It doesn’t matter how close they were. It doesn’t matter that the Xavier Prep boys water polo team, representing a school with fewer than 600 students, held their own in the Desert Valley League, and then withstood being sent to the wild card round for the start of their postseason run, despite being the top-ranked team, because they didn’t win their league.
The appearance in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship match at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine meant a lot to coach Pavol Valovic, sure, but to his players, at least right now, simply having the best season in team history won’t be enough because their plaque said “runners-up” instead of “champions”.
And for Valovic, whose Saints came just one goal away from victory Saturday night against Eleanor Roosevelt 9-8, that’s okay.
“They kept fighting, and that’s what I asked for, for them to do their best they could and don’t worry about the result,” Valovic said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to realize, but this is huge.
“I just don’t think they see it yet, but they will. When the pain goes away, they’ll see it.”
That same grit, determination and refusal to accept defeat is what may make Saturday a tough memory for awhile for the Saints who will return next year, but it was also the reason the game was so close in the final seconds, too.
After scoring the game’s first goal, a breakaway shot from senior Troy Boydstun, the Saints fell behind 2-1 at the end of the first period. After senior Tiernan Kelly’s lone goal tied things briefly at the start of the second, the Mustangs finished the period on a 4-2 run to end the period, including one where the bulk of the Saints thought the offense already had full possession. Instead, Mustang Joseph Zapata Clark ripped the ball back into his hands and fired a dagger into a wide open goal from two meters out.
To top the run off, Roosevelt’s Kierin Daugherty scored early in the third to extend his team’s lead to 7-3. It looked like the start of a massive blowout where the Mustangs could potentially clear their bench before the final whistle.
But the next possession, senior Ryan Van Meeteren scored his first goal of the afternoon in response. The next possession, Boydstun found himself one-on-one with the Mustang goalkeeper to score his third and final goal of the game. The momentum continued to roll with junior Ryan Oleson’s first of two goals to inch within 7-6, as the Saints’ crowd roared and players slapped at the water with jubilation.
Xavier Prep would end the third period down 9-7 after two Mustang goals sandwiched Oleson’s second goal, but the comeback was on.
“After the game, I was trying to explain to them that there would have been a lot of teams that would have given up, and I told them how proud I was they came back and fought,” Valovic said.
After period dominated by defense, where the Saints had their first six shots blocked, sophomore Brandon Sontz gave his team and their crowd hope with his lone goal with a minute to go to pull within 9-8.
On the next possession, Boydstun missed from just two meters out, but found himself with the ball back in his hands with seven seconds remaining around the middle of the pool. He launched a shot that had a chance but found the hands of Mustang goalkeeper Trevor Seifen, who recorded 17 blocks on the night.
To have the ball in the team leader’s hands, that’s all Valovic could have asked for. Boydstun has been the backbone for four years, and though he graduates with Kelly and Van Meeteren, Valovic said this trip to the finals will leave his youthful returners hungry as ever.
“I’ll think we’ll have great chances for years to come,” he said.
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