Gilroy senior Lucas Bissell looks to pass during the team's match against Christopher on Monday. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
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Gilroy High goalie Emmitt Silva had already made two point-blank saves early in the fourth period when Christopher scored to cut its deficit to 6-5 with 3 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in Monday’s contest. Moments later, Silva made another tremendous point-blank save, backstopping the Mustangs to a 7-5 win and avening a loss to their intra-city rival. 

“Our goalie played amazing,” Gilroy coach Ronni Gautschi said. “Actually, our whole team did.”

In what has become one of the most competitive rivalries in any sport between two teams in the Central Coast Section in the last couple of years, the outcome of the Gilroy and Christopher boys water polo matches seemingly always comes down to the wire. Grant Rocha gave the Mustangs breathing room at the end, scoring on a skip shot from seven meters away to account for the final margin with 1:01 left. 

“Grant also played defense that was unreal,” Gautschi said. “I think the boys did a great job, and we played way better than the first time we played them.”

Jacob Harden scored three goals and Race Thompson added two scores to pace the Gilroy attack. Harden also played hole-set defense as Gilroy limited Christopher to just one goal in the second half.

“The growth that has come out of that kid (Harden) in a very short period of time is huge,” Gautschi said. “We played Valley Christian last week and got destroyed. But he made some amazing turns and I’m like, “Where’s that normally?’ So I think that clicked in his head and he’s done amazing.”

Thompson, Lucas Bissell, Jacob Muncy and Nate Barbaglia were also key factors in a Gilroy defense that forced Christopher into taking shots from beyond five meters in the second half. Cougars coach Paul Wells said his team didn’t play with the same focus or unselfishness when it beat Gilroy in the teams’ first matchup. 

“It was on us,” he said. “For some reason we didn’t recognize when someone was open and when you’re down one late in the game, you can’t fool around. They were passing around like it was warmups. You have to play with more intentionality and greater intensity. First of all, we weren’t swimming fast enough today, and second of all, our outside shooting was really bad. It was all on us.”

Goalie play was excellent on both sides, as the Cougars’ Casey O’Callaghan made a couple of terrific saves. 

“He’s marvelous,” Wells said. “He’s aggressive and I love him to death. He’s the best goalie we’ve ever had at Christopher, no question about it.”

Jacob DeMare and Emiliano Grieco led Christopher with two goals each. The duo also combined for the team’s final tally of the match when DeMare delivered a nice pass in front to Grieco, who scored with 3:35 left. Grieco has utilized his speed all season to create offensive scoring opportunities for the team, while Luke Sutter possesses a rocket for a shot and can elevate out of the water with the best of them. Charlie Wheat scored the team’s first goal when he got loose on a breakaway and O’Callaghan hit him in stride before Wheat nailed a skip shot from seven meters out. 

“Our entire lineup did a great job overall and our second rotation acquitted themselves pretty well, too,” Wells said. 

Gilroy made it a clean sweep as its girls team easily beat Christopher, 13-2. The Mustangs, who are coming off a string of CCS playoff appearances, improved to 5-0 and have beaten West Catholic League squads Presentation and Valley Christian in the process. The Mustangs typically play 24 games not including the playoffs, and coach Doug Pickford—while happy his players finally get to get into the pool for game competition—laments the fact he won’t get to see how they would’ve done over a full season. 

“They’re a good team and it would’ve been nice to get tested over a longer period of time,” he said. “Whether they’re a great team or not, we would need to see, but they’re definitely a team with potential.”

Hannah Hoeptner scored four goals, Gianna Bozzo and Fatima Gonzalez had three scores each, Alena Lepe had two and Makayla Elias had one tally as the Mustangs scored from in-close, mid-range and long-range. Hoeptner set the tone with two early goals, while Bozzo made a terrific play defensively to snuff out a Christopher 6-on-5 advantage with 5:13 left until halftime. Goalie Isabella Romero has been a standout all season, complementing the field players’ physical play. 

“All of the girls are solid, athletic and they’ve learned to play a physical game,” Pickford said. “They have a belief in themselves and it’s been a joy for me to see these kids be able to come out and play the sport they love. You see the joy on their faces and you can’t ask for much more. I don’t care if you’ve won a game or not, you’re getting a lot out of this.”

In addition to the aforementioned goal scorers, Hannah Stelzner and Ashlyn Fiack have been consistently strong throughout the season. Pickford said he’s proud of all 29 varsity boys and girls in the program for showing up to every practice and displaying a commitment that will likely rub off on the returning players for the 2021 season that starts in late August. 

Meanwhile, Christopher received goals from Kate Craig and Ashley Flores, and Halina Santos created a couple of the team’s best scoring chances. 

The Mustangs’ Grace Bissell defends in a 13-2 win over Christopher on Monday. Gilroy improved to 5-0 with the victory. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
Gilroy High senior Hannah Hoeptner looks to pass in the team’s win over Christopher. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Mustangs junior Gianna Bozzo prepares to unleash a shot against the Cougars. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Gilroy’s Race Thompson attempts to score past a Christopher player in a thrilling boys match. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Gilroy’s Frank Sunseri tries to fend off Christopher’s Luke Sutter in a close match. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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