The girls’ water polo team finished second in the CIF-SS Division III playoffs today after advancing to the finals for the first time in school history. They lost 6-5 against Long Beach Woodrow Wilson at the William Woollett Jr Aquatic Center.
Before the game, the girls laughed and sang along to the pregame music in anticipation for their game, in spite of the importance since they had already made it farther in the CIF tournament than any other team in school history.
Goalkeeper Emily Hilliard ’19 thought everyone was excited for the historic game and approached the game more lightly despite the possibility of defeat.
“Everyone was laughing, and we knew that we had gotten farther than any other girls water polo program, so we were pumped,” Hilliard said. “Our coach was also so pumped it was just such a great experience.”
After an undefeated league season continuing a streak that goes back 105 games, the squad breezed through the first two rounds of CIF, beating Aliso Nigel 17-2 and Canyon of Anaheim 9-3. Then, they won a close game against Mira Costa 6-5 in the school’s first-ever girls water polo CIF semifinals and finals.
The CIF finals game was close and the excitement crescendoed as the clock counted down in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines were behind 4-5.
With four minutes left, Center Taylor LaCour ’19 scored, tying the game at 5-5. The teams battled for a goal to pull ahead, the girls forced turnovers and Hilliard saved
As the clock ran down with 42 seconds remaining, Wilson scored on a two on one breakaway, pulling ahead 6-5. With the Wolverines down with 10 seconds remaining on the clock and Wilson in control of the ball, the game seemed over, Wilson coaches celebrated and relaxed on the pool deck and cheered for a victory they thought they had secured.
In an incredible play, the Wolverines forced a turnover and called a timeout to take another shot on goal. The Wolverines lined up at half court, facing their Wilson opponents opposite them. Hilliard took a shot from behind them just as the buzzer rang. The half-court shot was saved by the goalie.
Although the resurrected hopes of the crowd died, the skillful attempt was just another testament to their well-played game and successful season.
The loss was only sad because of the ending of a great season, rather than an incredible team not reaching its full potential Hilliard said.
“Of course we’re all sad because it was such a close game, but not because we regret how we played but because our season ended,” Hilliard said. “We are the closest we’ve ever been and it’s been amazing.”
Head coach Emily Greenwood agrees that the season was a success and found a victory in the development of the program.
“The best thing that’s happened this season is my girls having become fighters, they’ve become athletes,” Greenwood said. “That’s just one thing I can’t really teach them. They did it themselves so I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Hilliard also thinks the program had improved as a result of the whole team and leadership of captain and attacker Pria Pant ’18.
“This year I came out flying and had the best games of my life,” Hilliard said. “Everything on the team has improved too. This was the best season this program has ever seen and this team, especially [Pant], has changed the program forever”
Greenwood shares the view that the program improved and Pant was a significant part of that improvement.
“We have the exact same team minus [Pant] next year so our future is bright,” Greenwood said. “I am the biggest fan of [Pant], she has changed this program forever. She is the best and I wish her fantastic things, even if it is not water polo.”
By the end of the season, Greenwood found it clear that the experience gained in the CIF-SS playoffs will be a key a successful season next year.
“I think the biggest thing we got of this year is experience, we’ve played in the biggest two games of our life in the last week and I think the experience of that, and losing in one game, is going to change us forever,” Greenwood said. “They had to grow up really fast and I think that will help us going into next year.”