In most high school sports around the valley, a Palm Desert-La Quinta match-up breeds plenty of interest, not only because of the schools’ intense rivalry, but because the Aztecs and Blackhawks have arguably two of the strongest and most competitive athletic programs across all sports – both boys and girls.
But Monday night’s girls’ water polo battle between the two schools proved – emphatically so – that the Blackhawks will be fighting for second-place, along with the rest of the Desert Valley League.
Yes, the Aztecs are still that good.
So good, in fact, that some parents in the La Quinta contingent whispered to each other midway through the 19-2 domination of the Blackhawks’ in their own pool, “Are they that good, or are we that bad?”
But the seamless goal-scoring from Elise Stein and Sarah Nichols, combined with the aggressive attack in goal from Savannah Clyde would make most teams in southern California look befuddled.
Palm Desert returned all but one player from last year’s squad that fell in the CIF Southern Section finals to Los Altos 8-7. Redeeming that loss with a bigger piece of hardware than they left Irvine with a year ago is what this season is all about.
“If we’re going into a game that might be a little bit easier, we still try to focus on the bigger goal, which is CIF,” Stein said. “We still want to work hard when we’re out there in an easier game because we know it’ll help us down the road.”
Stein led her squad with seven goals, followed closely by Nichols with six, while Clyde blocked 13 shots in goal and saved several more potential goals by leaving the goalie box to snatch the ball away – epitomizing the team-wide aggression that led to Monday’s lopsided victory.
The Aztecs started off a bit slowly in the first period, with Shanna Heller missing the team’s first shot and Nichols missing the following possession from point-blank range and Stein missing her mark the next time down the pool. Cassie Biga finally got her team on the board off a steal from Stein, who finally connected on two goals of her own before the period ended to put the Aztecs out in front 3-0.
But Palm Desert wasted little time in the second period, snatching away any hopes of a La Quinta upset with six goals – including three-straight from Nichols after Stein found the back of the net twice in-a-row. They would finish to combine for 10 of the team’s 12 goals in the second and third periods alone.
Megan Sawyer (two goals), Alissa Clyde (one), Andrea Uribe (one) and Samantha Stein (one) also found the back of the net for the Aztecs on Monday.
La Quinta’s Brooke Smith would finally break shutout with a goal in each of the third and fourth periods, but by then, Palm Desert coach Michelle Valovic was pulling four of her starters for a chunk of the final period, the game well out of reach.
But Valovic said after that she didn’t feel the score was indicative of the skill level of La Quinta, who she said she expects to be the second-best team in the DVL.
Instead, Monday’s score is the result of a team feeding off each others’ greatness.
“They’re competing against each other all the time…They’re killing themselves to keep up with the player who’s just a little ahead of them, and they give each other great competition,” she said. “(On the boys’ team) we had Ryan Sawyer (the DVL MVP) and we struggled to challenge him, but I have enough girls who can challenge each other.”