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Water Polo

San Marcos Beats Mater Dei to Reach CIF Water Polo Final

Royals never give up lead, win 11-9 in semifinals

The San Marcos girls water polo team reached the CIF Division 1 final with an 11-9 win over Mater Dei. The Royals will play No. 1 Laguna Beach in the final on Saturday. Click to view larger
The San Marcos girls water polo team reached the CIF Division 1 final with an 11-9 win over Mater Dei. The Royals will play No. 1 Laguna Beach in the final on Saturday. (Eric Engmyr photo)

IRVINE — San Marcos would not be denied in its second straight trip to CIF-Southern Section Division 1 girls water polo semifinals. 

The Royals took an early lead against No. 2 seed Mater Dei and never let it go in beating the Monarchs 11-9 at the Woollett Aquatics Center to advance to the championship game for the first time in coach Chuckie Roth’s 13 years at the helm.

San Marcos will play undefeated Laguna Beach for the Division 1 title on Saturday in Irvine. Laguna Beach made Dos Pueblos its 30th straight victim in the second semifinal, winning 14-4.

“It’s an amazing feeling, honestly,” senior Brittany Prentice said of reaching the CIF Final after losing in the semifinals last year. “I couldn’t be prouder of my team. It feels great. How did we do it? Honestly, just hard work, dedication throughout the whole season.”

She said the willingness of everyone on the team to work together and have fun doing it has been a huge factor in the team’s success.

“My sister (Ella) is a freshman this year, I got to play with her, she made varsity,” Prentice said proudly. “It’s just part of our Royals community. We don’t look at each other as seniors and freshman, we look at each other as teammates.”

Seniors Prentice and Paige Hauschild and junior Lili Akin each scored three goals and Sarah Owens and Piper Smith added one apiece for the Royals, who last played in the final in 1999.

“This year, we were really motivated,” said Owens. “It was for our seniors. Every day, we play hard for our seniors and representing them and representing our school. It’s really exciting.”

Roth said the experience of losing to Orange Lutheran in last year’s semifinal helped the team pull through against an opponent it had lost twice against this season.

“We learned something last year being here,” he said. “We were more familiar of what this environment was going to be like. So, maybe in some way we had to go through last year to get to here.”

The Royals came out firing as Akin zipped a shot past Mater Dei goalie Marley Preciado just 18 seconds after Hauschild won the sprint for the ball. San Marcos then stole the ball and Prentice scored inside off a pass from Owens for a 2-0 lead.

Mater Dei lefty Hannah Constandse scored on a power play, but Hauschild answered with goal from the outside for a 3-1 advantage.

The San Marcos Royals celebrate their  semifinal win over Mater Dei. Click to view larger
The San Marcos Royals celebrate their semifinal win over Mater Dei. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Grace Thawley, the Monarchs’ other high-scoring southpaw made it 3-2 and Hauschild came back again with a quick shot from distance to put the Royals up 4-2 at the end of the first period.

Releasing quick shots was part of the game plan.

“We know they have a good goalie, so we tried to catch her off guard. And everyone came in with a scoring mentality of, ‘I’m just going to take it to this team,’ Prentice said. “There was a lot of individual efforts throughout the entire game which is what really separated us from our opponent.”

The Monarchs’ Ann Inoue scored a nice shot into the upper corner to make a 4-3 game. But, again, the Royals came right back on a goal by Prentice.

After Mater Dei hit the post on its next shot, Akin fired one in from the wing and Smith scored on a breakaway for a 7-3 lead with 3:42 left in the second quarter.

Roth acknowledged the contributions of players like Akin and  Owens.

“Honestly, it’s a lot of heart from my athletes,” he said. “Lili Rose Akin came up big with some goals. It’s awesome when those girls get involved and have a confidence. We’re better with them than we are without them.”

The Royals looked like they would add to their lead when Prentice drew a penalty shot. But Preciado came up big by stopping Hauschild. Her save lifted Mater Dei’s spirits.

The Monarchs responded with a goal by Thawley to make it 7-4. She led Mater Dei with four goals.

Lili Akin (10) skips a shot past Mater Dei goalie Marley Preciado. Akin scored three goals for the Royals Click to view larger
Lili Akin (10) skips a shot past Mater Dei goalie Marley Preciado. Akin scored three goals for the Royals (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Prentice got the momentum back for San Marcos. She scored and then drew an exclusion. Owens scored on the power play for a 9-4 lead.

“Senior leadership,” said Roth of the plays by Prentice.

Mater Dei got one goal back on a penalty shot with 38 seconds in the second quarter to make it a 9-5 game at halftime. The Royals’ first-half output was more than they scored in their two one-goal losses (9-8) against the Monarchs during the season. 

The Monarchs scored first in the third period and drew an exclusion to go on a power play.  Hauschild snuffed their scoring chance with a field block. The Royals held Mater Dei to one goal on seven power-play chances in three periods. 

“That’s the other piece of the puzzle,” Roth said of the 6-on-5 defense. “We made some adjustments and did some things different and it helped us.”

Akin scored on a San Marcos power play for a 10-6 lead with 2:26 left in the third. 

Bella Baia of the Monarchs made it 10-7, but the Royals came right back again as Hauschild buried a goal. 

“We had three after-goal play scores,” Roth said. “For us, we focus on that a lot. If we were going to get scored on, we’re going to do our thing right away. To score on three of those is huge.”

Goalie Sophie Trumbull reached high to knock down a Mater Dei shot at the buzzer to end the third period. 

Thawley converted on a power play in the fourth period and the Monarchs came close to scoring twice more. A  Constandse shot hit the cross bar and Trumbull made a save on shot by Inoue.

Mater Dei shooters hit the cross bar two more times before Constandse found the net to make the final score.

“Down the stretch, they didn’t go away,” Roth said of the Monarchs. “They played to the very last moment.”

But it wasn’t enough to deny the Royals a trip to the final.

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