Shadow Hills’ players were nervous. The Knights boys’ water polo coach Alicia Chatigny wasn’t afraid to admit it.
And they had reason to be. Since the school opened back in 2009, Chatigny and her boys have been a team without a home. Competing as a freelance team meant no matter how good they were, the Knights had to pray for a postseason opening that never came.
So after finally moving into the Desert Valley League this year, the Knights found themselves Wednesday night with an opportunity to make it to Saturday’s CIF Division 7 championship with a win – one they’d been working toward for not just one year, but seven.
But nerves, nor the division’s top-ranked team could stand in the way of Shadow Hills, who used a flurry of early goals to build an insurmountable cushion the other Knights in the pool from Katella couldn’t overcome, leading to a 14-7 victory at Indio High School.
“It’s really exciting just to have the opportunity,” Chatigny said. “We’ve been fighting and building toward this, so to finally belong to a league, it gives us that, and it’s so incredible.
“I’m especially glad because this is my first group that’s been with me since their freshman year, so it’s great to see this finally happen for them.”
Even though Chatigny sensed nerves in her team’s warmups, her Knights never showed it early on. Jaden Navarro scored on the team’s first possession, and the predominantly purple-clad crowd and cheerleaders that had to travel just a few miles for the neutral site match erupted in a roar.
Katella’s Andres Centeno responded with a goal to tie it the following possession, but from there, four-consecutive goals from Dylan VanBuskirk (two), Tristia Leon and Justin Carbajal gave Shadow Hills a lead they’d hold for the remainder of the match – one that would never get less than two goals.
After Katella responded with three goals before the end of the first period to get the game to 6-4, Carbajal and VanBuskirk each found the back of the net in the second, helping to weather the response. In the third, four more goals, including two from VanBuskirk, who finished with a team-high of seven, all but iced the match to put together the type of complete performance Chatigny knew the Knights would need to take down a top-ranked team.
Saturday, they’ll face Chaffey, the No. 2 team in the final coaches poll, in Irvine at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center to try and duplicate their performance.
“Our team, we have days when we’re hit-and-miss. We could go from super high one quarter to the next one at the bottom,” Chatigny said. “So for them to hold on and stay consistent and continue to hold onto that lead, that was big.
“That was going to be their biggest challenge, and for them to achieve that says everything.”
CIF-SS playoff schedule
D-12: Rancho Mirage at Hillcrest (at Norte Vista HS), 7:30 p.m.
D-6: Xavier Prep vs. Eleanor Roosevelt (at Willliam Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine), TBD
D-7: Shadow Hills vs. Chaffey (at Willliam Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine), TBD