CORONA DEL MAR, Cal., February 9. THE sun will rise in the west (and set in the east!) before Santa Ana's Foothill High girls' water polo team loses a match. Or so it seems.
For the third time this season, the mighty Knights, triple-defending CIF champs, defeated Orange County rival Newport Harbor in the finals of a tournament, winning the 32-team Irvine/Southern California Invitational Championship.
Unlike last month's win over Newport's Sailors in the finals of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, which was decided in sudden-death overtime (Foothilll winning, 10-9), the finals of this tournament — which concluded here Saturday evening — saw Foothill triumph by a 6-1 margin.
The Knights, top-ranked in Southern California, are 25-zip for the season and sport a 32-match winning streak stretching back to late in the 2001-02 season.
For Foothill to run the table and win an unprecedented fourth-consecutive championship, it will have to defeat Newport Harbor (21-4) in its final Sea View League game Wednesday at Tustin High; then win four CIF playoff matches.
Newport Harbor was picked by many before the season began as the team to beat for the title and they may still face Foothill at the CIF Championships in three weeks at Belmont Plaza. However, the Sailors' road to the title is a bumpy one and the Knights are setting up what may well bprove to be insurmountable obstacles.
Foothill goalie Emily Feher said she and her teammates hadn't considered the possibility of going undefeated and winning CIF until after today's game.
"No, we don't think about that stuff," the UCLA-bound senior said. "We take it one moment at a time and enjoy every second. We have to win the next game and the next, The point of all season is to go for league and go for CIF."
Fehr was instrumental in guiding the Knights to victory, thwarting the Sailors' offense throughout the finals before some 500 fans on a sun-drenched afternoon. Newport Harbor had eight extra-man opportunities plus a penalty shot but was unable to convert any of them.
As an example of Fehr's tenacious defensive play (she was named the tournament's outstanding goalie), with 4:31 left in the fourth-quarter she blocked a hard man-up shot by Jessica Ball from point-blank range. Feher had also stopped two more shots before at the end of power plays.
"The players know when the 5-on-6 hits," said Foothill co-coach Dan Klatt, a member of the U.S. national team. "It'a time to work because suddenly you're responsible for guarding two people.".
After an early Foothill goal to go up 1-0, Newport Harbor tied the score with four minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Then senior Brittany Hayes, who scored the winning goal against the Sailors at Santa Barbara, rifled home a two-meter shot and Foothill was on its way. Grace Reynolds added a second quarter goal to put the victors up 3-1 at halftime.
Foothill held the Sailors scoreless for the final 24 minutes, 55 seconds (midway from the first-quarter on).
Newport Harbor struggled throughout the game just to take shots in extra-man situations. In their five first-half chances, the Sailors could get off only one shot.
Even when Newport Harbor got shots on the extra-man, it couldn't convert. Late in the match, the Sailors had the opportunity to snap their scoreless streak, but their penalty shot hit the bar and sailed out of play.
Foothill wasn't perfect, however, as Gabbie Domanic got poked in the eye while defending an extra-man chance in the final period. She was accidentally poked on the follow-through of a shot, leaving with 4:04 left. The injury didn't appear serious.
Foothill gained the finals via a 9-7 victory over host Corona del Mar in the semis, Hayes scored on a three-quarters of the pool shot with two seconds left in the third to give Foothill an 8-5 lead. Feher also blocked a penalty shot in the match.
Newport Harbor edged Santa Margarita, 5-4, in sudden death to reach the finals. Santa Margarita's Erika Figge tied the score, 4-4, on a goal from 7 meters with one second left in the fourth period. Newport Harbor scored nine seconds into overtime on a goal by Carolyn Conway.
In the third-place match, Corona del Mar defeated Santa Margarita 6-4: Christina Hewko, cousin of U.S. national junior swim team member Adam, scored three goals to lead the Sea Kings (19-5).
– Bill Bell