Waves part as Lady Mariners win CIF water polo title

The top-seeded Mar Vista High School girls water polo team defeated sixth-seeded La Costa Canyon, 10-9, last Saturday to capture this year’s San Diego Section Division II championship. Photo by Phillip Brents

The Mar Vista High School girls water polo team has captured its second San Diego Section Division II championship in four years, and the taste is still sweet.

“It’s great,” Lady Mariners head coach Chad Kavanagh said after this team’s thrilling 10-9 last-second win over La Costa Canyon. “These girls have worked hard the last four years and also with club. It says something about their dedication. It’s nice to be rewarded for that.”

But it took a special play to earn that reward.

Mat Vista, top-seeded in the division, led by two goals on three separate occasions during the game – 4-2 at the end of the first quarter, 7-5 early in the third quarter and 9-7 early in the fourth quarter – before the sixth-seeded Lady Mavericks (15-15) tied the game 9-all with 59 seconds remaining in regulation time.

La Costa Canyon maintained the momentum on its next two forays down the length of the pool, both of which ended with saves by Mar Vista junior goalie Abbey Harbin.

The Lady Mariners (26-5) regained possession with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter. There was time for one more play, and Kavanagh called timeout.

“We had a cross drive,” the Mar Vista coach said. “We had two players on top who could take a shot and two at the post. We had four shooters available.”

The reigning Mesa League champions had been successful on outside shots all game long, and the game-winning goal would come on a long shot from the center of the pool.

Senior Melanie Clamp took that shot with 12 seconds to play and her teammates watched in anticipation as the ball, moving as if in slow motion, glided past the outstretched arms of the LCC goalie into the top far corner of the cage.

“It was quick,” Clamp said of her game-winning goal. “The ball came off my hand nicely. I felt really strong in my legs. I just knew I needed to take the shot. When the team passed the ball to me I knew they had confidence in me to take the shot.”

But the game was not over. The Lady Mavs had one more possession and took one last shot before time expired. But the ball landed outside the post as the final horn sounded.

Victory belonged to Mar Vista.

The Lady Mariners were a jumble of excitement as they climbed out of the pool.

“It doesn’t feel like this is happening!” junior Iliana Lopez shrieked.

“I can’t believe we just won!” Clamp quickly added.

Mar Vista players and coaches celebrate with a post-game championship dunk in the pool. Photo by Phillip Brents

Kavanagh was quick to note that it was a team effort.

“We didn’t rely on just one player to score,” the MVHS coach said. “We had five girls score goals. Our captains stepped up. We practice a lot on outside shooting. That’s something we do very well.”

Summer Chalmers led the newly minted CIF champions with three goals while Clamp, juniors Kayla Quinones and Annie Dickson each scored twice. Lopez had one goal while Harbin was credited with 14 goalie saves.

This is Clamp’s fourth year on the team. She admitted this season has been especially memorable.

“We’ve been playing together a long time now,” she said. “I think we communicate well. We’ve won two banners this year — league and CIF. I’m really proud of this team.”

Chalmers scored 14 seconds into the game to give Mar Vista a quick 1-0 lead. Camryn Delaney tied the game, 1-1, just as quickly for LCC and the teams traded goals for an early 2-2 standoff.

Mar Vista took its first two-goal lead on shots by Chalmers and Quinones. But the Lady Mavs notched the opening two goals of the second quarter to knot the score at 4-4.

Dickson scored a buzzer beater to end the first half with a 5-4 lead for the Lady Mariners.

Chalmers then scored her third goal of the game on an outside shot with 13 seconds elapsed in the third quarter to put Mar Vista back on top by two goals at 6-4.

Quinones scored on a 10-meter shot with 5:23 to play in the third quarter to extend the lead to 7-5 and Lopez followed with another outside shot to make the score 8-6 in Mar Vista’s favor with 5:43 to play in the final quarter.

Clamp scored on a breakaway 30 seconds later to give the Lady Mariners their first three-goal lead of the game at 9-6.

Mar Vista’s Melanie Clamp defends the two-meter set position during last Saturday’s CIF championship game. Photo by Phillip Brents

But the ending proved harrowing.

Delaney scored her sixth goal of the game with 3:50 to play to narrow the score to 9-8. The game was tied, 9-9, when Kate Jenkins scored on a five-meter penalty shot.

The finish was electric.

“We expected them to come back hard in the second half,” Kavanagh said. “I knew we had to push every quarter. We had to win every quarter. Having a special play for that situation (at the end of the game) would be a nice back-up play if we needed it. It worked.”

The Lady Mariners recorded several milestones this year, including a 15-game winning streak, a history-making berth in the state playoffs and an undefeated record against Division II teams within the section.

Mar Vista received the No. 2 seed in the Southern California regionals and will play seventh-seeded Reseda Cleveland on Friday’ Feb. 28, in quarterfinal-round play at Ocean View High School.

The semifinals and championship game are the following day.

The Mar Vista-Cleveland winner will face the winner of Friday’s quarterfinal matchup between third-seeded Marina and sixth-seeded Eagle Rock.

Mar Vista team captains, from left, Melanie Clamp, Summer Chalmers and Skye Spaulding display the Division II championship trophy. Photo by Phillip Brents

Wet shots
Sophomore Tatum Billings led Mar Vista with three goals in its 10-6 semifinal win over 12th-seeded Classical Academy on Feb. 20. Chalmers and Clamp both scored two goals while Quinones, Lopez and Dickson all scored one goal.

The Lady Mariners needed an 8-7 overtime win over ninth-seeded Patrick Henry in the quarterfinals on Feb. 15 to jump-start its championship odyssey. Mar Vista outscored the Lady Patriots 3-1 in the fourth quarter to force overtime and converted in the second OT period to win.

San Ysidro, seeded third in the Division III bracket, ended its season with an 11-2 loss to second-seeded Santa Fe Christian in the semifinals on Feb. 17. The Lady Cougars (12-0 in South Bay League play) defeated sixth-seeded Escondido, 15-6 in the quarterfinal on Feb. 14 to advance.

The semifinal loss snapped an 11-game winning streak by San Ysidro.

Eighth-seeded Otay Ranch, a first-round winner over Serra, ended its season with a 14-8 quarterfinal loss to top-seeded Monte Vista.

Santa Fe Christian edged Monte Vista, 7-6, to win the Division III title. Other section division champions included Bishop’s (Open Division) and Poway (Division I).