As the momentum during a sporting event see-saws up and down, there almost always comes that crucial moment when the see-saw is level. Is your team going to be the one that seizes that moment and soars skyward, or the one that goes crashing down to the ground?
The Xavier Prep High School girls’ water polo team found themselves at such a moment Saturday during their Division 5 quarterfinal game against a tough, physical Cajon team amid raindrops at the Palm Desert Aquatic Center. A 5-2 Xavier Prep lead had dwindled to 5-4 as the fourth quarter began.
Showing maturity not usually found in a team playing in the school’s first-ever girls’ water polo quarterfinal, Xavier didn’t get rattled.
The Saints scored goals on their first two possessions of the fourth quarter to quickly regain control of the match. The final result was an 8-5 victory, and a trip to the first girls’ water polo semifinal in school history.
“I’m really proud of the girls, the way they kept fighting,” Xavier Prep coach Pavol Valovic said. “Both teams were playing well. It was a difficult physical game, but we got two quick goals to start the fourth and that kind of really took the wind out of their sails I think.”
With both teams playing stifling, pressing defense, goals weren’t easy to come by in this one. In fact, just completing a simple pass was difficult. The teams were also well aware of each other’s tendencies, having played already this year with Xavier Prep winning 9-7.
Saints’ goalie Savannah Jessup set the defensive tone by making a beautiful save on Cajon’s first good shot on goal. She reacted quickly to her left and swatted away what looked like a sure goal. She was strong all game long.
“This feels great, our whole team was focused all game long,” Jessup said. “And in the end, we just really wanted it. We are all in good shape and didn’t tire out, even though Cajon was a really good team for sure.”
Offensively, the Saints were able to use some pin-point passing to set up some goals. After Jillian Barbato scored the game’s first goal on a breakaway, she set up Reina Rover with a nice 2-on-1 game. The first quarter ended with the Saints up 2-0.
After a goal by Cajon’s Delilah Lozano to start the second, the Saints opened a three-goal lead with another goal by Rover and a score by Ariel Forehand, set up nicely by Camille Derviuex. Xavier Prep held a 4-2 lead at the half and opened that to 5-2 with the prettiest goal of the game to start the third quarter.
Rover found Barbato for what amounted to a score similar to an alley-oop in basketball. It was a nice pass over the defense for Barbato to slam it into the back of the net with one hand.
Cajon didn’t go away, though. Two long, left-handed scores by Jacqueline Patterson, and a huge point-blank save by goalkeeper Noel Paz cut the Saints lead to 5-4 after three quarters.
But a crucial goal by Dervieux, followed immediately by a nice pass from Forehand to set up Barbato for a score, gave the Saints a quick 7-4 cushion early in the fourth. Then Dervieux delivered the dagger, putting the Saints up 8-4 with about two minutes to go. Xavier Prep was able to stall out the rest of the time and continue its postseason run.
“We definitely are doing it for our coach, because he’s never had a CIF ring before and he’s put in so much time and effort,” Jessup said of Valovic. “He’s our biggest supporter and we want to do it for him.”
Next up for the Saints (26-7) is a home game against Tesoro on Wednesday. Tesoro beat Alemany 10-8 on Saturday. The seeding has held true for this semifinal, as it will pit the No. 2-ranked team in Division 5, Tesoro, vs. the third-ranked Saints.
“I can’t be prouder already,” Valovic said. “When you look at our school with less than 600 kids and I have only 10 girls on varsity, it’s pretty incredible. What they’ve already accomplished is more than what most people could have expected. They believe in their training and believe in each other and have a lot of confidence now and are excited about Wednesday.”