No one was going to rain on this parade.
The Palm Desert High School girls’ water polo team was marching straight toward a CIF Division VI title and neither thunder, lightning or the defending champions from Yorba Linda were going to stand in the way.
Today, the Aztecs reign as first-time CIF champions. Palm Desert defeated Yorba Linda 8-6 on a stormy Saturday night in Irvine.
Maybe no one would have forecasted it, but Palm Desert was the superior team on this night. The Aztecs had never reached the title game and had lost to Yorba Linda earlier in the season, the same team that knocked Palm Desert out of the playoffs last year.
“This means so much for everyone at Palm Desert because we made history,” said senior speedster Addi Halligan, who led the winners with four goals. “The boys won (Palm Desert won the boys’ title for the first time in November) and now the girls. The feeling is unbelievable.”
Senior Emily Garczynski added that it was surreal to be back in the same pool where she cheered the boys’ team onto victory.
“We were all here, the same pool,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable. We just wanted it so bad. We had a good feeling about this.
“We knew we had to start hard and finish even harder,” Garczynski said. “We just had that drive to beat them, and it all came out in this game.”
The Mustangs (25-8) got on the scoreboard first, midway through the first quarter, but it took just 12 seconds later for Palm Desert to answer.
Halligan fired one in, then put Palm Desert ahead 30 seconds later. She hauled in a pass from Cindy Delic, let the ball fly, and it bounced off the bar and back into her hands. She rifled it to the back of the net for the 2-1 lead.
Halligan completed the hat trick after a steal by Garczynski set up for the 3-1 lead after one quarter.
Yorba Linda got a couple of shots off, but none were too difficult for Palm Desert goalie Savannah Clyde, who made it look easy throughout with her long reach.
Kelley Burke continued the solid ball control and worked the defensive scheme as Palm Desert cruised into the second quarter in command.
The Mustangs cut the score to 3-2 with a tally from Burdette Forsch, and the Aztecs’ defense held for the 3-2 halfime lead.
“They might have underestimated us,” said Clyde of the No.-1 ranked Mustangs. “We lost by one (8-7) the last time, and maybe they were thinking we can’t do it. But we brought our A-game. We were a lot more motivated since the last time.”
Yorba Linda tied the score at 3-all at the 2:10 mark of the third quarter, but the No. 2-ranked Aztecs (26-3) didn’t falter. The offense went back to work when Garczynski converted a penalty shot at 1:51, and Halligan netted her fourth goal at 1:28 for the 5-3 lead.
“We were up by three goals the last time and we lost,” coach Michelle Valovic remembered. “We had a strategy coming in and they did a good job of sticking with that. We needed three girls covered, and we did a good job of helping each other.”
Valovic, a former Palm Desert player who is in her first year as head coach for her alma mater, said she didn’t feel confident about the victory until later in the fourth.
Her younger sister, Elise Stein, a sophomore, helped her breathe a sigh of relief. She made the score 6-3 before Yorba Linda came back with a goal. Sarah Nichols, Burke, Garczynski, Delic and Stein swarmed the opposition before Stein was able to net another on the fly at 2:35.
Nichols made it 8-4 at the 1:59 mark before the Mustangs closed it out with two goals.
“This means everything,” said Delic, a senior. “We worked so hard. Today, we made history. We gave it all we had. It’s awesome for Palm Desert High School.”