By Alex Leichenger
From the beginning of its season, a single goal has driven the girls’ water polo team: winning the school’s first CIF championship.
Thanks to gutsy second half performances by Bella Gonzalez ’12 and Morgan Hallock ’13, the Wolverines delivered on that goal, pulling away late for a 10-7 win over Los Osos Saturday at Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine.
The Wolverines struck first, taking a 2-0 lead in the first quarter on a backhanded shot by Hallock and a lob by Ashley Grossman ’11. But Los Osos, whom the Wolverines defeated 9-2 earlier in the season, frustrated leading scorer Grossman and the Wolverine offense. Grizzlies goalie Alex Bayer, a Cal State Bakersfield commit, blocked several shot attempts.
The Wolverines held a 3-1 lead going into the final seconds of the half, but Los Osos converted an electrifying buzzer-beating goal to close within one. Carrying their momentum into the third quarter, the Grizzlies tied the game 3-3 on a fastbreak to start the period. Gonzalez and Camille Hooks ’11 answered back with consecutive goals on 6-on-5 opportunities. With the score standing at 6-5 nearing the end of the third, Gonzalez scored her third goal of the period to hand the Wolverines a 7-5 edge.
The Wolverines did not look back from then. Hooks nailed a 5-meter penalty shot and Hallock scored twice to widen the lead to 10-5 in the fourth quarter. Hooks also forced several turnovers to lead a stifling Wolverine defense.
“I think we broke a little tension to [make it] a five-goal game, and then it was over after that,” Head Coach Robert Lynn said.
Lynn, in his second year at the helm of the water polo program, called the feeling of winning a CIF championship “incredible.”
The victory was especially meaningful for Hooks and Grossman, who were freshmen on the 2008 team that fell one goal short in the CIF title game. After being eliminated in the playoffs the last two years, the Wolverines came into this year heavy favorites to win the Division IV crown. Despite a roster of only nine players (Los Osos had 18), they finished 27-2 and outscored four CIF playoff opponents by a combined 46 goals.