It had been five years since Cal Lowell’s girls water polo team had this much to celebrate. During this stretch, where their rivals had consistently walloped the rest of the Desert Valley League, including the Blackhawks, La Quinta hadn’t won a league championship, won a CIF title or even beaten the Aztecs for that matter.
Tuesday night’s celebratory tumble into the pool, with his girls clinging onto every inch of him, while Lowell fought it for a bit before willing taking the dive, wasn’t in celebration of taking home any hardware.
But with a thorough beating of the Aztecs 15-8 for the first time in half a decade, it could signal trophies to come.
No one currently on the team had ever beaten Palm Desert, yet Lowell’s girls came in confident after a big boost from another league match not long ago.
On Jan. 18, the Blackhawks dropped a tight 5-4 match to Xavier Prep, who they’d been jostling with for a likely second-place spot in the league. Less than a week later, the two teams faced each other again in a three overtime thriller. This time, Lowell’s girls willed themselves to be on the other side of things.
“Then, they started to believe and said ‘Hey, we did it to them. Why can’t we do it to Palm Desert?’” Lowell remembered.
But the Aztecs have traditionally been on a different level than the rest of the valley recently, making three consecutive CIF title games, winning twice. Dethroning the Aztecs would take playing at a higher level.
For one, La Quinta had to at least manage the offensive threat of senior and UC Irvine commit Sarah Nichols.
“You just can’t say enough about her (Nichols). She’s legitimately a very, very, very good player, and so we obviously had to guard her with a lot of people,” Lowell said. “But they could put balls in we leave them alone, which they did a couple times.
“We had to have a gapping, helping defense that would deny her as much as possible.”
The Blackhawks stormed out of the gates with the game’s first two goals and picked up four scores from four different players in the first period, while holding Nichols scoreless until a cross-pool heave at the buzzer slammed into the back of the net to cut La Quinta’s lead to 4-2.
Nichols would score twice more in the second, but Rachel Sherman, who led La Quinta with five goals along with Savannah Hampton, scored twice as well to keep the Aztecs at an arm’s length.
After Palm Desert’s Sam Stein countered Blackhawk Mikka Von Scherr’s opening goal in the third period, Sherman scored two-straight, capped off by Virginia Lowell for a 3-0 run that created a 10-5 lead.
Although Palm Desert closed to within 10-7 before the end of the third, La Quinta’s five goals in the closing period allowed them to speed away from the Aztecs that appeared stunned and out of sorts.
Palm Desert had already clinched a share of the DVL title coming into Tuesday’s match with a flawless 10-0 league record and still clinch the solo title with a win Thursday at home against Cathedral City, but Lowell said the Blackhawks didn’t need a title to find reason to celebrate Tuesday.
La Quinta will enter the playoffs with plenty of momentum and positive energy, and because they haven’t faced any teams ranked in the top 10 of Division 5, they could enter as a dark horse primed to make an upset run.
And when they start a new season in 10 months, they know they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
“I think we could scare a few people,” Lowell said. “This is special. I think it can turn things around and start a new era and phase in the DVL. They’ve been the queens for a long time.”