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Lancers are first Mesa team to sink defending league champion Mustangs Phillip Brents | Fri, Jan 18 2013 12:11 PM

Which team will claim the 2012-13 Mesa League girls water polo championship? The Eastlake Titans have certainly put up a strong argument after defeating the Hilltop Lancers, 15-8, in their league opening game Jan. 10 at the Las Palmas pool in National City.

The teams were locked in a 7-7 halftime tie before the Titans out-scored the Lancers by a decisive 8-1 margin in the second half to claim the victory.

Eastlake claimed a 1-0 start in the league standings. The Titans remain on top following Hilltop’s 6-5 come-from-behind victory against defending league champion Otay Ranch Tuesday at the Loma Verde pool.

Otay Ranch had entered Tuesday’s pivotal match-up following a 2-0 league start that featured decisive victories against Mater Dei Catholic (18-0 on Jan. 10) and 15-1 against Bonita Vista on Monday.
Hilltop has one more game remaining against both Eastlake and Otay Ranch in league play while Otay Ranch has two games against Eastlake.

HHS coach Matt Chism said to watch out for the Lancers.

“This is the best Hilltop girls water polo team I’ve seen in more than two decades,” Chism said somewhat boldly. “This is the most seasoned team we’ve had (due to) outside club water polo contribution. Our whole starting lineup has club experience. That’s something we haven’t had before.”

Otay Ranch, which returns just one starting player this season — reigning Mesa League Player of the Year Sarah Medina — had made great strides in building an impressive 8-1 start to the 2012-13 season.

The Mustangs led 1-0 after the first period of Tuesday’s game and kept it close against the Lancers’ seasoned varsity lineup through three quarters, trailing by a score of 4-3 entering the final quarter.

Otay Ranch rallied with two goals to take a 5-4 lead midway through the fourth quarter but Hilltop’s veteran experience won out as the Lancers closed out the game with two goals of their own.

Chelsea Tomlinson tied the game at 5-5 and Veronica Guzman recorded the game-winner with 45 seconds to play.

Guzman led Hilltop with three goals in the game while Irene Ramos scored twice. Aurora Clark contributed seven goalie saves in posting the key win.

Tuesday’s victory evened the Lancers’ Mesa League mark at 1-1.

Medina scored all five Mustang goals to increase her season total to 65. Her five-meter penalty shot gave Otay its one-goal lead in the fourth quarter.

“Unfortunately, our young team could not finish strong against Hilltop’s veteran players,” ORHS coach Ernie Medina said. “Eastlake is probably the favorite at this point, but don’t count us out (of the Mesa League championship race), and don’t count us out of making the CIF playoffs.”

Chism said the Mustangs’ two goals to open the fourth quarter proved to be a “wake-up” call for his team.

“We thought we would have had a bigger lead on them … we were kind of shocked to be in a such close game with them,” the HHS coach admitted.

Credit Otay’s defensive play, and the developing play of goalie Emma Cornwell for that.

“We did well defensively, but our offense is really young,” the elder Medina offered.

While the Lancers finished strong Tuesday, it was Eastlake that roared loudest in the second half of the teams’ match-up the previous week.

Natsumi Watanabe paced the Titans (8-8 overall) with six goals and one assist while Briana Vazquez scored four goals, Sharon Jimenez tallied three times and Hibah Ahmed contributed two goals and three assists.

Haley Derrod braced EHS in the cage with 11 goalie saves and four assists.

Watanabe leads the Titans in scoring with 40 goals and five assists, followed by Ahmed with 23 goals and 18 assists, Vazquez with 27 goals and two assists, Jimenez with 13 goals and four assists and Derrod with two goals and 25 assists.

Derrod also has made 170 saves and recorded 29 steals in the team’s 16 games. Ahmed paces Eastlake with 38 steals.

Hilltop is scheduled to meet Eastlake in a second-round league game Jan. 29 at Southwestern College. “Our goal is to play for a co-championship in the Mesa League,” Chism said.

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