Brittany Hayes Sparkles at Santa Barbara High School Girls’ Water Polo Tourney

SANTA BARBARA, CA., January 27. BRITTANY Hayes is a young woman better than her word.

The Santa Ana (CA) Foothill High senior, a member of the U.S. junior national water polo squad, told her parents upon entering high school in the fall of 1999 that she would win four CIF Southern Section Championships during her career.

So far, she's three-for-three, and if her performance here this weekend at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions is any indication of what's in store for the Knights later this season, they (and she) are good bets to make it four-consecutive crowns in another month when the CIF playoffs commence.

Hayes scored the winning goal in the fourth overtime period to help lead her team to a 10-9 victory over Newport Harbor in the finals of the tournament over the weekend at U Cal Santa Barbar's Gaucho Aquatics Complex.

Hayes had scored a team- and game-high five goals after the conclusion of the first overtime and then two more three-minute sudden-death overtimes, but the score was still tied at 9. Then she drew an ejection foul with 1:47 remaining in the third sudden-death inside the two-meter position. Newport Harbor's Sailors were unable to get a player back into the water in time and Foothill's Lauren Miller quickly passed the ball to the unguarded Hayes, who easily scored to give the Knights their heart-stopping victory.

The win boosted Foothill's record to a perfect 17-0 while Newport Harbor fell to 15-3. Not surprisngly, Hayes was named the tournmament's outstanding player. She also scored the Foothill goal that sent the game into overtime.

Newport Harbor led 4-1 after the first quarter and 6-5 at halftime. The Sailors upped their led to 8-5 to start the final quarter despite having lost Raelyn Ritchie, who had fouled out. Foothill then held the Sailors scoreless in the final quarter, largely due to the superb defensive play of goalie Emily Feher, who stopped six shots.

"I think the biggest cartalyst to our comeback was the play of Emily Fehder," Foothill co-coach Dave Mikesell said. "As for Brittany [Hayes], all I can say is that she had one of the best games I've ever seen."

Foothill reached the tourney's finals by stopping Orange County neighbor and No. 4-seeded Rancho Santa Margarita, 5-3. Newport Harbor splashed its was into the championship game by downing cross-town rival Corona del Mar, 9-4.

Interestingly, Foothill defeated Rancho Santa Margarita, 8-zip, for last year's CIF Championship and drew as its inspiration New England's upset of St. Louis in the Super Bowl a month earlier. Similar to the way the Patriots were introduced at the Super Bowl (i.e., "The New England Patriots" and not individually) the Knights were introduced as a team before the match began and the outcome was a third-consecutive championship.

Hayes scored a whopping 92 goals last season, assisted on dozens of others and played stellar defense on her two-meter opponents to lead Foothill, and was named CIF Player of the Year.

However, Hayes is quick to credit her teammates with making her success possible.

"It's such a team sport," she said. "I depend on the other plaeyrs so much. Without them I would not be the player I am."

When Hayes entered Foothill in the fall of 1999, she was serious when she told her parents she'd win four-straight CIF titles. To back up her bold proclamation, she bet with her dad. The first title three years ago resulted in a new pager.

Two years ago she got a new car. But going into last season all bets were off because Rancho Santa Margarita had added a pair of talented transfers to an already-strong squad, and many observers believed the Eagles would be the team to beat in '02.

"We knew they were good but we believed in ourselves too," Hayes added. "We had some excellent girls and we wanted that third title."

The two teams first met in February in a semi-final match at the Irvine Southern California tournament and the Knights, playing one of their poorest games of the season, lost, 7-6.

Hayes & Co. were NOT amused.

"We saw how they celebrated afterwards like they had won CIF or Nationals," she recalled. And we knew they wouldn't be ready to play when we met again. That loss made us a better team in the long run."

Another factor that may have been instrumental in the Knights' success last season was a forfeit non-league loss to Newport Harbor. Foothill co-coach Dan Klatt, a U.S. national team player, attended that game even though he had been suspended for receiving a red card in the previous game.

It was Foothill's initial loss in 38 games and the players were almsot dumbfounded. Klatt was literally beside himself and offered to resign. The offer was rejected.

"After that loss, we all realized how much we needed our coaches and how they counterbalance each other," Hayes said.

As for this year's title-run, Hayes is mum.

"We have a lot of our top girls back from last season and our objective is to defend our title. So far we're undefeated but there are a lot of good teams out there and we have our work cut for us. But to win four-straight championships…that would be pretty amazing."

You can bet on it.

– Bill Bell

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