With 16 seconds remaining in the second overtime period, Sobrato High girls water polo coach Scott Jackson summoned his goalie, Kylie Downing, to leave her post and join in on the attack. A new rule implemented in the offseason allows goalies to move past the half-distance line, shoot from anywhere and even take a penalty shot.
The rule was meant to provide more scoring options for teams, and that’s exactly what transpired as Downing—who has a cannon for an arm—let one go from just inside the half-distance line and scored to make it 4-4 with nine seconds left, forcing a sudden death overtime period. Alas, the Bulldogs eventually lost when Willow Glen scored a minute into the period in a BVAL match on Wednesday. With a limited eight-game schedule due to state health officials only allowing high-contact outdoor sports to get the go-ahead to play last month, the Bulldogs have a greater appreciation every time they’re in the pool together.
“Every game means a lot more,” Jackson said. “I think the girls are savoring it more than they have in the past, and as a coach I am savoring it more. There’s more joy in practice than there has ever been because people feel a freedom they didn’t have, so it’s been fun. It was a little disappointing to lose, but that was a great game and if you compare it to maybe we’re sitting on our couches and we can’t even be out here playing, it was a great opportunity.”
For months, the team held conditioning workouts twice a week, for an hour at a time. When the players got the news they would have a season—albeit, an abbreviated one—they were downright ecstatic.
“Once we told them we were going to play real polo, oh, the shackles came off,” Jackson said. “They couldn’t wait to get going.”
After a season-opening 15-2 win over Leigh last week, the Bulldogs were involved in a battle of attrition against Willow Glen. Neither team could generate much offense against each other’s defenses, with a total of nine goals being scored despite eight extra minutes of action due to two mandatory, three-minute OT periods followed by a two-minute sudden death OT session.
Sobrato has just four seniors on the team, but they’ve been exemplary leaders and playmakers, Jackson said. In fact, they accounted for all four goals, as Downing, Melani Quezada, Maddy Nelson and Annie Ly scored. The four players created solid scoring chances throughout, as did sophomore Melina Kwarcinski. Maelani O’Connor and Abby Humphrey also provided solid play. The teams were tied 2-2 after regulation, with neither squad scoring in the first OT period.
Willow Glen scored first in the second mandatory OT session with 2:27 left. But with 1:03 to go, Ly forced a 5-meter penalty shot, scoring on a terrific shot to the upper left corner to make it 3-3. Thirty seconds later, the Rams scored again and seemingly were headed to victory until Downing’s heroics capped a wild flurry that saw the teams score four goals in a span of 2 ½ minutes. Even before the game-tying score, Downing nearly scored in regulation with a length of the pool heave that ended up hitting the top crossbar.
“Kylie has a great arm and has become a real threat for us offensively,” Jackson said.
Downing played superb in goal, finishing with 18 saves, some of which were spectacular. Jackson said the team has built its defense around Downing and Ly.
“We want our opponents to take shots because we think Kylie is going to block them,” he said. “Then we go on the counterattack which leads to scoring chances. And Annie is just a special swimmer and really excellent polo player with a great feel for the game. Kylie will set the defense and Annie will move and direct people around to the right spots.”
The junior trio of Katie Parker, Sofia Aliamus and Holland Adam also played well throughout. Meanwhile, the Sobrato boys ran into an ultra-tough Willow Glen team and lost, 17-3. Senior hole-set Noah Lee scored two goals and Alex Portera added a score as the Bulldogs played better in defeat than in a season-opening win over Leigh last week, first-year coach Dale Dowd said.
Sobrato simply couldn’t generate much offense as its lack of shotmaking ability from the perimeter showed against the Rams. Portera played goalie in the first half before moving to the field in the final two quarters.
“Alex is super athletic and I can’t wait to see what he is like when he’s a senior,” Dowd said. “He’s an amazing talent and an amazing goalie.”
Fellow sophomore Matt Primeau played goalie in the second half, and acquitted himself well in his goalie debut at the varsity level.
“Matthew made some beautiful saves and passes,” Dowd said.
Lee, a senior captain, is a load to handle down low, but Willow Glen managed to surround him with multiple defenders to keep him from going off.
“Where I fall short in my first year as a coach, Noah picks it up and runs with it,” Dowd said. “He’s great with helping the kids, and he’s the heart and soul of the team.”
Junior Evan Stapleton, a Valley Christian-transfer, has a strong shot, plays tough on defense and has displayed leadership qualities, Dowd said. Sophomore Sy Lazzaroni reads the game well and often gives helpful input on things the team needs to work on in practices and games, according to Dowd. Sophomore Ethan Wells has shown glimpses of potential and junior Andrew Newberg always “hustles and plays his heart out,” Dowd said.