La Quinta High school water polo coach Cal Lowell gave high praise to his Blackhawks’ rival, Palm Desert.
After all, it was the Aztecs that ran all the way to the Desert Valley League championship, finished unbeaten at 8-0 and topped La Quinta in the finale on Saturday, 14-4.
(PHOTOS: Palm Desert vs. La Quinta water polo)
“They’re faster, stronger, more experienced, everything more than we are,” said Lowell, whose team finished at 6-2, 16-8 overall. “You just know right away how strong these girls are.”
That was for certain as Palm Desert wrapped up the league title handily with sophomore Elise Stein leading the charge with five goals while senior Addi Halligan added four. Sarah Nichols finished with three while Kelly Burke and Amanda Gerhardt contributed one each.
Although La Quinta was first to crack the scoreboard, just 1 minute and 30 seconds in when Nicole Calderon slipped one past goalie Savannah Clyde, it was all Palm Desert from there.
“There’s a lot of girls that play year-round and are committed to it,” said Palm Desert coach Michelle Stein Valovic, whose team improved to 24-3 overall and is the No. 2-ranked team in CIF Division VI. “They’ve been on a mission since I was hired (this season). We set the tone, had the girls play an hour of polo, then commit to have swim set before and after. Win or lose, we were gonna find the space and swim. Once that sunk in, they knew it was going to be a different year.”
Since the start Palm Desert has lost just one game in Division VI.
That was against No.1-ranked Yorba Linda.
“After that game, they’ve been making sure that we’re training long enough and hard enough to last four quarters and overtime,” said Valovic. “They can do this.”
The Aztecs made it look easy, rolling to a 5-1 advantage after the first period and a 10-2 lead at halftime. Palm Desert used a swarming defense, had solid passing and ball control.
The combination of strength and experience showed.
Emily Garzcynski, Gerhardt, Cindy Delic and Halligan covered the net numerous times, rarely giving La Quinta a chance at Clyde in the net.
La Quinta’s tally in the second period was by Hunter Olivier, but La Quinta was shut out in the third period and the Aztecs’ onslaught continued with goals from Stein on a pass from Garczynski and a dribbler netted by Halligan.
La Quinta’s Irie Jimenez, Olivier and Brooke Smith fought hard in the quarter to break up a couple of more chances, but Palm desert kept firing.
“Our team just works really well together and we’re practicing really hard,” said Elise Stein. “All our practicing really paid off and we knew this year was going to be great. With all the practice and all the plays we have, we think this is the year that we can win CIF.”
Halligan opened the fourth period with a goal after a nifty, quick passing attack from Stein and Garczynski. Stein netted her final goal at 2:50 to go when she grabbed her own rebound and fired it past Julianne Somday.
La Quinta’s Calderon and Smith rounded out the scoring with goals in the final two minutes.
Palm Desert and La Quinta will be joined in the CIF playoffs by Xavier Prep.