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May 31, 2023

Christopher girls water polo completes strong turnaround 2022 season

After a tough 2021 season, the Christopher High girls water polo team rebounded nicely to finish strong in 2022. 

The Cougars, who went 3-13 last season including 0-8 in league play, turned things around by going 5-3 in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Santa Teresa Division before rolling to a 7-1 win over Evergreen Valley in a league tournament opener on Oct. 25. 

It was the third win over Evergreen Valley in as many tries this season, but this one was by far their most impressive. 

“This was our best game against them,” Christopher coach Ed Malick said. “Game-wise, this was our best of the season because of how well the girls played together.”

Assistant coach Matt Tabel echoed similar sentiments: “Everything clicked all the way around and only a few opportunities were missed.”

Kiara Nguyen scored four goals, and Kennedy Agnitsch, Allison Grace Abilay and Valentina Grieco scored one goal each. It was 1-1 at halftime when CHS broke things open by outscoring Evergreen Valley 4-0 in the third quarter, with Nguyen scoring three of them. 

Grieco had perhaps the highlight goal of the match, scoring from six meters away to beat the shot-clock buzzer and give CHS a 3-1 lead. CHS started connecting on long passes on counterattacks, using its superior speed and swimming ability to repeatedly get open for odd-player rushes. 

That was particularly evident on the final goal, when Agnitsch unleashed a pass that traveled half the pool and connected with Nguyen in stride down the left side. Nguyen, who had gotten behind the Evergreen defense, scored with 2 minutes, 36 seconds remaining. 

Earlier in the game, Agnitsch and Nguyen connected on a similar play which resulted in a score. Nguyen was a dynamic force, especially in the third quarter, when she drew a five-meter penalty shot and took it herself and scored. 

Goalie Monserrat Gonzalez Garcia made a couple of terrific saves, including one in which she took a ball to her face but seemingly didn’t blink, corralling it and passing to a teammate. 

“And this is Monse’s first year in goal,” Malick said. “Goalie is probably one of the hardest positions physically and mentally. You’re the only one stopping the shots, and sometimes the goalies put it in their head that if the team loses, then it’s their fault. But Monse is mentally strong, doesn’t let things affect her and physically she doesn’t back down. She’s the right person for the job.”

In addition to the players already mentioned, the roster includes Lilian Culbertson, Aubrey Starks, Gianna Tassio, Leilani Valencia and Alicia Vernon. With a 10-player roster, everyone needed to contribute which the coaching staff said was one of the most uplifting things about the team. 

“When you have a team that’s so small, they have to play with a lot of heart,” Malick said. “There’s no excuse for anybody to not give it their all everyday, because they’re all in it together and so tight-knit as a group. Though it seems like having a smaller team would make things harder, sometimes it’s almost a little bit easier. Yeah, they get tired more in a game but they’re there for each other no matter what so it’s pretty cool.”

Without the proper numbers to hold a 6-on-6 practice, Malick had the girls practice against the boys team sometimes. 

“The girls learned to work together because they can’t beat the boys 1-on-1,” he said. “As a team it made us that much stronger.” 

Even though it was a successful season in the pool, Malick said the highlight of his season was receiving a hand-written letter from one of the players thanking him and Tabel for coaching the team and putting in a lot of long hours on the pool deck. 

“I’ve been coaching 17 years and I don’t know, something about that letter was awesome,” Malick said. “Something like that goes a long way.”

Malick and Tabel also coach the boys team together and even though they had a rough season from a win-loss standpoint, there were plenty of positives for a squad that finished the year with just seven players. 

“The boys were ironmen all the way through,” Tabel said. “The last four games all seven dropped in the pool and they didn’t get out.”

Said Malick: “We had two freshmen who never played before. They’d go the whole four quarters and there were never any complaints. They were just going for it and they’ve got a lot of promise because all you need is heart and attitude and you’re going to be good.”

Kennedy Agnitsch was a prolific goal-scorer for the Cougars. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Leilani Valencia, seen here in the Monterey match, was impactful as a solid player. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee is the sports editor of the Los Gatan, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. An American High and University of Kentucky alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Gavilan College, various youth sports in south Santa Clara/San Benito counties and pro sports on occasion. Two decades of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. With the Weeklys/NewSVMedia group since 2013. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40 (7:24 mile pace), counts himself as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza. Coaches, athletic directors and parents are encouraged to report scores to [email protected].

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