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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 6:07 pm | A Few Clouds 57º

Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, The Lab, and American Riviera Bank
Water Polo

Mater Dei Wears Out Santa Barbara in CIF Division 1 Opener

Santa Barbara defenders Evan Blix (2) and Adam Gross (10) try to prevent Mater Dei’s Wyatt Benson from shooting. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara defenders Evan Blix (2) and Adam Gross (10) try to prevent Mater Dei’s Wyatt Benson from shooting. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

In comparing his water polo team with powerful Mater Dei, Santa Barbara High coach Mark Walsh said of the Monarchs: “They just look differently than we do. They look like a different species than us.”

Capitalizing on their size advantage and speed, Mater Dei overpowered Santa Barbara, 15-10, in a first-round game of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs on Wednesday at the Dons’ pool.

Mater Dei, a CIF finalist the last nine years and a champion six times, including last year in Division 1, went on a five-goal run in the second period to open up a 10-3 lead against the Channel League-champion Dons (19-9). The Monarchs used a suffocating defense, a blazing counter attack and great passing to stretch Santa Barbara’s defense.

Santa Barbara goalie Will McManigal stops a Mater Dei shot. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara goalie Will McManigal stops a Mater Dei shot. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

“They just wear you out,” said Walsh. “They push the counter so hard and you’re scrambling just to barely get back. And they’re moving and the ball is moving and you think you should be going out (to guard them) and the next thing you know there’s a guy open at set. They get the ball into two meters and they can score from there.”

Wyatt Benson was the recipient of several passes into the set and he buried four goals.  Christian Hockenburg and Jackson Seybold also scored four and Kirby Slater added two.

Seybold twice overpowered Santa Barbara defenders to score goals.

“He played a good game,” Mater Dei coach, 2004 U.S. Olympian and former Dos Pueblos star Chris Segesman said. “He’s like Sawyer from Santa Barbara. He demands a lot of attention, which opens up other guys in the front court or on the counterattack. He played a good game tonight. I thought he was well balanced. Obviously, he’s a big attribute for us tonight.”

Segesman made sure the Monarchs had two players guarding the Stanford-bound Sawyer Rhodes, Santa Barbara’s all-time goal scorer.

“Our whole focus going into today was to shadow Sawyer and No. 10 (Adam Gross), their two best players, in my opinion,” Segesman said.

Rhodes scored four goals to lead the Dons and Gross had three.

“It’s fun to see a team with that many good guys be so concerned about him,” said Walsh of Mater Dei's focus on Rhodes. “That tells you how good he must be. They literally don’t have anybody who can guard him one on one. They were bringing extra guys every single time.”

After falling behind 15-6 after three periods, Santa Barbara picked up some momentum. Gross delivered back-to-back goals, goalie Will McManigal made a terrific point-blank save and the Dons got a big field block.

“I thought we competed as hard as we could, so I was really proud of our guys,” Walsh said. “We knew we had to play a perfect game to beat them, and that’s not realistic. But I thought we did some good things. We were able to score some good goals on them.”

The game was the final one for Dons seniors Rhodes, Gross, Jack Rottman, Connor O’Keefe, McManigal and Chris Gaffney. They came a long way in their careers.

“I was telling the guys, when they got here we didn’t make the playoffs their first two years, so we weren’t even a CIF qualifying team,” Walsh said. “So, here we are, their senior year, and we’re in the highest division – we’re a top-15 team in Southern California. That’s really a lot to be proud of.

“It’s never fun to go out in the first round of CIF, but when you’re in this division it’s a lot different.”

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