BELMONT PLAZA, Ca., March 4. THE Yankees, the Packers, the Celtics, even UCLA's men's basketball team have all seen their dynasties rise and fall over the last century.
But Santa Ana Foothill High's girls' water polo team, which won its fourth-consecutive CIF Southern Section Division 1 Championship Saturday evening with an 8-7 triumph over Rancho Santa Margarita, shows no sign of a let-up.
The Knights etched their place among the greatest teams in CIF Southern Section history — in any sport — by not only winning their fourth-straight title but also running the table, i.e., becoming the first Orange County team to finish undefeated (30-0). Counting their final seven victories last season, Foothill has a 37-match undefeated streak.
The win was Foothill's third-consecutive title to come at the expense of Rancho Santa Margarita.
Foothill has three of the most-talented and sought-after players in the nation in senior field players Brittany Hayes and Gabbie Domanic plus goalie Emily Fisher, but it was a "raw" freshman — Grace Reynolds — who scored a team-high three goals that included the clincher with just 1:59 remaining in the final quarter.
The match was played before a sellout crowd of some 1200 raucous fans at Belmont, and had the pool accommodated two or three times that many spectators they might well have been there.
Reynolds' final and decisive goal came while she was shooting quickly at the point off a short cross pass from junior Lauren Miller.
Goalie Emily Feher blocked a desperation shot from half-tank at the buzzer to put an exclamation point on the Knights' 37th (and final) win of the season. Santa Margarita — which was not expected to make it into the finals — wound up 21-9.
How good is this Foothill squad? Knowledgeable observers say it's on a par with the Marina High team that won the CIF Division 1 title in 1998,or the Los Alamitos team froma year earlier that dominated the scene before the Soutehrn Section officially lauched a formal playoff in 2000.
The Knights built a 6-2 advantrage in the third-quarter and for all intents and purposes, the game appeared to be history.
But Santa Margarita wasn't ready to throw in the towel. Indeed not, as the Eagles scored four goals in the final 4:55 of the period to tie the score, 6-6, going into the fourth. Erika Figge took over the third with two goals and an assist. Santa Margarita goalie Caitlin O'Connor also was hot, saving four near point-blank shots.
S-M's Mary Consineau scored the tying goal to beat the third-period buzzer by throwing a shot from half-tank in off the side post.
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In the Division II Championship, Corona del Mar's Sea Kings, who won the Division IV championship last season but were moved up to DII for this year, defeated Villa Park, 10-5, for its second-consecutive crown.
The Sea Kings were led by senior Danielle Carlson, who scored a match-high six goals to power her team to the title.
The match was a very physical contest with CDM's Brittney Bowlus taking an elbow from V-P's Cara Colton during a counter attack in the second period. Her eye quickly swelled to the point that the injury was visible from the stands. But Bowlus stayed in the match until the final seconds.
Afteerwards, she sat slumped in a chair with her head down, holding ice on a swollen right eye worthy of a prizefighter. However, not even a "little" elbow to the eye could dampen her enthusiasm or that of her teammates afterwards as their title belied any pain she may have felt.
The top-seeded Sea Kings' (26-5) only losses were to Division I powers Foothill (the champ), Santa Margarita (No. 2) and Newport Harbor, which lost in the semis.
Bowlus will be sporting Bruin blue and gold next season as she has committed to UCLA. She couldn't see out of the eye by match's end but the injury is not expected to ahve any lasting impact on her career.
Carlson scored three-straight goals in the final 4:01 of the first half to break open a 2-2 tie. Third-seeded Villa Park (22-10) trailed, 7-5, with less than five minutes left in the fourth; then the Sea Kings closed with a goal by Christina Hewko and outside shots by Carlson and Daniela DiGiacomo.
Another major factor in Corona del Mar's win was its defense against the extra-man. The Sea Kings held the Spartans to a 2-for-9 effort on the man-advantage.
– Bill Bell