Aziza Calvert admits she can overanalyze things at times, which makes her anxious at certain points in a match. So when Sobrato High girls water polo coach Scott Jackson told her she was going to take the penalty shot that could decide the outcome of a Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division match against Pioneer on Sept. 18, she centered herself and focused on the process of doing something she had done literally thousands of times before in practice—take a shot from 5 meters away.
“I looked at Scott before the shot, took a deep breath, relaxed and told myself I could do this,” she said.
Then Calvert buried the shot, which proved to be the game-winner with about 90 seconds left to seal a 5-4 victory.
“I knew Aziza would come through in that moment and she did,” Jackson said.
“My attitude was more like I need to make this shot because if I don’t we’re going to lose and I’ll freak out,” Calvert said. “The match was very stressful.”
Jackson will look to the three seniors on the team—Calvert, Sara Magana and Molly Foster—to help lead the way for another solid season. Coming off a quarterfinal appearance in the Central Coast Section playoffs, the Bulldogs know they’ll have to be a cohesive group to maximize their potential. They graduated several key players off the 2018 team, making superior chemistry paramount to the success of this year’s squad.
“We did lose seven seniors, which was hard on us in beginning,” Calvert said. “But when we work together, we’ve done really well.”
Sobrato had a tough time in the loaded Amanda McDonald Tournament last Friday and Saturday, finishing 1-3 with blowout losses to powerhouse programs Presentation, Menlo-Atherton and Soquel. Those programs are some of the section’s best, and there was no shame in losing to them. The Bulldogs have the same goal: finish second in league behind Leland—the three-time defending CCS Division I champions—and earning another playoff berth.
Sobrato did win the Stinky Rose Tournament on Sept. 7, with junior driver Annie Ly earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors. A swimming standout, Ly has also become a strong water polo player, as her five goals and 10 assists through the first five games of the season attest.
“She’s fast and really understands the game,” Jackson said. “I think of her as the quarterback of the team. On offense she makes the right plays and makes a lot of things happen. And on defense she’s back there moving people around to their proper assignments of who to guard.”
Jackson lauded the three seniors—all of whom are captains—as being dedicated players in the program. This is Jackson’s fourth season as the Sobrato coach, which means he’s had the opportunity to watch the three seniors since they were freshmen. Foster can be counted upon to be reliable and consistent in her play; Calvert is known for her intense play and ability to fire up the team; and Magana as the hole-set constantly battles for position in one of the more physically demanding positions in sports.
The Bulldogs have a solid goalie in junior Kylie Downing, who made a terrific save in the Pioneer match that went a long way in preserving the victory. A Pioneer player unleashed a shot to the high corner only to see Downing rise out of the water and swat the shot away with 30 seconds left.
“Kylie didn’t play as a freshman, but she was good right out of the gate last year,” Jackson said. “This year with the extra year of experience she’s even better. For her to be able to make that play shows where she’s at right now, and that’s impressive. We’ll be counting on her to anchor our defense for sure.”
Despite being just 5-foot-1, Calvert plays hole-set defense on occasion, a supreme challenge she relishes. After the 2018 season ended, Calvert went into the club season wanting to improve a couple areas of her game. One, Calvert wanted to be able to shoot under pressure, an area she didn’t excel in last season. Two, Calvert wanted to play hole-set defense without getting penalized or overwhelmed.
“I used to get kicked out a lot, but recently I’ve been able to keep my hips up and stay in front without getting turned or kicked out,” she said. “Usually hole-sets are 5-8 and 160, 170 pounds—they’re huge. I’m 5-1 and 120, but in the water I try to stay in front of them if they try to grab me and spin out. I don’t care about size because I can move faster than them and get to the spot. … I wasn’t able to drive and shoot in front of the goalie last year, but now I’m able to do it all the time.”
Calvert said she has been impressed with a pair of juniors—Melani Quezada and Maddy Nelson—who are essentially newcomers to the varsity team and have made an impact.
“They’re both able to swim really fast and able to make good passes,” Calvert said.