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Xavier Prep girls' water polo cruises to playoff win

Xavier Prep girls’ water polo player Jillian Barbato summed up perfectly the difference between playing in the postseason and playing in the regular season.

Xavier Prep girls water polo defeats Culver City in the first round of CIF Playoffs, February 14, 2017.

Xavier Prep girls water polo defeats Culver City in the first round of CIF Playoffs, February 14, 2017.

“There are more nerves, certainly, but it’s also more exciting,” said Barbato, a junior on the Saints’ squad. “It balances out, but you need to focus more on how exciting it is than your nerves.”

Barbato and the rest of the Saints, didn’t make Tuesday’s playoff opener too exciting for the fans, however, easily handling Culver City for a 12-3 victory in the wild-card round of Division 5.

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The Saints held a 5-2 lead at the half, but a stifling, pressing defense which yielded just one goal after the break, helped them pull away.

Coach Pavol Valovic, in true coach fashion, was happy with the win, but knows there are always things that can be improved, particularly as the opponents get tougher and tougher.

“It’s always good to win, always a good feeling,” he said. “There are a few things we need to work on, a few defensive things we need to be aware of that will happen every game that we need to execute better.”

Barbato led the offensive attack for the Saints scoring six times, many of them coming on long, perfectly-placed shots, or crafty putbacks of deflected shots. Camille Dervieux had three goals, Reina Rover had two, and Ariel Forehand had one.

The Saints don’t have much time to enjoy this victory, though. Despite being the No. 3-ranked team in Division 5, the Saints had to start their run in the wild-card round and now play Wednesday on the road at Jurupa Valley.

Can they carry the momentum from Tuesday? Barbato thinks so.

“Yeah, we’re in the winning mindset, we just need to stay mentally tough,” she said. “I think we’re ready. We just need to go hard and stay out of our own heads.”

Valovic agreed, seconding the notion that the mental game is what is important this time of year.

“Physically, you can’t really doing anything about it,” he said. “You can’t suddenly wake up tomorrow in better shape than you were today. It all comes down to the head. Be ready mentally. Be ready to do your job. And I think if we do that we’ll be fine no matter what happens.”

Culver City got two goals from Yvette DeFilice and one from Mariko Rooks.

For the Saints, Barbato said there is one other thing motivating her this time of year, other than the quest for the Division 5 championship.

“The seniors,” said Barbato, a junior. “These last games of the year we’re playing for our seniors. We want to do everything we can to make their last games the best.”

Next up for Saints

What: Division 5 first-round matchup

Who: Xavier Prep at Jurupa Valley

When: 5 p.m., Wednesday

Jillian Barbato of Xavier Prep defends against Culver City in the first round of CIF Playoffs, February 14, 2017.

Jillian Barbato of Xavier Prep defends against Culver City in the first round of CIF Playoffs, February 14, 2017.