Ava Stryker
Ava Stryker of San Marcos, shown in an earlier game, scored six goals for the Royals in a 9-8 overtime loss to No. 2 Laguna Beach in the CIF-SS Open Division quarterfinals. (Peter Neushul / Noozhawk file photo)

Time away from playing didn’t diminish the intensity of a crosstown rivalry game as the San Marcos and Dos Pueblos girls water polo teams restarted their seasons against each other after COVID-19 pauses.

The host Chargers kept pace with the CIF-SS Division 1 seventh-ranked Royals for three periods before wearing down and falling 18-10 in a Channel League game at the Elings Aquatic Center.

“We went into this game with no expectations; we haven’t played for month,” Dos Pueblos alum and first-year co-coach Jordan Williams said. “We had a lot sickness going around the team at the beginning, so we were out of practice way before this pandemic shut us down again. Going into this game with no expectations and ending the game like that, I was proud of these girls.”

San Marcos coach Chuckie Roth admitted that he and his team were a little rusty playing in their first game in about 3½ weeks. 

“We’re going to be just fine,” he said. “We’re like a baby and we learn how to walk. We get really rolling and all of a sudden we just happen to break our foot and we have to reteach ourselves real quick. 

“We’ll be running before you know it, but we have to go through that process and fall down a couple of times.”

The Royals went on a spurt in the first half, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 7-3 lead. Ava Stryker capped the run with a brilliant strike. She unleashed a shot with pace from about 8 meters and scored while falling backwards.

“Ava was dynamic today,” Roth said.

The Royals caught fire again in the third period as Stryker scored off a long pass and Reagan McEachen powered past a defender to put San Marcos ahead 10-5 midway through the third period. At that point, it appeared the Royals were on the verge of putting the Chargers away.

But Dos Pueblos still had plenty of fight and made things interesting for a while. Isabella Moore scored off a turnover and then Emma Gilbert soared out of the water to intercept a pass. Moore converted at the other end to make it a 10-7 game.

“We had a lot of people show up today and they powered through four periods,” Williams said. “Almost all of the five girls (who started) played the entire game, which is huge and pretty tiring. But overall we were pretty successful for not playing for a month and having a coaching change.”

San Marcos went back on the attack and had two great scoring chances, but DP freshman goalie Megan Garner came up big. On a bang-bang play, she reached high to block a shot in front and then smothered a second shot at the left post.

She finished with 10 blocks and four steals.

Megan Garner

Dos Pueblos goalie Megan Garner makes one of her 10 saves in a crosstown game against San Marcos. (Peter Neushul / Noozhawk photo)

“She came into his game knowing exactly what she wanted to do and didn’t hesitate,” Williams said of Garner. “She made huge blocks and huge steals, which really pushed our offense throughout the entire game.”

Gilbert followed Garner’s big stops with a goal to cut the deficit to 10-8 with 1:16 left in the third period.

San Marcos, however, showed its mettle and responded with a pair of goals before the end of the period. Kate Meyer got free on the right side and shot past Garner. Stryker then made a great defensive play, stealing the ball at mid-pool and feeding a sprinting Madison Haaland-Ford, who was fouled while driving to goal. That led to a penalty shot, which Stryker converted for a 12-8 advantage with 25 seconds left in the period.

Madison Sparre kept the San Marcos momentum going with heads-up defensive play at the start of the fourth period. She capitalized on a miscommunication between the goalie and a defender, stole the ball and tucked it under Garner’s right arm for a 13-8 lead.

“That’s just a senior playing with a lot of passion,” Roth said. “Maddie Sparre has done everything right. She’s a great kid.”

Gilbert answered with a goal for DP, but San Marcos responded with a nice sequence of plays to put the game out of reach. Stryker created separation from a defender inside and scored; Royals’ goalie Elaia Hamilton tipped away a shot by Moore in a one-on-one situation; Stryker drew an exclusion and found the back of the net on a quick restart; and Sophia Panossian scored off a pass from Meyer to compete a textbook fast break for a 16-9 lead.

Styrker led all scorers with eight goals, while Sparre, Meyer and McEachen each had two for San Marcos (4-0 in league).

Gilbert led Dos Pueblos (6-6, 1-1 in Channel League) with five goals and Moore had three.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.