with the CHS support yelling for encouragement. Then with a couple seconds left he made another crucial block from point-blank range to preserve the tie.

McKown buffed the team up during the break, “they are scoring none and you are giving me 2!” This galvanized the Wolfpack, and they went out for the second overtime period with renewed attacking verve. Garcia rushed up the pool during a fast break and expertly placed his shot across the goalie for a 6-5 CHS lead. With 30 seconds left, Claremont put the nail in the coffin when Garcia again got the ball and found Zetterberg for his hat trick and a 7-5 CHS win. Cagle ended the game with 13 saves.

Claremont’s next task is to travel to Laguna Beach High School. The Breakers finished first in the Orange Coast League this year after winning CIF last season, and will field a physically imposing team looking to beat the upset-minded Wolfpack with all-out offense.

Coach McKown states that her team will attempt to “slow the game way down to keep the scoring in single-digits, then hit them on the fast-break.”

—Chris Oakley

sports@claremont-courier.com

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