The No. 9-seed Sequoia Ravens pestered and pressured the No.
8-seed Mustangs, expanding a slim 5-2 halftime advantage into a
10-4 victory in the first round of the Division I Central Coast
Section playoffs at Monta Vista in Cupertino on Wednesday
CUPERTINO – Blank stares and tears said plenty. For the Gilroy High girls varsity water polo team, the end came much too soon.
The No. 9-seed Sequoia Ravens pestered and pressured the No. 8-seed Mustangs, expanding a slim 5-2 halftime advantage into a 10-4 victory in the first round of the Division I Central Coast Section playoffs at Monta Vista in Cupertino on Wednesday night.
In his three seasons in charge of the girls’ water polo program, head coach Sean LaGuardia lifted the Mustangs from a fourth place in league, to second place in 2009, to league champs in 2010 and back-to-back playoff appearances – and doing so with a core group of players that have stuck together over the past three seasons.
“We just became a family,” junior Michelle Shields said fighting back tears as she spoke about the influence the seniors have had on the team.
Although the loss cut short the Mustangs’ postseason run, a 23-3 overall record and first league championship in program history remained.
“With this group of girls, if we wanted something bad enough, we did everything we could to get it. These girls are very tenacious,” LaGuardia said. “They are very, very close.”
The Mustangs dealt with a heavy dose of Ravens’ hole set Sarah Beach, who had seven of her team’s 10 goals, including four in the third period, which stretched the lead to 9-3.
Adding to the daunting deficit was the stellar play of Sequoia goalie Kaila Manca, who kept a strict watch over her team’s cage, batting away Mustangs’ shots that seemed destined to find the back of the net.
The Ravens’ smothering and aggressive defense limited the Mustangs’ ability to get the ball to their scorers and thus an offense capable to exploding for double-digit numbers was held to a season low.
“We knew they were going to be good. They were definitely prepared for what we had,” LaGuardia said. “It’s no secret that we have Chelsea (Hill) and Michelle (Shields) and Lauren (Rhodes). They forced us to take shots that we otherwise wouldn’t take. The goalie was awesome. She was lights out.”
Olivia Wade put the Ravens up 1-0, regaining control of the ball after Francesca Comin knocked it loose from behind. Leah Ailes tallied the Mustangs’ first goal two possessions later, sending a ball toward the cage with pinpoint accuracy.
Hill, whose reputation and past performances as a lethal offensive threat warranted constant double coverage by the Ravens, registered an unassisted goal with 1:18 left in the first period, picking the pocket of her counterpart and swimming up pool to a 2-2 tie. The Mustangs wouldn’t score again until the 1:45 mark of the third as the Ravens unleashed seven unanswered goals in that span. Manca turned away a point-blank shot from Shields in the second period and a Rhodes shot floated on the goal line but didn’t dance all the way into the net as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Two more saves by Manca to open the third period thwarted the Mustangs’ best opportunities to get themselves back into the contest.
Rhodes added the Mustangs’ fourth goal late in the final period.
“From the beginning of the first to probably about midway through the third period, I thought we could bring it back,” LaGuardia said. “It just didn’t happen.
‘It was a great season. This is a very good group of girls.”