Palm Desert react to their 8-7 loss to Los Altos in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 Girls Water Polo finals in Irvine.
After scoring with relative ease through the first three rounds of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 girls water polo tournament, Palm Desert ran into a roadblock in the Los Altos Conquerors on Saturday in the tournament’s finale.
The Aztecs jumped out to a 4-1 halftime lead, including a 3-0 tear through the second period, but they couldn’t generate enough offense to keep Los Altos at bay late in the second half, giving up four goals in the final period while scoring only once.
When the buzzer sounded, it was the Los Altos girls cheering, hugging and watching their head coaches Chris Coleman and Bobby Conteras leap into the pool to join them at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine, while the Aztecs walked dejectedly back to their bench, conquered, left wondering what went wrong in their 8-7 loss.
With the defeat, Palm Desert’s attempt to repeat as CIF champions after winning the Division 6 title last year over Yorba Linda came up short.
After scoring 16 of her team’s 31 goals in its last two tournament victories, junior Elise Stein, the team’s premier scoring option, was held to a single goal in the match, one that came late in the fourth period to tie the game 7-7.
In fact, only Aztecs junior Shanna Heller managed to score more than one goal for Palm Desert.
Aztec head coach Michelle Valovic declined to comment on her team’s loss after the match, but assistant coach Jill Stein said it came down to the team’s stagnant offense in the second half, one that was without one of its stronger players Alissa Clyde after she received a major penalty early in the half.
“I think we got comfortable, thinking we had it in the bag,” Stein said. “We were all thinking we were going to win that game, so it’s hard.”
Los Altos’ Victoria Mezack scored early in the third period on a 6-5 personnel advantage to start to turn the momentum. Yet, with each of the Conquerors’ first two goals in the third period, the Aztecs followed with an answer shortly after. Maria Contreras scored her second goal with just 1:07 remaining in the third to move within two goals, 6-4.
The tide really began to turn as Mezack lobbed a soft shot over the head of Palm Desert goalkeeper Savannah Clyde with 5:44 left in the fourth, and the ball floated just past the left post before Clyde could snatch it.
Brooke Contreras, who scored a game-high four goals, and Maria Contreras followed with goals over the next two minutes to give the Conquerors their first lead since late in the first period.
Stein gave her team hope with her goal, and both teams traded timeouts in the final minutes. Both times, Mezack could be seen being ushered away from her team’s huddle and closer toward Palm Desert as she stared at Valovic while the Palm Desert coach drew up a last-ditch plan to rally the Aztecs.
Whether Mezack was able to overhear Valovic and Palm Desert was unclear, but in the closing seconds, Palm Desert freshman Megan Sawyer was tightly guarded as both Sarah Nichols and Elise Stein, her targets to throw to in the team’s play, were doubled-teamed on the wing and up top.
Sawyer’s last ditch effort came up short of the goal, and with that, the upset was complete.
The bright side for Palm Desert, though, is that after losing five seniors and six total players from last season’s title-winning squad, the Aztecs lose only senior Alina Hudson to graduation. Jill Stein said she knows her players will be as ready as ever to make it back.
“They’re definitely hopeful and really hungry now,” she said. “They plan on coming back next year and winning. I know they’re ready.”